Times Have Changed
Blues remain for Ronnie Baker Brooks
The album title reflects so much more that the ten years that has gone by since the last Ronnie Baker Brooks recording. No-one can argue with the statement Times Have Changed the world is a fast-moving cauldron of change and uncertainty. Having listened the one certainty is Ronnie Baker Brooks blues is class.
Opening with Show Me that is full of soul that sets the juices going featuring Steve Cropper, and booming bass saxophone a promising start but without a feeling of urgency I want to hear more. The album has five self-penned tracks and a mix of covers. The Memphis shimmer is heard on the instrumental Twine Time, with Lonnie Brooks adding guitar with many of the same musicians and mics this is Stax Records sound captured for the here and now. It fizzes retro looking back trying to recapture when as the title says things have changed.
The title track does just that building up to a surprising inclusion of music of now. Opening with a traditional feel cool guitar with stinging licks, it encompasses Blues where the guitar loops around the lyrics with a percussive pull that allows the guitar to soar higher and higher. Then we have the difference rap! Courtesy of Al Kapone as not just the neighbourhood has changed, music has changed. What hasn’t changed is the working class blues of the chasm between rich and poor and the despair that being at the wrong end brings. The hip-hop beat adds another contemporary dimension, a part of another link in the chain of music that yearns change. Out of Memphis has the pull of history and the roots of the blues is strong. The title track is strong and the lynch-pin that holds the album together. As you re-listen again.
A funky soulful retro mood is shaped and moulded with Give Me Your Love (Love Song), Angie Stones voice is full of sultry warmth that pulls in the vocals from Brooks that are delivered with an almost hushed reverence over the horns. This Curtis Mayfield classic was the first song recorded and has a fluidity that sometimes the album as a whole on first listening lacks. For, me a tempo change after eight minutes would have added a flinty spark but now we have another slice of funk on Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants. Then the inclusion of Old Love, his Mother’s favourite song. We have a change of tempo with a feet tapping, horn churning number Wham Bam Thank You Sam. His vocals have a Robert Cray feel. The chorus is catchy full of energy as the album closes out with When I Was We. Another demonstration of Ronnie Baker Brooks vocals that cajoles and never plays second string to his guitar.
Times Have Changed, is an album that digs deep into the Memphis tradition produced by Steve Jordan, recorded at the Royal Studios with an ‘A’ listers roll call of musicians this album was always going to be class.
Like time, the album is slow to mature and takes a few spins before the facets really glint and shine. This is blues with layers of soulful funkiness delivered with style. The standout let’s do something different moment is definitely the title track showing how blues can be stretched and reformed to capture the music of now without losing its basic integrity.
Ronnie Baker Brooks Talking Why
Times Have Changed
BD: I was delighted when Mascot Label sent me your latest album Times Have Changed to review. It is an album full of blues strong guitar that makes compelling listening.
BD: What were your first musical influences growing up in Chicago? RBB: It has to be my Dad Lonnie Brooks. He taught me how to teach myself. I grew up listening to music from Country to Gospel, Rock n’ Roll, R’n’B and of course the Blues. I started playing at six and the first time on stage with my Dad I was 9. At 19 I joined him on the road, I rubbed shoulders and played with and was given advice by some of the greatest. Albert Collins embraced my playing and I saw him as an Uncle. Whilst Ko Ko Taylor gave me a shout out I played with her on stage and she was my Blues Mom.
The list is huge from Albert King. BB King, Little Milton, Buddy Guy whose first wife was my Mom’s best friend, Otis Rush, Magic Slim and so many more. What an experience so special. BD: You have to write a book a lifetime of music experience drenched in the Blues. RBB: You are not the first to mention that perhaps I should!
To me it was natural they dropped by and played in my home friends with my Dad, we went to their homes, was taken to shows. At the time I didn’t realise that it was so different from normal.
The best tour of my life, was with BB King, Buddy Guy, Ko Ko Taylor, Junior Wells and Eric Johnson wow what a time. It was for me like going to school or college the experience was a unique situation in which to learn and study the blues.
BD: Times Have Changed is your first album for ten years. How did you decide on the mix of self-penned and covers? RBB: Steve Jordan produced the album I trusted him. I always wanted to work with him as I loved the way he played. It was the first time I had included covers on an album, normally I wrote all of the tracks. Steve said the advantage of covers is people recognise the songs quicker hopefully they will engage quicker with the album and get into my own songs. Hopefully, we have chosen the right tracks we discussed what I would like to do Old Love was the first, it was Mum’s favourite song. That inspired me to play the number live always big fan of Eric Clapton and Robert Cray. I knew that if ever I was going to record a cover that would be the one. Curtis Mayfield’s Give Me Your Love always a beautiful song and was the first track recorded. The Second was the instrumental Twine Time.
BD: That leads nicely on to my next question, You included an instrumental that is more than about guitars. How did you select Twine Time featuring your father Lonnie? RBB: Steve Jordan chose Twine Time and as I said it was the second track we recorded. It was a spontaneous thought we need an instrumental. First, we thought about a Freddie King thing or something I had written before. No, let’s do something different not necessarily something for guitar players but one with wider appeal. So Alvin Cash’s Twine Time became the instrumental. It set the album on fire. Once the track was recorded I thought I have to get my Dad on the track. Alvin Cash lived in Chicago and Dad was probably in the Studio when he recorded it. I was in Memphis at the Royal Studio and Dad was in Chicago. So he went round to a friend’s laid down the music and emailed it to me.
