Nashville-based, multi-Grammy winning producer Tony Brown is, for many people, “Mr. Country”. Tony Brown was born in North Carolina and started playing piano in his teens, in his family’s gospel group. He eventually wound up touring with the Oak Ridge Boys and that led to the opportunity to be Elvis's keyboard player for two years during Elvis’s last tour before the “King” passed away in 1977. During his stint with Elvis, he was a part of the legendary "Jungle Room" sessions held at Graceland. He then joined Emmylou Harris's famous "Hot Band" and played piano for band-mate Rodney Crowell's Cherry Bombs when Crowell went solo. While touring with other artists like Rosanne Cash, Brown also became a session player in Nashville and started doing A&R for RCA. This post let to his first opportunity to produce gospel artist Shirley Caesar in 1983. His work with Shirley got the attention of then-MCA chief Jimmy Bowen, whose mentorship at the time put Tony on the road to the president’s office at MCA in the early 90’s and in turn a historic body of work producing legendary artists like Vince Gill, Reba, George Strait, Tricia Yearwood, Wynonna, Tracy Byrd, Jimmy Buffet, Steve Earle, The Mavericks, McBride & The Ride, Heidi Newfield, Brooks & Dunn, Patty Loveless, Nanci Griffith, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Shooter Jennings and Lyle Lovett.
Brown spent almost 18 years at MCA and over the next 5 yrs continued, to produce independently while planning the launch of Universal South with long time pal Tom Dubois, former president of Arista/Nashville in 2002. As the two founding partners, their vision was to “create a home for truly inventive, highly creative artists”. Their new label was a joint venture with Universal Records in New York but Brown and Dubois had autonomy to sign artists. The first artists T n’ T signed to Universal South were Dean Miller, Holly Lamar, Allison Moorer and Bering Strait, from MCA with virtually completed projects and shortly thereafter they added Joe Nichols to the Universal South roster.
In 2003 Tony Brown suffered a near fatal fall in Los Angeles, which he has long since recovered from and while Brown could have remained a prominent part of the major label business, when his contract came up for renewal at Universal South, he decided that it was time for a change. “When I first started with the company it was MCA and Universal was the film group,” Brown remembered. “Then as things evolved, it became the Universal Music Group, because the feeling was that the name Universal was one that had real power and prominence among the public. But it turns out that my favorite period during all my years with the company was the time I call the Garth (Brooks) years, 1989-1997. I realized that what I wanted to do most was produce, and that I really didn’t want to be a label executive any more, but just a producer and get in there and make some smash records.”
In the fall of 2007, Tony Brown celebrated the opening of Tony Brown Enterprises with his new office located in the historic Chet Atkins building on 17th Ave. South. “Now I was free to do whatever I want in terms of working with artists”. Although Tony Brown is regarded as the founding father of the alternative country movement, Brown proclaims his love for all types of country and doesn’t let the traditional vs. contemporary divide, have any impact on his creative decisions. “I truly do love it all,” Brown says. “If you look at an artist like George Strait, one of the things that he does with every session is select a song by someone like Mel Street or some other classic country singer that may not be as well known to the general public and then do a great contemporary version. He’s someone who has appeal to both the young and old in terms of audience.” Brown claims that his real challenge is trying to make records that sound as good as what people like Owen Bradley and Fred Foster used to make. Brown is also a big fan of what artists like Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Big & Rich have brought to country music. “(Producer) Mutt Lange took some of those rock licks that had been on Def Leppard albums and turned them around and made them work for Shania. It brought a new energy and fresh attitude to country”. Yet Tony is also a huge fan of what artists like Martina McBride, who are coming from a totally different place, have done as well.
For nearly 25 years, Tony Brown has ranked at the top among successful country music executives and today his passion for producing great artists and great albums remains. Brown has archived more than 100 No. 1 hit singles and has been awarded more than a dozen Grammy, CMA, ACM and American Music Awards. Six of Tony’s recent productions have debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Album Sales chart: George Strait, IT JUST COMES NATURAL (2007), TROUBADOUR (2008), TWANG (2009); Reba McEntire, REBA: DUETS (2007), KEEP ON LOVING YOU (2009) and Brooks & Dunn, COWBOY TOWN (2007). IT JUST COMES NATURAL and TROUBADOUR both won the Country Music Association Award for Album of The Year. TROUBADOUR won the Grammy in 2009 for Best Country Album. Tony Brown’s commitment to helping educate the next generation of music industry professionals is as exemplary as his body of work and our recording industry profits immeasurably from his advice whenever he is asked to speak publically.