The Gazette’s Cathy Ulrich asks local artists five questions — plus one random one — to get a feel for their place in the Billings scene.
For the last decade, Parker Brown has performed with some of the best musicians in Billings. Now he’s going the solo route, with performances at Tiny’s Tavern and The Carlin. His shows at Tiny’s run from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Wednesdays through April, and possibly into May, and his shows at The Carlin are from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturdays, April 24, May 22 and 29.
“I never played for my own enjoyment,” he said. “It was always to play with someone else.”
Things have changed for the musician, who has gotten back into songwriting and playing guitar.
“It just resonated again,” he said. “It just slapped me in the face.”
In the fifth grade, Brown started in his school’s orchestra program on the upright bass. After a couple of years, he picked up the guitar instead.
“I quit playing bass and switched to guitar because I thought John Lennon was cooler than Paul McCartney,” he said. “I did go back to bass, though.”
Brown, who lived in Billings until he was 8 years old, moved back to his hometown from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and studied music at Montana State University Billings. He was playing guitar at the time, and taking lessons from classical guitarist Elizabeth Adcock.
“Then our jazz band didn’t have a bass player,” he said. “There was this upright bass in the closet and J.R. (Dr. James Robertson) fixed it up.”
His musician friends say Brown can perform on any instrument, but he says he prefers the guitar and bass, with forays into playing the harmonica and drums.
“Those are my other passions,” he said.
Brown is also passionate about his spirituality, and regularly attends Billings Abundant Glory Church. He’s started living a healthier lifestyle and has cut out smoking and drinking.
“I got tired of feeling like crap the next day, putting that in my body,” he said. “I still like a good scotch, whiskey, port. But I really want to be healthy right now, so smoking and drinking are not in the cards.”
Instead, he’s focusing on music and sharing it with the world.
“That’s just the biggest compliment, that even one person would come listen to you,” Brown said. “You can play by yourself if you want to, but it’s so much better to share.
“I’m very thankful for anyone who has supported me. There have just been so many kind people giving me opportunities, keeping me on my feet, keeping me on my toes.”
To contact Brown, go to his Web site, www.parkerbrownsmusic.com.
Here’s what else the musician had to say.
What inspires you?
Everything inspires me. Music, obviously, inspires me. I think I’ve been searching a lot for the last couple years. I’ve had a lot of conversations with different musicians about this. Everything can inspire you. A conversation with a friend, long walks. Relationships inspire. God, definitely. Making a good meal with friends or going out to eat.
Watching other people perform their passions. Art’s a big one. Fashion, too. I’m actually getting into fashion. Watching a good actor, like Brad Pitt. The one thing that inspires me a lot is a person expressing their passions.
What’s your next project?
My next project is actually a continuation of this project. Right now, I feel I have two really big irons in the fire. One is the “Parker Brown Show.” Hopefully that will turn into a band. I already have the musicians picked out in my head.
I’m currently in a group called the Tiny Trio, a jazz group. It’s a six-piece group now. It started with Alex Nauman and Clay Green. We started playing at Tiny’s every Saturday, and that’s how we got our name.
It would be fun to tour again. Even go solo and tour the United States.
Do you think you look at the world differently as an artist?
I hope so.
I think it all starts from the lowest common denominator. I am an artist because of God. So I hope I look at things differently, or more in depth. I want to see the beauty in everything, because there is.
I would say it’s divinely inspired if I look at it differently. But that’s what makes me an artist too. It all creates you to be in tune with sound and color and your thoughts.
How do you make a living?
This is how I make a living.
I’ve been fortunate enough — I say “divine” a lot. The Lord God gave me an out. I did restaurant work for 10 years, poured concrete for two years, framed a house for a year. I was lost. Unfortunately, Pat Hansen passed away. Then there was an opening for a guitar teacher at Hansen’s. So I teach lessons during the day and play at night.
Do you have any regrets?
That’s a hard thing. People say that they try not to have any regrets. Though it might be hard and you’ve made some mistakes, it all makes you who you are at that moment.
Whenever I go back to stuff — “I should have gone to culinary school,” “I should have stopped drinking a long time ago” — I think it makes me who I am now.
So, no, I can’t have any regrets.
What musician would you like to bring back from the dead for a duet?
There are so many that I’d like to play with or just hang out and talk with. How do you whittle it down to just one?
There’s a bass player who played with Bill Evans: Scott Lafaro. He was a revolutionary bass player. He died in a horrible car crash when he was 26. He died so young, so nobody really knows much about him. I’d love to play with him or just take a lesson from him. I think that would be amazing.