‘I have to see it all’: Denver music composer G. Brown, industry pioneer | Denver-gazette


G. Brown is a man of 3,248 stories (and at least as many bad jokes). That’s the number of music personalities he interviewed during his 26-year career as a pop music writer for the Denver Post.

Brown can tell you about the time in 1978 when he had a chance meeting with Bruce Springsteen on an otherwise empty sidewalk in LA. Brown, then still a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, was driving 10 miles for a CBS Records meeting because he didn’t have enough change in his pockets for the bus tickets. Springsteen was taking a break from recording that day and just wanted to walk around a town where, apparently, only broke college students and the Jersey Boys walk anywhere. A friendly chat ensued before The Boss got back to work on an album that turned out to be “Darkness on the Edge of Town”.

“I was hoping for ‘Born to Walk’,” Brown says now. (Rim shot.)

He can tell you about the time in the early 1970s when he saw a young Bonnie Raitt perform at Tulagi in Boulder, then grab a broom and help the crew clean the bar. And he can tell you about the time he saw The Police perform at Rainbow Music Hall for $ 3 in 1979 – and chat with Sting when he was just a guy traveling across the country in a van with two. friends. (Thirty years later, people eagerly paid $ 250 to attend the reunion tour.)

Brown was part of a golden age of daily music coverage that coincided with an explosion of growth in the recording industry – and they nurtured each other. For the first time, newspapers were hiring writers to cover pop music as a real beat. Brown pitched to cover music for The Denver Post in 1977 while still a sophomore at CU – and his Genesis band profile got him the gig.

At the same time, record companies were releasing mega-albums like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”, sending their artists on tour to sell them, and serving up superstar interviews to enthusiastic regional beat writers as part of the marketing machine. .

This has placed Brown and about two dozen other daily beat journalists in some of the most envied – and respected – jobs in music journalism. Even Huey Lewis says so.

“I always thought that the music journalists of the big dailies were more credible than the others, if only for the fact that they saw and listened to so much more music than anyone else,” said Lewis. “G. Brown proves my point with his ‘On Record’ books.

Lewis was commenting in support of Brown’s ongoing series of 21 artfully crafted coffee table books that each take a 350-page encyclopedic look at a popular music year from 1978 to 1998 through the albums that were released. Not only did Brown have access to just about every active and unknown superstars in the industry, but he received each new release and the accompanying press kit in advance.

And he kept everything.

We’re talking 50 Banker Boxes in his basement filled with albums, tapes, CDs, press notes, and the holy grail: the often hilarious (in retrospect) official press publicity photos that accompanied every outing and now present themselves as a sort of tape-by-tape musical capsule. Brown’s collection has survived four moves thanks in particular to the kindness of a wife he calls “Sainte Brigitte”.

“I just had this collector’s gene,” said Brown, who grew up in Arvada collecting stamps, coins, baseball cards and Denver Broncos Coca-Cola bottle caps. Thus, from the start of his career as a journalist, he knew in a way how to safeguard every press kit he received from musical acts covering pop, rock, country, punk, grunge, R&B, rap and more.

“I just felt there was value to them,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was then.”

He’s doing it well now.

Brown spends the time of his life organizing his treasure for a definitive look at these pivotal years in the history of music. Each volume features most of the major album releases on two pages: one for those overwhelmingly funny publicity photos; the other for a tight 300-word Brown essay that incorporated quotes from key band members he interviewed at the time. It even includes an epilogue covering albums of artists he hasn’t had a chance to speak with – so it leaves no streak untouched.

“These books have an undeniable nostalgic component, and they also have value as reference books,” Brown said. “But I’m extremely proud that the essays weren’t just a first-person discussion of what it all meant. It’s a simple report on a band talking about a given outing in a given year.

Brown publishes the books, edited by Jon Rizzi and designed by Kate Glassner Brainerd, through a cultural and educational nonprofit he founded, The Colorado Music Experience. To date, three books in the series, which are not published in chronological order, are published and available on colomusic.org: 1978 (think Billy Joel, The Cars and Devo), 1984 (think Prince, Joe Jackson and “The Curly Shuffle”) and 1991 (think Garth Brooks, Hammer and Nirvana). Brown hopes to continue producing a new tome every three months until the work is complete.

Together, Brown says the series represents a unique archive of musical history that does not exist in the same way anywhere else. Perhaps because none of his national colleagues had as much forethought – or basement space – as Brown.

“I think the show is a celebration of the material age when we care about the album cover and the cover notes and the release date of an album,” Brown said, “because that meant you could go into a record store and get it and actually hold it.

Brown wrote for the Denver Post until 2003, but he ended his series of books in 1998 because he sees this year as a line in the sand between eras in the recording industry. “That’s when Shawn Fanning came up with Napster, and that was the start of everything going digital,” he said. “That’s when everything changed in the recording industry.”

And in music journalism. Brown barely recognizes the landscape today, now that nearly all of those beat jobs that were once held by discipline-specific specialists have been lumped into one (if that) general entertainment reporter desperately tasked with covering music, television. , cinema, theater and fine arts. arts at the same time. The idea of ​​a job in a daily newspaper dedicated to chatting with three or four popular music stars a week is now unthinkable. Brown knows how good he had it.

“I was fortunate enough to write for a major daily when the newspapers meant something,” he said. “I was able to cover the beat as a journalist, using my journalism. I have to cover it in a unique way.

“And I got to see it all.”

Denver Gazette art columnist John Moore is an award-winning journalist who was named one of American Theater Magazine’s 10 Most Influential Theater Critics. He now produces freelance journalism through his own business, Moore Media.

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