Jackson Browne has been both an introspective, cerebral songwriter and a politically attuned voice of conscience. He emerged in the early Seventies as a soul-baring young folksinger whose songs dealt with riddles of romance and existence. In his middle period he became a more extroverted rock and roller. Later work grew more topical in nature as Browne sang of political and social realities within and beyond our borders. “In a way, I don’t choose what I write about - my subjects kind of choose me,” this vanguard singer/songwriter explained in 1993. “It’s a healing thing, a way of confronting what’s important in my life at the time.”
Though he was born on a German army base, Browne has lived in Southern California virtually all his life. He was only 23 when he released the auspicious debut album, Jackson Browne (Saturate Before Using). Yet he’d been making waves as a songwriter for seven years. As an Orange County high- schooler, he fell in with a folksinging clique that included Tim Buckley, Steve Noonan and Greg Copeland. In 1967 he ventured to New York, brushing against Andy Warhol’s scene and befriending Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed. A publishing deal with Elektra Records led to demo recordings of 30 original songs. During this period, other performers discovered his material. Browne seemed far wiser than his years on such early gems as “These Days” and “Shadow Dream Song,” which were recorded by Tom Rush, Nico, Gregg Allman and others.
Browne signed with David Geffen’s Asylum label in 1971. In fact, Geffen’s desire to show Browne’s talent to the world is a major reason he launched Asylum, which would become home to the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits and others. Browne’s first three albums - Saturate Before Using (1972), For Everyman (1973) and Late for the Sky (1974) - are confessional singer-songwriter classics. From the outset he paid careful attention to the melding of words and music. Browne wasn’t a folk purist, and songs like “Doctor My Eyes” - his first single and a Top Ten hit - rocked out in a rolling, Southern California way. Yet his early lyrics took a more genteel, eloquent and even courtly approach than the pop norm. “It was my literary period,” Browne told Rolling Stone. “Long-form rambling songs in iambic pentameter with the run-on philosophical attitude. I was searching bleary-eyed for God in the crowds.” Saturate Before Using was rife with thoughtful, lilting classics, including “Rock Me on the Water” and “Jamaica Say You Will.”