Fans ask him to sing, and that is what guitarist Norman Brown is doing

Published on March 23rd, 2021

By Jim Dail

Like most instrumentalists, guitarist Norman Brown became enthralled with guitar playing at a young age.

After being blown away by the sounds of Jimi Hendrix when he was eight years old, he spent some time playing in garage bands before being introduced to jazz by his father.

“Hendrix was just an amazing guitarist and created this new sound that had not been heard before,” said Brown who performs Saturday at Wilson Creek Winery as part of the 2007 Sunset Jazz in the Vines series. “But my initial introduction to jazz was through the great Wes Montgomery.”

It didn’t take long for him to find a career in music, both as performer and as a teacher at the renowned Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles.

“I was performing professionally way before I was a teacher,” he said. “In fact, I started professionally at the age of 14.”

Within a few years he would be signed to Motown Records and release three critically acclaimed albums, “Just Between Us,” “After the Storm,” and “Better Days.” It was when he signed with Warner Bros. that his career truly took a gigantic leap and introduced him to the production talents of noted producer Paul Brown.

“He is very musical and with incredible technical studio knowledge,” he said.

Since then the success and awards have kept coming, most notably with 2002’s “Just Chillin’” which won a Grammy for best pop instrumental recording.

However, always looking for something new, Brown decided to go beyond guitar playing for his latest album.

On his new record, “West Coast Coolin’,” it’s not just about the guitar as Brown showcases his voice. That might seem a gamble for someone so established as a guitarist but that didn’t worry Brown.

“I’ve always loved singing,” he said. “I sang in high school and church choirs even before I started playing the guitar. Both singing and playing guitar are equally fulfilling and each one has become intrical to the other.”

It’s also a response to his fans.

“My fans kept asking me to do more singing,” he said. “At the same time I wanted to go further into some of the great Soul and R&B sounds that have been such a tremendous influence on me. I tried to bring those two goals together on this new album.”

Brown has already found himself with a label, this time as an “urban vocalist.”

“What that means to me is that I sing songs that express the human emotion, with influences going back to Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and the Motown era,” he said.

Brown also looks at his songs as an exploration of both life and the musical styles that influenced him so much in the past.

“My songs are inspired by life experiences, but for this album I knew I wanted to get more into singing so most of the songs I wrote had that purpose in mind,” Brown said. “At the same time, I wanted to move deeper into the R&B grooves that I’d been exploring both on stage and in the studio.”

Just as Hendrix did decades ago, Brown continues to explore new sounds and levels of creativity. Ultimately, he realizes that only works when there’s something created that can give something back to the audience.

“It’s important to reach your audience, to give them an experience they will remember,” he concludes. “But music is also about finding out what gives you joy and pursuing that. I think on this album, I’ve managed to do both.”


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