Born c. 1965 in Maceo, KY; son of Vincent (a factory worker) and Barbara Brown; divorced; children: Crystal, Marty. Addresses: Record company--MCA Nashville, 60 Music Sq. E., Nashville, TN 37293.
A small-town Kentucky singer-songwriter who actually slept in the alleys of Nashville until he was "discovered" in 1991, Marty Brown records his own down-home songs in a voice that has drawn comparisons to the legendary Hank Williams, Sr., and country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. At a time when the country music industry has attempted to lure new listeners by offering rock- and pop-flavored artists, Brown has made no concessions in his traditional music. Instead, he has taken his particular sound to the people who appreciate it most, performing live at small venues throughout the South and Midwest. Dallas Morning News music critic Michael Corcoran wrote: "Make no mistake about it.... The pride of Maceo, Kentucky, is one heck of a country singer.... Brown sings like he's on a front porch at the end of six miles of dirt road. He's the real thing."
The story of Marty Brown's climb to success is one of the most notable in recent memory. The young artist has estimated that he made more than 100 trips from his small Kentucky hometown to Nashville's fabled Music Row before any industry executives agreed to listen to him. "Used to be that country music did nothing more than make me a good mechanic," Brown told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I'm used to driving $200 cars and then working on them myself." Now, thanks to exposure on the CBS television show 48 Hours and articles in the pages of People magazine, Brown has found a national audience, released three albums with MCA Records, and received effusive reviews in the Washington Post and Rolling Stone. "What's happening now is simply wild," he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "It's more than I ever dreamed of."
Marty Brown was born and raised in the tiny hamlet of Maceo, Kentucky (pronounced "May-see-o," population 500). One of six children of a factory worker and a homemaker, he was surrounded by a variety of musical influences. His parents liked traditional country music and early Elvis Presley tunes; his older brother preferred hard rock. From infancy, Brown was completely devoted to country music himself. He learned how to play his father's guitar at the age of nine and began composing his own songs in his teens. "Country music that's good country music--it don't never die," Brown told the Los Angeles Times. "That's what I chose to listen to: early Johnny Cash, early Elvis Presley, Hank Sr., George Jones, Merle Haggard, and my biggest influence, [pop duo] the Everly Brothers."
Brown would shut himself in the bathroom to tape-record songs he had written. He was convinced that they were as good as any he heard on the radio and that, with proper instrumental backup, he could perform them and become a star. By the time he graduated from high school, he had consigned dozens of original songs to tape. "I used to cry myself to sleep at night wanting this to happen to me," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think if the Lord sees you want something bad enough, He's going to reach down and He's going to help you achieve it. But you have to really prove yourself first."
The trips to Nashville began. Brown, who was supporting a wife and two young children on what he could earn as a plumber's assistant and part-time mechanic, spent his spare time knocking on doors in Nashville, trying to get an agent, a recording contract, or even a dependable performing gig. No one was interested. At home in Kentucky he entered a talent show sponsored by the Everly Brothers--and lost. Time after time Brown found himself penniless and ignored, sleeping in Nashville's alleys while waiting for his mother to come drive him home to Kentucky. "Man, I'd come back from those failed trips [to Nashville] like a dog with a tail between his legs," Brown recalled in the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I'd throw that old guitar down that night and say I'd never mess with it again. But in the morning, I'd be up writing a new song again."
After one particular day of pavement-pounding in Nashville, Brown was ready to give up completely. Trudging down the sidewalk, he saw the words "Trust Jesus" scrawled on the sidewalk in front of a firm that represents songwriters. "I looked up at the sky and just took me a deep breath and I went in there," Brown told USA Today. An agent listened to him perform eight songs and agreed to try to find him a recording contract. Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, Brown found himself the subject of a CBS-TV news documentary on country music that was broadcast on 48 Hours, a popular newsmagazine anchored by Dan Rather. The show gave Brown ample room to demonstrate not only his songwriting talent but also his engaging, down-home personality. After the show aired, Nashville's biggest record companies engaged in a bidding war to sign the would-be country star.
Brown's debut album, High and Dry, was released in 1991. Almost immediately the artist encountered the problem that has plagued him ever since--many radio stations in large markets would not play his singles; ironically, Marty Brown--with his hillbilly vocals and catchy laments about lost love--is considered "too country" for modern country radio. None of the singles from his first three albums managed to break the top 40 on the country charts.
Brown still managed to find his audience, however. High and Dry has sold more than 100,000 copies. As Corcoran noted in the Dallas Morning News: "The only way to hear Brown's music is to buy it, and fans of real country music are doing that so often that he may become the first album-oriented country artist since Boxcar Willie." However, in a review of Brown's third LP, Cryin', Lovin', Leavin', in Country Music, Rich Kienzle asserted, "It would be an opportune time for Brown to hit the radio since this ... is his best album ever," and added, "Brown's ballads remain achingly intense and direct, with the pure, old-fashioned moralism of a weathered 'Jesus Saves' sign along a rural highway." Kienzle remarked that with the debut of a classic country station in Nashville, Brown may have a chance at airplay alongside staple original country artists including Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.
Brown has augmented his recording with a touring schedule that includes--along with the obligatory state fairs--live performances at Wal-Mart stores, especially in the South. Brown began his Wal-Mart appearances the year after his first album was released and has continued to do them ever since. Typically, the shows, which are underwritten by MCA Records, are performed in a store aisle with modest amplification and a stage about a foot high. Fans give Brown homemade cookies, jam, and fishing lures. "I wanted a tour like this to hit these small, out-of-the-way towns," Brown told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Coming from a town like Maceo, I know that you don't get to see anything exciting come into town very much. I think it's also a neat way to get out in front of ordinary people who would ordinarily never get to see you."
"Ordinary" may be a defining word for Marty Brown. His songs are heartfelt without resorting to cliche, his soulful voice echoes the Hank Williams tradition, and his easygoing personality has not been altered by his brush with fame. "My music is quite real to me," Brown told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "That's why I think real people will relate to it. I've experienced that stuff. That's been my way of dealing with life." Asked what kept him going through all the years of rejection, Brown told USA Today: "I didn't want to turn 50 and look at these songs in a drawer and say, 'I wonder what would have happened if I had tried.'"
by Anne Janette Johnson
Marty Brown's Career
Country singer and songwriter, 1991--. Signed with MCA Records and released High and Dry, 1991. Has also worked as a plumber's assistant, grocery bagger, and auto mechanic.
- Selective Works
- High and Dry, MCA, 1991.
- Blue Kentucky Skies, MCA, 1993.
- Cryin', Lovin', Leavin', MCA, 1994.
- Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1991.
- Country Music, July/August 1994.
- Dallas Morning News, March 2, 1992.
- Lexington Herald-Leader, October 20, 1991; September 4, 1992; March 19, 1993; June 4, 1993; April 30, 1994.
- Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1992.
- People, November 18, 1991.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, August 11, 1993.
- Rolling Stone, November 14, 1991.
- State (Columbia, SC), June 25, 1993.
- USA Today, September 24, 1991.