Dewey Brown has been fiddling with royalty most of his life. Picking up the fiddle at age 9 after watching his bass-playing dad entertain at cookouts with friends, Brown took lessons from J.B. Prince. And at the age of 17, he took first place in ‘99 at the Old Time Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Va. By the time he was 24, he was playing fiddle with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley as a member of the Clinch Mountain Boys.
“I got to go up and audition for him up at his house in Virginia one weekend and play a show, and he hired me after the show,” Brown said last week by phone from his music store, Dewey Brown’s Music and Lessons, in Graham. Brown stayed with Stanley for 11 years, until his death in 2016.
Brown has fiddled with a plethora of country and bluegrass artists, rubbing elbows with Elvis Costello, Ricky Skaggs, Lee Ann Womack, Dierks Bentley, Buddy Miller, Gillian Welsh and Robert Plant all on one outing, Stanley’s 2015 release “Man Of Constant Sorrow.”
Touring with Stanley took Brown around the world and gave him an in-depth musical education. “He always stressed the importance of doing your job well, making sure you take care of the fans and the people who come to see you, playing honest music that he felt like he enjoyed playing himself. He knew if he enjoyed it, other people would too.”
Stanley also gave Brown a name for his first label, Dew Bug. At one point on Brown’s first solo album, “Traditional Fiddle,” with Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys as special guests, Stanley can be heard hollering “Go get ‘er, Dew Bug!” during Brown’s solo on “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Brown says he had no idea why Stanley came up with the nickname, but it was catchy enough to use as a label.
While still with Stanley, Brown came up with another partner, Leslie Vandyke Brown, whom he married in 2007.
“At one of Ralph’s shows in Virginia, where she’s from, we were playing an outside street festival just about this time of year — Labor Day in Saltville, Va.,“ Brown says. “And my wife is an accomplished dancer, so she was out in the street clogging with a lot of other people — kind of a tradition at that festival. Saw her out there dancing, ended up talking to her after the show. Next thing you know, the rest is history.”
A former nurse, Leslie helps run the couple’s two musical theaters as well as writing and singing with Brown on their ongoing musical projects.
Brown bought his first theater in Liberty while running his own festival, Deweyfest on his 52-acre farm. The former owner approached Brown and his wife at the festival about buying the property. The former movie theater originally opened in ‘49 as the Curtis Theatre, and is now The Liberty Showcase Theatre. It has been a successful venture for the Browns, hosting country greats including Pam Tillis and Kathy Mattea with upcoming acts Kentucky Headhunters and the Oak Ridge Boys. The couple is opening a second theater in Reidsville as well this month.
The Browns also write and record as a duo, releasing their second album, “Jealousy,” later this fall, with three singles already released.
“Leslie comes up with these melodies and story lines she relates to and ends up writing a good song. We’ll put it together and see how it turns out, like a recipe,” Brown says of the collaborative process.
Even though the focus is on originals, there are some covers as well. A song on the soon-to-be released album is a Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner tune, “Her and the Car and the Mobile Home Are Gone,” that the couple has been doing live. He also has a co-write with Joe Newberry, “Seven Go the Graveyard, but Six Come Back,” that has a traditional bluegrass feel. He includes one that Stanley used to do, “The Old Richmond Prison,” a true story about a shooting in Richmond on which the couple duet.
“We share sometimes,” Brown says. “Most of the times she helps me, but she can write her own pretty good. Anyhow, just kinda been a theme of ours as we started playing together was that she hadn’t been writing songs, and I said, ‘Well honey, that’s what I want us to be, feature and be different. What we do is feature original material we like to write, and I love the old, traditional music as much as anybody, but I want to be able to have an identity and write songs and just have something material we can play and bring to the table. That’s kinda more the reason we sing original stuff more than anything, just to be unique.”
Contact Grant Britt at email@example.com.