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Meanwhile, he also landed a deal as a recording artist with Capitol, and released his debut album, I Tell It Like It Used to Be, in 1986. Partly recorded at Alabama's legendary Muscle Shoals studios, the record spawned a number one country single in "Hell or High Water," and both the title track and "I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again" went Top Ten. Arriving in 1987, Brilliant Conversationalist gave Brown a second number one in "Don't Go to Strangers," and two more Top Tens with "She Couldn't Love Me Anymore" and the title cut. Meanwhile, he made appearances in the 1987 films Greased Lightning and Cursed, and the following year he and his backing group, the Hardtops, played Elvis' band in Heartbreak Hotel. Released in 1988, Come as You Were continued Brown's success with the chart-topping "Darlene" and two further Top Tens in the title track and "The Last Resort."
Unfortunately, Brown was also battling alcoholism, and his problems began to take their toll on his career. He managed one further Top Ten country hit in 1990's "If You Could Only See Me Now," and also duetted with Tanya Tucker on the hit "Don't Go Out" that year. But after his 1991 album You Can't Take It With You missed the charts, Brown found himself dropped by Capitol, and while he landed subsequent record deals with Warner Bros. and Sony Nashville, both labels tore up their contracts without releasing any material on him. Brown spent most of the '90s sorting himself out, and returned in 1998 with the acclaimed comeback effort Wine into Water, which reaffirmed his roots rock leanings and marked his most personal effort to date. The concert album T. Graham Brown Lives! appeared in 2001.
The clean and sober Brown maintained a low-key career in the new millennium, continuing to play live shows and recording albums for small labels, including 2003's The Next Right Thing and 2004's Live at Billy Bob's Texas. After 2006's The Present, Brown took a break from recording, but after a nine-year layoff, he released Forever Changed, a spiritually themed album that included guest appearances from Leon Russell, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jason Crabb, and legendary studio guitarist Steve Cropper. Distributed by the Sony-affiliated Mansion Entertainment label, Forever Changed received enthusiastic reviews, and earned Brown his first Grammy nomination, for Best Roots Gospel Album. ~ Steve Huey