The Vivant Talks with Country Legend T. Graham Brown

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As I spoke with T. Graham Brown this week, he was looking out of his window from his home in Nashville at some workers with chain saws cleaning up after a big wind came through and brought down some trees.  “There are some people who are able to work,” he told me. But the pandemic has been devastating to every industry, and the music business has certainly not been spared. “It’s totally shut down the music business. My bus should be on the road right now, rolling from show to show, but we’ve had to cancel everything.”

But T. Graham Brown has never been one to sit around with nothing to do, and he’s working on recording an acoustic “Greatest Hits” album next week, and is continuing is SiriusXM radio show LiveWire on Prime Country Channel 58. The process is a little different, but the work still gets done. “We did it all by email, and it turned out great. We put in horns, it’s a full band with background vocals and the whole deal. It’s like that old saying, ‘I’ll just mail it in.’ Everybody mailed it in, alright!” And we can’t wait to hear it.

Graham Brown on Sirius XM

“I’ve had this idea for probably the last seven years of having a radio show where you play live cuts from peoples’ albums. I’m on this station called Prime Country on Channel 58, and it’s songs that were hits between 1980 and 2000.” T. Graham usually goes to the Sirius studio in Nashville in the Bridgestone Arena to record his shows, but with that closed down because of the pandemic, he had to find an alternative. “Since this virus thing happened I’ve been going over to a friend of mine who doesn’t live very far away, and he has a little studio in his house and I record at his house, and then send it to an engineer here in Nashville, he edits it down, and then sends it to New York and they put it together up there.”

“It’s fun man, they let me play what I want to play, who I want to play, and I always throw in an act that, if they had come out now they would probably be considered country. Like I’ve thrown in John Fogarty for instance. Back then it was on rock radio, but now it would probably be on country radio, or he might even be too country for what they’re considering country now. I just put stuff out there that I think people will like, a little bit of everything.”

“Sometimes the people in New York will say, ‘throw a couple of your songs on.’ I feel kind of uncomfortable doing that, like blowing my own horn, but they say that’s a good thing to do, so it’s fun.”

What was your first concert?

Besides playing great country music from 1980 to 2000, T. Graham also brings on some of the biggest legends in country music for live one-on-one interviews, including a recent interview with Duane Allen and Joe Bonsall from the Oak Ridge Boys. “I always ask people the same question, which is what people’s first concert they went to was, and it’s always something different. It depends on what year you were 16, usually the first show you go see when you’re in high school.”

I turned the tables on T. Graham and asked him his own question – what was the first concert you ever went to?

“I spent my boyhood in Georgia and there used to be a beach music band called the Swingin’ Medallion. There were eight of them, and they were from Greenwood South Carolina, and now it’s their grandkids that are the Swingin’ Medallions and they’re still out there playing beach music. They’re one of the most popular beach music bands out there.”

“It was at the Moose Club in Cordele, Georgia and I was probably in the eighth grade and I thought it was so wonderful. There was no light show or anything like that, they might have had a strobe light, which was a big deal back then, any band that had a strobe light was big-time.”

“People ask me what I think about today’s country, and I think they’re trying to bait me into saying that it sucks. I don’t listen to the radio like I used to. I listen to classic rock, or if I’m in Nashville I listen to WSM AM because they play a lot of old-school stuff. I couldn’t tell you who’s got the number one record right now if I had to. It’s not because I don’t like it, it’s just because I don’t even know enough to know what I don’t know.”

Remembering Hee Haw

One of T. Graham’s most exciting projects, at least for those of us who grew up watching the corny humor of the Hee Haw show on television, is the Kornfield Friends, a live show where you can actually see a few of the original Hee Haw cast members, including T. Graham, and other Hee Haw greats like Lulu Roman and Jana Jae.

“I love Hee Haw and I love Lulu Roman, I sang Happy Birthday to her on the phone a couple days ago,” T. Graham told me. “It’s wonderful to grow up and be able to meet the heroes you grew up with, and that they actually like you.”

Talking about Hee Haw and the Kornfield Friends tour, I asked him what makes Hee-Haw such a timeless show that people still remember today? “It was so corny,” he said. “That was one of the keys to it. It was so stupid! People I work with say I shouldn’t say that, but it’s not like stupid bad, it’s stupid funny. All you gotta do is watch it and you see how goofy it is. And they would have good bands on there. They had a great house band, the Buck Owens band, and they would have country music guests that were big stars back then. I even did two or three of them, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when they asked me to be on Hee Haw. That was something.”

“One of the biggest things for me was popping up out of the cornfield and saluting my hometown. That was a sign that I’d made it, I got to salute my hometown on Hee Haw.”

Working with the one-name people

Graham has had an incredible career, and he’s nowhere near ready to quit. “I came along at a great time, and got to work with all the one-name people, like Willy, Waylon and Merle, Kenny and Dolly and George and Tammy. I’ve had a wonderful life and a wonderful career, and I’m having more fun now than I’ve ever had because the pressure’s off and I’m not chasing a hit every time. Sheila and I, we’ve been married 40 years, and we don’t have anything left to prove. We’re in a really good place in our lives right now, and I can still sing, so I’m having a lot of fun. I wish this dog-gone virus would go ahead and leave, man. I miss getting out in front of people and singing.”