Jackson Browne's deeply reflective lyrics and natural sense of melody made him one of the Seventies' most iconic singer/songwriters, a poster boy for catchy introspection. Collaborating with members of the Eagles and John David Souther, Browne helped establish a mellow SoCal sound based on breezy romance and wistful philosophizing. From the 1980s on, however, Browne augmented his forlorn valentines with sharp socio-political themes that paralleled his growing social activism.
As a teen in Orange County, California, Browne played guitar with an early version of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but he spent 1967 and 1968 in Greenwich Village, where he backed Tim Buckley and Nico. The German fashion model and vocalist was the first artist to cover Browne's plaintive "These Days." By 1969 he had begun to establish a national reputation as a songwriter, and during the next few years Tom Rush, the Byrds, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and others performed his songs. Browne's debut album produced a hit with "Doctor My Eyes" (Number Eight, 1972) and eventually went gold. He co-wrote the Eagles' first hit, "Take It Easy."
With each album Browne's following grew. Jackson Browne (Number 53, 1972) went gold; For Everyman (Number 43, 1973) and Late for the Sky (Number 14, 1974) went platinum. The Pretender became his first Top Ten album; its sense of despair derived in part from the suicide of his first wife, Phyllis, in 1976, two and a half years after the birth of their son, Ethan.
A 1977 tour produced Running on Empty (Number Three, 1978), a live concept album about the touring process that featured material recorded onstage, in hotel rooms, and on the tour bus, including the hit title track (Number 11, Pop) and a remake of the Zodiacs' "Stay" (Number 20, Pop). Hold Out (1980) went to Number One in its first week of release.
In 1983, Browne's Lawyers in Love (Number Eight), introduced many of the political themes he would continue to explore in Lives in the Balance (Number 23, 1986) and World in Motion (Number 45, 1989). From ecological concerns to immigration issues, he was calling out injustice around him. Though Lawyers hit Number Eight on the charts, it did not go platinum.
In 1993 Browne returned more personal matters with I'm Alive (Number 40), on which he worked with long-time collaborator and coproducer Scott Thurston (Don Was also produced two tracks). The album generated unusually careful media scrutiny, coming as it did after Browne's highly publicized breakup with actress Daryl Hannah.
Browne took a three-year leave from the studio before returning with Looking East (Number 36, 1996), on which he blended his political voice with his more introspective outlook. The album failed to generate much interest, though, and the following year Browne commemorated his quarter-century of recording with the release of a best-of collection.
Browne has been active in numerous organizations devoted to progressive social change, including MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), Amnesty International, and the Christic Institute. He has produced albums for Warren Zevon, his former guitarist David Lindley, Native American poet John Trudell, and high school friend Greg Copeland, as well as Nicaraguan group Guardabarranco. He has collaborated with fellow West Coast songwriters, including J.D. Souther, Lowell George, Valerie Carter, and the Eagles.
The Naked Ride Home, Browne's first album of the new millennium, came in 2002. A two-disc collection, The Very Best of Jackson Browne (Number 46, 2004), was released in 2004, and Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen that same year. He continued to do solo tours around the world, culminating in compilations Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 (Number 55, 2005) and Solo Acoustic Vol. 2 (Number 24, 2008) released on his own label, Inside Recordings.
In the fall of 2008 he released Time the Conqueror. His first proper studio album in six years, Time featured some savage indictments of the Bush administration, though the sound was still largely subdued folk-rock. A 2009 international tour followed.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Jim Macnie contributed to this article.
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