Alchemy: Brown trades metal for classics

The audiences for classical guitarist Greg Brown may have difficulty imagining Brown as a metal band rocker. But he's proud to defend his metal history.

"I learned more through metal music than I did at school," Brown admits. Having joined his first band at 14, he spent his teenage years playing Van Halen, Scorpions, and Metallica tunes around his hometown in South Florida.

In the late 1980s, while touring the Atlantic Coast and playing benefit concerts for Amnesty International and the victims of Hurricane Andrew, his band, The Village Idiots, received a letter from Capital and Relativity Records suggesting the possibility of a recording contract. It could have been a turning point in his career, but the companies were in the midst of a merger, and the Village Idiots had some internal problems.

"We ended up disbanding in the early 1990s," Brown says. The record deal never materialized.

Brown then turned his attention to classical guitar. He began to study with master guitarists, including Anthony Glise, who was nominated for a Pulitzer for composition.

"I found a new level of creative freedom and an intimacy with the instrument that had been covered by the effects and amplification of electric guitar," he says.

Now a well-known classical guitarist with three compact discs to his credit and a performing and promotion schedule that takes him all over the country, Brown has just completed his most recent composing and recording project, Distant Places.

The disc reflects his eclectic background and interests. "In addition to pieces based on the American Blues, there are also Spanish and Chinese works and compositions for orchestras and electric guitar," he says.

Brown, now 32, relocated to Charlottesville in 1992. Through his association with area schools where he has taught guitar and chorus, he got to know the local musical community.

He soon became a member of the Charlottesville Classical Guitar Society and began performing with the Camerata Rotunda Chamber Orchestra. In 1999, he premiered the composition that would become the title track of his second recording project, "Transylvania," at UVA as an invited artist in the Charlottesville Chamber Orchestra series.

Recently back from a promotional tour in Miami and an appearance at the Sun Waves Festival, Brown says he's receiving inquiries from publishing companies in California and Germany, and his work is already catalogued in university libraries in Arizona, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and at Yale.

"The wheels are turning now," says the former metal man who shows no signs of looking back. "I can see myself playing classical guitar at 80. Heavy metal was a trend; what I'm doing now is a lifelong ambition."