Ramblin' Rhodes: Brotherton, on road with Keen, recalls Augusta roots

Former Augustan Rich Brotherton credits his stage presence as lead guitarist and backup vocalist for Robert Earl Keen to his childhood years performing with The Augusta Players and local music groups.


“It was all fun,” he said in a call last week to his home in Austin, Texas. “Between playing guitar and being a drama kid, it was a blast. That worked out for me since I was a scrawny little kid and wasn’t any good at sports except for pingpong.”

Brotherton returns to the Imperial Theater with Americana singer-songwriter Keen at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 27. The special guest is a solo acoustic folk artist called The White Buffalo (California-reared Jake Smith).

Tickets cost $24, $22, $20 and $14. Call (706) 722-8341 or buy online at imperial theatre.com.

Much of Brotherton’s early musical education came performing from ages 11 to 16 with a large Augusta folk music group called The Wright Spirit, which was an outreach musical ministry of St. Mary’s on the Hill Catholic Church. The group’s rehearsals were at the Helen Street home of Brotherton’s parents, Ann and Dick Brotherton.

“My dad started the group,” Brotherton said. “I was the youngest at 12 in 1971. There was a point with the Catholic church in the late ’60s when folk masses became popular with

Brotherton said The Wright Spirit was encouraged at St. Mary’s by the arrival of the now-retired Monsignor Marvin LeFrois from Albany, Ga.

“The Wright Spirit did tremendous things for me as far as performing,” Brotherton noted. “I learned to stand up and sing loud and play loud like Pete Seeger does. I also played with a smaller off-shoot group called The National Friendship Fire Engine Company. There were seven of us, and we did secular songs of John Prine, John Denver, Cat Stevens and others like that.”

Brotherton also got heavily involved with The Augusta Players Youth Theatre and the Aquinas High School Masquers acting group.

“I was John Adams in 1776,” Brotherton said. “I was ‘The Dude’ in that one. It was one of my shining moments.”

He also was Linus in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown; Dondo, the boy healed by magic, in The Magic Spear; and performed on the tree deck in the original Oglethorpe Park in The Hobbit.

In addition to his acting, Brotherton and his Aquinas High friend David Munn (son of priest Dan Munn) performed music at the Gooddale Inn restaurant.

Brotherton also did puppetry with Augusta TV host June Stewart and performed as a solo guitarist and singer at the Café Natural (later Café du Teau) and Red Lion restaurants in Augusta.

Growing up, he was exposed to all kinds of music that his parents liked. The first celebrities he saw in concert were Carole King and James Taylor when his parents took him to see them in Columbia when he was in the sixth grade.

He also remembers seeing Black Oak Arkansas, Joe Cocker and Styx at Bell Auditorium.

One of his high school graduation gifts was a Martin D-35 guitar he still uses for concerts. It was given to him by Banks Burgess, a former Aquinas High teacher and director of St. Mary’s formal folk choir who became half of the popular Atlanta duo Banks & Shane.

Brotherton attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs and took a couple of trips to Ireland before becoming a disc jockey at a radio station in Boise, Idaho, where his family had moved. It was at the station he became aware of Austin, Texas, upcoming musicians like The LeRoi Brothers and Stevie Ray Vaughan and of great Cajun accordion music.

“I felt like in the early ’80s at the end of a really long road and needed to be somewhere else,” he said. “I looked around, crossed everything off my list until only Austin was left. I loaded up my VW van and moved down to Austin in 1985 not knowing anyone.”

About the same time Brotherton moved to Austin, Robert Earl Keen released his first album, No Kinda Dancer, on Sugar Hill Records, and Brotherton started becoming aware of him and knowing his band members.

In 1993, Keen called Brotherton and invited him to be his lead guitarist. Brotherton played his first concert with Keen that Fourth of July in Austin with fireworks going off in the middle of the show.

Keen, Brotherton and the other members of Keen’s band have been
making fireworks ever since. His first album with Keen was Gringo Honeymoon in 1994. He also produced Keen’s 2003 album Farm Fresh Onions and 2005 album What I Really Mean.

He also has played on albums of other Austin artists including Toni Price, Bruce Robinson, Charlie Robinson, Ed Miller, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Marcia Ball and many others.

One of his proudest moments was getting to play for and meet President Obama at an event in Austin.

“I have a very happy life in Austin with my wife, Kathy, and two daughters,” Brotherton said. “I enjoy what I’m doing. Never mind reaching for that brass ring of super stardom. Just enjoy that ride on the merry go round.”


NUMBER 9 RETURNS: Ed Turner’s Number 9 Band will be back doing Beatles’ songs at the Imperial at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, and Saturday, Aug. 11.

Tickets are $41, $31, $21 and $16 through imperialtheatre.com. The three sets, which will raise money for child abuse prevention, will include the entire Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album and hits by Chicago, Boz Scaggs, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Dire Straits and others.


WHO: Robert Earl Keen with special guest White Buffalo

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 27

WHERE: Imperial Theatre

TICKETS: $24, $22, $20, $14; (706) 722-8341, imperialtheatre.com