Candid Stories & Collective
Consciousness with the
legendary Jackson Browne
To say that he has been a prolific songwriter is putting it mildly.
He has been pivotal in defining a genre of songwriting charged with honesty, emotion and personal politics. Jackson Browne was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, and into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
His success began when his debut album came out on David Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1972. Since then, he has released fourteen studio albums, four collections of live performances, two “best of” compilations, two DVDs, and several single recordings.
He is known for his advocacy on behalf of the environment, human rights, and Arts Education. He’s the co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) and Nukefree.org and a member of the Ocean advocacy group, Ocean Elders.
In 2002, he was the fourth recipient of the John Steinbeck Award, given to artists whose works exemplify the environmental and social values that were essential to the great California-born author. He has received Duke University’s LEAF award for Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts, and both the Chapin-World Hunger Year and NARM Harry Chapin Humanitarian Awards. In 2004, Jackson was given an honorary Doctorate of Music by Occidental College in Los Angeles, for “a remarkable musical career that has successfully combined an intensely personal artistry with a broader vision of social justice.”
It's been a long time since he's been "Running on Empty," and I was grateful to have the honor of speaking to this legendary Rock legend about his new album and what it took for him to get here.
What makes a good song to me? I really listen to the words. They should tell a story. You should be able to sit back, listen, close your eyes and hear and see the story unfold. Songs today...a lot of them, have gotten away from that, from the imagery. These days, it seems to be more about speed and raw energy and anger. It doesn't have to be.
~ Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne has written and performed key songs from the 60's to recently, His newest album, “Downhill From Everywhere,” was released in 2021 and GRAMMY nominated for Best Americana Album.
His legendary songs have been "Running on Empty, "Doctor My Eyes," "The Pretender," "Somebody's Baby," and co-writer of "Take It Easy," (which was recorded by the Eagles).
By Kreig Marks, May 2022
KM: Let’s go back. You were 16 when your first song made it with Nico, the Andy Warhol protégé? Can you explain how that came about?
JB: It was a sad time in my life. I was having some struggles in school, you know, with some tests, grades, things like that. And around the house, I was just going through teen things I guess, and I just wanted to be by myself a lot. And the song just came to me.
KM: Is it fair to say that Greg Copeland and Steve Noonan got you into songwriting in High School, when you weren’t really big as an athlete back then?
JB: They were both big influences in my life. Greg was like a mentor to me. He pushed me to write music and really taught me a lot about writing. Steve was also a big influence on me. He helped keep me emotionally balanced, I suppose.
KM: You and Leonard Cohen hang out at a bar, both of you infatuated with NICO, can you give us the imagery of teenage Rock 'n Roll lives, what was Leonard doing back then, while you were earning $100 a week, or how was it back then?
JB: At the time, I was playing guitar for Nico and she would sing. She was very beautiful and, one night while we were doing our thing, Leonard Cohen stopped by and you could tell right away he was really into Nico. LOL! She and I were together, and the 3 of us ended up becoming very good friends.
KM: It occurs to me, so much acid and what a time, how do you think some of you made it out alive, what got you into the 70’s and thru that?
JB: Yeah, there was a bit of experimentation going on with acid and other drugs, and as you're aware, not everyone did make it out alive. Jimi, Janice, and a lot of others didn't make it. Everyone was doing it. I'm not saying I condone drug use, but there was a lot of it happening. Being on acid seemed to get your creativity really cooking but, after a while you had to either carefully step off or you were gonna jump off.
KM: Sad and too true. Tell us about co-writing "Take It Easy" with Glenn Frey. Take us back. Where are you both? What city, what’s going on? Are you laughing, are you drunk, stoned, did someone have a bad breakup?
JB: Ha! We were probably drunk, stoned and struggling with relationships! In all seriousness, I was on a road trip out West in Arizona and Utah. I was writing songs for my first solo album after leaving The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. "Take it Easy" was one of the songs I'd been working on. When I got back to LA, I kinda put the song away for a bit, because it was just giving me fits. One day, Glen came by and we were talking about music, and I told him about the song and how I was stuck. He said, "Let me hear what you got!" I played it for him to the point where I had left off. He told me I had to finish it, to get it on my album. Man, I tried. Something about it, I was stuck. So, I gave the song to Glen and told him to give it a shot, and he came up with ‘It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me." LOL. And.....there you go!
