Shanghai (Steve) Brown comes from a broad musical background. From playing a steady three nights a week gig with "Jack and the Westerneers" at the Pine Cone Inn south of Grants Pass during his senior year of high school (they got the job when the previous band quit after a bar brawl destroyed much of their gear, and after firing Jack for being too drunk to play, it was just the teenaged members of the band left to carry on, becoming so popular the Inn expanded and the Gypsy Jokers asked them to play at the annual Hell's Angels Memorial Day campout. He also played in the marching band, symphonic band, jazz band, and blues ensemble at school.
In his Portland college days, he performed with community symphonies, as well as in his own bands, writing some of the songs, including "One Star," which became a wedding favorite for a time. With Stevie & the Spleef Babies, his quirky punk side emerged with their hit he wrote, "Dead Girlfriends." His bands played the top clubs of Portland, from Starry Night, to the Euphoria Tavern (Jimmy Buffett is reputed to have named his first sailboat after the huge venue).
Seeking to combine his interest and degree in history with his love of music, Shanghai began learning about traditional maritime music - historical sea shanties and sea songs. He loved the combination of oral tradition, history, rhythm, and the influence of music from Ireland, England, the Caribbean, and beyond. He leapt at the opportunity to study with the great Louis Killen who had worked with Pete Seeger and then joined the legendary Clancy Brothers. Later in life, Louis charted a different course and began to live his life as Louisa Jo Killen and eventually underwent a sex change operation the year before she died. It was during Louis' six-week workshop on shanties and sea songs held on Vashon Island, that Shanghai met up with other musicians sharing his interest, and Blue Peter was formed.
Blue Peter went on to perform regularly on the island and off, at festivals including the superb Northwest Folklife Festival, Vashon's Strawberry Festival, and at Tacoma's Commencement Bay Maritime Fest, as well as at Irish pubs where they brought out the Celtic side of the band. The group were frequent performers at yacht club parties, but their favorite gig was entertaining onboard the state's official tall ship - the Lady Washington.
Shanghai became vice president, and later briefly president, of the Northwest's premier acoustic music nonprofit organization, Victory Music. While with Victory Music, he produced the Great Northwest Shanty Sing-Off. He wrote the grants, recruited corporate sponsors, hired the performers, organized the competitions, coordinated logistics for bringing more than 40 musicians to perform from three states and Canada, and produced the three-day event and special concert for the Commencement Bay Maritime Fest. Shanghai also co-led the Maritime music workshop at Rainy Camp, where he and Port Townsend Steve led the group through a full day of singing, without repeating a song.
The next year saw a sea change for Shanghai, and he awoke one morning to find himself "on the beach" in the Mojave Desert. He continued to perform shanties - solo, since nobody in the desert knew anything about them (though during one performance at the Beatnik Cafe in Joshua Tree, he was enthusiastically received by a group of U.S. Navy sailors who were stationed at the nearby Marine base in Twentynine Palms who thanked him profusely for bringing the sea to them, and later, he opened for Ben Sands of the legendary Sands Family from County Down.
With sea music being entirely unknown in the desert (no water, no sea), Shanghai began performing both sea and Irish music with a small group of musicians he met off of an announcement he posted in a local music store. One of the most special experiences he had with his musical career was when an older Irish-American woman, Brett, joined the group. She had known many traditional Irish songs, but after suffering a stroke, she not only had forgotten them, but had been forced to teach herself to speak, and sing, once again. One evening, Shanghai began singing a song he thought they should learn and Brett's eyes opened wide. "My mother used to sing that song to me!" The music had brought back a long forgotten memory. Brett sang beautifully and became a dear friend, but one day she announced she couldn't continue. Shanghai sang "The Foggy Dew," at her memorial service (those at the service said they wanted something that matched her spirit, rather than something maudlin).
The group evolved into There Be Pirates!, where Shanghai and his crew adapted sea music from the 1500s on up, into fun, accessible, even danceable renditions. The band incorporated classic pirate songs like "Derelict," and "The Ballad of Captain Kidd," into their repertoire, while adding originals, including the title song off their second album, "Pirates in the Desert," which explains how this band of pirates found itself "on the beach" in Joshua Tree.
Shanghai wrote most of the originals, with his basic melodies improved upon dramatically by the band's musical director, Billy Bones Makuta. The group performed at festivals ranging from Chuckwalla Fest, at the legendary desert roadhouse, Pappy & Harriet's (outdoor stage), and then did double duty as Juke Logan's backup band at the festival, to headlining opening night of Pyrate Fest on the Queen Mary. They went on to tour England twice, headlining the 10th anniversary of SeaFest, in Scarborough, as well as On the Waterfront, in Liverpool (where their stage was on the foredeck of the Earl of Pemroke, moored at Albert Dock). They performed at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Ryedale Folk Museum, the Captain Cook Inn, in Staithes, and numerous other venues, especially in Scarborough and North Yorkshire. The CD release party for the band's second album, "Pirates in the Desert," was held at Danby Castle. Yes, that's right. The band hosted a CD release party at a real castle.
Shanghai is currently working on a new piratical music project called "The Sweet Trade." It involves traditional maritime music and new originals. He also serves as drummer for three-time NAMMY (Native American Music Awards) winner, Steve Rushingwind and the Native Groove. The two are co-hosts of the third season of Shanghai's PBS travel show, "Southwest Stories with the Two Steves." They perform together on the show's theme music, and on the show, and the band performed in 2019 at the legendary Amargosa Opera House. Shanghai is working on additional desert-themed music for the show.
In addition, Shanghai plays a variety of drums in Kefi, a Greek musical group featuring his wife on Greek clarinet. Kefi had been performing weekly up until the Coronavirus pandemic halted live musical performances. The pandemic of 2020 has thrown a wrench into plans to perform live, but collaborative work continues.
Please enjoy the playlist of Shanghai and There Be Pirates! music. There's more to come soon!
Music from There Be Pirates!, Shanghai Brown, and more, with music videos, and some back story on the music you may find interesting. A soundtrack for authentic travel and your own personal voyages.