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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scars & Victories

As we have written previously, former Minnesota State team captain Chad Brownlee has been making the transition from college hockey and professional hockey player to rising Canadian country music artist.  Two days ago, in Hamilton, Ont., Brownlee was presented with the Rising Star Award at the Canadian Country Music Awards.

Brownlee, who released his self-titled debut album last fall, has had several of his songs shoot up the Canadian country music charts and he's done a couple of videos along the way for songs that appeared on his album - Day After You and Carried Away.

Shane Frederick wrote about Chad's recent success in today's Mankato Free Press (Freddie also highlights David Backes being named captain of the St. Louis Blues in this column) and that is available here.

About a year ago we contributed this to Minnesota Hockey Magazine.  Enjoy.

Guitar Hero - December • 2010

He’s not sure when, but at some point Chad Brownlee realized it was time.  And while it took both of his hands to hold the guitar, it was now the guitar that had a hold of him.

Chad Brownlee was a hockey player and had been one since he was really little.  He was good at it almost from the beginning and quickly rose through the youth hockey ranks in Kelowna, British Columbia.

Soon the junior hockey bird dogs started to take notice and is wasn’t long before he left home as a 17-year old to play for Vernon of the British Columbia Hockey League.  He spent two years with the Vipers and was selected by Vancouver in the sixth round of the of the 2003 National Hockey League draft.  His parents, Al and Laura, had instilled the need for education and when the coaches at Minnesota State offered him a scholarship that would allow him to continue his schooling while preparing for a shot at professional hockey, his career path seemed determined.

Something else was lurking, however.  His parents had given him a guitar when he was 17 and he had an aptitude for music. He liked it and it liked him. Still, there was school and the Canucks were waiting.

A defensive-defenseman, he scored four goals and had seven assists in 135 career games with the Mavericks and his 201 penalty minutes placed him 13th on MSU’s all-time list.  He earned a degree in psychology and, best of all, he met his future bride when he started dating a Maverick women’s golfer from Red Wing, Minn., named Katie Mettling.

Brownlee enjoyed his four years in Mankato, but it was here that the plan began deviate.

He had started to write and play his own songs, playing mostly for the guys on the team. And in his last year with the Mavericks, he wrote an ode in memory of Anthony Ford, a young local youth hockey player who, unfortunately, lost his battle with leukemia at the age of nine. The song, entitled The Hero I See, was part of the reason Chad was nominated for an NCAA hockey humanitarian award.

After graduating from MSU, he went to camp with the Canucks and the guitar was along for the ride.  It was still there with him months later when he was riding the bus as a member of the Idaho Steelheads of the East Coast Hockey League. 

“My shoulders were shot and with my style of play, it made it difficult to do what I wanted to do,” said Brownlee.  “I had lost my identity as a player and at that point it was becoming tough to enjoy the game . It (hockey) had always been the most important thing in my life. But I realized it was time give something else a try.”

The transition from hockey player to country music performer then started in earnest.  Following the end of the season with the Steelheads, Brownlee went back to British Columbia, hoping to break into an industry in which many try, but very few actually make the big time.

“I guess I kind of jumped off the cliff hoping I would land on my feet,”  he said. “I knew I had to play and started going to open mic nights. I didn’t know anyone in the music industry, let alone other musicians and wasn’t sure about the genre. I asked questions and started building relationships. Eventually I was introduced to Mitch Merrett. He had worked in country music for ten years.  Now, in addition to serving as my manager, he’s also my co-writer and lead guitarist.  Meeting him was the key.”

So far, so good.

After a couple of years dedicated to song writing, Brownlee released his first album in August of 2010.  One of the songs from the self-titled album, Hood of My Car, reached number 16 on the Canadian Country Music charts and he was a finalist for the Canadian Country Rising Star Award (top newcomer) at the 2010 Canadian Country Music Awards. At the 2010 B.C. Country Music Awards in October, Brownlee was honored with three awards. He was named male vocalist of the year, songwriter of the year (with Mitch Merrett and Kelly Archer, for Hood of My Car), and the Ray McAuley Horizon Award winner.

And so it continues for the former blueliner. He’s been touring Canada with other acts and the crowds have been getting larger. The album is moving up the Canadian country music charts, he’s made a of video for one of his songs and the future appears to be bright.

“We’re going to continue to write and perform,” said Brownlee about the road ahead. “The next steps happen after you make great music.  We talk about that all the time.  We want to write great songs and want to perform great music.  But the music has to come first.”

Brownlee’s website is located at chadbrownlee.com and his songs are available on iTunes.

It's great to be a Maverick!

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