KM: Wow! Very cool. And you gave him equal credit for the entire song?
JB: Yeah. I mean, look, if he didn't come up with that line, for all I know, the song would still be sitting in some folder somewhere in a junk drawer in my house.
KM: Nah, I don't think so, it's a great song, and yeah, that cool line people remember. Since the 90’s you’ve been with Dianna Cohen, what makes that relationship so solid to you?
JB: First of all, she's an amazing woman, very smart, beautiful, very ambitious, so driven. She's a lifelong environmentalist, which I've been for a long time, but since being with Dianna, I've become even moreso. She's so caring and will do anything in her ability to help secure the environment. She's 100% supportive of me and my career, and I'm 100% supportive of her, too. We get each other.
KM: It's important in a relationship. Glad you both have that. You have been involved now with environmental activism and politically, so let’s suppose you had a week with how it is NOW in this SITUATION in the OVAL OFFICE, how do you handle things, hypothetically speaking?
JB: Wow, you're gonna ask me that question? Man! What could I accomplish in a week? It would take a lot longer than a week. Let's see... Well, I would try to get my point of view across, not only to our country, but to the entire world. Remember that old saying, it takes a village? Well, the entire world would have to agree to come together as a planetary village to get things moving in the right direction. Fossil fuels would have to go. We'd have to invest in wind energy, solar energy. All these fuels are poisoning our environment every second of every day. We're killing trees to make malls. We're polluting our water supply. We're poisoning the air we breathe. We're destroying our entire ecosystem every day. When's it gonna end? I'd have to put together some of the top people in the entertainment industry to create some type of eye-popping video or movie that shows the truth, and we'd blast it over and over and over. I'd need a lot more than a week.
KM: Well, there it is. I think you've just found a project, so I hope you do that. You don't have to be in the oval office to do it. I'd love to see
the artistry all of you come up with to drive that message forward. It's so key! How it is to see Ethan with kids and as a father? What does this do for you in your own outlook?
JB: Ethan is a great father. He's a great son, a great man. I love seeing him with his kids. When I see him in his movies, modeling, with his daughter, and being such a great dad, it makes me very proud. It makes me feel I've done something really right in my life.
KM: That's great to hear. Is Ryan Browne playing bass? How's it going with his music? Does he remind you of yourself in any way at that age?
JB: Yeah, he's a very talented bass player. He's had his own band for quite some time. He's his own man, and I enjoy watching him and listening to his music. Does he remind me of myself at that age? Nah, not really. He's a better musician than I am!
KM: LOL. Sometimes there are unique scenarios we here at TRU ROCK just cannot help but ask about so here goes, in the late 60’s you were at Peter Tork’s Laurel Canyon home, where you were quoted in the 70’s as saying, “Jimi Hendrix was up there jamming with Buddy Miles in the pool house, and Peter Tork's girlfriend was playing the drums, naked.” Oh man, you have GOT TO tell us about that night, please?
JB: Oh Wow! I haven't thought about that in a minute. Yeah, that was a pretty cool night, LOL. I was a kid, probably 21 or 22 at the time, and really just starting out. Peter was pretty famous from the TV show "The Monkees," and Jimi and Buddy, well, everyone knew who they were. So yeah, I'm at Pete's house, and Jimi and Buddy are doing their thing and no one's on the drums. So, Pete's girlfriend, Reine Stewart, who he later married, climbed behind the drum kit and started banging around there and took off her clothes! She was actually pretty good on the drums and looked good playing them! LOL. That I definitely remember. What Jimi and Buddy were playing took second fiddle, if you follow my drift.
KM: LOL!! Great story. What stood out about Jimi Hendrix to you?
JB: What stood out about Jimi? Besides being such an amazing guitarist, he was a real sweet guy and had these gigantic hands. His hands could literally wrap around the entire neck of the guitar. He was very spiritual but was very shy, too.
