Most blues aficionados instantly know the name Kenny Brown when it is mentioned. After all, Brown has been a recognizable figure in the North Mississippi hill country blues scene for thirty years or so, where he has both played in lineups alongside big-name bluesmen and released his own solo albums. But Brown is best known for playing guitar in legendary bluesman R.L. Burnside’s band from his eighteenth year until Burnside passed away in 2005. In fact, it was when Burnside’s health started failing that Brown struck out as a solo artist, releasing his debut album Stingray on Fat Possum Records, the same label that released a good deal of Burnside’s material. That was in 2003.
More recently, Kenny Brown has recorded and put together a two-disc release for Devil Down Records, titled Can’t Stay Long. Each disc is labeled according to its content; the first, Moneymaker, is comprised of twelve songs that can definitely heat up any juke joint party; and the second, Porch Songs, has thirteen acoustic pickers to which one can stomp one’s feet and sing along. Without a doubt, this is one for any discerning blues enthusiast’s collection, with such great songs as “Ms. Maybelle,” “Walkin’ Blues,” “Skinny Woman,” “Alice Mae,” “Jesus on the Mainline,” “When You Got a Good Friend,” “Prodigal Son,” and “Leavin’ Town.”
When one looks into the story of Kenny Brown’s life up until now, he clearly seemed destined for the blues. Though he was born in Alabama, he and his folks moved on to Nesbit, Mississippi before he was even a year old. At ten he had already developed an interest in the guitar and began teaching himself the basics. Not long after that, bluesman Joe Callicott moved into the house right next door to the Brown residence. It didn’t take long for him to become the boy’s mentor, and over time Callicott’s instruction proved invaluable. Brown was surrounded by bluesmen in addition to Callicott, such as Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, and R.L. Burnside. The boy had a taste for the blues, that much was evident. And he was determined to prove himself as blues musician.
Today Kenny Brown lives in Potts Camp, Mississippi, where he is no longer a student of North Mississippi hill country blues, he is a master bluesman whose style is both unique and important. Whether he is reworking blues standards or composing originals, he is carving out his place in blues history with every pick, strum, and slide on his guitar, and with every line of vocal delivery.
Not only did R.L. Burnside affectionately refer to Brown as his “adopted son,” he also introduced him at on state as “white boy on guitar.” Those references simply go to show how daring and talented Brown must have been even then, since the blues were predominantly African American styles of music at that time. In recent years the ethnic lines have been erased to an extent, though the blues indisputably remain a rich piece of African American history. So Brown did indeed prove himself as a bluesman, beside R.L. Burnside and by himself as a solo artist. And that is no small achievement.
If you are interested in Kenny Brown’s two-disc release, Can’t Stay Long, you can get your hands on a copy through Devil Down Record’s webstore.