At the age of 70, Houston’s master soul-bluesman Leonard “Lowdown” Brown will release his debut record, Blues is Calling Me, via Music Maker Foundation. Founded in 1994 by Tim and Denise Duffy, the non-profit helps “the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs.” Leonard is proud to be a part of their community, enthusing, “I’ve dealt with record companies before, and their bottom line is different from Music Maker’s. They are behind the musicians, pushing them and trying to get people exposed that would otherwise never be seen. It has been real fine to be a part of it.”
Music Maker has even hooked him up with a set at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. When asked what he loves about playing for a live audience, he shares, “The thing about music, to me, is that it’s a way to bring people together and get them on the same frequency. Most people come to listen to music to have fun and dance; it’s a way to unify people. Music is what we have in common.”
An electric guitar-slinging blues legend in the Houston music scene, his virtuosic fingerwork and formidable voice seem effortless, evidence of his raw talent and over four decades of dedication to his craft. “It’s always been a passion for me, music. It’s always been that way. I think I was born to be a musician,” he says.
Born in 1953 into a family with five brothers and four sisters, Leonard grew up with music all around him. Like many Black families during the Great Migration, Leonard’s mother and father journeyed from their home in Arkansas to Gary, Indiana to raise their family and find more economic opportunity. Music was one way they remained connected to their southern roots, and they shared this passion with their children. He recalls, “When we moved into our first house, the first thing my mom bought was a piano. Everybody would play on it, even if they didn’t know how. The house was always full of music.”
Leonard and his siblings spent their formative years singing in traveling gospel choirs, which he credits as the foundation of his musical style. To him, “When you really listen, all that early gospel music is just the blues with different words put to it.” Around the age of six, Leonard’s father gave him his first guitar and he hasn’t stopped playing since. “I just can’t imagine not having a guitar,” he tells me. “Even if I never played in a club again, I can’t imagine not playing music. It’s part of me, I couldn’t be a whole person without it.”
By his early twenties, he was making his rounds playing in the Chicago music scene in gospel and quartet groups, but had a thirst to try out other styles of music. He took inspiration from the artistry of B.B. King, R.L. Burnside, Chet Atkins and T-Bone Walker’s fingerpicking, tuning into his own sound through imitating theirs. His path changed directions in 1980, when he graduated from a two-year training program at General Electric and was assigned to work in Houston.
A stranger to the city, Leonard found his community through music. He met bandmates by frequenting different music clubs, such as Dan Electro’s Thursday night jam sessions. “I’ve met a lot of friends and people through music that I probably never would have talked to otherwise, but because of music we have a reason to communicate.” Leonard quickly became a mainstay of Houston’s music culture and was dubbed as the “Lowdown” by the organizers of Benson and Hedges Houston Blues Festival in 1988–and the catchy name has stuck for a reason.
Leonard’s talent has led him to open for acts including Sister Sledge, ZZ Hill, Johnny Taylor and Bobby Bland. For all his accomplishments, he has no intentions of slowing down. “I’ll never get away from it. When I don’t have a gig lined up, I’m working on something in my studio or supporting my friends’ shows and playing with them,” he adds.
“Juke Joint,” premiering exclusively on American Blues Scene, finds Leonard reliving the ‘60s and ‘70s when juke joints were hot.