KM: Sad in how short-lived his career was, great that you got to see him without all of the flash, behind the scenes. In this Rock ‘n Roll life, tell me about people you have had chance encounters with where you still remember it, as far as icons for you.
JB: Are there really any chance encounters in our lives? I think people come and go in our lives as they're meant to. Everyone you come across in life is put there for a specific reason, don't you think? Your best friend, your college roommate, your favorite elementary school teacher who you still revere to this day. Your first music teacher. Your first love, your current love. Everyone you encounter is destined. I really believe that. But, to give you some type of answer, I'd say that night at Peter Tork's house when Buddy Miles showed up. That was pretty cool.
KM: Very cool! It's true, we all think things are happenstance, until we see the deeper connection and what things lead to by these encounters. Not to be taken for granted if we open our eyes as it goes on. What makes a good song to you, when you hear that it has something different or special to you? There is just so much music out there and some sounds very similar.
JB: What makes a good song to me? When I listen to a song, I really listen to the words. They should tell a story. You should be able to sit back, listen, close your eyes and hear and see the story unfold. Songs today, not all but a lot of them, have gotten away from that, from the imagery. These days, it seems to be more about speed and raw energy and anger. It doesn't have to be.
KM: Yes, with gear and virtuosity storytelling gets lost. Who has been groundbreaking from the 60’s to now, besides you, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, and the piano of Elton and Billy, etc. Who else is groundbreaking in your idea of music?
JB: Oh man, there's a lot of them out there. The Stones, The Who, Clapton - when he does his thing. Jeff Beck, Robert Plant is constantly reinventing his genre. Bonnie Raitt comes to mind, too.
KM: You both sounded great when you did "Angel From Montgomery!" Let's talk about the new album, Downhill From Everywhere. Tell me about the title, what does that mean to you?
JB: All of the hard work we put into the album was worth it. It's an album for the people, to spread the word about life, the environment. If we all spend a few minutes each day helping each other understand that the Earth needs help, needs love, it'll all be downhill from there, from everywhere. We all need to do our part every day. It's not as difficult as most people think. If we take politics out of the equation, it'll really all be downhill from here, from everywhere.
KM: Truth, it takes everyone being conscious about saving the resources, and caring about it. The title song, "Downhill from Everywhere" is pretty rockin. Tell me about the musicians and the female backup vocalists.
JB: Greg Leisz is rhythm guitar. This guy is solid as can be. Val McCallum is lead guitar and smokes it! He brings these cool "wah" sounds to the song, and it really brings out a whole new dimension to it. Bob Glaub is on bass, solid as can be. Jeff Young is on the keys. Mauricio Lewak is on the drums really holding things together back there. Chavonne Stewart, Alethea Mills and Leslie Mendelson do the backing vocals and they are phenomenal.
KM: Jackson, this has been very cool. I've been a fan of yours since I was a kid, and to get to speak with you has been a real privilege. I saw you here a few months ago with James Taylor. Loved the show! Any plans for a solo return to South Florida?
JB: I hoped you liked the show. It's always cool doing a show with JT. He's such an amazing talent and a really great guy. Right now, I'm not sure if we have another stop scheduled in South Florida. But, don't worry, I'll be back there soon. It's always a great time performing and visiting Florida.
KM: Well come back soon! Thank you for your time and good luck with the rest of the tour.
JB: Thanks, Kreig. This has been a lot of fun speaking with you. You really threw out some cool questions.
KM: I have to credit Abbe Davis with most of them. She's the Editor at Tru Rock, and does so much research for all of our interviews.
JB: Well, thank you Abbe Davis too! Great questions, Abbe! Let's do this again.
AD: Thanks, Jackson, big fan and hope to talk to you soon. Thanks for your amazing songwriting, love your music, soul, and causes. Namaste.
Kreig Marks, Publisher / Founder TRR
Kreig Marks is the Founder/Publisher of Tru Rock Revival Magazine.
Rock music has always been his passion, and promoting musicians. In is spare time he is an internationally recognized neuro-fitness trainer/ kinesiologist.