Harlan Daily Enterprise
By DEANNA LEE-SHERMAN - Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006 1:59 AM EST
Harlan County can't seem to help but make a name for itself when natives like Norm Uhl are chasing their lifelong aspirations.
Uhl's years of labor behind his musical efforts have landed his Texas band two possible nominations for the 2007 Grammy Awards for “Lookin' for Texas,” the group's debut album which is earning rave reviews.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects behind the nominations is the band, Brother 2 Brother, has only performed its music in the Houston area where Uhl, 52, has resided for more than 20 years now. An independent band, the group of five has had to entirely promote themselves.
“That could change with all of this going on,” Uhl said, explaining that the band has had to turn down several offers in the past because of insufficient pay. “That could change, and that would be just fine with me.”
The band's album, a mixture of rock and blues, is in the running for Best Contemporary Blues Album, and a single from that album, “The Power to Drive the Blues,” is on the ballot for Best Rock Performance By A Duo or Group.
Uhl, a backup singer who plays keyboard and harmonica, said his band's name even appearing on the Grammy ballot is an honor. The band is competing with about 50 others, five of whom will be named nominees and featured at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 11. The band will not know how it fared in the elimination process until December.
But the excitement and publicity that have come from being tabbed possible Grammy nominees have catapulted the group to a whole new level and a definite high among themselves and their biggest fans.
“We've made it this far on the strength of our music and we're hoping that will help us, as well, when we get our name out there,” Uhl said.
It all became a reality when the band contacted Al Gomes, a promoter of independent artists who has reportedly worked for Christina Aguilera. A member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which votes for the Grammy Awards, Gomes was not only impressed with the band's music, but the band's self-promotion, Uhl said.
Uhl said his “largely unknown, unsigned” band has been working diligently to promote itself to get its name out among other voting members of the Grammy Awards.
Born in Harlan, Uhl and his family left Loyall when he was only 3 after his father, an accountant at a coal mining company, took another job in Lexington. His musical roots, he said, came from his mother, who grew up in Wallins among a number of talented singers and musicians. Uhl himself sang in a church choir and played trumpet throughout his school years in Lexington.
“I'm glad I took after my mom's side of the family. None of my dad's family could carry a tune in a bucket,” he joked.
Uhl was “bit by the TV bug” at a young age and eventually worked for a short time in 1981 as the Frankfort bureau chief for WKYT-TV. A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, he studied journalism and went on to work in the field for nearly 25 years. He also worked at Louisville's WAVE-TV and was a reporter in Huntington/Charleston, W.Va.
Uhl moved to Houston in 1985 for another opportunity in television that brought him closer to some family and a college friend. He spent 13 years at KHOU-TV, where he covered some of the nation's most noted events, from the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the Waco, Texas, siege in 1993.
In Texas, Uhl also discovered a culture of music that would have a large impact on his own musical styles and songwriting abilities.
“It's a rockin' variety of blues. Texas artists are hard to categorize because they embrace all types of music - country, blues, jazz, rock. Our album, too, is very diverse ... a good mix. That's why I think the album has done so well,” he said.
Brother 2 Brother performs primarily on the weekends because most band members have “day jobs,” Uhl said. But the power of the Internet has allowed the band to begin to make a name for itself while remaining in Houston.
“That's the cool thing about the Internet. You can promote yourself. ... It really makes it possible for independent musicians to thrive. The Internet is a worldwide community - boarders do not exist,” he said.
Thanks to that exposure, the band's music has been played on broadcast and Internet radio stations throughout Asia and the United Kingdom, to name two. That could be the result of what Uhl believes is a more prevalent appreciation for American blues outside the United States. He credits American blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan for helping to spread the genre of music. That, and the “power” of music.
That's precisely why the band chose its name, Brother 2 Brother.
“We're not brothers, but we're brothers in music,” Uhl said, adding that music is “sometimes the only common ground” some people have.
Though Houston is home to the Harlan County native, Uhl - an assistant press secretary for the Houston School District - said he still misses the hills and fall colors that are absent in his Texas environment.
He has a theory about his first hometown, one he said he developed after consistently meeting someone, or someone who knew someone, who in some way had Harlan County roots.
“You always find someone from Harlan County. If everyone still lived there, it would be the biggest city in the country.”