Story by Dick Hildebrand
Photography by Diane Lewicki
Ralph Brown is virtually surrounded by music. Not only is he a music teacher at the F.W.Begley Elementary School in Windsor, but he’s also a pretty accomplished guitarist in his own band, Six Degrees.
Born and raised in Amherstburg, his family spent a number of years in Windsor, before returning to the county. Like most musicians, he got started at an early age, picking up his first guitar at the age of 12 and working on classic rock tunes, playing mainly by ear until he decided to go for lessons. His favorite group at the time was Led Zeppelin. He started his first band at age 14 and never looked back. Over the ensuing years, he was a member of numerous garage bands which gained valuable playing experience at various parties and other functions. Bars were out of the question, since the players were too young. After his years at the Essex High Ralph studied the classical guitar at the University of Windsor and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. Needless to say, he emerged from post secondary education as a pretty good picker. By the time he was 19, his group at the time, was featured at various festivals and managed to place third out of 20 bands that had competed at the Southwest Music Festival in Windsor. One of Ralph’s more popular groups, Motor City Music, played at numerous clubs in the area where audiences readily appreciated the renditions of Motown and R&B hits.
Six Degrees was formed about five years ago by Ralph and his cousin Russell Wilson and initially had 6 members. As ‘smooth jazz’ musicians, they concentrated on cover versions of hit tunes by the likes of Stevie Wonder and George Benson, occasionally inserting one of their original compositions into the mix. “Once we had a set list,” says Brown, “we started branching out, contacting local wineries and were invited to participate at festivals in the area.” Like most groups, there have been personnel changes since the group originally formed. Six Degrees currently consists of 4 members, Ralph Brown is the lead guitarist, while Russell Wilson , who’s employed by the Ford Motor Company is the drummer. Brad Merryfield, who works in the medical field handles bass duties while David Akinwumi is the keyboardist and owner/operator of the ‘Tribe of David’ music studio.
As a primarily instrumental combo with an occasional female guest vocalist, Six Degrees fits neatly into a niche of its own. “We always draw a crowd,” explains Ralph, “the reaction has been fantastic and people have even started video taping with their cell phones and asking for personal information. They’re intrigued by our sound — the music speaks for itself. Since there are no vocals we put all our energy into the music side of it.” In turn, patrons respond by getting up and dancing…particularly at places like Art In The Park and Cosmos Lounge at Caesar’s, where the group has made a number of appearances. Six Degrees has also opened for Alexander Zonjic at the Carousel of Nations and has performed at the downtown Windsor Epicure festival, the former Shores of Erie Winefest, The Art of Eating in Tecumseh, the Cornfest, the Strawberry festival, banquets and other corporate events. In the future, members are hoping to venture into weddings and other functions at places like the Caboto Club and the entire wine circuit which is gaining in popularity.
The next few years look bright for Six Degrees. However, because of the changes, members haven’t written any new material and are currently working on an update of their website. A demo CD has been recorded with the probability of a full disc being prepared down the road. For updated information or to book the band, contact Ralph at
Meanwhile, the group intends to start composing new tunes and is increasing its efforts to branch out and broaden its exposure. With the lucrative Detroit market looming just across the river, Ralph is working to get the necessary papers allowing access to the U.S.
People attending a gig by Six Degrees are definitely in for a pleasant surprise. Not only do these guys excel at the sounds of smooth jazz, but they also have the uncanny ability to change direction and break into some hard-rocking stuff. You never know what to expect…there’s occasional material made popular by the great Joe Satriani or Eric Johnson and maybe some rock tunes by Michael Jackson and others. Six Degrees can do it all….instrumentally and danceable!
This is a group that could go places given the right breaks.
Six Degrees members (l-r): David Akinwumi (Keyboards), Brad Merryfield (Bass), Russell Wilson (Drums) and Ralph Brown (Guitar).