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Songwriter Spotlight

John Brannen

Defining John Brannen's place within the pantheon of American music is no simple task.  His journey has taken him to nearly every music capitol—New York, Nashville, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Los Angeles—and his work draws on all their traditions without settling in any.  “I’m a Southern American artist,” he has said.  “I feel capable of making a bluegrass record and I feel capable of making a jazz record, but what I do is out of the essence of rock ‘n’ roll with Americana, soul and blues influences.”

Brannen was born in Georgia and raised in South Carolina, where he picked up his grandfather’s love of poetry and his mother’s love of music.  He was drawn to a wide spectrum of music and began writing songs after hearing a friend sing what he describes as “imaginative, post-apocalyptic Southern pieces—very poetic and soulful and melodic.”

He was a surfer who traveled to Hawaii and the West Indies, but an encounter with another friend led him back to Charleston to start a band.  He played the East Coast beach circuit, honing his writing skills, finding the truths and lessons inherent in the restless life that played out before him.  Larry Henley, the writer of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” urged him to go to Nashville “because he thought I should be within the fold of the system and not at the edges.” 

He signed with Capitol Records in New York then moved to L.A. to work with Walsh.  His first album, Mystery Street, went Top 20 and produced the single “Desolation Angel.”  Its success led to his signing by Mercury Nashville and the album John Brannen, which produced “Moonlight And Magnolias,” a Top 10 hit on VH1.  Still, he says, “After that, I could see that what I wanted to create and what the system wanted were two different animals.”

He recorded his next album, Scarecrow, in Nashville but released it in Europe, then signed with Detroit’s Sly Dog.  “Sly Dog gave me creative freedom,” he says, “and that is the greatest gift you can give to an artist.  They loved what I did and encouraged me to go make the best records I could.”  The relationship led to two albums, The Good Thief and Twilight Tattoo.  Now, Bravado shows one of America’s most literate and soulful rockers at the height of his creative powers.  There is, within the well-crafted lyrics and the rasp and passion of that unique voice, a nod to dogged determination amid the chaos of tough economic and political times.  Like all of Brannen’s music, it captures compellingly the grit that has always defined the South and leavened the American psyche.