Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BROWNE, Jackson

(b 9 October 1948, Heidelberg, West Germany) Singer/songwriter. His father was a keen jazz pianist who played with Django Reinhardt while in Europe. To Los Angeles in the early 1950s; he began performing and writing early in the early '60s (the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded his songs); to NYC '67, landing a residency at Andy Warhol's Dom Club and friendship with Nico, who included a song on her '67 LP Chelsea Girls. By the end of '70s his songs had been recorded by the Byrds, Tom Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and the Jackson Five.

His own first single hit was 'Doctor My Eyes' '72 (no. 8 USA; a UK hit for the Jackson Five '73); his debut album Jackson Browne '72 was followed by the more successful For Everyman '73, including 'Take It Easy', a hit for the Eagles, and 'Redneck Friend' (on which Elton John played piano, credited as 'Rockaday Johnnie'). Browne worked with the Eagles, co-writing the hit 'James Dean' as well as songs on their '73 concept album Desperado. Still a cult figure, Late For The Sky '74 established him in his own right, including 'For A Dancer' and 'Before The Deluge' (covered by Moving Hearts '82).

His wife Phyllis committed suicide '76, casting a dreadful shadow over a fine album The Pretender that year, produced by Jon Landau; the title track might be his best song ever (covered by Gary 'US' Bonds on his '81 comeback LP Dedication). Live '78 concept album Running On Empty was patchy, but contained hit singles in the title track and a cover of Maurice Williams's 'Stay'. After the nuclear scare at Three Mile Island he joined MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), helped stage a '79 NYC concert with Carly Simon, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Crosby Stills and Nash; a film and triple album No Nukes were well received '80. Browne is said to live off the grid in sunny California, using a huge wind turbine, but that takes a lot of money; meanwhile there has never been a fatal accident in a nuclear power plant outside Chenobyl, which was built and operated by Soviet hacks who didn't know what they were doing, and 30 years later it looks like the world could use more nuclear power stations.

Browne remained active and was arrested in demonstrations. Hold Out '80 was the first album of new material in four years, including the uncharacteristic 'Disco Apocalypse' as well as hallmark 'Of Missing Persons'. He produced albums by an old school friend Greg Copeland, accompanist David Lindley, and Warren Zevon. He had his second top ten USA single 'Somebody's Baby' '82 (from film Fast Times At Ridgemount High); he appeared at Glastonbury CND festival UK '82. Lawyers In Love '83 had a standout title track, 'For A Rocker' (dedicated to Lowell George), and 'Tender Is The Night'; it epitomized a laid-back '70s California sound. He once admitted that his technique was limited to three chords; the music press described him as 'chilled white whine', but his best work raised him far above most contemporaries. In The Balance '86 displayed unwaned powers, but with World In Motion '89 some began to ask if he should stop trying to solve the world's problems and write some songs. Like others of his generation he mellowed enough to get back to basic values; I'm Alive '93 was a return to personal reflections: 'I don't worry about the ozone layer/My problem is you.' Looking East '96 was a CD-ROM with video footage, interviews, behind-the-scenes about making the album etc.

The Naked Ride Home came out in 2002. In 2003 he appeared as a guest star on an episode of The Simpsons: at a party for Marge he has been booked as the enetrtainment, and annnounces a song (to cheers) 'from my new album' (to a collective groan). 'Just kidding. Here's one of my many classics.' Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 2005 and Vol. 2 2008 were recorded live on tour. His 17th album (including compilations and live albums) was Time The Conqueror in 2008, his first studio recording in six years and his first for his own label, Inside Recordings. Also in 2008 he sued the John McCain campaign for using his song 'Running On Empty' in an advert attacking Barack Obama.