I actually consider my career choice as an entertainer my movement, because it does bring the most amount of good to the people, not only in person in the moment, but, on record forever! I look at music as a medicine for what ails you.
I had the pleasure of interviewing singer/songwriter Gary Brewer. For over four decades, he has captivated audiences with his one-of-a-kind voice, which encompasses a variety of Bluegrass, Roots and Gospel influences. During his music career, Brewer has recorded for multiple major record labels, including Copper Creek, releasing 29 studio albums. Now, Brewer has launched his own label called SGM Records (Stretch Grass Music). He has released an additional 20 albums on his label, accumulating several hits throughout the years.
After garnering attention and gaining respect from some of the biggest names of all-time across multiple music genres, Gary has no plans of stopping any time soon. Having recorded and toured with music icons like Bill Monroe, J.D. Crowe, Uncle Josh Graves, Doyle Lawson, Larry Sparks and Dave Evans, that inspiration is on full display in the band’s unique style. At one point, he even got the attention of late Country maverick Porter Wagoner, who said “Gary Brewer has a great group, works hard on his act and is an excellent Bluegrass singer.” ‘Father of Bluegrass’ Bill Monroe was also once quoted as saying, “This boy right here is 100% Bluegrass! He comes from good stock.” Brewer has even received songwriting praises from film icon and “California Dreamin’” hitmaker Michelle Phillips (The Mamas & the Papas) who is an avid fan of the Kentucky Ramblers.
Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers commemorated 2020 with the release of the 40th Anniversary Celebration album. The star-studded collection features a “who’s-who” lineup of featured artists on the project including Sam Bush, The Travelin’ McCourys, Russell Moore, Dale Ann Bradley, Ashton Shepherd, Doug Phelps (of The Kentucky Headhunters), Ralph Stanley II and T. Graham Brown. To date, the song has proven to be a huge hit in the Bluegrass / Americana genres, hitting №1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums Chart.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Gary! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Well, I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. I was raised right by my parents and did all the things most young boys do, except I was usually doing them to the extreme! Motocross, taekwondo martial arts, football, baseball, lifeguarding, hunting, fishing, and of course music, music, music…
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Glad to! The most prominent thing was when I was around 12 years old. I broke my left femur bone after not minding my mother. I was holding onto a car door handle on the snow and ice and letting the car pull me down the road. I hit a bump and went under the car and the rear wheels ran over my leg, ouch! Well, that laid me up for a good bit, and while in the hospital I couldn’t bring in an electric guitar, so my Dad brought me an acoustic one. I began playing all these songs I didn’t even know that I knew. They were Bluegrass standards that I’d heard my Dad and his father sing growing up. Here I was all of a sudden picking them out. So at that time, I had been playing electric guitar for a good while and that’s when I switched over to Bluegrass music. Then following that, I started my band at 14-years-old and am still doing it 40 years later. It’s been a wonderful ride!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oh my! There are so many… I guess getting the call from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to come and appear but, I had to turn them down due to a show date already booked. The news spread that I declined and some of my peers said I was crazy. Others said I did the right thing because a professional entertainer never cancels a show. I’m glad it all worked out, and shortly thereafter they called back again and I went! It has always been the highlight of my career to perform on the Opry the very first time. Heck, every time I get the opportunity to work the Opry, it’s the same highlight over and over again! It’s an honor to stand on the Circle!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, probably a common mistake everyone makes starting out is, trying to sound like someone else and/or looking at other acts that are making waves and try to copy that. I always figured that if I were to copy someone else then all I was doing was furthering their career, so I tried not to do that. However, I used to see where another big name artist was setting up their merch at a concert and I would try to set mine up in the same area at one of my performances. The reason I did this was, I saw they were selling a lot of merch and I wasn’t, so in theory, if I copied them, I would sell too!… NOT! I soon figured out that the reason they were selling and I wasn’t, was because ME. I hadn’t found ME yet. Once I began to create ME and my show, then I began to sell. I soon saw that if I was entertaining the audience at my concert, then, they would find me wherever I was set up. Mistakes must be made in order for anyone to move ahead and learn their own lessons.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, of course, we have just released my 40th Anniversary Celebration project and it is really kicking up some dust! Rave reviews, prominent airplay, and lots of guest star power; I am so thankful for that. I am always writing new material. Over 90% of our stage show is original material I have written over my career. Me and the Ramblers are always working on our show and presence. We take entertaining very seriously!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Well, here’s my light on diversity in the entertainment industry: 1) Each individual is unique and different in their own way. Thank goodness! 2) If every one entertainer was the same, there would be no identity from artist to artist. 3) You would not be able to tell the difference one from the other.
