Keith Brown: New CCM talent with the 'This Side Of Heaven' album

Wednesday 1st December 1993

America keeps turning out top quality pop/rock CCM artists. Jan Willem Vink met up with one of the brightest and best, KEITH BROWN.

Keith Brown
Keith Brown

I often wonder why new artists always have to be 'the new Amy Grant', the new Sandi Patti', or in this case 'the new Michael W Smith'. Keith Brown has been launched as the 'new Michael', with rumours spreading that Reunion held back Brown because of great resemblance with Smitty. American magazine CCM agrees on the hype and comments "Reigning pop king Michael W Smith may get some stiff competition with this new artist, 'cause you're not gonna find much sweeter sounds This Side Of Heaven'."

I feel this hype is not fair to both Michael and Keith. Keith credits Michael W Smith as one of his major influences when he was young. "When Michael W Smith came along, he was like one of the hip artists in the 80s. I was real impressed because I was just starting a band; he had a lot to do musically."

But Keith is clear to point out the differences between himself and Michael. "I write all of my songs and I produce all my songs and he doesn't. I think vocally I do a lot of things different than him. I think we'll always be considered different in the same category because we're both pop/rock, and I don't desire to venture out of that."

Keith was raised in a church just outside Cincinnati, Kentucky. With little formal training, he began playing the piano at age 10, wrote his first song at 13 and by the 'ripe old age' of 14 he was assembling musical ensembles in his church. Over many months, he formed a full band called Hearts Of Fire who performed all over the region.

Starting this band wasn't easy for Keith, since his church background was very legalistic. "I had to fight to listen to contemporary Christian music because they didn't believe in Christian rock," comments Keith. Also on other levels, his background was very legalistic. "In our Pentecostal Holiness church we served the Lord a lot by works and what we wore and how we looked and where we didn't go. I didn't see movies 'til I was 16, I didn't wear shorts 'til I was 17 and I didn't listen to rock 'n' roll 'til I was 21. I bought into it. I didn't rebel to it. A lot of my teenage friends rebelled. I wasn't one of those. I worshipped my pastor, had a great family and I was rejected at school. I had to find refuge in my church."

Keith came out of it when he was 21 and started attending an interdenominational church. "I try not to stay bitter about my background," comments Keith. "The best thing in life you can do about it is take the bad things and turn them around and make them good. Yet, I still live with guilt. I feel condemnation a lot of times. I draw within myself. I'm learning more and more about grace. I think to know grace is to know Jesus. He didn't come to lay our dues in belts, he came for grace and life."

When Keith was 19, he got a publishing deal in Nashville with Meadowgreen. Then he moved on to the Reunion Music Group. "At Reunion I wrote a lot for Wayne Kirkpatrick and Chris Eaton and hung out with a lot of people." Chris Smith, director of music publishing at Reunion, saw real potential in Keith and began sending him to New York, LA and Chicago to refine his craft by writing with established tunesmiths. In 1991 Keith moved to New York, where he signed with BMG as a writer and got to write with songwriters who's clients include Anita Baker, George Michael and Patti La Belle.

"I think growing up in Christian music I was so much surrounded by it in Nashville," reflects Keith. "There's so many Christians out there, everywhere you go. And sometimes when you are in the thick of that much concentration, you start to lose sight of why you are doing Christian music. I kind of lost focus why we were having Christian music, because I wasn't out there and when you're just surrounded by Christians you forget the real meaning of evangelism. The move to New York really made me come back and realise how priceless the message of the cross is and how important the Christian music industry is. I want to bring this fresh perspective into Christian music, why we are doing Christian music and why we are out there on the frontline, sharing the message. That's why I've decided to come back. But I still have a lot of ties in the secular industry. I want to continue to do that because that is where the harvest is. Eventually I believe the Lord will lead me back through those doors, with even bigger edge than over the recent years."

Keith's first album, 'This Side Of Heaven', is something the 26-year-old singer is proud of. "Recording the album was real interesting. I had done most of the production here in my apartment, such as programming the keyboards and the drums. When we went to the studio, it took us about five weeks to record the album. I mixed the album with a real heavy weight mixer guy named Darroll Gustamachio, out of New York, whom I've worked with and he's mixed albums for Anita Baker, Rhythm Syndicate, Donny Osmond and Whitney Houston. He became a friend of mine. He had never really heard of Christian music, was really interested and liked me and my music. So he came and mixed my album. He came to Nashville for the first time. So that was a neat thing for him, to meet Christians. That was the neat thing of doing my album, probably the highlight of making it.

"I'm really happy with the results. It's hard to be objective because half the album I had written over the last five years. Working with Dez Dickerson was great. He has so many stories to tell. Coming from the Prince camp and being involved in the secular mainstream industry so long. We had a lot of stories and commentaries to share.

