Brian Brown knows a thing or two about running a successful music venue. After all, he worked at Chelsea Street Pub and Water Works, when those two places were in their heyday. Now, he’s the co-owner of The Backyard Bar, Stage and Grill, on Eighth Street in Waco. In recent months, the outdoor stage has hosted sellout shows from Nelly and Snoop Dogg — the $90 tickets for Nelly sold out in four hours; it took less than two hours for Snoop’s show to sell out at the same price — as well as country/folk singer Steve Earle, metal rockers Faster Pussycat, Waco native country singer Wade Bowen and many others. Brown, a native of McGregor, is also the founder and lead singer of the band Sloppy Joe, which recently celebrated its 26th anniversary. Brown has put together side gigs as well, such as tribute bands dedicated to Southern rock and Led Zeppelin.
Sloppy Joe started as a cover band, playing the songs of KC and the Sunshine Band, Tower of Power and other 1970s stalwarts.
“The whole retro, throwback, vintage thing was starting to take off,” Brown said, “so it kind of fell into place that that was starting to be a resurgence and a vibe. We thought what a good time to come out with this band. We went to thrift stores and bought polyester [clothes] and patent leather shoes and crazy outfits and put it together.”
Now, the band’s diverse repertoire ranges from songs by Austin blues rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan to Tom Petty, the Commodores, Prince, and music from many genres. Brown’s aspiration for the band’s shows is pretty simple.
“Our goal, as cliche and corny as it sounds, is, I do not care if they go, ‘That’s the best singer I’ve ever heard,’ or the best band or whatever,” Brown said. “I just literally want them for that two hours to go, ‘You know, my mother-in-law, can’t stand her. The kids are on my nerves. My job sucks.’ I just want them to leave and go, ‘That was a dang good time. It was a really good time.’”
In addition to running the band and The Backyard, Brown also owns The Saloon, at 500 Austin Avenue, and owns Infinite Entertainment Group, a booking company that brings together venues and performers. He lines up gigs for friends’ bands, and of course Sloppy Joe.
“It’s been great for me because it allows me to have a stable of good musicians and acts and comedians that I can go to but that aren’t exclusive to me,” he said. “So if my band fits the bill, that’s the first one I’m gonna present to you. But if we’re out of the budget or the style of music, or if we’re unavailable, I have some other options.”
A few years ago, a friend of Brown’s was doing a last-minute search for a DJ for his daughter’s wedding and talked Brown into taking the job. Hesitant at first, Brown eventually embraced the role, and that ended up making his band even more marketable.
“I realized that when I get those moms or brides that can’t decide between a DJ and a band, I can now go, ‘Well, how about a combination?’” he said. “And that took off. That allowed me to sell way better, and they didn’t have to make that decision.”
Sloppy Joe Band
In addition to Brown, the lead singer and rhythm guitarist, the band’s current lineup includes Jimmy Aguirre on bass. He has a day gig “pretty high up” in the H-E-B distribution center in Temple, Brown said. Neal Davis, guitarist and back-up vocalist, a “super-trained musician” who attended Berklee College of Music, earned a degree in construction science from Texas A&M and is now a field superintendent for Mazanec Construction; drummer Jon Kutz, who teaches music at MCC; and Mike Ramos, on saxophone and backup vocals, who’s a “freelance cable guy” after a long career at Time Warner Cable. “I’m the only one who doesn’t have a real job,” Brown said, laughing.