Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • Neosho’s Kenny Brannan inks contract for record, tour

  • Neosho country music performer Kenny Brannan was at the breaking point.

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  • Neosho country music performer Kenny Brannan was at the breaking point.
    Nearly a decade after releasing a demo tape titled “Stormy,” a number of promised deals about his music had fallen through. Many people didn’t support his dream of becoming a country music star.
    “I was on the verge of actually quitting,” Brannan, a part-time reserve deputy for the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department, said. “Then I got a call from a band member in Branson, who wanted to know if I wanted to play in Branson at the Gene Williams Theatre. I said ‘You kiddin’ me? You bet I do!’ ”
    That performance was with Wally Barbee, a Branson entertainer, and brought Brannan firmly back to the music fold as Barbee’s bass player, Al Scott, was impressed with the singer / songwriter / guitarist.
    “I came to find out that one of Al’s good friends and colleagues was Tommy Overstreet,” said Brannan. “He got to talking to Tommy and said ‘I’ve got somebody you need to listen to.’ ”
    Brannan sent in a collection of original songs to Overstreet, a country music performer best noted for his top 20 hits in the 1970s such as “Ann (Don’t Go Runnin’)” and “Heaven is My Woman’s Love.” Overstreet apparently liked what he heard, as he signed Brannan and his writing partner, drummer Ron Hutton (who also serves as Brannan’s manager), to Overstreet’s record label DéjàVu Records, which is based in Oregon.
    “We believe you have an exciting future as an artist and songwriter,” Overstreet said in a Dec. 30 letter to Brannan. “The material we have received from you and your writing partner, Ron Hutton, has been exceptional. We believe you are both on the right track in regard to what a commercial country song is today. The reports from your travels are very encouraging how the audience relates to all of your new songs when you showcase them. This is a great tool for future recordings, as you can measure their emotional response.”
    “Everything was coming together, yet falling apart at the same time,” Brannan said. “The theater was going down, yet the band was coming together.”
    The band, Southern Drive, began playing in different places, Brannan explained. Meanwhile, Scott was continuing to talk with Overstreet about the concert dates and how things were jelling.
    “Tommy said ‘I don’t know who you guys are, but these songs are like the big ones sang,’ ” Brannan recalled. “He said ‘Every one of these is an A drawer song: there aren’t any B drawer ones. I could ship these out to high artists right now.’ ”
    Word of Brannan’s talent spread throughout some of country’s biggest stars, with George Jones calling him up and asking the duo to write him a “career” song. Others who have shown interest in Brannan’s work include George Strait and Bertie Higgins, a performer whose greatest hit was “Key Largo.”
    Page 2 of 3 - “We then started playing on the road big time, and got a tour going,” Brannan remembered. “All this time, my manager is calling Al, and Al is calling him. The crowd just loved our music.”
    “The crowd would tear Kenny’s shirt off,” added Brannan’s wife, Jeanne.
    “Oh yeah, they’ll maul you!” Brannan concurred.
    But life on the road isn’t all fun. Brannan remembered a gig in Minot, N.D., with actual temperature standing at 15 below.
    “It was so cold, the gas gauge on the van froze,” he recalled. “It was stuck at half a tank. When it warmed up, it went ‘Chunk!’ and down to empty. Here we were, out in the middle of nowhere. Then, five minutes later, the windshield froze up. We called roadside assistance and they said there was no one in the area to assist us. So we called 911, and the sheriff called a tow truck who brought us some gas and followed us into the next town.
    “But the people in Minot were awesome. For as bad as the weather was, the people more than made up for it.”
    Brannan remembers asking his manager what to do when he got the news, on-stage, about his big break.
    I said ‘Ron, what do you think?’ and he said ‘Sign it, stupid!’ So I signed it,” Brannan remembered.
    Hutton said Brannan was actually about the last to know about his big break.
    “I called Jeanette and she was tickled to death,” he said. “I felt overwhelmed at first. We put in a lot of hard work over the years. You have to put up with people telling you that you can’t do it. But Kenny is a real good person. I did tell him about six or eight months ago that if you stick with me, we’ll have something within a year. I really had a lot of people, before I got set up with Kenny, who said they were helping, but they weren’t really helping.”
    That one gig was different. Instead of Hutton going to his drum kit as normal when the band took the stage, he walked up to the microphone and told the audience the big news: that Brannan was offered a recording contract.
    “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Brannan said of his reaction. “I didn’t know what to say, except ‘Thank you, Lord, thank you fans because without you, I wouldn’t have done it, and thank you to my manager and thank you to my wife.
    “We had a concert that night. We really tore it up.
    “I’m still just sitting here, mesmerized about it all. I can’t believe it.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Now, a recording session has been slated, along with a large tour to go with it. The “Generation Gap” tour will feature Brannan performing with the likes of Overstreet, Moe Bandy and Merle Haggard.
    “I believe Bertie Higgins is going to try to get in on the tour as well,” Brannan said.
    Like many musicians, Hutton and Brannan have toiled many years before finding success. Hutton has been playing music professionally for 29 years, Brannan for 16.
    Brannan remembered the first paying gig he had at the age of 4, when a woman at church offered him a quarter to go up front and sing.
    “I got up there and sang ‘Jesus on the Main Line,’ ” Brannan recalled, naming an old traditional song which has been covered by Ry Cooder and Randy Travis. “So I got back down, and she gave me a quarter. Next time, she did it again.
    “But the third time I did it, she didn’t give me a quarter, so I didn’t sing!” Brannan added with a laugh.
    Brannan received his first guitar shortly afterward from his grandmother, who had purchased it with S&H Green Stamps, and was mostly self-taught.
    “Later, when I got old enough, I got an electric guitar from Wal-Mart,” he recalled. “I played in a church in Rogers, Ark., but the preacher wouldn’t me play lead guitar on stage. That was his. But I watched him when he played, and when he wasn’t there, I played his licks. I had my first country gig when I was 18 years old.”
    It wasn’t until after he met his wife that Brannan got serious about his music. It’s been years filled with “maybe” hits and near misses, he said.
    But now, all of that is changing. Brannan left this week for more dates on the road, with stops in Colorado, New Mexico and his native Texas.
    “I’ve got a lot of touring to do, but I got to do it,” he said. “I’ve got to please the fans, got to make them happy. I just thank everybody who believed in me.”
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