"I just feel I've seen both sides," concludes Keith. "I want to come back and bring some freshness to Christian music and I want to be a part of the crossover. I'm not gonna say that I won't be able to be a part of it. I want to get us back to the basics to why we do this." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Jan Willem Vink
Jan Willem Vink is a regular contributor to Cross Rhythms and lives in the Netherlands.


Reader Comments

Posted by Phil in Ohio @ 15:46 on Mar 7 2019

So very sorry to have just now learned of his passing! I really liked his debut album he recorded ( I had it on a cassette tape and wore it out real quickly ) :-) I since have got myself a cd of it and made myself a backup copy ( just in case ) I wondered what happened with him and why I have not seen any more recordings except the 2 him made. I think he was a cool recording artist! So sorry of his passing, he is missed but recording and playing for our King!! Thank You Keith,we will see ya again soon!!

Posted by Robin Bowersock in Lima, Ohio @ 13:08 on Jul 16 2018

Keith was and still is one of the worlds greatest inspirations. Me and my wife luv his message and music. Wish he would of written and performed alot more, but things happen and changes take place. Greatly missed but we will see him again in a better place. Thank you Keith

Posted by Don in state of Delaware @ 15:20 on Aug 15 2017

I was so sad to hear about Keith's passing, was unaware that it happened until I saw this post.
I have all his music and his only video that only remains, to remind us of his faith.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and close friends. I have often wondered what happened after his songwriting in Nashville several years ago. Psalm 100 is always a great inspiration whenever I hear it, Keith will always be remembered whenever this song plays. Keith was a believer and believers
know that there is life after this life is over, Amen!

Posted by Kevan Hippler in Old Hickory @ 23:44 on Oct 29 2016

In response to Tom Porters story about Keith's attack in a motel room is a true story. Needless to say it stuck with him and like any of us he was shaken to the core. The fear was still in his voice on the very rare occasion he spoke of it.

Posted by Kevan Hippler in Old Hickory @ 21:27 on Oct 29 2016

I new Keith for many years. He was a wonderful person. Passed away last Saturday October, 22nd 2016. My understanding it was due to an underlying heart issue. He stopped writing for awhile due to his mother having and passing from cancer. During his mothers battle his father was diagnosed with cancer that took him quickly. Needless to say this was a very hard time for Keith. I know he wanted to go back to writing music, unfortunately he did not get the chance. He is and will be missed by many. Love you buddy. Rest in Peace.

Posted by Ron Diaz in Fort Worth @ 09:06 on Oct 28 2016

I first met Keith many years ago on the Kim Boyce Tour as he was the opening act. Something time with him was a highlight. He was son genuine and humble. Enjoyed talking till 3 am. After the tour on the phone a few times. I lost touch with Keith and did try to find him to no avail just to talk and see about maybe doing something more to help promote his amazing music. I really hoped our paths would someday cross again. My heart broke whe. I heard the news of his passing. He touched so many lives. He definately was a friend to many and can't wait to see him on the others is in heaven. RIP my brother till we meet again.

Posted by Kelly Floyd @ 03:23 on Oct 27 2016

I'm so sorry but Keith passed away this past Saturday. He was my best friend. We do not know cause of death yet.

Posted by Al Andrew in Melbourne Australia @ 08:04 on Oct 26 2016

Keith has been constantly working, he was a good friend and a mentor.
Sadly he passed away 22 October 2016
He is greatly missed by those who knew him.

Reply by Don in state of Delaware @ 15:48 on Aug 15 2017

Hey Al,

I recall your reply to me on another post, how kind and considerate of you. So sorry to hear of Keith's passing, sad and shocking at the same time.
Thank you for informing us of Keith's passing, I just
found out today! Take care buddy, God Bless!-Don

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Posted by tomporter in Buffalo, ny @ 01:39 on Jul 10 2016

I only meet Keith once in Dallas where I went to CFNI '91-94, and asked him about accountability. He was a bit dumbfounded by it bc he had just gone public with his tour, and it was all new to him at the time.
I read later that he had been mugged at gun point and almost kidnapped from a motel room, but was able to take the weapon and it ended without incident.
So I say all this to ask if Keith is still in music, on Facebook, or somehow available. I'd love to get into songwriting again, and honestly, I'm curious if he remembers my question since it was at the beginning of his music career, and he had such a stunned reaction then.
I'm pretty easy to find in Buffalo (1 of 3 Tom, or on Facebook, etc

Posted by jjsivorys in cincinnati @ 05:38 on Aug 5 2015

I know Keith personally. He is terrific guy. I'm not sure why he stopped writing, but I'm sure he had his reasons. I'd love to hear him write and sing again. He certainly is a blessing.

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