As far as affecting our culture, everything anyone does affects their and our culture. That could be in our music industry anything from changing what an entertainer looks like, sounds like, acts like or even fashion choice, etc… As I mentioned earlier in this interview, every entertainer must find themself and create their own identity. Can I get an AMEN?
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Get affiliated as a songwriter with BMI, ASCAP, etc, before you record!
I had significant airplay for my debut record and the record company got their royalties as the publisher, but, I missed out because I didn’t know. Heck, I was 14 years old. Thankfully l learned my lesson and got my publishing back and got affiliated as a BMI writer.
2) Never allow anyone to have control or ownership over your record masters!
The first couple of records, I was just green and young and was glad to have a record company even interested in me, but, you learn the ropes and trod forward with all your lessons learned. I have recorded over 50 projects and own the masters for all!
3) Don’t perform to try to impress other entertainers.
This is a common mistake that everyone has made, and some still do. As a professional musician, you are there to entertain the audience. They are the ones that buy your records, purchase tickets, etc…
Other artists don’t buy your projects or tickets to your show. (There are some exceptions to this rule of course)
4) Get a professional recording engineer for your records.
Most artists go into a recording studio and the engineer is also the owner, floor sweeper, mastering engineer, etc…. You get the point! It is a must to get an engineer that knows what you like and want to hear in your record. They are worth their weight in gold if they do their job! It’s so nice to have an extra set of ears while recording because you can miss things due to fatigue, long days in the studio, etc…
5) How much to charge for a concert.
No one automatically knows what to charge starting out. Each artist must keep in mind when pricing; Travel, lodging, and fuel prices are just a few. Oh yeah, what about the performance fee? Well, I always tried to price my early events fair and reasonable. I tried to figure how many people would purchase a ticket solely to come to see me at a festival setting, then base the price off that.
It’s important to pay your dues and grow as an artist, then the rewards will come. Hang tight!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well, it’s always important to have a balance in any career. As an entertainer for over 40 years now, I’d like to establish how important home life and family are. I saw early on in my career as I began to make a name in my genre, that it can be very easy to get caught up in your career and put other things to the side.
Now, I personally have spoken to many artists that said “I never have seen my kids play ball, I never got to see my daughters recital” etc… Failed marriages, drugs, and alcohol, etc… The list goes on and on.
I simply made a choice, I was NOT going to let these things happen to me! I am very blessed to have the same wife I started out with 32 years ago, I have two wonderful sons that are great musicians and part of the band as well as my Dad, (What a blessing)! You have to give your life to the music and your family as well. Can’t do one without the other! It takes a lot of work to balance both, but it can be done and I am living proof.
Lastly, always work hard on your act and keep it fresh! Keep focused and don’t get above your raising.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I actually consider my career choice as an entertainer my movement, because it does bring the most amount of good to the people, not only in person in the moment, but, on record forever!
I look at music as a medicine for what ails you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents hands down! My mother was my biggest fan! She’s been gone for just over 5 years and my Dad has been with me my whole career as part of my show and my personal bus driver. Of course, my wife Lesia and now both my sons, Wayne and Mason Brewer are part of the show and keep me going. We are having a blast!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mother always told me, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” Every time I am having a difficult time, I remember those words and it keeps me moving along. Another favorite is quoting Bruce Lee, Is your glass half empty or half full? It’s the same when looking at it, however, it’s how YOU VIEW IT.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Actor Steven Seagal. We have so much in common! We are both musicians, Martial Artists, and have trained law enforcement in Martial Arts. Yes, I am an 8th Degree Grandmaster Black Belt in Taekwondo! And Steven is a Grandmaster in Aikido.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our website is www.brewgrass.com and of course all social media outlets, Facebook, Instagram, etc…
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
You’re very welcome! I appreciate the opportunity.