Harley Brown began singing in church choirs when he was six. At eight, he began playing the harmonica. At 12, Harley got his first guitar. While learning to play and attending school in Medicine Park, Oklahoma, Harley also delivered newspapers and flipped burgers on the weekend to help support his family. It was 1960, and his father, a career Army sergeant, had been called to Germany during the tense Berlin crisis. Harley's early influences came from his dad, who played harmonica and loved Jimmie Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams Sr., Webb Pierce, and Elvis Presley. By the time he was 15, Harley was on the run, hitchhiking from Oklahoma to Klamath Falls, Oregon. He wound up living with a cousin in Ukiah, California, where he resumed playing music. While still attending high school, he was earning a living playing with the legendary Fred Maddox (Maddox Brothers and Rose) in local night clubs. One of his major influences growing up was the folk music scene in Huntington Beach, California. "When I first joined the Navy in 1964 (before he transferred to the Marines), there was a club In Huntington Beach called the Golden Bear. For a dollar on Sunday afternoons, you could hear such people as Joan Baez, Jose Feliciano, Bob Dylan, and Hoyt Axton." Harley and Hoyt quickly became friends at the Golden Bear, Hoyt often asking Harley to sit in and play harmonica. "Hoyt's influence gave me a new perspective for looking at music. While Hoyt's music melodically was country, it got off into a lot of other areas. Hoyt once told me, 'Harley, it doesn't matter if you make it in this business or not, because 99% of America is working at something to make money. But we entertainers are doing something we love, and are still able to make a living at it.' That had a great influence on me ." Harley moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1969, he soon became popular on the Big D Jamboree, Johnny High Country Music Review, Grapevine Opry, and the Shootin' Newton Show on local television. His band, H.B. Hatfield, opened for and then backed Johnny Paycheck, and over 10 years opened for noted musicians including John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Katy Moffatt, Earl Thomas Conley, Reba McIntyre, Janie Fricke, Johnny Rodriguez, Gary Stewart, Joe Stampley, Moe Bandy, John Conlee, David Frizzell, Shelley West, Jack Green (Ernest Tubb's original bass player). After his 1966-67 tour in Vietnam with the Marines, he returned home to resume his musical career. Harley's music, delivered in a deep baritone, reflects that diversity from country through folk to rock and gospel. "Charlie Daniels once said that it's a shame that people categorize music, because where do you put a Charlie Daniels or a Marshall Tucker," Harley said. "That's where my music fits. Each song tells a story. I always try to tell stories like Tom T. Hall always does. But if you have to categorize me, just say that I live and write and sing American Music."
Harley's first CD, Harley's Angels, celebrates the release of the pain caused by the deaths of four people closest and dearest to his heart. The album explores Harley's life experiences, ranging from two-years with the Marine Corps and two years in Vietnam, to too many years living on the wild side, to a confirmed belief in the Founding Fathers' principals for America. Always, there was the music, family, and friends.
"It takes real pain to write real country songs," Harley said. From September of 1991 to the fall of 1995, Harley managed to break his neck, rupture four lower vertebrae, and crush major nerves in his skull, resulting in major rehab. "I guess you might say I had a spiritual awakening," Harley said. "My brother-in-law died on Christmas Day 1995. I lost my son on Jan. 8, 1996, and then my brother was killed in May of 1996. I also lost my best Vietnam buddy, Reggie Bruton, in 1996. All these things just really made me start looking at life a little differently. Out of the ashes came the CD. The last song on the CD was written for a funeral in 1998 for a very dear friend of mine I met the night I met my wife, back in 1977." "Though it may seem so, It is not a sad album. The songs look at the variety of experiences each of us may have in our lives every day," Harley said. The experiences Harley shares in the songs range from his father's dreams for him to perform on the Grande Old Opry to a rodeo bull in Mesquite to the lessons taught by an old man with a fiddle.
Although this is his first album to be released, Harley began making his living as a musician and entertainer in 1972. He was Colorado state yodeling champion in 1978 and 1979. His band, H.B. Hatfield, opened for and then backed Johnny Paycheck, and over 10 years opened for noted musicians including John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Katy Moffatt, Earl Thomas Conley, Reba McIntyre, Janie Fricke, Johnny Rodriguez, Gary Stewart, Joe Stampley, Moe Bandy, John Conlee, David Frizzell, Shelley West, Jack Green (Ernest Tubb's original bass player). Harley began writing when he was 15. But in 1994 when he was 47, he finally took his mother's advice to hang up his guitar and get a real job.
"I went to work selling mobile homes," he said. "The more mobile homes I sold, the madder and meaner I got until I finally realized that the good Lord put me on this Earth to play music, and that until I started playing music again I wasn't going to be happy. That's when the CD started taking shape. "At 52, I feel like I'm one of the older guys in music still trying to make it. At my age, I'm not supposed to be doing this anymore. I'm supposed to be sitting behind some desk making money, but life is not all about money."
Harley played guitar and harmonica on Harley's Angels, and did all the vocals. He is joined by Jerry Matheny on acoustic and electric guitar; Milo Deering on fiddle, pedal steel, and dobro; and Mike McClain on drums, bass, and keyboards.
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