Shoreworld: Gordon Brown—Back Out On The Reality Highway

Anyone associated with the entertainment industry on the East Coast will know who Gordon Brown is. Whether you’ve heard about him through his major accomplishments with bands such as Mr. Reality, Sam Hill and Highway 9, or you’ve spent an evening or two watching one of your favorite artists at a Writers In The Raw concert or The Wave Gathering in Asbury Park, he has affected your musical experiences on many levels.

As a musical co-writer and producer, Brown has worked to develop many of the up-and-coming artists that we embrace today. Performers such as, Jerzy Jung, Natalie Stovall, Alex Brumel, Rick Barry, Status Green, Corey Wagar, and Andrew Holtz have all experienced his commitment to songwriting up close, with more than one of them gaining major breaks because of it.

His two-decade-plus career has included several high level recording contracts and at least three distinct publishing deals. He has achieved song placements in TV and film, and has had the opportunity to work with great producers and mentors like Danny Kortchmar (Don Henley, James Taylor, Rod Stewart), Peter Collins (Jewel, Rush, Indigo Girls) as well as Monty Powell (Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Diamond Rio).

He’s been on several national tours and has earned his “Jersey Shore” rep the hard way, opening for Bon Jovi more times than he could count and jamming with Bruce Springsteen over the years. Some would say he’s been through it all. And now, he’s going to do it all over—again.

After a five-year hiatus from the road with his last blue collared rock and roll band Highway 9, Gordon Brown is heading back out on the road, only this time he’s wearing several different hats, including songwriter, guitarist, and musical co-director for some of his latest protégés and adapting to changing musical scenarios like no one else’s business. I caught up to him at his home base in Long Branch, NJ, as he was just getting back from Corey Wagar’s Nashville sessions.

You were the main songwriter for Mr. Reality (EMI/SBK), Sam Hill (Epic/Sony) and Highway 9 (RCA Nashville). What life lessons can be shared from those experiences?

You have to enjoy your time with the people you work with every step of the way. I have been so fortunate through the years to play small clubs, theatres and arenas all over the country and write and make records with so many I admire—having a good meal at the end of the day with people you care about and work with is an awesome gift—and also write what you really know.

What are your major influences? How did a Jersey boy get into country music?

I grew up with Eagles and Fleetwood Mac on the radio along with Springsteen right in our own backyard. It was always about singers and songs that told amazing stories. If those artists came out today, well they would be Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town and Keith Urban. I have always strived to have those same elements in my songwriting and bands through the years. When I hear Lady Antebellum my heart just races a little faster, when I see Little Big Town break through I feel as though I’m right there with them. We were actually label mates on Sony (Highway 9) and played together a few years back.

What got you into writing and producing music for other artists?

I love working with great singers and helping them find their maximum voice and singing right along with them as they understand it. Put me in a room with any artist and I’ll be able to pull something out of them in just a few hours—money-back guarantee (laughs). I like being part of the creative process, you know? Starting from scratch with a basic theme or progression and just coming up with structures and melodies. It’s always been my goal to help mold raw magic into finished compositions with other writers.

Tell me about your current projects.

Well, there’s Corey Wagar and her debut record which we’ve been busy writing, and that’s going to be out shortly. We have been writing and performing a lot together in Nashville and in New Jersey—she’s just turning 17, and she’s already a pure country heartbreaker. Jerzy Jung has a new release on Near Records, which I co-wrote on and co-produced. Near Records (Brown’s own label) has gotten a few placements for the tracks already on MTV and a new movie out shortly. Natalie Stovall’s new record comes out June 26 and I’ll be going out with her as her guitar player for a few weeks to showcase a lot of new material that we’ve co-written. And then I’ll be home for the second edition of the Writers In The Raw songwriting seminars at The Count Basie in July and August that I’m really looking forward to—then of course there’s Wave Gathering, which will take place at the end of August.

Who is your favorite producer at the moment and why?

He’s finishing up production on Corey’s record as we speak. His name is Kent Wells (Dolly Parton, Brooks and Dunn, Reba McEntire) and he has produced six songs that Corey Wagar and I have written together over the last few months. This guy has a set of golden ears and he’s so great with every step of the process, always putting the artist first and making everything work with clock-like precision. I also admire Mutt Lange, Mark Bright, John Shanks; they’re all about serving great songs on a silver platter.

Who are your favorite musicians to work with in the Jersey area?

Mark Muller (Shania Twain, Laura Bell Bundy) hands down—incredible. Never misses the direction you are looking for—and Ron Haney and Bart Schoudel (Alicia Keys, Val Emmich) who, when we get into a room to write or work on a project, there’s always a ton of magic happening. Also, my singing partner and world’s greatest bass player, Rob Tanico (Highway 9, Samhill, Mr. Reality.)

Will we ever see you playing your own music live?

With Corey Wagar, Jerzy Jung and Natalie Stovall, a good part of their sets all consist of songs we’ve co-written together. I’ve really enjoyed being back out there on the stage and playing alongside such talented singers. As far as my very own material as an artist, well let’s just say I’ve written a lot of new songs over the last year to help me make sense of some extraordinary events—I would love to see it come alive in the right situation. We’ll see how things progress. Right now I’m really excited about what’s right in front of me.

What’s next for Gordon Brown?

Well, I’ll be playing with Corey Wagar tonight (May 26) at The Stone Pony for starters. Its gonna be a ‘Nashville-meets-New Jersey’ kind of hoedown (Actually, it’s part of the 29th Annual Colgate Country Showdown finals) and the band we are using actually consists of all top Nashville guys that play with all the national country acts like Taylor Swift, Sara Evans, Josh Turner and many others. This is probably gonna be their first introduction to the Jersey Shore and The Stone Pony so we hope everyone gives them a very warm welcome and makes them feel right at home. We are really excited to be able to make this happen in front of a hometown crowd. After that I’m off to Europe with Natalie Stovall before gearing up back in Jersey for Writers In The Raw series. Things never stand still, and I thrive off that momentum.