Jake Brown Interview Part 1: Behind the Boards

Behind all the greatest songs are great stories. Music biographer Jake Brown has made a living out of uncovering those stories and sharing them with the world. In his newest release, Behind the Boards: Nashville, he reveals the behind- the-scenes details of some of the greatest hits to come out of Music City.
The book, Brown’s 50th release, aims to “have as definitive an anthology as had been assembled to date, and I think we accomplished that,” he says. It includes a collection of legendary country producers for the first time together in one book, as well as their personal back stories and the stories behind their greatest studio hits. It also reveals how some artists really work in the studio – “from little personal ways of recording that might be unique to that star to the way these hits are actually assembled in the studio. We were extremely fortunate to have such a royal collection of talented producers who ALL deserve the spotlight of their own individual chapters to tell their own stories in depth, vs. being rushed.” The book, which boasts over 600 pages, includes the most prominent country music producers, such as Buddy Cannon, who works with Kenny Chesney and Willie Nelson; celebrated guitarist Dann Huff, who played the solo on “Highway to the Danger Zone”; and long-term collaborations with Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, and others. Also included are Tim McGraw’s longtime producer Byron Gallimore; Michael Knox, who has worked with Jason Aldean his whole career; Clint Black; James Stroud; Frank Rogers, who worked with Brad Paisley for 15 years; and Frank Liddell, who collaborated long-term with Miranda Lambert.

“I wanted to make sure we told the full story of as full a book of producers as possible to cover the entire genre of stars over 300 of Country’s biggest # 1 hits,” Brown says. “So in this book, if you’re a fan of Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, Lady A, Chris Stapleton, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Clint Black, Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville’, Florida Georgia Line, Reba McEntire, Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee album, A Star is Born Soundtrack starring Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper, Brad Paisley, Sam Hunt, Blake Shelton, Trisha Yearwood, Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban, Alabama, Jason Isbell, George Jones, Jewel, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Lori McKenna, Midland, Faith Hill, Steve Earle, Hank Williams Jr., Lyle Lovett, Thomas Rhett, Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Brett Eldredge, Martina McBride, The Dixie Chicks, The Band Perry, Shooter Jennings, Jake Owen, Big & Rich, Jon Pardi, the Nitty Gritty Band, Scotty McCreery, Darius Rucker, Moe Bandy, The Eagles, and the great Merle Haggard among others, we have you covered.” He adds that he’s proud of this coverage spread and hopes the book has something for everyone – “whether you’re reading or listening from the fan side or the aspiring engineer/producer/artist side of the spectrum.”

Brown goes on to explain, “There’s a fascinating strain throughout this entire book,” as it also explores “long-term working relationships throughout Country’s biggest stars and mainstay producers.” One example is Tony Brown and George Strait, who worked together for 22 years and produced 40+ number-one hits together. The work also tells the stories of “LIONS” like Paul Worley, who signed and produced the Dixie Chicks, Lady A, The Band Perry, and Big & Rich; Jim Ed Norman; Norbert Putnam, who produced Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville;” Nathan Chapman, who worked with Taylor Swift on most of her country hits; and Zach Crowell, who works with Sam Hunt. Also included are prominent contemporary “track guy” producers, including Ross Copperman, Chris DeStefano, Luke Laird, Ray Riddle, Jimmy Robbins, and “the best mixer in the business,” Justin Niebank, along with other great names like Don Cook, who did all the Brooks & Dunn hits; Ray Baker, who produced the Honky Tonk era with Moe Bandy and then worked with Merle Haggard and Freddy Powers, and the great Dave Cobb – who Brown describes as “the modern day Rick Rubin of Country with his Alt-Country genre via Chris Stapleton, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson collaborations along with his work with Lady Gaga on the A Star is Born Soundtrack.” He adds, “We’re just proud to have so many amazing names on this table of contents because it covers the majority of country’s biggest bands and stars, hopefully meaning there’s something for every reader inside, whether a fan or an aspiring producer!”

Songland Star Shane McAnally and his co-producer Josh Osborne are also in the book, along with Thomas Rhett producer Jesse Frasure, and Florida Georgia Line producer Joey Moi in an attempt to cover every genre and generation of Country for fans and readers.

The inspiration for the tome, which took two years to complete, comes from Brown’s own Nashville Songwriter series, which “proudly for the first time in a definitive fashion profiled the unsung heroes of country music, those being the SONGWRITERS who come down to Music Row day in and out, sit in the writing rooms, and churn out the # 1s that many of the legacy stars featured in this book recorded with these producers.” Brown adds, “There’s an incredible academic slant to both these series for anyone looking to move to town and become a star, songwriter, producer, record executive, session player, live touring player – whatever your dream, you find it taking the same path these legends did.” Great advice from someone who has lived on both sides of the stories. A 20-year Nashville resident, Brown moved to Music City with two published books to his name. But he was also fortunate enough to be a published songwriter with Streets Music out of UK, a feat which took 18 years, a catalog of 200+ songs, and the help of engineer Aaron Harmon to accomplish. “So this book is kind of a love letter to my hometown,” Brown says, “and hopefully the amazing stories and these amazing producers will offer advice and inspiration to the fans growing up on their music now and seeking to follow in their footsteps. It’s a tough business, but a fun one and ultimately very rewarding when the hits these guys are responsible for creating are blasting out of the radio or on CMT!”

So how does a project of this magnitude come together? Brown attributes a lot of his process to the “wonderful interviews I got from these producers about their own life stories – full of equal bouts of inspiration and perspiration, and a lot of that right/place – right/time luck, which is still an extension of being there doing it vs. sitting home.” He adds that extensive research went into ornamenting the chapters with many Billboard stats about what the 300 number-one hits all did both in terms of launching careers and of reaching the fans who needed them. “Country Music has a very unique writing style of reflecting the lives of the listeners in finite detail in the lyrics of these hit songs, so those stories always inspire me too to include them as they did the producers to tell them to me,” Brown says. “So all of that weaves together into the 600 pages and 30 producers whose hits and stories make up the book.”

He adds that the book will also be available in audio format this month, and the physical book will be in stores by the end of the month. For now, the e-book is available, and there are 120 YouTube videos featuring producers interviewed in the book, which readers can stream along with their favorite country hits if they want to skip through and find the stories behind the hits. Says Brown, “There’s a format for everyone and hopefully something for everyone in this book as we cover the entire spectrum of country music’s biggest stars and their biggest hits over 600 pages.”

Continue with Part 2 of our Interview!