"I'm what you call a groove player," Brown says. "I try to get in the groove and go with the groove. It's just that intuitive thing that carries you along. You're like a boat going down a river . . . and some nights you hit a lot of sandbars, but I always give it a good try."
Brown will perform three increasingly rare Arizona dates this week ("Some people just live on the road, but I'm easing out slowly," he says), and in these solo shows, he goes without a set list, jumping from song to song as the mood strikes him.
"Usually, I might have some idea of what the first few songs are going to be when I go out, and after that, I just kind of improvise," he says. "I don't understand how it works myself. When I get on a roll, one song leads to another -- there's something that suggests the next one. You can tell maybe the audience is feeling heavy or depressed, so I'll play some funny shit. I try to get with the people and give them a good night of entertainment."
Brown says that after performing for more than 40 years, he's learned to trust his intuition.
"I know a lot of players that go out there with a set list and do pretty much the same show every night, and they have their stories memorized and they go out there and it's almost like a play. I've tried that, and it felt like I was doing my homework," Brown says. "I get some kind of a groove going, and I just go with that. I write that way, too. I get in the groove and something just happens. I get that feeling going, or the feeling gets going with me, and I just write," Brown says. "I pretty much live my life that way, for better, for worse. That's the person I am."
Brown's latest studio album, 2012's Hymns to What Is Left, is a collection of weary and battered tunes like "Bones Bones" and "Now That I'm My Grandpa" that center on aging and the songwriter's singular take on life in its ever-steady advance.