Born Clyde Jackson Browne on October 9, 1948, in Heidelberg, West Germany; son of Clyde Jack (a printer, musician, and teacher) and Beatrice Amanda (a teacher; maiden name, Dahl) Browne; married Phyllis Major, 1975 (died on March 25, 1976); married Lynne Sweeney, January 17, 1981 (divorced); children (first marriage) Ethan Zane; (second marriage) Ryan Daniel. Addresses: Office--Creative Artists Agency, 1888 Century Park East, Ste. 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Website--Jackson Browne Official Website: http://www.jacksonbrowne.com/.

Like Bob Dylan, whose music inspired many during the sixties, Jackson Browne is a song poet, and one of the most prolific of the 1970s. His early music dealt with themes of love and innocence; later songs with humanitarian and political concerns, often interspersed with a recurring, ominous apocalyptic theme. Though much of his early success was attributed to his gift as a composer, Browne was later to score major hits as a performer as well. David Spiwack of Crawdaddy wrote that Browne's songs "consistently express moods and emotions many of us have felt but couldn't conjure up the words to describe."

Born in Heidelberg, West Germany, on October 9, 1948 (some sources say 1950), Browne was raised in Los Angeles, California, where he studied various musical instruments in his early years. By his late teens he was a proficient guitarist and pianist and an active member in the early efforts of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Too shy to perform his own work at first, Browne gained a reputation as a songwriter, his work showcased by performers such as the Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, and folksinger Tom Rush. His solo career began to take off late in 1969 when he opened for Linda Ronstadt at a Los Angeles club.

The following year Browne shed his stage-shyness and gained experience and publicity touring as Laura Nyro's opening act, and in 1972 his spare, self-titled debut album arrived, featuring the successful singles "Doctor My Eyes" and "Rock Me on the Water." According to Melody Maker, the album established Browne "not just as a versatile songwriter but as an artist of major stature." His second album, For Everyman, boasted a fuller instrumental and vocal sound and included Browne's version of "Take It Easy," an enormous Eagles hit he had co-penned with Eagle Glenn Frey.

Displayed Honest Emotion in Lyrics

Late for the Sky, released in 1974, was perhaps Browne's most poignant and penetrating album. As a composer, he was recognized for the raw, honest emotion displayed in what were otherwise unremarkable, even repetitous melodies. Nevertheless, according to Rolling Stone, the album was Browne's "most mature, conceptually unified work to date." It was also his first certified gold album. Following suit was Browne's next effort, The Pretender. In progress at the time of his wife's suicide, the album displays the composer's sense of loss, revealing and reconciling him with his grief in intense and disturbing vocals on such songs as "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate" as well as both the title track and the hit "Here Come Those Tears Again."

Browne's next project was a clear departure from anything he'd done previously. Running on Empty featured all new material, much of which was written by or with others. Recorded entirely "on the road"--on stage, in dressing rooms, on the tour bus--Running on Empty was Browne's best-selling album to date and was named favorite album of 1978 in the Second Annual Rock Radio Awards. Browne himself was named favorite male singer as well as favorite singer/songwriter. Said Steve Simels in Stereo Review, Running on Empty contains "the work of an artist newly matured and unafraid to take risks."

Simel's claim was strengthened when Browne took a deliberate stand against nuclear power in 1979 and co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE). Browne also helped back and organize the impressive NO NUKES five-day benefit concert, album package, and film to aid the antinuclear cause, a project that took him out of the studio for a year. His next solo project was the 1980 album Hold Out, which continued on the rock and roll track he'd laid on Running on Empty, with simpler melodies and lyrics bringing Browne mixed reviews. Rolling Stone noted that "the music represents a real advance" yet complained that "lyrically, Hold Out is probably the weakest record [Browne has] ever made." Despite the varying critiques, the album yielded several hits, including "Boulevard" and "That Girl Could Sing."

If Hold Out was indeed weak, the same could not be said of Browne's seventh album, Lawyers in Love (1983), which met with critical acclaim. Again, Browne passed over highly personal, autobiographical material in favor of broader views of comtemporary life. In his Time review of the album, Jay Cocks summed it up well, saying, "Browne's music pulses with a feeling of renewal and new possibilities ... he is writing some of the best songs west of the Rockies."

Political Activism Took Priority

Embracing the political arena, Browne moved farther from his poetic origins in 1986 with Lives in the Balance, concentrating on terser melodies and concise phrasing. Like Hold Out, the album received mixed reviews, hailed as both bold and tepid. "For America" came under fire from one critic for having "a chorus guaranteed to make you wince," yet another called it "a prayer and a love song, which damns 'a generation's blank stare.'" Having spent much of the preceding two years visiting Nicaragua, Browne focused, not surprisingly, primarily on Latin America and its conflicts with the United States government, exemplified by the songs "Lives in the Balance" and "Soldier of Plenty." According to Rolling Stone, Browne's "new-found ability to link the personal to the political breathes life into these songs and prevents them from becoming too didactic." The music itself is considered "terse and memorable," with even love songs like "In the Shape of a Heart" seeming more mature than ever before.

