FORGET Clapton, Page, Knopfler and Beck — Joe Brown must be the greatest guitar icon Britain has ever produced!
After all, it was the spiky-haired 75-year-old who let The Beatles be his support act when they were still unknown, and he was also the man who played guitar behind his head, something Jimi Hendrix soon copied.
Joe also gave Hank Marvin his Italian echo machine, leading to The Shadows’ trademark much-copied sound, and has mastered guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, ukulele and other instruments, without getting a single lesson from anyone.
“The Beatles opened shows for me!” Joe laughs.
“It sounds like quite a claim to fame now, but at the time, it wasn’t. Brian Epstein, their manager, wanted to put the boys in bigger theatres, but they couldn’t fill them.
“Yes, they were doing great in The Cavern and places like that, but he wanted them to have bigger audiences.
“I had a big hit at the time, Picture Of You, and did a couple of shows with them up in Liverpool and they opened for me.
“Then I got to know George Harrison very well, when I moved to Henley-on-Thames. We became good friends and he was best man at my wedding.
“Neither of us were musical snobs, and George would phone me and say: ‘I’ve got a record to send to you.
“‘Wait until you get it!’ Then it would turn up and it would be Hoagy Carmichael or George Formby, or an album of Hawaiian guitar players!
“I’m doing a gig soon for Bill Wyman’s 80th birthday with Mark Knopfler, and they’re the same, not music snobs.
“The only music I don’t like is modern jazz, because it’s a cacophony of self-indulgence!”
Joe’s remarkable career has brought plenty fortune and fame, but he reveals that his grandfather was a star attraction long before him — in a very unusual job!
“My grandfather was part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Circus!” he says. “He’s the only claim to fame I’ve got as far as showbusiness is concerned!
“I never met him, but I know from my mother that he had very blond hair, just like I do, and his stage name was Roger White because of it. He did trick riding.”
How did Joe get to master so many different instruments, without a minute’s teaching from anyone?
“I bought a guitar and kept playing it until it made decent noises,” he laughs.
“Never bought a book, just listened. The whole idea of the ukulele, for instance, is that any Tom, Dick or Harry can pick one up and knock a tune out of it in a couple of days.
“We had one when I was a kid. Everyone had one! That was because they were bracketed as toys back then, which they’re not.”
Did Joe realise when he set eyes on the late, great Jimi Hendrix that he would go on to become most guitarists’ No 1 all-time idol?
“I thought he was great because he was special,” he admits.
“It’s true that I played the guitar behind my head first, and I did it because I’d seen a bloke doing it in a pub. Somebody told me they took Jimi to one of my shows, I played the guitar behind my head, and he said: ‘That’s good, I’m gonna do that.’
“There have been so many great guitarists. Alvin Lee, Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher, for instance.
“But I wouldn’t knock punk, either, as I remember what it was like for me when I began. And I started it with that spiky hair, anyway!”
Having inspired all these six-string legends, Joe is finally standing on a British stage with just his own guitar, his wonderful anecdotes, and in the spotlight without a backing band for the first time.
As he reveals, even a bloke with his history has been feeling a tad jittery about it.
“It’s the first time I have toured solo and it’s a bit scary, but the point is, I’ve been wanting to do something different,” he says.
“A lot of people had been asking me to tell all my old stories, and when you have a full band behind you, sitting around and nodding to one another, you miss the real focal point.
“So I decided to do a solo tour, although I have got Henry Gross to come with me. He’s a lovely guy, a great guitarist and singer.
“He was with Sha Na Na, and Henry was the youngest artist to appear at the Woodstock Festival.
“With just the two of us, playing say a mandolin and a guitar, you’ll hear everything clearly.
“We’ll do the old songs on acoustic instruments, and I will chat a bit.
“I spend part of the year in Nashville, so I saw Henry play out there as he often does his own one-man show, and I told him I was going to feel nervous without my band.
“He said not to worry, as he’d come with me.
“One of the reasons I bought a house in Nashville was because you don’t get other musicians being competitive all the time.
“I’m sorry to say, but whenever you meet a British musician, he plays his quickest, fastest, most-difficult pieces.
“He’s trying to impress, rather than playing the song.
“There’s no musical snobbery in Nashville, and it’s great, to stroll around, and nobody knows you!”
For more information on where to catch Joe, go to www.joebrown.co.uk/2016-just-joe-tour-dates