That’s Tony Brown’s boogie woogie piano licks anchoring Elvis Presley’s final single “Way Down.” Entering the entertainment field as a Southern Gospel accompanist, by the nineties Brown had transitioned into a Nashville power player presiding over MCA and Universal South. His production credits range from George Strait, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Lionel Richie, to boatloads more. Prior to Barry Gibb’s reimagined duets LP Greenfields exceeding expectations with a Top 3 placement on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, Brown met with the “New York Mining Disaster 1941” song weaver at his Miami home. That prospective Music City collaboration with the syncopated Bee Gees rhythm guitarist has never been disclosed…until today.
The Tony Brown Interview, Part One
On what would have been Elvis’ 86th birthday on January 8, 2021, Barry Gibb dropped Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1, a duets-laden Nashville affair sampling the Australian trio’s greatest hits and a smattering of deep cuts. Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and the late John Prine’s right hand man Dave Cobb steered the project. Have you considered working with the “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” balladeer?
I went down to Miami and met with Barry about doing a record in 2015 [or earlier, since Gibb set foot on the Grand Ole Opry stage twice and performed at Kenny Rogers’ induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame between 2012 and 2013].
Barry had originally come to town and bought Johnny Cash’s Old Hickory Lake house in Hendersonville [purchased in December 2005, two years after the Man in Black’s death, a construction crew was in the midst of extensive renovations when a fire originating from wood preservatives and other flammable chemicals ravaged the structure in 2007. Gibb, who never actually lived on the 4.5 acre lakefront property, finally sold it in 2014. Incidentally, Strait and Patty Loveless teamed up with Brown in the production chair for “House of Cash,” a “fiddle-topped Southern rock” paean, on 2008’s Troubadour].
I was a little intimidated to ask Barry anything. After kidding around and breaking the ice, I wondered aloud, “What kinda stuff would you do if you came to Nashville to cut a record?” [Gibb had not tackled a full-length album since the Barbra Streisand collaboration Guilty Pleasures in 2005]. Barry played this old, old Jeannie Seely country song on acoustic guitar [Seely was an active chart presence from 1966–1974 whose most substantial hits were “Don’t Touch Me” and “Can I Sleep in Your Arms”]. He did a really good job.
He loves Ricky Skaggs [the “Highway 40 Blues” traditional country artist tackled Gibb’s composition “Soldier’s Son” on Music to My Ears and introduced Gibb at his Opry debut] and probably sang some of his songs during our meeting, too. I was like, ‘That’s totally the opposite of what I thought he would do’ [laughs].
As the day came to an end and I was walking out of Barry’s house, I realized, ‘If I get a chance to cut Barry Gibb in the studio, what in the hell will I do?’ He doesn’t have the falsetto that he used to have and hasn’t aged the best. He didn’t seem to be focused on what he really wanted to do, so a collaboration never materialized. Barry did cut an album after I saw him [In the Now, co-produced by Gibb and John Merchant for Columbia in 2016]. I heard it wasn’t great.
The opportunity to work with Barry would have been incredible and fun, but I never want to do anything where I can’t make a contribution. In a way I’m glad it didn’t come to pass because Barry seemed to be blue skyin’ about doing a record just because he was bored. In contrast, Lionel Richie was on a mission when he came to Nashville and cut Tuskegee with me and some of our top singers [e.g. Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, and Tim McGraw; Richie’s 2012 comeback garnered platinum certification and paved the way for his position as a judge on the ABC reboot of American Idol].
Everybody, from rockers to Top 40 pop singers, wants to record in Nashville. They love our musicians, even a fantastic soul-drenched vocalist like the late Joe Cocker. I was privileged to cut “I Hope” for his penultimate album Hard Knocks , originally written by the Chicks for their Grammy-winning, Rick Rubin-produced Taking the Long Way. If Barry and I had agreed to get together, I would have encouraged him to move to Nashville for a month so I could send him co-writers like Stapleton to workshop great material [ironically, Gibb wrote in the liner notes for Greenfields that “my eldest son Stephen handed me his iPhone and said, ‘Dad, listen to this song.’ The artist was Chris Stapleton. The sound and feel just blew me away and threw me into this journey. I asked Stephen who Chris’ producer was and he said a gentleman named Dave Cobb…”].
DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! The Tony Brown conversation carries on below…
Tony Brown ‘germed’ bully bruiser Charles Bronson and lived to tell about it [PART TWO]
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© Jeremy Roberts, 2021. All rights reserved. The Tony Brown interview was edited for clarity and brevity and sequenced cohesively. To touch base, email email@example.com and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.