Album cover

Charles Brown: I Just Want To Talk To You

That song came so easy and fast to me because it was so real to me.

Issued privately in the fall of 1977, Charles Brown’s “I Just Want To Talk To You” is the story of a record made in the closet that went straight back into an actual closet. “I was crazy about him. I longed for him,” Brown recalled of bassist Greg Hardin, “not just physically but intellectually as well. It was exactly what I was feeling and since I didn’t have many ways to express those kinds of feelings back then, writing these songs was my only outlet. I felt vulnerable and scared. There wasn’t much of a support system where I was back then for people to come out of the closet.”

Born on April Fools day in 1959, Brown’s parents were both Korean War vets stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Arlington, Virginia. Not having a musically rich upbringing meant that Brown didn’t really have any drive to write songs until he was a freshman in highschool, becoming inspired to pick up a guitar and sing for the first time after venturing into Georgetown, Washington D.C. with his parents to see Doc Watson perform at The Cellar Door in 1975. Even though he may have been considered a late bloomer, his aptitude towards songwriting was in full bloom nonetheless. Thus began perhaps the most musically prolific period of Brown’s musical career. “The songs just started to flow right outta me, even I couldn’t tell you where they were comin’ from,” Brown said.

Going to high school in Rockville, Maryland meant Brown more frequently made his way into the D.C. metro area, continuing to take notes from songwriters including Mary Travers, Bonnie Rait, Paul Davis, Danny O’Keefe, and Emmylou Harris, channeling their performances into his very own around Rockville. After a couple years of performing at open mics, talent shows, and in the hallways of his highschool, Brown had cemented himself in the local canon of young talented musicians, garnering the attention of a few different bands looking to recruit him not only for his old soul writing chops but for his flowing, melodious singing, soft but not soft-spoken, familiar but distinctive.

Brown finally found his place as a band leader during his senior year in 1977, when four scruffy rock-n-rollers about town knocked on his door in the middle of the night and flat out asked him to be their lead singer, Brown obliged and Sleepy Creek was formed. The rag tag group started booking shows immediately; Alan Slawter enhanced their performances as a guitarist with an ability to recreate leads lick for lick when they played covers, Steve Bernd lended much more organic and virtuosic playing as the groups second guitarist, Kendall Diehl kept the show moving with a spirited and energetic drumming style, and Greg Hardin, the stoic bassist of the bunch, kept the sometimes diverging musical personalities glued together.

Charles Brown with Sleepy Creek

With enough original material coming out of Brown’s songbook the band eventually scrounged up enough cash to book two recording sessions, the first of which was at Mark Greenhouse’s home studio in D.C. where the band recorded the roadhouse approved, Little Feet emulation “Talk Too Much Blues.” Brown had written the song specifically for Bernd to play slide on but when Bernd realized he had forgotten his guitar slide at home he utilized a piece of metal piping taken from a broken down, rusting car engine outside of the studio, giving the finished recording some rough around the edges DIY charm. The Greenhouse session also produced “Trouble Is,” a solemn and self reflective piano lament centered around Brown’s sense of not belonging growing up. Greenhouse was so happy with the recording of the latter tune that he fronted the money to include it on Sleepy Creek’s first record himself, turning what was originally intended to be a two track single into a three track EP.

The other songs included on the Sleepy Creek EP were tracked at Sonority Recordings in nearby Kensington under the engineership of Roger Byrd. Sleepy Creek recorded three more of their strongest tunes with the hopes of selecting two to manifest their first release: “Tennessee Woman,” a certified Appalachian road tripper with harmonies echoing The Eagles, “Restless” a chugging ballad channeling angst and fevered guitar solos, and “I Just Want To Talk To You,” the most memorable and touching of the tunes, employing an earnestness and honesty that could penetrate the most fortified emotional armour, sonifying a sense of longing that is seldom expressed so completely. The reason the song hammers the heartstrings so hard is because it was coming from a very real place in Brown’s heart. He had written the song specifically about the band’s bassist Greg Hardin, who unbeknownst to him, Brown had developed an undying affection for.

This was the first time Brown “had ever felt truly, helplessly in love” he said. Consequently, it would also be the first time he ever felt true heartbreak as well. While the band was in Ocean City for a gig shortly after their session at Sonority, Hardin picked up a girl at the show. Frustrated and confused, Brown followed the couple back to their house and threw a teenage appropriate fit on the front porch, demanding Hardin give him a ride home since they had ridden together from Rockville earlier that day. “That was the beginning of the end of our relationship,” Brown recalled, “after that I think Greg started to pick up on how I really felt about him and he left the band pretty soon after, I never got to tell him how I really felt though.” In tandem with Hardin’s exit that year came Brown’s graduation from high school, sparking pressure from his parents to go straight into college. Already missing a bassist, the Sleepy Creek’s hiatus cemented itself into a permanent breakup when Brown reluctantly packed his bags and headed south to attend Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Upon arriving at college, Brown received a handful of copies of the Sleepy Creek EP in the mail: Charles K Brown with Sleepy Creek - “Tennessee Woman” and “Trouble Is” b/w “I Just Want To Talk To You.” With the band estranged from each other and a lack of motivation in securing any real distribution, the record never saw the outside of Brown’s closet, where it became a mere souvenir of his final highschool years and a relic of his first heartbreak.

—Ali Najdi, July 2021