Asa Brebner

Asa Brebner

Tremendously talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, cartoonist, author and producer Asa Brebner was the go-to guy for many of the best-known bands of Boston’s early punk era, his musical presence ranging from The Mezz (Mickey Clean), Jonathan RichmanThe Modern Lovers, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters and The Grey Boys and his own bands, Asa Brebner’s Idle Hands, an R&B/doo-wop group, The Family Jewels and The Naked I’s.


Born in Boston November 21, 1953, the only child of Winston Brebner and Ardell Cogswell Brebner, Brebner grew up listening to his father’s jazz 78s, blues, The Rolling Stones, folk music, The Fugs, The Mothers of Invention and various British Invasion groups. His father wrote the novel Doubting Thomas, which became a best seller upon its publication in 1956.

Brebner attended a progressive, Quaker-affiliated high school (The Meeting School in Rindge, New Hampshire) and his studies and his musical ambitions were put on hold for about a year when he was 17; while hitchhiking around Central and South America, he was arrested, charged with drug smuggling and sentenced to 20 years in prison, though he spent only 12 months behind bars. “I did a year in a South American jail and insane asylum, which was to assure an Ecuadorian judge that I was undergoing ‘aversion treatment’ to marijuana,” he explained. “It was supposed to be like the treatment Alex got in A Clockwork Orange but I didn’t end up getting that and I was released after a year in jail.”


After returning to Boston, 18-year-old Brebner began following what was an extraordinarily diverse path on the entertainment scene, one so varied that it included co-writing some cartoons with Bill Flanagan that appeared in High Times and other magazines. His first solo album was Prayers of a Snowball in Hell (Ocean, 1996) followed by six more: Ragged Religion (Hi-N-Dry, 1999), Best No Money Can Buy (Windjam, 2000), I Walk the Streets (Accurate, 2001), Hot Air (Hi-N-Dry, 2004), Abbey Lode (Hi-N-Dry, 2006) and Suenos De Los Muertos (Hi-N-Dry, 2010).

In 2001, Windjam Records released a compilation of Brebner’s songs, Time In My Way, and his group The Family Jewels recorded two CDs in 2006, Saturday Night and Rockin’ Strong, both on the Hi-N-Dry label. Brebner opened for an eclectic assortment of acts over several decades, including The Kinks, The Cars, Hall & Oates, The Ramones, XTC, REM. Journey, Link Wray, Squeeze, Split Enz, Fear, Black Flag and The Beach Boys. When asked if he had any advice for struggling young musicians, he shared something he said Jonathan Richman told him in the early ‘70s: “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”


Brebner died of a heart attack on March 19, 2019, at age 65 at his home in Littleton, New Hampshire, just one a week after he played a pair of reunion concerts with Robin Lane & The Chartbusters. He was sitting at his kitchen table at the time of his death, making pencil illustrations for a novel he had recently finished called Revenge, which he described “autobiographical fiction” and had planned to publish himself.

In an obituary written by Steve Morse for The Boston Globe, a number of well-known musicians with Boston roots paid tribute. “There was a raw quality in his playing that carried off to other things in his life,” said Tim Jackson, former drummer for The Chartbusters, referring to Brebner “a big-hearted cynic.” Former Hallucinations and J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf called him a “multi-talented artist, family man and real-deal rock ’n’ roller,” adding that there was “many a night” when they “raved and ranted at the moon” together. “Asa always spoke his mind,” said Andrea Gillis, another longtime friend and former bandmate. “But he lived for inspiration.”

(by A.J. Wachtel)

Published On: September 5, 2012