by William Thomas Ruhlmann
(Last revised on 9-25-2020)
Despite being almost exclusively a solo artist through the years, he nonetheless did stints in a couple of short-lived St. Louis area bands, starting with a hard rock band known as Swamp Angel in 1969. The band played cover versions only and consisted of KK Brown on bass, his brother Gregg Brown on rhythm guitar, Karl Nagel on vocals, Ronnie Clark on lead guitar, and Floyd Renner on drums.
"Ronnie had turned up with his guitar and Super Beatle amp in tow and played at one or two of the live gigs, but technically was not really a member of the band. Nonetheless, because he was such a stellar guitarist, the band members all wanted him in, and as such, he was initially listed as being a full-fledged member, although he may or may not have been aware of that at the time", said Brown.
Ronnie Clark & Floyd Renner departed early on and were replaced by Mark Livesay on lead guitar and John Patty on drums. This lineup played several live shows around that time and finally disbanded altogether by early 1970.
Prior to Swamp Angel, Brown and a fellow schoolmate and life-long friend, John Gallia, had joined their first band together in 1968 at the age of 15. The band featured Brown on the bass guitar, Gallia on rhythm guitar, a rather mysterious individual who went only by his first name, Sal, on lead guitar, and Chris Ladoux on the drums.
"We only lasted for that initial practice. They apparently thought we (Brown & Gallia) were so lacking on our instruments at that point in time that they completely avoided the two of us afterward and wouldn't return our calls", laughed Brown years later. "It wounded our pride but it also made us both determined to improve and to make them regret that they had given us the boot, although we never saw them again after that."
Karl Nagel, in addition to being the lead vocalist for Swamp Angel, also played guitar and composed on the side. He remained with the two Brown brothers after Swamp Angel had disbanded, and they switched to a more country-rock oriented format around this time, adding Eric Riggs on electric guitar along with Steve Noles on drums, who soon departed and was replaced by Bob Braise (aka Bob Watson), a friend of Riggs. Brown & Riggs had initially met one another in band class at high school, and Riggs was in and out of several different bands with the two Brown brothers during this period.
"It was around that same time that our parents bought us an Ampex reel-to-reel recorder, one that ran at three different recording speeds and featured sound-on-sound recording capabilities. Consequently, I started recording as a solo artist, since a lot of the original material I was coming up with by this time was more acoustic-oriented and didn't really lend itself all that well to a rock band format. With the breakup of The Beatles the year before, I had been heavily influenced at this time by country-rock acts such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and by soft-rock acts such as James Taylor and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young."
In February 1971, he recorded what he still considers to be his first official offering, "Another Midnight's Yearning", which was a collection of songs written for his girlfriend at the time.
"AMY was recorded in a two-week span from start to finish on the Ampex reel-to-reel recorder with a top tape speed of 7.5 IPS and no noise reduction circuitry onboard whatsoever. Also, there was no onboard mixer like today's digital equipment, so each time you added a part, everything had to be balanced relative to one another prior to committing the overlaid track addition to tape."
I wound up playing everything on all 12 of the tracks, and not necessarily all that well, either. I used the back of my acoustic guitar as the drums, playing it much like one would do with a set of bongos."
In August 1971, he abruptly pulled up stakes and moved to North Canton, Ohio, where he remained until May 1973, marrying during that time also. It was while there that he was subsequently introduced to Bryan Walters in the spring of 1972, and the pair hit it off instantly. Walters was an acoustic guitarist with an above-average voice, and the two of them, along with Gregg Brown (who had flown in from Missouri), put together an extended set of songs that they performed as a trio in August 1972 at the Ohio State Fair. Had it not been for Brown's moving back to Missouri in May 1973, it's likely that Brown & Walters would've continued to collaborate off and on.
In April 1973, about a month prior to moving back to Missouri, Brown and his first wife, Debbie, attended a James Taylor concert at Kent State University with another couple, and it was while at this concert that they met and conversed at some length with Peter Asher of the 60's British duo "Peter & Gordon", who was working the soundboards for the Taylor concert that evening.
After Peter & Gordon had split up in the late 60's, Asher had worked for a time as the A&R man for the Beatles at Apple Records. At the time of the 1972 meeting, he was the manager for James Taylor as well as several other artists.
"He was an incredibly easy person to talk to, very gracious, down-to-earth and not at all like you might expect considering whom he rubbed shoulders with in those days. By the time our conversation was over, I had been invited to submit a demo of a few of my compositions to his office, as they were looking for new material for Linda Ronstadt's new LP, which was another artist he was managing at the time."
Once back in Missouri the following month, Brown wasted no time in getting together the required funds for the demo, and booked studio time.
"We recorded 2 tracks with studio musicians and I shipped them off to Peter Asher Management in California and awaited his response. It took several months before he got back, and when he did, it was in the form of a block letter thanking me for submitting, but also advising me that what I had submitted was not what they were looking for at that particular time for Ronstadt (or anybody else for that matter), which to me was rather disappointing. I still have the rejection letter to this very day."
In the interim, Brown teamed up with several other musicians in early 1974, a very casual teaming up that also was short-lived. The band members for this group were, in addition to KK Brown on both the acoustic guitar & bass, Gregg Brown on acoustic guitar, Mike Toal on acoustic guitar & bass (Brown and Toal alternated at times - when one was on the guitar, the other handled the bass duties), Denise and Diana Myers on the piano, and Steve Noles, who by this time had returned back into the fold, on drums once more. The two Myers twins soon thereafter departed and were replaced by Roger Proffer on the piano and acoustic guitar.
