| Jackson Browne
born 9 October 1948, Heidelberg, Germany,
Introduced to folk music while in his teens, Browne began writing songs at the
instigation of two high school friends, Greg Copeland and Steve Noonan. The youngsters
frequented the Paradox Club, a favored haunt of traditional musicians, where Jackson was
introduced to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He joined the group in February 1966, only to
leave within six months, but some of his early compositions appeared on their subsequent
albums. An ensuing deal with Nina Music, the publishing arm of Elektra Records, resulted
in several of Browne's songs being recorded by the label's acts, including Tom Rush and
the aforementioned Noonan. Jackson had meanwhile ventured to New York, where he
accompanied singer Nico during her engagement at the Dom, a club owned by Andy Warhol. The
singer's CHELSEA GIRL set featured three Browne originals, but their relationship quickly
soured and the young musician retreated to California. In 1968 Jackson began work on a
solo album, but both it and a projected supergroup, revolving around the
artist, Ned Doheney and Jack Wilce, were later abandoned. Undeterred, Browne continued to
frequent the Los Angeles clubs and music fraternity until a demo tape resulted in a
recording deal with the newly-established Asylum Records. JACKSON BROWNE/ SATURATE BEFORE
USING confirmed that the artist's potential had not withered during earlier
prevarications. David Crosby added sterling support to a set including the composer's own
readings of "Jamaica Say You Will" and "Rock Me On The Water,"
previously covered by the Byrds and Brewer And Shipley respectively, and "Doctor My
Eyes," an up-tempo performance which reached the US Top 10, but became an even bigger
hit in the hands of the Jackson Five. Browne also drew plaudits for "Take It
Easy," which he wrote with Glenn Frey during a spell when they shared an apartment
and penury. The song was a major success for the latter's group, the Eagles, and in turn
inspired several subsequent collaborations including "Nightingale,"
"Doolin Dalton," and "James Dean." Jackson's own version of
"Take It Easy" appeared on FOR EVERYMAN, which also featured "These
Days," one of the singer's most popular early songs. The album introduced a
long-standing relationship with multi-instrumentalist David Lindley, but although the
punchy "Redneck Friend" became a regional hit, the set was not a commercial
success. LATE FOR THE SKY was an altogether stronger collection, on which Browne ceased
relying on older material and in its place offered a more contemporary perspective.
Extensive touring helped bring the artist a much wider audience and in 1975 he produced
Warren Zevon's debut album for Asylum, infusing a measure of consistency to the
performer's jaundiced wit and delivery. These facets contrasted Browne's own, rather
languid approach which he attempted to reverse by employing producer Jon Landau for THE
PRETENDER. The resultant sense of contrast enhanced much of the material, including
"Here Come Those Tears Again" and the anthemic title track. One of the
benchmarks of '70s American rock, this homage to blue-collar values became a staple part
of AOR radio, while its poignancy was enhanced by the suicide of Jackson's wife, Phyllis,
in March 1976. THE PRETENDER earned a gold disc and the singer's newfound commercial
appeal was emphasized with RUNNING ON EMPTY.
However, Browne did not meekly repeat the formula of its predecessor, and in place of its homogeneous sheen was a set recorded at different locations during a tour. The album included material written by Danny O'Keefe and Danny Kortchmar, as well as an affectionate reading of "Stay," originally recorded by Maurice Williams And The Zodiacs. This performance reached number 20 in the US, but fared better in the UK, climbing to number 12 and providing the singer with his only British hit to date. Despite its rough edges, RUNNING ON EMPTY became the singer's most popular release, closing a particular chapter in his career. During the late '70s Jackson pursued a heightened political profile through his efforts on behalf of the anti-nuclear lobby. In partnership with Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt he organized several cross-country benefits culminating in a series of all-star concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden. The best of these were later compiled on NO NUKES.
It was 1980 before Browne completed a new studio album, but although HOLD ON was undeniably well-crafted, it lacked the depth of earlier work. Nonetheless two of its tracks, "Boulevard" and "That Girl Could Sing," became Top 20 hits in America while in 1982 the singer reached number 7 with "Somebody's Baby," a song taken from the soundtrack of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Commitments to social causes and his personal life only increased Browne's artistic impassť and LAWYERS IN LOVE was a major disappointment. It did, however, contain "Tender Is The Night," which combined the strength of early work to a memorable hookline. LIVES IN THE BALANCE, which addressed the Reagan presidential era, showed a greater sense of accomplishment, a feature continued on WORLD IN MOTION. Following his publicized breakup with actress Daryl Hannah he recorded an album of deeply powerful and introspective lyrics, much in keeping with THE PRETENDER in 1976. I'M ALIVE clearly demonstrated that after more than twenty years of writing songs, it is possible to remain as sharp and fresh as ever. Songs such the title track, "Yeah now I'm rolling down California five, with your laughter in my head, I'm gonna have to block it out somehow to survive cause those dreams are dead, And I'm alive," simple yet moving lyrics showing Browne resigned to a failed relationship. In "Sky Blue And Black" he revisits old territory, with what can be seen as a 1993 version of "Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate," in the song he accepts failure, "When the touch of a lover ends, and the soul of the friend begins, there's a need to be separate and a need to be one." Jackson Browne rightly remains a highly-regarded singer/songwriter, as testified by the numerous acts who have turned to his work over the years. The craftsmanship of his lyrics and melody assures him a devoted audience, and like Neil Young there is a feeling that the best may still be yet to come.
Adapted from Music Central 1997 © 1996 Microsoft Corporation and/or its suppliers. All rights reserved.