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Junior Brown lets finances slide

Junior BrownJunior Brown has had one of those all-encompassing, hard-to-define careers that has enjoyed success in many different areas.

Brown started played guitar and singing as a teenager in the late 1960s, and he spent the next 20 years in the classic struggling-musician lifestyle, playing clubs at night, teaching guitar by day and wondering if success would ever arrive.

While fame was elusive, his searing guitar prowess could only go ignored for so long. In the late '80s, he and his rhythm-guitarist wife Tanya Rae formed the house band at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas. The Continental Club gig finally brought him a following for his searing slide guitar work.

Brown's push toward the spotlight was assisted by his invention of a new instrument that melded a slide and traditional guitar. The guit-steel, as he called it, has one body but two necks, allowing him to quickly switch from one to the other instead of having to switch guitars, as most did.

A successful Continental Club show during Austin's SXSW music industry conference led to Brown's singing with Curb Records. From that point on, fans of both country music and guitar heroics have come to regard Brown as one of the best.

Since then, Brown has racked up numerous accolades and branched out into some interesting areas. The readers of Guitar Player voted him the No. 1 lap steel player in 1994, and he was the only contemporary musician named to LIFE Magazine's All-Time Country Band. His fan base has included some of the biggest names in rock as well, as he has played with The Dave Matthews Band and Stone Temple Pilots (whom he joined on the David Letterman show.)

He has also developed a lucrative career as an advertising pitchman, appearing in much played commercials for The Gap and Lipton Tea, and singing the Buddy Lee theme song for Lee Jeans.

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Bankrate spoke to Brown about his dues-paying years and the lucrative financial opportunities his newfound diversity has created for him.

Bankrate: The years you spent teaching and doing side work, were you making a good living?

Junior Brown: No. Well, I did make a good living in the late '60s and early '70s when I worked in the clubs because you could make good money playing in bars back then, and the money went a lot further than it does now. Then toward the late '70s it started going down, and by the '80s it was pretty bad. Times changed. People stopped going out for entertainment. They had VCRs, and they clamped down on drinking and driving, a lot of factors. Plus, there were a million bands. When I started, there weren't that many. So I didn't make very good money, and I had to start teaching because of that. I also took some construction jobs. I supported myself however I could.

Bankrate: When did things turn around for you financially?

Junior Brown: In Austin, around 1987 or 1988. I was able to put my own group together and actually see some success out of it. I could always get an audience around Austin. I got more popular and the price went up.

Bankrate: Once you got a record deal and put a record out on Curb, did that increase your status financially?

Junior Brown: Oh yeah, but as I said, it was already gradually coming up. But once I signed with Curb, I became national and known in other countries as well. Once you do that, you go into another category.

Bankrate: How has the ad work impacted your income?

Junior Brown: They pay very well, depending on the ad you get and the type of deal you can make. It can be very lucrative. The Lipton tea one in particular was very good for me -- they're a bigger money company and I made four commercials with them. And I had a good lawyer. You have to have a good lawyer to help you negotiate things.

Bankrate: Has this been the kind of money, like, set-for-life money?

Junior Brown: No, but they pay very well. Other ones don't pay very much, but it depends on who you get, what kind of deal you get and how lucrative it is for the company. It's like any other business in that respect.

Bankrate: What is your greatest source of income now?

Junior Brown: Well, right now it's touring because I tour a lot. I'm out there quite a bit, right around 250 days a year, maybe a little less.

Bankrate: Do you invest at all?

Junior Brown: No. My wife has made some investments, but I don't really know anything about that. I'm not financially savvy as far as those things go. I suppose I should learn a little bit, but I just work on the music.

Bankrate: How is she planning for your financial future?

Junior Brown: She's got some things going on that I don't know a lot about. I'm just going to keep working as long as I can.

-- Posted: March 25, 2003
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