After the demise of this group in late 1974, he took several months away from any sort of group work altogether and did mostly live solo dates or live dates featuring him alongside his brother, Gregg. The two brothers had an all-acoustic act at this time a la Seals & Crofts and did the occasional coffee house circuit as well as auditioning for a series of NCO gigs at a local Missouri military installation, Fort Leonard Wood.
"The Fort Wood gig never did materialize. We drove down to the base the night before the audition with a friend, Phil Johnson, who was stationed there at the time, and whom had also set the audition up for us in the first place. We stayed at a trailer just outside of the base and wound up staying up the entire night and jamming with one of the guys who lived there. The audition itself the following afternoon went great, but the Staff Sargeant who conducted it made it known that he didn't care for the length of our hair, and we never got the job. After all, this was 1975."
Brown teamed up a couple of times with another long-time friend and fellow musician, John Komosa, and the duo performed at least two live dates over a period of about one year from late 1975 through late 1976. From late 1976 through the end of 1978, Brown, for the most part, was a solo artist.
In early 1979 however, he again returned to group work when he teamed up with Dan Schmidt and Mark Swindle, two local St. Louis area musicians. They ultimately had a pretty good run and the trio did several live affairs off and on over a period of about 7 years, performing at local 50’s parties where they would do sets of songs originally done by the Kingston Trio as well as New Years Eve gigs, etc. They eventually went on permanent hiatus in the fall of 1986, each of them pursuing solo projects. Also, for a very short time during late 1980, he teamed up with Swindle alongside Tim & Margo Spickler with the aim of putting together a small lounge act, but those plans were never realized.
Brown's final live venue came in October 1987, when he again teamed up with Schmidt & Swindle for a 50's party performance for one evening only. It proved to be his final performance alongside Mark Swindle, who sadly passed away in 2008.
While Schmidt and Swindle both continued to perform live dates separately and together for the next several years after 1986, Brown, who had remarried in 1979, had been finding himself with increasingly less time to devote to live performing as time went on. Consequently, he had decided as early as 1983 to eventually dispense with doing live dates altogether as soon as possible and instead concentrate on studio work. He subsequently began buying up recording equipment and by the spring of 1984 began cranking out a few rough demo recordings.
"I had no working recording equipment at the start", stated Brown. "It took several months to get all of that into place, and even afterward, there was a learning curve as to how to get the best possible sound quality out of what was essentially an amateur home recording studio. So, I took my time with those initial recordings, enough so that it was 1988 before I had a sufficient number of acceptable tracks in the can to justify putting out anything at all."
The result was a privately-released cassette in 1988 appropriately titled "Playing To An Audience Of None," which had a limited number of copies available that went to family and close friends only, and is long since out-of-print.
"The cassette cover left a lot to be desired and looked extremely amateurish due to the fact that it was designed on and around a primitive, low resolution scanner and almost archaic computer hardware and software. And due to the fact that it was recorded entirely with 4-track analog tape equipment running at 1.875 IPS, the final mixdown quality of the master tape was nowhere near being sufficient enough to warrant any type of an official release. Despite those obvious shortcomings, it still had some fairly decent material on it, and like "Another Midnight's Yearning", I would love to re-record several of the tracks that were on it one day", said Brown.
After the cassette release, Brown was rather dispirited about the final results and consequently took yet another extended break from the music scene for the next several years, beginning in late 1988. In the spring of 1996, however, he acquired some decent MIDI equipment with which to compose and record, came back into the fold, and began work on a new project titled "Plain Brown Wrapper", which took about 2 years off and on to complete, but was never "officially" released.
In 1999 and 2003 respectively, he issued two privately-released CDs, the first one being the afore-mentioned "Plain Brown Wrapper" and the latter effort being titled "21st Century Minstrel". Both of these efforts are also currently out-of-print, but the 2010 official release, "Retrospective", was for the most part a culling of some of the better tracks from the "Plain Brown Wrapper" and the "21st Century Minstrel" efforts. Several of the tracks were completely re-recorded from scratch with new digital recording equipment, but several of the tracks that appeared on the "Retro" CD were derived from the old original analog masters, and so the CD as a whole was about 50-50 digital and analog. All recorded works since that time have been strictly digital masters.
He has continued to compose and record intermittently off and on through the intervening years. A second release, "Fresh Tracks" appeared in July 2011, and in September 2012, a third offering, titled "Living By The Numbers", was released. A 4th release, titled "Shades Of Blue", sat on the shelf for almost 4 years upon completion in 2013, and was finally officially released in early October 2017.
Sometime during the Spring of 2019, all 4 releases ("Retrospective", "Fresh Tracks", "Living By The Numbers" and "Shades Of Blue") went out-of-print due to a manufacturing snafu. The decision was made at that time to let them remain in an "out-of-print" status as far as Internet downloads were concerned. As a result, the releases no longer show up as active releases, although they are still available directly from the artist himself at www.kkbrown.com -In their place, a new release, containing 17 tracks all culled from the first three releases, was issued on 10-23-2019. The release, titled "Hindsight", is available as well as a re-released version of the "Shades Of Blue" release. The 2019 re-released version of "Shades Of Blue" features 13 tracks as opposed to the original 2017 release, which, due to a licensing snafu, only featured 12 tracks. Also, a new studio release, "The Hard Road", was issued simultaneously alongside the "Hindsight" and "Shades Of Blue" releases in October 2019.