Toni Brown Interview
Hi Toni! Thanks for taking your time for our little interview. You are mostly known for being an editor in Relix Magazine. What can you say about the beginning of the Relix Magazine?
I was Owner/Publisher/Editor & Editorial Director of Relix Magazine from 1979-2001. It started in 1974 as a tape-trading newsletter in an effort to connect fans of the Grateful Dead who wanted to trade tapes. Named Dead Relix, and dedicated to the trickiest taper of all, Dick Nixon, the newsletter became a beacon for Deadheads to meet.
Dead Relix was in existence for one year, and the Dead decided to take a break. This made the publication the ONLY source for news of the band’s activities. Members of the Dead went on to do a variety of solo projects which we covered in detail. The readership grew quickly, and the focus expanded to cover more bands including Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Quicksilver, Big Brother, Commander Cody, Flying Burrito Brothers, New Riders of the Purple Sage and many other acts that grew out of the psychedelic music scene of San Francisco’s ‘60s counterculture. When the Dead returned to the road in 1976, Relix had already found solid footing as a music magazine by writing about new music that was emerging that might be of interest to Deadheads.
What can you tell me about your teen years and how did you get in contact with so many bands?
I went to see the Grateful Dead in July, 1969. I was hooked! I began going to a variety of shows, Frank Zappa, Dr. John, Leon Russell, Chambers Brothers, Poco, it’s hard to remember, but my school became the Fillmore and the other venues of New York City from 1969-1979. I went to a diverse bunch of shows during that time.
I’d met up with Relix backstage at a Peter Rowan show in 1974. A few years later, I found myself in the editor’s seat, then took it on fully when we started a record label in 1980.
Relix covered many bands, what are some less known bands that Relix had featured?
Steve Kimock was in a band called Zero, they were great and featured Quicksilver’s guitarist, John Cippolina. It was extraordinary to have two amazing guitarists in one of the acts I worked with. I’d say lots of our acts were less known because their fan base was based in the Deadhead community. Kingfish, New Riders, Hot Tuna, Flying Burrito Brothers, Commander Cody, Michael Falzarano, Living Earth, Max Creek, Sandoz, Stackabones, all found themselves in our pages and eventually on the Relix Records label. We also put out several Johnny Winter records, and Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter was our first release. In fact, it was at his request that we formed the label to release his solo projects. I also did publicity for most of these artists, as well as Jerry Joseph’s early band, Little Women. I worked with Phish, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, Joan Osborne, featuring early reviews and interviews before they went on to bigger things.
You owned Relix from 1979 – 2001. What happened next?
I sold Relix because I was tired. Jerry Garcia died in 1995, and the musical shift was an interesting process. I was at the forefront of developing the jamband scene. But I felt disconnected, and the Internet was becoming a viable substitute for media, so I thought it was time to do what I love most…play music live! In 1995, I was working with David Nelson (NRPS) and his band on my first CD, Blue Morning, with guest appearances by Jorma Kaukonen and members of Hot Tuna, and The Nudes. I knew I needed to get better, and couldn’t focus on my music with the demand of a magazine on my head. I kept at it for another 6 years, and when an offer came along to sell, I was ready. I’d been touring with my own band, and it was time to quiet down the noise in my head.
You are also a musician and you released 4 albums, if I’m not wrong. The first one is called Blue Morning form 1996, then Dare to Dream from 1999. Rabbit Hole Soul was released in 2003 and your latest is called State Of Mind. What can you tell me be about recording and producing your albums?
Having worked on so many projects from the business end, in production and promotion, it was different to be so intimately entwined in my own project. In the beginning, I didn’t have the confidence to put out the best sound I could. I could have and should have been harder on myself, but it was a learning process. The mixes weren’t great, the effects on my voice were awful. When Blue Morning was released in 1996, I’d already put a really great band together. But they were LOUD. Way too loud for a female singer finding her voice. So after 10 years of touring, I decided to step back. Rabbit Hole Soul was my first solo release, it was good from a songwriting perspective, and a step in the right direction.
My latest CD, State of Mind, with my husband, Ed Munson, is wonderful. We’re writing our next project now, and looking forward to getting back into the studio this fall. State of Mind was recorded when we had finished up RELIX: The Book, which Ed laid out. It seemed like a good idea to release a CD at the same time the book was released.
I like to be prepared when I go into the studio, or else it costs so much money, and you lose focus. I actually used most of my first vocal takes on State of Mind, something I’m proud of. And my voice is only getting better, along with my guitar playing. Touring in support of the book and CD for the past 2 years has been a real crash-course in learning about your instruments and how everything holds up on the road.
I know you are also touring. Would you like to tell us what are some of your future plans etc.
Ed and I leave Florida on Saturday on a northeast tour of America. We are promoting a festival, appearing at one, and doing a number of shows along the way. While we’re out, we’ll do some fill in shows, and meet up with musicians we work with in strategic locations. Our bass player, Benj Janyszeski, is in Pennsylvania, and we have a series of shows to do with him. We already have plans for the fall, and there is a possibility of us touring Europe next Summer, depending on finances and world situations.
If we go a little bit back to your Magazine. You released RELIX: THE BOOK – The Grateful Dead Experience and I would like if you could present us what is this book about. What can we find in your book…
The book is a chronological look at the best of the first 30 years of Relix Magazine. It’s a timeline of the Deadhead evolution, of the emergence of the jamband scene, and of music in general. It contains the magazine’s attempts at reaching a more mainstream market, and lots of fan-based material. It’s more of a culture glimpse into the Grateful Dead, the psychedelic music scene and its movement. The amazing covers, illustrations, photos, interviews, stories that appeared in our pages are compiled here in a concise tribute. I read every issue of Relix from 1974-2001, and culled out the absolute finest moments in a very colorful book. Ed Munson did the layout, and took much inspiration from the stories in his colorful borders and designs. Mind-melting, in fact…
You worked with members of the Dead, NRPS, Hot Tuna, Flying Burrito and many others. Would you like to share an interesting experience you had with some of them?
I toured Japan with the David Nelson Band. It was a very special experience meeting thousands of Japanese Deadheads who knew all the words to our songs. I promoted a Deadhead getaway to Jamaica with Jorma Kaukonen and the New Riders, a cruise to nowhere with Hot Tuna…many amazing parties with all the musicians we know coming onboard. Merl Saunders, Melvin Seals, Hot Tuna, David LaFlamme, Taj Mahal, vague recollections, so many shows and parties! I got to tour with the Dead’s former keyboardist, Tom Constanten, for awhile, and worked with their late keyboardist, Brent Mydland. Singing with the New Riders was a treat, they were a big influence on my music. Interviewing Stevie Ray Vaughan when he first emerged on the scene was also a bright moment, such a humble man. I spent many nights at the Beacon in NYC with the Allman Brothers, and I introduced Warren Haynes to his first record label.
I’m really proud to get interview with you and I’m also happy you will write columns for my Magazine. Would you like to add anything else, perhaps?
I’d like to share something I learned along the trail. To all the musicians in the world…do it because you LOVE it. It’s not about money or fame, or even success. You have to love it, and that makes everything worthwhile.
Wishing you peace, love and light in all your journeys. Come along with us on facebook at: www.facebook.com/relixthebook.com or www.tonibrownband.com
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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