Jackson Browne - Biography
By J Poet
Jackson Browne is one of the most successful singer/songwriters to come out of the early 70s songwriter boom in LA. He’s written his share of hits, including The Eagles “Take It Easy” and his own “Doctor My Eyes” and “Jamaica Say You Will,” but it’s his deeply personal and political songs that set him apart from other writers. He has platinum and gold albums to his credit, but he keeps a low profile for a man who was once a major pop star. Browne’s also known for his activism. He founded the anti-nuke group MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) and supporting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua during the Regan years. He received the John Steinbeck Award for his social activism in 2002, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2007. He also received the Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award in 2007.
Browne was born Heidelberg, West Germany, son of Clyde Jack Browne, a printer, musician, and teacher and Beatrice Browne a school teacher. The family returned to LA when Browne was three and he grew up in Orange County. By his late teens he was playing guitar and piano and was a founder member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, although he quit before they made their first album because of his overwhelming stage fright.
Browne was always a fine songwriter and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Nico, The Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, and Tom Rush all cut his early efforts. He got a publishing deal with Nina, a division of Elektra Records, and played in Tim Buckley’s band for a while. Finally, he overcame his stage fright and started playing clubs. A demo he made got to David Geffen who had just started Asylum Records and he got signed.
His debut, Jackson Browne (1972 Asylum), was almost a greatest hits album and included the #8 pop hit “Doctor My Eyes,” “Rock Me on the Water” and “Jamaica Say You Will,” all widely covered by other artists. It went gold. The Eagles also had a major hit with “Take It Easy,” a co-write with Glenn Frey, that solidified Browne’s songwriting cred. For Everyman (1973 Asylum) included “Take It Easy,” and earned another gold record, while Late for the Sky (1974 Asylum) hit #14 on the pop album charts and went gold. In 1976 his wife Phyllis committed suicide. The songs he wrote about the tragedy became The Pretender (1976 Asylum), the biggest selling album of his career. It eventually went seven times platinum.
Running on Empty (1977 Asylum) was even bigger, another platinum success with the hits “Running on Empty” and “Stay/The Load-Out.” In 1979 he founded MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) and organized the five day NO NUKES benefit concert, the No Nukes (1997 Elektra) three LP live album and a documentary about the event. After a year on the project he came back with Hold Out (1980 Asylum), an album that was more rock than singer/songwriter. It was his first #1album and another gold record winner. In 1982, “Somebody's Baby,” a track he wrote for the Cameron Crow film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, went to #7 on the pop charts, his biggest hit to date.
Lawyers in Love (1980 Asylum) included three more mid-sized hits, “Tender Is the Night,” “For a Rocker,” and the title track. It was his first album to feature political songs and like his other albums earned a gold record. Lives in the Balance (1986 Asylum) was even more political, a scathing put down of Ronald Reagan’s policies at home and abroad. Written after spending two years in Nicaragua, it spent almost seven months on the charts and went gold. Browne continued writing protest songs on World in Motion (1989 Asylum) his first album to not earn a gold record, but came back strong with
I'm Alive (1993 Elektra) written during his break up with Daryl Hannah. It had not hits but slowly sold a million copies.
Looking East (1996 Elektra) mixed the personal and the political and continued Browne’s explorations of what it means to be human with his trademark melodic sense and finely honed lyrics. In 1999, his duet with Bonnie Raitt on “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” from the Pete Seeger tribute album Where Have All the Flowers Gone (1998 Appleseed) was nominated for a Best Pop Vocal Collaboration Grammy.
The Naked Ride Home (2002 Elektra) once again combined introspective personal songs with more political fare It was his last major label recording. The Very Best of Jackson Browne (2004 Elektra/Rhino) collected some of his best tunes on two CDs.
Browne started his own indie label in 2004 and released Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 (2005 Inside Recordings) and Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2 (2005 Inside Recordings) intimate Greatest Hits albums recorded live and proving he didn’t need a band to put his tunes across. Time the Conqueror (2008 Inside Recordings) found him finally dealing with mortality, loss and limitation, as well as a nostalgic pining for the good old hippie days of yore; his voice still sounds soulful and mellow, and his easy going melodies remain as strong as ever.