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A big-time fan

T. Graham Brown has seen a lot, and visited a host of different places, over his 40-year musical career.

The country music star has released 16 albums. Nearly two dozen of his singles have charted — 11 in the Top Ten Billboard Hot Country Songs, three of which made it to No. 1.

Along the way he’s lived the life of a musician, staying on the road, doing thousands of shows all across the United States and elsewhere.

Yet sounding more like an artist going on his first tour, the country music star is almost giddy with anticipation for two of his upcoming appearances — both at this year’s Mayberry Days.

“I’m super excited to come, I really am,” the Nashville, Tennessee resident said recently. “I’m not just saying that. I’m really excited about it.”

While he is scheduled to perform at the Mayberry Days Dinner on Thursday evening and at the Historic Earle Theatre on Friday, he has his own bucket list of what he wants to accomplish in Mount Airy.

“I’m going to go to Snappy Lunch, get a pork chop sandwich, then I’m going to go to Floyd’s (barbershop), then I’m going to go to one of the stores to see if I can get an Andy (Taylor) clock.”

He said he’d also love a chance to meet Betty Lynn, of Thelma Lou fame.

“I would love to hug her neck, that would be great,” the singer said.

While Brown has had a wildly successful career as a singer, when talking about his visit to Mount Airy this week, he’s far more interested in talking about the show, and the people from the TV series.

For anyone chatting with Brown, it doesn’t take long to realize he’s a true fan, not someone who is saying that simply because that’s what Mayberry Days fans want to hear.

His tour bus is named Bullet Maintenance — a name he and his staff gave to the vehicle back in the 1980s, when his career was starting to take off.

“Because of Barney’s bullet,” he says of the odd name. “In one episode, Barney was in the bank, and he was getting onto Asa the guard, his gun was falling apart, so Barney was getting on him. And then Barney took the bullet from his pocket, held it up and said ‘Now Asa, here is bullet maintenance.’”

Brown said he grew up watching the show in its original run, but really became a big fan during is college days, attending the University of Georgia. There, he began watching reruns and fell in love with the series.

“We have our own chapter of The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watcher’s Club on the (tour) bus.”

Though he never had a chance to meet Andy Griffith or Don Knotts, nor most of the cast, Brown said while he was performing at the Grand Old Opry that he did get to meet Richard O. Linke, Griffith’s manager. Linke was able to get a couple of signed photos of Griffith for Brown.

The singer also has a Don Knotts-signed Vote Fife For Sheriff poster from the movie, “Return to Mayberry,” courtesy of Jim Clark, one of the founders of the original Rerun Watcher’s Club.

He was close friends with George Lindsey, who played Goober on the show.

“I got a lot of my Mayberry fix from him,” Brown said. “We’d always talk Mayberry. He had a watch party over at his house for Return to Mayberry…that was really fun.”

Brown said he also has an orange and blue letter jacket from the fictional Mayberry Union High — and just to show how deep his Mayberry trivia runs, Brown breaks into an a cappella version of the high school’s song — not missing a word.

Brown grew up in Arabi, Georgia, in the southern portion of the state. He describes Arabi as a small agricultural town with about 300 people living there.

“Both sides of my family are farmers, we’re kind of used to that lifestyle, I guess, that’s the way I grew up.”

While those roots may have helped shape his eventual leaning toward country music as an artist, he said when singing — and the occasional song writing he does — he draws inspiration from a wide variety of genres.

“When I was a little boy, I had a transistor radio, and I would listen to it at night. I could pick up stations from all over the United States on the AM dial…you could hear an R&B station out of Nashville, a country station out of Louisiana, a Top 40 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”

He counts R&B legend Otis Redding, country starts Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn as influences on his music, and he said he’s a big fan of far more big-name stars.

“I remember listening to The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees…Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, I like it all. Frank Sinatra I really like a lot, and Tony Bennett.”

His own musical development wasn’t something he necessarily set out to pursue — instead, it just seemed to come naturally.

“I was just goofing around, mainly,” he recalls of his childhood days. “I’d sing around the house, I would sing in Church., Momma said I sang all the time.”

That “goofing around” eventually led to working as a musician, making a living playing regular night shows at a Holiday Inn in Athens, Georgia.

He married his wife, Sheila, in 1980, and two years later the two of them moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he found work singing advertising jingles for a host of local and national companies. In 1985 he released two singles from his soon-to-be-released debut album, “I Tell It Like It Used To Be.”

The first of the singles, Drowning in Memories, reached 39 in the U.S. Billboard Country chart, and his second single, “I Tell It Like It Used To Be,” shot to No. 7. The following year he released the album, which peaked at No. 15 on the album chart, along with three more singles, two of which hit No. 1 — and his career was set.

Now, nearly 40 years after moving to Nashville, he and his wife live just outside of town, with a view of rolling countryside and far-off ridge tops from his porch.

Except when the coronavirus pandemic cancels his shows, Brown is still singing, still touring, and still trying to fill up his Mayberry bucket list of things to do and people to meet.

And he’s hoping to check off a few items on that list this week, when he is in Mount Airy for the 2021 Mayberry Days.