BD: Does the Title of the album Times Have Changed have a special meaning for your first album in ten years? RBB: I wrote the tracks reflecting that I do feel that times have changed. At one time there would have been fifteen bands from Chicago on the road at any one time. We would run into each other at stops, now lots of the guys are no longer touring or not with us anymore. The reasons are varied, aged, economy, changes in technology times have changed and that seemed appropriate for now reflection that Times Have Changed for definite on so many levels. It is also about how special it was being on the road with BB, Junior Wells, Otis Rush some no longer with us but it was special. It is a celebration of that sound it comes from the heart and reaches the heart of the listener. There are elements from previous records with emphasis on that style a little bit more. Wherever I play it will be the Blues. But to get some attention you do have to do things differently, change keeps you going. Personally, I am very proud of what has been achieved on the album and I hope everyone will enjoy it as much as we have recording the album. For me, it is a platform to grow from you never stop learning as I was told by BB you never master the music, but you can master your approach to music.
BD: I have always been interested in the lyrics of a song. Where do you get your inspiration for your songwriting? RBB: Inspiration for my songs all my lyrics relate to true life situations. Can be something I have gone through if not something I can closely relate to. You have got to feel it if you can’t feel it the song will not work. Might be a great feeling or sad, you have to tell it to make people feel the essence of the song. For instance When I was We the last track of the album was a line from a conversation when I was talking to a friend in Florida. She had just broken up with her boyfriend hanging there and ended the sentence you know When I was We. Instantly I knew what she meant. I sat down and wrote the song immediately. I just had to write it. It was in the cut for Gold Digger CD my first , but never released it. Was right for this album. Willie Dixon taught me that to sing the Blues it comes from the heart to deliver the song and that is my philosophy.
Ronnie Baker Brooks premieres official lyric video for
‘Times Have Changed’ (feat. Al Kapone)
BD I am sure you have many plans for 2017 and beyond for Ronnie Brooks Baker and his band RBB: Well this album is definitely a platform to jump from and grow. I have plans to tour the world. BD: so you have plans to tour Europe? RBB: Yes, definitely but nothing concrete yet. The album hopefully will open doors and push be to be a better musician, songwriter and singer. Build a platform with Mascot and inspire future musicians.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing RBB:
Guys got on this record dream working at Royal Studios, Memphis with producer Steve Jordan It was a dream come true work a joy to work
Guitar: Steve Cropper, Teenie Hodges, Lonnie Brooks, Eddie Willis, Lee Roy Parnell,
“Big Head” Todd Mohr
Rapper: Al Kapone
Keys: Archie Turner
Organ: Charles Hodges
Jazz Saxophonist: Lannie McMillan
Bass: Leroy Hodges
Vocals: Angie Stone, Felix Cavaliere
Plus the delight of having Bobbie Blue Bland on the album a friend of Dad for many years to have his sound captured on the record was another dream come true.
I could have had Jim Hendrix love his playing Stevie Ray Vaughan who I did play with once, BB King etc. But I can’t complain about what I have got right here now. This is a band that works no one is intimidated by each other we love playing together as Times Have Changed shows.
I remember a huge jam back in 2012 Howlin For Hunert I was part of with a great cast. Including Keb Mo; Eric Clapton. Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks. Steve Jordan, Jimmie Vaughan, Lonnie Brooks, Kenny Wayne Sheppard and many more. Yes the sound was fantastic but everyone held back not wanting to upstage. We didn’t wat to push we had too much respect for each other. There was something lost by the respect. Learnt a lot from that jam, not all about the music, not your take but the collective feel of the band.
Ronnie Baker Brooks announces release of ‘Times Have Changed’, his first album in 10 years. Out on Provogue/Mascot Label Group on 20 January 2017.
Brooks, 49, was born in Chicago and started playing the guitar age about six. At 19, he joined his father, Lonnie Brooks who by then had influenced some of the most well-known bluesman of our history: Jimmy Reed, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, and Junior Wells. For 12 years the two would tour together, putting Ronnie out front with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor.
It’s on that title track that Brooks brandishes what may be his finest songwriting talent: the ability to humanise social issues and unite different voices into one cohesive thought. That’s no more evident than in the latter stages of the song, in which Brooks deploys his longtime friend, Memphis’ Al Kapone, to drop 32 bars on what the future holds for our people.
“My whole intention, when I started with Golddigger (his 1998 debut album) and up through this one, was to be authentic enough for the older generation but have something that the younger generation could latch onto,” says Brooks. “I try to be that bridge. With Take Me Witcha (2001), I’ve got a rapper on that. On The Torch (2006) we went with Al Kapone. He’s a bridge. He’s a bridge from blues to hip-hop. With music, it all comes from the heart. It comes from the heart and from the soul. In blues, it doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, it definitely relates. “That was my intention on this record: to build that bridge.”
Listen to ‘Doing Too Much’ (feat. “Big Head” Todd Mohr) here:
Produced by: Steve Jordan
Featuring: Lonnie Brooks, “Big Head” Todd Mohr, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Steve Cropper
Angie Stone, Eddie Willis, Al Kapone, Felix Cavaliere and Lee Roy Parnell.