Craig Brown is a persistent hype-man for the city of Milwaukee, though he’s never lived here. The Detroit area native has spent numerous nights playing Milwaukee bars and basements over the past decade and a half—appearing in bands The Mahonies, Terrible Twos, Liquor Store, and as a touring member of King Tuff. Brown is so Milwaukee that he’s the sole non-local to appear in multiple episodes of the Rock ‘N’ Roller Remote Controller series. An immediately likeable character with the gift of gab, Brown is the neighbor kid that Milwaukee treats like one of the family.
Ahead of their upcoming single and an anticipated winter full-length on Third Man Records, The Craig Brown Band bring their rocking country twang back to Milwaukee on June 22 at Cactus Club.
Milwaukee Record: How did it come about that you ended up working with Third Man Records?
Craig Brown: Jack [White] was actually at a show at a place called UFO Factory here in Detroit. I didn’t even know he was there. Instead of giving them three songs to pick two, we went and recorded a whole album in the hopes of them putting it out. It was kind of awesome that my master plan worked. Basically, he saw us play and has been super cool to us ever since. He’s a nice fucking dude.
MR: You’ve played some bigger shows, do you have some favorites?
CB: We’ve played some terrible fucking shows too. We played Little Caesar’s Arena opening for Jack and that was insane. I think we all agree, probably our favorite show is when we played at the biggest Hotel/Casino in Reno opening for Dwight Yoakam. It was tight. All the guys in his band don’t do what our scummy band does, which is play a show, find a place to sleep, get drunk, and then wake up and drive. They have tour buses, so they play the show then get on the bus while some dude drives it to the next town. At the Reno show, they all had their own hotel rooms that they got ready in and we got maybe two rooms for six of us. They gave us all their room keys so we each got our own room. That was one of our favorite shows because we got to stay in a casino.
MR: How did you get hooked up with Dwight Yoakam?
CB: My friend runs this club in L.A. called The Resident. He told me to come out and play a solo set and said Dwight Yoakam might be there. This band he endorses was playing there and he said I should open the show. I was thinking about it for a month and didn’t want to play by myself. I flew into Oakland. Greg Ashley, he’s a buddy of mine, and Garrett—who I played in King Tuff with—are in the Bay Area. I asked them to back me because I got a cheaper flight to Oakland. If I went there and rented a car I could at least go down there and do a three-piece Crazy Horse version of this band.
I didn’t see Dwight there while we were playing. I saw him way earlier when they were soundchecking. After my set, I was talking to a friend and he was wearing a leather jacket. I said bye and hugged him. Five seconds later, a leather coat arm came around me and I thought it was my friend trying to tell me something. I turned around and “Hey man, I really liked your set. I like your sound.”
What the fuck? It was Dwight Yoakam and I talked to him for a while. He did a single on Third Man, two cover songs, so I said if he ever needed an opener to just ask Jack. “Forget Jack, David my manager’s here. Go talk to David, you’ll be our Midwest guy.” I talked to Dwight for a while, which is weird. On tour, he doesn’t talk to anyone—he goes from bus to stage to bus. I talked to his manager and Dwight jumped in, “Did you get Craig’s number from him? He’s our Midwest guy.”
He didn’t call me the next day, and I came home three days later and I got a phone call from that dude. He said Dwight had just come to the Midwest, but he tours constantly and to plan on a call within a year. Before the conversation ended, I said we tour a lot and could open for him anywhere. I kind of bit off more than I could chew because one week later, he asked us to open for him outside of San Antonio. We were playing a cave show with all the Third Man bands and then it was supposed to be a day off, and then Goner [Fest]. It was in Eastern Tennessee, and the day off turned out to be us going to San Antonio. After the show we drove all the way to San Antonio to make soundcheck at four PM. The next day we had a day show at Goner, so we had to drive 15 hours to Memphis. It was fucking insane.
MR: Were Terrible Twos the first band you played with in Milwaukee?
CB: Yeah, it was a double show, Terrible Twos and Mahonies were my first show ever in Milwaukee. It was a house show. I know Milwaukee so well now, but back then I didn’t. It was two houses and a bar. They all traded, so it was bands non-stop. It was the coolest thing I’d seen at the time. The back of the bar had booze and beer. The back of the houses had hot dogs and shit. They were drinking this drink called Dead In The Ditch. It was gin, whiskey, and keg beer. It was actually delicious. It was definitely in Riverwest.
MR: At this point you’re probably an honorary Milwaukeean.
CB: Good, I love Milwaukee. There’s not a week that goes by where a customer at work, something somehow comes up about favorite cities, I always preach Milwaukee. I always tell them it’s the best city. The only problem is I wouldn’t move there. If I’m going to move I’m going someplace warm. I’m not going to move someplace fucking slightly colder—or even the same.