Philadelphia singer-songwriter Peter Stone Brown, 68, whose heartfelt music reflected his love for Bob Dylan, died Saturday, Oct. 5, of pancreatic cancer at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse. He lived in an old stone house in West Mount Airy in a room jammed with CDs, records, and books.
Although he never became even a minor star, Mr. Brown was a fixture on the Philadelphia music scene for a half-century and an internationally regarded expert on Dylan.
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His own music, rootsy and sensitive, is available on his only album, Up Against It, not released until 1996, when he was in his 40s. Recorded in Austin with members of the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel, it prompted one listener to write on Amazon, “Peter’s voice has the ability to sweep you away to an incredible place that you never want to leave.”
Ray Benson, the leader of Asleep at the Wheel, first met Mr. Brown in fifth grade at the Miquon School in Montgomery County. Later, they knocked around Greenwich Village together hunting for “open mic” shots.
“He was a bohemian kind of hipster,” Benson said Monday. Although his friend never knew celebrity, Benson said, “it doesn’t diminish the fact that he spent his life living his art, living his music.”
Naturally, Mr. Brown’s music was heavily Dylanesque. The son of left-wing parents, Mr. Brown was born in Philadelphia and raised on the tunes of Leadbelly, the Weavers, and Paul Robeson. So it was no big stretch when he fell hard for Dylan’s music as a young teen.
Mr. Brown attended Dylan’s fabled electric performance in Forest Hills, Queens, in August 1965, his second appearance with a band after “going electric” the month before at the Newport Folk Festival. While many irate folkies booed Dylan in New York City, as they had at Newport, Mr. Brown was enraptured.
In a reminiscence decades later about the Forest Hills show, Mr. Brown wrote of hearing Dylan perform “Ballad of a Thin Man,” one of his most caustic songs. “The effect of hearing this song for the first time was beyond amazing,” Mr. Brown wrote, “and it seemed perfect for the tension-filled atmosphere. “
It was one of many assured pieces of rock journalism Mr. Brown wrote over the years about Dylan and many other performers. It didn’t hurt his standing among Dylan aficionados that his older brother, Tony, played bass on Dylan’s 1974 album, Blood on the Tracks.
A rock critic for a time with the old Welcomat, Mr. Brown conducted many expert interviews with musical legends including James Brown, Bob Marley, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Levon Helm.
Tony Brown, who lives in New York, said his brother had an abiding curiosity and intelligence. “He became a good writer by reading; he read a lot. His musical knowledge extended well beyond Dylan. He knew country music backwards and forwards. He knew the blues going way back. He really was an encyclopedia of music.”
Michael Vogelmann, a close friend of Mr. Brown’s and a bassist who often performed with him, on Monday called him “a believer in the power of music.” He said he liked him from their first meeting.
“l liked just how plainspoken and two-feet-on-the-ground he was,” Vogelmann said. “Peter was talking about playing good music and splitting up the money at the end of the night. There was no hidden agenda.”
Mr. Brown was featured in David Kinney’s 2014 book The Dylanologists, which looked at the more prominent Dylan experts. In addition to his brother, Mr. Brown is survived by a sister.
A memorial service — with performances of Mr. Brown’s songs — is to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 South Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA 19103 where in 1963 Dylan played his first Philadelphia show.
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