Jackson Browne at Wesleyan, in 1972

A Tribute to Jackson Browne
A.J. Gundell
June 20, 2016

The year is 1972. It’s a warm spring. I’m in my second semester of my second year of college. I’ve already got the disease. Not from college; from playing music. I’ve been taken over by the singer-songwriter revolution of the past several years—James Taylor, Carole King, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, CSNY. Lennon, McCartney. I’m starting to think I’d like to do that myself for a living. I’ve started playing my guitar, learning and singing along to these artists’ records, performing them, writing my own songs: 24/7, eight days a week.

There’s a buzz going around Yale about a new kid from LA named Jackson Browne. There’s a buzz about his first album, “Saturate Before Using.” A musician friend of mine hears that JB is appearing up the road at Wesleyan University. Jimmy and I pile into his blue Fiat and motor up I-91 from New Haven to Middletown, Connecticut.

The show is in the Wesleyan dining hall. There are about 150 kids sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of two musicians—Jackson and David Lindley, who will become his iconic sideman, playing lap steel guitar and fiddle. I’m sitting about 20 feet away from Jackson.

Handsome dude: lean, angular features, that wisp of Browne hair curling like a wave breaking over his brow and deep dark eyes, even as he constantly brushes it back with his hand or shakes it back with his head. If I’m a girl, I’m a groupie. But I’m a straight guy—and I’m thinking I’d like to do this myself for a living.

Cause he sounds fucking amazing. His songs are like an arrow straight from the heart—piercingly real, intimate, totally believable: “Doctor My Eyes”; “Under The Falling Sky”; “Song For Adam”;” Rock Me On The Water.” He’s lived every one of his words– we’re captivated living inside them. His voice is honest, vulnerable, and true. Tonight he’s playing a Martin guitar (no piano), effortlessly. He’s funny on stage, in an off-handed way that seems like it’s intentionally off-handed/west coast musician-hip- -but it’s not. That’s really him. He’s so laid back I think he could be stoned; or, maybe it’s just Jimmy and me.

We are. And Lindley himself is a force of nature—plaintively coaxing slide sounds from the lap steel and double-stops on the violin the likes of which I’ve never heard before. From 20 feet away, I can see and hear and feel every note. They’re the perfect duo.

I’m writing this in the present tense now because Jackson Browne is still as present for me today as he was that night. I became that guy who makes a living making music. Jackson deserves some credit. I’ve joined this killer Running On Empty tribute band; we do those songs from “Saturate,” and many more from his albums through the decades. Jackson deserves more than just some credit. He’s the reason we’re here. His music has brought us together as the professionals we all are in the band family we’re becoming. He inspired, moved, and schooled me and the rest of us in the art and craft of singing, writing, and playing songs. This is my tribute to him.
Thanks, JB.

—A.J. Gundell