Junior Brown With The Last Mile Ramblers – Fiesta de Los Cerrillos (Cerrillos, NM)
The drunk guy bellowing, “Junior Brown! Junior Brown!” before the music started obviously was a relatively new fan of the deep-voiced singer who invented the guit-steel. Brown’s longtime fans in these parts know him and refer to him by the name he now says he hates: Jamie.
“It’s great to be back home in Cerrillos,” Brown told the people crowded around the outdoor stage on the dusty Cerrillos Plaza. “I used to live just a little bit up this road here, right near the dump.”
Though Brown was crowned by his omnipresent cowboy hat, gone was his famous red jacket. This was not a formal showcase, just a fun night of good pickin’ for a bunch of old friends — a sweet homecoming for Brown, who lived in northern New Mexico for most of his teenage years and early adulthood. Not only was he back in Cerrillos, a tiny old mining community south of Santa Fe that became a major hippie haven back in the good old daze, he was playing with his old band, the Last Mile Ramblers, for the first time in more than 20 years.
In the early ’70s — as “outlaw” and “cosmic cowboy” music, whose spiritual center was Austin, was rising in popularity — the Last Mile Ramblers appealed to both cowboys and longhairs. They were always a popular draw at gone but fondly remembered hip honky-tonks such as the Thunderbird in Placitas, the Bourbon & Blues in Santa Fe, and especially the Golden Inn, a middle-of-nowhere bar the Ramblers celebrated in one of their original songs. When a national country star such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings or Dolly Parton came to the state, the Last Mile Ramblers usually would open.
Though Brown left New Mexico for Oklahoma and Texas and eventually achieved national fame, the Ramblers remained, going through numerous personnel changes with singer-guitarist George Bullfrog remaining the constant. It was Bullfrog, still a Cerrillos resident, who arranged for Brown to play for the Fiesta, revived this year for the first time in nearly 20 years.
After a short set by the Ramblers, consisting mainly of standards such as “Close Up The Honky Tonks” and “Tennessee Waltz”, Brown was introduced, quickly breaking into “Highway Patrol”, as a black-uniformed New Mexico State Police officer stood expressionless beside the stage.
Although he would go through most of the best-known songs in his current repertoire — “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead”, “Gotta Get Up Every Morning”, “I Hung It Up” — Brown seemed more relaxed and spontaneous than he normally does, though his fancy guit-steel acrobatics were as impressive as ever.
Though Brown has a new disc, Long Walk Back, due out on Curb in September, the highlight of this show was when he and the band performed three tunes from the Last Mile Ramblers’ long-out-of-print 1974 album. Brown sang the crazed “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” and drawled the lyrics of Red Sovine’s “Big Joe & The Phantom 309”, while Bullfrog sang the band’s first single, “The Hurrieder I Go, The Behinder I Get”. Yup, all three were truck-driving songs. The Last Mile Ramblers were Rig Rock when Rig Rock wasn’t cool. (Heck, this stuff even predated “Convoy”.)
The show was rather short, or at least it seemed that way. The crowd could have listened all night. But it was well worth the $3 admission price just to see The Artist Formerly Known As Jamie back in his native setting.
(Steve Terrell was one of only two people Jamie Brown could beat in cross country in Coach Armandariz’s P.E. class at Santa Fe Mid High in 1968.)