Singer/songwriter Severin Browne perseveres with new CD, show at Coffee Gallery Backstage Friday
By Bliss Bowen 03/09/2012
Severin Browne knows a thing or two about perseverance. The Eagle Rock resident has been ensconced in LA’s folk community since the early 1970s, but beyond local acoustic circles his name sparks limited recognition. So when he’s asked about the most important lesson he imparts to guitar and songwriting students, his simple response carries the weight of experience.
“To not be disappointed,” he answers readily. “To not be disappointed with your progress or your songs, because we all start where we are and we all can improve.”
Browne’s parents expected that he, older brother Jackson (yes, him) and their siblings would learn music and play instruments, so from a young age he learned to communicate musically. By the early 1970s, he was playing hoot nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, then a vital hub for singer/songwriters. Unlike many contemporaries, Browne says, his goal was “not to make a record, but to become a writer and have other people record my songs.” An ASCAP representative referred him to several publishers, including Motown. His experience there sounds like a scene from a surreal comedy.
“I just took my guitar and auditioned, and [label founder] Berry Gordy walked in,” Browne recalls. “The guys I was playing for had never seen Gordy in person, because they were just making the move to LA from Detroit. Here was this guy looking like he was ready for the golf course, in the sneakers and the striped shirt. He asked if I wanted to make a record and I said no, I just wanted to write songs. His business guy came in and offered me a [staff writer] deal.”
He wound up recording too, but neither 1973’s self-titled debut nor 1974’s “New Improved” dented the charts. Catch Browne live nowadays and you’ll likely hear him introduce “Love Song” from the latter album with an amusing tale of how it hit #17 in Charlotte, NC.
After Motown dropped him, Browne bused tables alongside singing waiters at Great American Fruit & Beverage. It was years before he performed on his own again. In 1995, he released “From the Edge of the World”; “This Twisted Road” followed in 2001. He’s currently promoting “Lucky Man: A Songwriter’s Notebook,” a collection of material written throughout his career that may surprise casual listeners with its flourishes of slide guitar and sax. Browne will be accompanied by co-producer Ed Tree at the Coffee Gallery Backstage Friday.
Many artists give up when they don’t achieve fame, or because they get ground down by the business end of music. Browne says he found a way to stay focused on creativity and his personal songwriting evolution. “Sometimes I get disappointed,” he admits. “But I’ve had enough people enjoy my music that I just imagine myself playing for them. That keeps me going.” n
Severin Browne plays Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, 8 p.m. Friday, March 9; $15. For more information, call (626) 798-6236. Severinbrowne.com, coffeegallery.com