Making Music

Brent Varner's Madison Upbringing Sparked Career in Music


Brent Varner remembers sitting in an old country church watching his grandfather, Louis Varner, lead a congregation in singing such traditional hymns as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”

After church, Varner said his parents, Robert and Carolyn Varner, would participate in Sunday afternoon singalongs of those gospel and country standards such as “Will the Circle be Unbroken.”

Those early musical experiences sparked a lifelong love and eventually a career in music for Brent.

Naturally, it was not long until Brent was participating, playing guitar in church at  Madison’s First Baptist Church and the Sunday singalongs.

He joined the school band in the sixth grade  and was later active in the concert and marching bands at Madison Central, playing the euphonium and baritone. He also played bass guitar in the school’s jazz band and was involved in the indoor percussion ensemble.

Former Madison County Schools band teacher Terry Miller was a big influence on Brent’s musical development when he was in middle school and high school in the Madison County School District. 

“Miller is the trumpet player for the band The Vamps that play around Jackson all the time,” Brent said, adding he also was the leader of the Madison Central Jazz Band.

“He really gave me the scaffolding I needed to learn about improvisation, how to play a part in a band, how to play with others and how to jam, for lack of a better word,” Brent said. “That really gave me a kick start.” 

Miller has since moved on to be the associate director of bands at Holmes Community College.

Besides his band and church involvement, Brent said he also developed a love for skateboarding and and listening to metal and indie rock by such groups as August Burns Red and The Acacia Strain when he was a teenager.

“They are heavy metal,” Brent said of the bands.

That heavy metal influence inspired Bent to develop his own heavy metal band called Heroes Will Be Heroes, in which he played guitar.

He said the band played in church gymnasiums because those were the only venues for all-age shows in the suburbs of the Jackson metropolitan area, including Madison, Brandon, Ridgleland and Clinton almost every weekend for about three years.

Heroes Will Be Heroes even bought their own van and traveled throughout the Southeast and Southwest. 

“When I graduated in 2008, I turned in my cap and gown, and they were in the van waiting for me and we played a gig in Mobile that night to open a three-and-a-half-month tour,” Brent said.

The band even played at the Cornerstone music festival in Illinois.

After the tour, Brent came back to Madison and earned an associate’s degree in psychology at Holmes Community College before heading to Mississippi State University and earning his undergraduate in educational psychology in 2012 and a master’s degree in counseling in 2015.

Brent worked his way up to assistant director of disability support services at MSU after his master’s. 

He chose counseling because people told him music would not provide a viable living. Varner also wanted to help others as much as he could because he had his own struggles with mental health in college. 

A career in music, however, was always looming in the background.

While studying in Starkville, Varner continued to move his music career forward. He toured with a couple of different groups, including jsco (Jake Slinkard Company Rebranded) and the Tombigbee’s, a group he performed with in Starkville and Jackson frequently until they were signed to a Nashville independent record label called Sons of Old Town. 

Brent still gets together with that group once a year to perform in Gulf Shores, Ala., where he has lived since 2019. He still receives royalties from the recordings and is still under a solo recording contract with the label.

Nothing can quite describe the feeling of being in front of a huge audience and knowing that every person there is enjoying the show, he said.

“You’re in your little world when you’re doing a concert,” Brent said. “Time seems to cease for those three or four hours I’m on stage.” 

Some of his favorite shows he has played include Bulldog Bash in Starkville a few years back, and a show he did with Buddy and the Squids in 2012 at the Sun and Tan Music Festival in Gulfport.

“We had some big names in that Bulldog Bash show. On top of that, there were around 45,000 people there,” he said. 

In 2019, Brent moved to Gulf Shores to be near his girlfriend, Dr. Madison Wilson, an emergency veterinarian in Pensacola, who is also originally from Madison. 

Brent said he always tried to do original music when he was in Madison and Starkville, but these days he’s more of a session player. 

Wilson said she met Brent when he was performing with a band called Too Proud to Beg at Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern in Starkville in April 2016. 

Wilson recalled wanting to hear the song “Purple Rain” by Prince. Varner played it, and after meeting him after the show was over, Wilson said they have been together ever since. 

“Brent has written me a private song, which of course is my favorite song out of them all,” she said. “He’s also played ‘Purple Rain’ for me, and ‘Liza Jane’ by Vince Gill. He has done some funk-rock for me as well.” 

Brent has been busy booking upcoming shows for the spring and summer months and has confirmed performances at restaurants in Gulf Shores.

“All in all, we love going to the beach and eating out when we have both got some free time, and we are not tied up in our professions,” Wilson said. “I can’t wait to see what’s planned for Brent in the future.”

Brent said he owes his success in the music industry to his time in the Madison County School District.

“I owe a great deal of my knowledge and success to my musical education that I received classically in K-12 in the Madison County schools,” Brent said. “They do a lot to fund the arts. I encourage the schools and the community to still do that. It can happen for anyone that goes to schools in Madison. They can be in the arts.” 

For more information on Varner’s music, visit Brent Varner Music on Facebook, or check out his Instagram, brentbro, for live showtimes and locations.