Twin City musicians Gregg Brown and Trenton Perry may seem an odd pairing. Brown came of age during the late 60s hippie movement, Perry grew up in the 90s enamored with the music of Blink-182 among other favorites from the 80s and 90s.
Brown is a familiar face to many around town and the Illinois State University campus for his activism for peace and the legalization of cannabis. He laughed at the characterization of never having left the “Summer of Love.”
“Well, yes I was marked by that,” said Brown. “In fact I do my song ‘1967’ that Trent and I have worked a version of … that is up on my Bandcamp page.”
In 1967 I was 18 years old
I was 18 when 67 took hold
In 1967 who appeared on the scene
The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Cream
Big Brother with Janice
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
- - “1967” by Gregg Brown
“So I was a young and impressionable teenager when this music was hitting the world,” said Brown. “The world was hearing Jimi Hendrix and ‘Light my Fire’ by The Doors for the first time.”
Perry currently plays in the emerging pop/rock outfit Sherwood Forest, the funky hip-hop infused Franky & the Plexicats and was part of Alex & the XO’s before leader Alexandra Fisher moved to California. He’s been collaborating with Brown for roughly a decade, with a couple albums to their credit and occasionally public performances. What draws the millennial to the boomer?
“I always thought of it (working with Brown) as an open canvas for me,” said Perry, who said he’s been called an old soul, and occasionally wonders if he was born in the wrong decade.
“To experiment and elaborate on different instruments. He (Brown) gives me a good foundation, especially when he plays his mountain dulcimer. He’ll be strumming the same chord or it’s very ‘droney’, and I can find melodies within that and see where my imagination takes me.”
Their latest collaboration “Ancient Now: Simple Secret” is a collection of songs, poems, and improvisations. They call it a “timestamp of Gregg Brown's music of yesteryear brought to light with collaborator Trenton Perry.”
The title track has a single recurring vocal line embedded into the six minute groove.
There is simple secret
In the heart of music
- - "Simple Secret" by Gregg Brown
“So when people kind of go ‘what is it?’ - Just play with the mystery of it. There are clues, there are ideas in my spoken word piece ‘An Approach to Improvisational Music,’” said Brown.
That song is also on the duo’s new album.
Improvisational music: it will surprise you
Improvisational music: it is music for music’s sake
Improvisational music: it can be as simple and innocent as child’s play
Or as complex as can be imagined
- - "An Approach to Improvisational Music" by Gregg Brown
Brown said the song comes from a chance to be part of a group with friends Steve and Vickie Johnson. He said bumping into the siblings was meeting the right people at the right time, as he was just beginning to play and realized he needed other musicians to jam with.
“He made instruments when I met him, including my dulcimer. But he also made way more complicated, strange, electrified kinds of things. His lifework was there in his apartment and a great old piano was in the corner, and the three of us would wear ourselves out playing one evening a weekend. And now I have 100 cassettes of the music with them,” said Brown.
“Which I’m digitizing for him, making into CD’s," added Perry. “So Greg can listen to them so they don’t deteriorate.”
One song sure to live forever is Brown’s “Crop Circle” song. Five lines over a groove that sounds what a Native-American pow-wow might sound like mashed with the desert blues of Mali artists Tinariwen or Mdou Moctar.
What are they?
Why are they?
What do they mean?
Are they harbingers of world change
Secrets in the fields
- - "Crop Circles" by Gregg Brown
Brown said the original idea came to him in the 90s, but the song gained a life of its own after he uploaded two different videos of the song to YouTube 10 years ago. Both primarily feature Brown singing and playing his dulcimer superimposed over images of crop circles, with occasional flashed of Brown banging on a hand drum in corn and wheat fields, and lightly dancing in front of a video of a solar eclipse.
The videos have generated a combined 50,000+ views and a slew of comments, mostly positive to often raving, including:
“This is probably the coolest thing on the internet. Ever.”
“How has this NOT become an internet sensation?”
“Everyone should see this video, I freakin’ love it!”
“How does this NOT have 10 million views is the question.”
Brown said the idea for the song came out of two social movements he’s been part of: The counterculture in the 60s and the new age movement in the late 80s and early 90s.
“The new age was interested in phenomena and the crop circles were something many people were really interested in,” said Brown. “And they are still considered a legitimate mystery. “
It popped out of him one night while backstage at the old Illinois Brewing Company in downtown Bloomington.
“It took me maybe a minute and half,” said Brown. “I said ‘well, what are they, why are they, what do they mean?’”
Add two books about crop circles: “Harbingers of Change” and “Secrets in the Fields."
And then strum, strum, strum and there was a song,” said Brown. “And the next thought was ‘I should make a video of it, because I can just imagine using the images as background. So in about two minutes I had the song and idea for the video, but it took me 10 years to put everything together. I joke that it’s just three questions and two book titles.”
The song was eventually re-recorded at Perry’s beckoning.
“There’s a few of his songs I wanted to re-do and put my own spin on it,” said Perry. “And there’s a few of his other old songs we’re going to re-record too.”
It’s a bit of a visual juxtaposition seeing the 70-year-old veteran of the Summer of Love with still long flowing hair next to musicians nearly four decades his junior, but artistically and politically, the late 60s and today share a sensibility. Young people are again clashing with their government, and much of today’s music, as it was 50 years ago, often reflects that.
But there’s also a strong personal bond between the two. For example, Brown is often called out of the audience to the stage when Sherwood Forest performs in town. There’s an honesty, genuineness, and perhaps rebelliousness and youthful spirit to Brown that matches his twenty-something fellow musicians.
“We were thinking of being his backing band, maybe like learning a handful of his songs for maybe one show. You know, like a full-band version of Gregg Brown,” said Perry, a multi-instrumentalist with Sherwood Forest.
“Well I really appreciate them,” added Brown. “I mean, that means a lot to me. You know, to have a chance to be part of something like that to present a full band of those songs,” he trailed off.
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