It says on John Brannen’s birth certificate that he came into this world on March 19 in Savannah. That last bit’s a technicality. Brannen’s mother was based in Bluffton, S.C. at the time, and Savannah had the closest hospital.
He was born here, but he never lived here.
Brannen, who headlines Sunday’s “Save Nashville” concert at the Indigo Arts Center, was a rock ‘n’ roll–playing teenager whose early club tours sometimes took him away from Bluffton and Charleston, and into Savannah.
“I cut my teeth on those rock clubs down on River Street,” he says. “Before it got gentrified.”
Eventually, his songwriting brought him to the attention of Joe Walsh, who helped him get a deal with Capitol Records in the early 1990s. And although name–recognition success has thus far eluded him, Brannen has had songs recorded by plenty of artists in the rock and alt–country fields.
“I think there was a point when I could have gone into any number of things, but songwriting was something that just attracted me at the time ... I ended up fronting bands in order to deliver the songs,” he explains. “And life has a way of creeping up on you when you’re paying attention to something else. I think that’s what happened to me.”
It very nearly didn’t happen at all. “Surfing was – still is – a passion of mine,” Brannen says. “For a long time, it was my all. I rolled out of college to move to Hawaii to surf. And surfing in itself is kind of a mesmerizing pursuit; it’s a great lifestyle. But music won out.”
In 1993 Brannen was one of a handful of new artists on the fledgling Mercury Nashville label; his Springsteen–meets–outlaw–country approach was unique on the radio in those days.
Mercury sent its three most promising artists across the country on what the label called the Triple Play Tour – Toby Keith opened, Shania Twain took the middle set, and Brannen closed the show.
Two of those artists, of course, went on to fame and fortune. One did not.
“At the end of the day, I have to be happy with the work,” Brannen says. “That’s always the criteria for me, when I begin it and end it, ‘am I gonna be able to live with it?’ Particularly if it becomes very popular, because then you have to repeat it constantly.
“That’s the way I’ve always done it and let the chips fall where they may. The industry kind of rolls on its own intentions and systems, and I just figure as long as I keep creating something that’s genuine and real, then I’ve done my part of it.”
In 2007, the Eagles covered “Somebody,” a country/rocking song Brannen co–wrote with Jack Tempchin (“Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone”). It’s on the Long Road Out of Eden CD.
Due in July is Bravado, Brannen’s fifth album, and the third one produced by Minneapolis legend David Z (of Prince fame). It was recorded primarily in Nashville, where Brannen keeps a home (he lives in Charleston part-time, too).
Although it’s wall–to–wall with Brannen’s exemplary, southern/soulful songwriting, there’s one cover on Bravado: Gram Parsons’ immortal “Hickory Wind.”
“I can remember hearing Gram Parsons’ version when I was in junior high school,” Brannen says. “It was the first time that I really made a connection to country music, via Gram and the Byrds. I can see it as clear as if I was standing there right now.”
Save Nashville Concert #3
John Brannen, Luke Mitchell, Jan Spillane & Ben Wells
Where: Indigo Arts Center, 703D Louisville Road
When: At 8 p.m. Sunday, June 20
Tickets: $20, includes Earth to Table catering
Information: (912) 713–1137