It isn’t the most enviable title in the music industry – the redheaded-stepchild humility, the cell phone always on, the nose-up scoffs from the noodling virtuoso set – but sometimes being a session musician, a working guitarist, has its benefits. For every David Gray derivation that’s poked through the charts over the past few years, there are thousands of well-intentioned singer-songwriters troubling bar stools in dives while performing to exactly one drunk girl.
British guitarist Dom Brown, who releases his second ax-grinding record Between the Lines this month (available from U.S. iTunes and www.dombrown.com), didn’t set out to become a session man, but then, who does?
“Initially, I had people asking me if I’d come play in their band on demos or records. It just seemed kind of silly to say no,” he says. “I have to say that a few years before I first started, I was very one-track-minded and did turn down some potentially quite interesting session things. I was quite young then, and more naive, and thought, ‘You’re fully committed to your own project.’”
All that changed in the early 2000s. Brown started working up an impressive curriculum vitae including live shows and recordings with Liam Gallagher, Emma Bunton and Paolo Nutini, and a spate of promo television gigs with Elton John, Rod Stewart, Hilary Duff, Reba McEntire and Donny Osmond (“Nothing intensive,” he jokes).
Does it feel at all like prostitution?
“To be honest, it does,” he says, “but I can sort of compartmentalize it quite well. I just treat the two things as totally different aspects to the musical career.”
In late 2004, Duran Duran came calling after their guitarist Andy Taylor needed some time off. Brown had two days to learn their catalog, and only met keyboardist Nick Rhodes and singer Simon LeBon at a pre-show sound check. Since Taylor’s permanent departure in late 2006, Brown has stepped in as the unofficial fifth member of the band, appearing on the road as well as on their latest offering, Red Carpet Massacre.
Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Taylor return the favor on Between the Lines, appearing on two tracks. But they’re not the only fortuitous bits of an on-call life to buoy the set. Van Morrison’s horn players are there, as is Faithless drummer Andy Treacey (a friend of 15 years), and members of Primal Scream and Jethro Tull. They’re all friends and working musicians, and did their work for free. The result is a timeless, slow-burning round of chunky bar-blues, swirling psychedelia and British blue-eyed soul: a man’s man’s record, if that man were Paul Weller.
Don’t expect any thankless troubadour drudgery from Brown, though, not after touring from Four Seasons to Four Seasons with Duran Duran.
“Everyone’s done that now,” he laughs. “No one wants to go back to [dive bars] once you’ve done years and years of it.”