Browne was issue-conscious again on the World in Motion album. Instead of politics, though, Browne aimed at "universal truths bound together by a highly personal focus." He sang of moral and legal violations ("How Long" and "The Word Justice"), of pride and hope ("I Am a Patriot"), of revenge (in the chilling Hispanic ballad "My Personal Revenge"), and of enduring love and the potential for change ("Anything Can Happen"). As difficult as it can be to successfully deliver "good-conscience pop," Browne maintained his ground. If, as in "Anything Can Happen," love is possible in this world, amid strife and pain, Browne reasons, then anything can be accomplished. Rolling Stone said it succinctly in commenting that World in Motion "gets your attention by getting under your skin."

Browne continued to probe matters close to the bone in his 1993 album I'm Alive. Possibly in reaction to the demise of his relationship with actress Daryl Hannah, the album focused on the personal rather than the political. Without any notable singles, I'm Alive still managed to go gold and was well-received by critics and fans alike. He followed it up in 1996 with Looking East, an album that produced several songwriting collaborations with members of Browne's band.

Successful Collaborations

In 1999, Browne recorded a duet with singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt. "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," from the Pete Seeger tribute album Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Volume 1 was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration. For the second volume of the tribute series, he sang with legendary folk singer Joan Baez on "Guantanamera."

In 2002, he received the John Steinbeck Award for being an artist who exemplifies the values that Steinbeck represented. That same year he released the album The Naked Ride Home. The album combined the personal and the political in a mix that showcased Browne's maturity as a songwriter and singer. The album debuted at number 36 on Billboard's Top 200 and was Browne's last record on the Elektra label.

In 2004, Browne ended his long association with Elektra and struck out to find a new label. Although he had no record label, Browne found a place among the luminaries of rock history when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Around the same time The Very Best of Jackson Browne was released. The two-CD collection showcased Browne's thirty-plus years of record-making. With a successful collection reintroducing Browne's pivotal early works as well as later hits and a permanent spot in the Hall of Fame, Browne was steadfastly holding his own as one of rock and roll's greatest singer-songwriters.

by Meg Mac Donald and Eve M. B. Hermann

Jackson Browne's Career

Member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 1966; solo performer, 1966--; staff writer at Nina Music (music publishing branch of Elektra Records), 1966-69; recording debut as guitarist on Chelsea Girl, by Nico, 1967; opening act for Laura Nyro, 1970; solo recording debut, 1972; producer of recordings, including Warren Zevon's Warren Zevon (1976) and Excitable Boy (1977), and co-producer of David Lindley's El Rayo X (1981); co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), 1979; Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope concert series, 1986; left long-time label, Elektra, 2004.

Jackson Browne's Awards

Second Annual Rock Radio Awards, Favorite Male Singer, Favorite Singer/Songwriter, Favorite Album for Running on Empty, 1978; John Steinbeck Award, 2002; Founders Award, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, 2004; honorary doctorate, Occidental College, 2004; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2004.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

Met Jackson for the first time, backstage in beautiful Santa Barbara, a few years back. He was great then and will be even better when I see him again in SB in Aug 09. Can't wait. See you there. I'll be the one requesting "In The Shape of A Heart"

over 9 years ago

I grew up in Fullerton, CA. I knew Jackson way back when. In 1967 he would play at two clubs--can't remember if he played the open Monday mike at the Troubadour in Hollywood. One was in Tustin--it was a little club at one time called the Mona Mi...can't remember what they changed the name to--and the other was The Golden Bear in Huntington Beach [Huntington Beach looked a lot different back then]I was 17 in 1967 and I know he was a couple of years older than me. I remember him being a very good artist (drawing). The last time I saw him he was with a girl named Jeanie, they'd given me a ride and they dropped me off at the corner of Chapman Ave. and Hillcrest. The earliest song I remember him preforming was "She's a Flying Thing". There was a benefit at the club in Tustin and the acts were Jackson Brown, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Jim Kweskin(sp)Jug Band and Tim Buckley. I remember him being a kind person.

almost 10 years ago

I have been a Jackson Browne fan since high school which was 1973-1977. My husband and i have been married for nearly 25 years and we have a son who is a very talented songwriter. He is a senior in college at FSU with a double major in religion and philosophy...but what he really thinks about ALL the time is his music! He is very good and has 26 or more songs under his belt....that are catchy!!!! I want to help him reach his dreams....how can he do it? Where do we start? melissa