Ronnie Baker Brooks
On the first day recording Times Have Changed - the eleven-track album from Chicago bluesman Ronnie Baker Brooks that brings a sound so big it could topple a Louisiana juke joint - industry-revered album producer and drummer Steve Jordan told Brooks to put his pedal board back in the van. For the first time in his professional life, Brooks, the son of Texas and Chicago blues legend Lonnie “Guitar Jr.” Brooks, would plug a Gibson into TKTK amp and rip it straight from there.
“Back to the basics. The pedals get in the way of your tone – your natural tone. Any distortion I had came straight out of the amp,” Brooks remembers from the Times sessions. “It was almost like going to college, or grad school. It was definitely an education.”
Brooks, 49, likes to treat each album he makes as a platform for him to grow, but the reality is that he’s been climbing the blues world’s latter all his life. He was born in Chicago, and started playing guitar around age six. At 19, he joined his father, 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. In 1998, when he was 32, his father told him to go solo.
Baker already had a band by then, one he’d been touring on the side with since 1992. But by 1998 he’d started a label; that year he made his first album, Golddigger, 16 songs tracked out in two weeks. “My dad always said to keep writing, even if you don’t think the song sounds great or you can’t finish it,” says Baker. “Write. Continue to write. The more you write, the better you get.” Take Me Witcha came three years later; his second album on Watchdog Records. Brooks broke out as his own champion on 2006’s The Torch. The Boston Herald called it “ferocious and unrelenting … the year’s best blues album.”
In the ten years since The Torch, Brooks has started a family, toured North America and Europe, and taken feature spots on the records of other bluesmen. He produced Eddy Clearwater’s West Side Strut and contributed guitar work to albums from Elvin Bishop, the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Review, Billy Branch, and Big Head Todd.
Times Have Changed, Brooks’ first album in ten years, carries with it the weight of grown perspective and time spent perfecting old material. Brooks worked it with Steve Jordan, whose work runs from Keith Richard to Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and Eric Clapton. With that comes a lesson in rhythm and blues history. Brooks refers to the director as “a walking encyclopedia of music detail and equipment,” a professor through which Brooks could take that next developmental step. “Once we got the ball rolling, my confidence went higher and higher,” he says. “I’m a better musician for this experience.”
The experience Brooks is talking about is that which came together over the course of a few weeks at Royal Studios in Memphis, the home of Al Green, Syl Johnson, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and O.V. Wright, whose 1974 hit "Blind, Crippled, and Crazy" gets a facelift on Times Have Changed. Jordan and Brooks brought in a mint press of Memphis music royalty: Stax Records staple Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave), Archie Turner (Al Green, Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright), jazz saxophonist Lannie McMillan, and R&B icon Angie Stone.
“We used the same mics that Al Green used on his record,” says Brooks. “Matter of fact, we were using much of the same band! It kind of took that vibe.” The first track recorded was a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly hit “Give Me Your Love.” The second, “Twine Time,” the instrumental jam from Alvin Cash.
“To be honest with you, when Steve said ‘Man, we need an instrumental,’ the first person I thought of was Freddie King. Steve wanted something more appealing to all people, not just guitar players. He said ‘What about ‘Twine Time?’’ I said, ‘Is he serious?’ Yeah, ‘Twine Time.’ But that song was a key to this album.Man, that just lit the fire for this record. It became one of the funnest tracks we did.”
Times also comes laden with original hits. Five of the eleven tracks were penned by Brooks. Raised on others’ music, he’s always considered the songwriting process to be as sacred. “It’s like having a baby,” he says. “You see it come to live. Once you play it live, it grows even more. That was the most fun part of it, for me: the creative side. Coming up with a song people can relate to, and you relate to, it just snowballs. It’s almost like therapy for me. Like the song ‘Times Have Changed’: I wrote that song years ago. I sent Steve my songs and he picked that one. It’s kind of timeless. Every day something’s changing. Now, when I play it live, you can see the effect of it. Initially, it was just an idea: just a riff. Now, this song has influence on people. We were just in Europe this year, after the bombing in Brussels. And we’re playing Brussels. I played that song; people were in tears. It helped them heal.”
It’s on that title track that Brooks brandishes what may be his finest songwriting talent: the ability to humanize 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 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, I’ve got a rapper on that. On The Torch we went with Al. 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. It blues, it doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, it definitely relates.
“That was my intention on this record: to build that bridge.”
Patty Reese is a fan favorite and critic’s choice in the Mid-Atlantic region and over the years and she's collected enough WAMMIES (Washington Area Music Awards) to fill the a major DC pothole. Awards include Album of the Year, Artist of the Year and Roots Rock Band and Vocalist as well as national songwriting awards.
Reese is excited to get her brand new and fourth release Let In The Sun out to the world. Patty's previous release, Strong Medicine, (WAMA's Album of the Year) held the #1 position on the AirPlay Direct Global Radio Indicator Charts™ (displaying the top singles downloaded for airplay by radio programmers) for 4 weeks and has been played on over 700 stations worldwide.
An acoustic and intimate house concert, rocking the house at the Birchmere, commanding a standing ovation at Maryland's Strathmore Music Hall on the Woodstock tribute, that's where you might have seen Patty Reese and you can be sure she was lighting the place up with uninhibited effervescence. Her strong songwriting, dynamic vocals and solid guitar work make her a powerful solo act — or add in a mega talented band of music vets and lookout below!
Comparisons have been made, that Reese claims as influences, including Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan.
Proven a great match up with national Blues and Roots luminaries, Patty has supported many including Beth Hart, Delbert McClinton, Tab Benoit, Jimmie Vaughan and Dr John.
Her January 2017 release Let In The Sun on the Azalea City Recordings label, just keeps delivering song after song with clever, timely subjects and solid musical prowess. Aside from the title track “Let In The Sun” other standout songs are “Awesome Sauce” incorporating a New Orleans “second line” groove. The song title itself is a good analogy for the mix of musical styles, love and energy that is delivered here. “Good Neighbor”, a song everyone can relate to, (you might find your head nodding yes and chuckling over the truth in this upbeat sophisticated shuffle) takes familiar thoughts and winds them unpredictably into a rant of the good and bad things about neighbors.
The CD features guitarist Jonathan Sloane; bassist Sonny Petrosky; drummer Andy Hamburger and Tommy Lepson (co-producer with Reese).
“Music has always been my inspiration, my challenge, and a respite and safe harbor to express my sorrow, pain, anger, love, humor, and everything that makes us human. I’ve always had a strong desire to explore, grow and improve. I love the work of being a musician — meeting new friends and fellow music lovers, a life surrounded by musicians and fellow creatives, being in a new place every night — it's always new, always fresh.
“This collection of songs is an honest representation of who I am, where I come from, and where my heart is. The Blues remains the rock on which I have built every song I've ever written. I also love to incorporate songs by artists that inspire me and this time it was Steve Earle and Bob Dylan.”
Her powerhouse vocals, strong work ethic and sharply honed songwriting skills have led her to the release of Let In The Sun, her most captivating work to date. Be assured, the future in store for Patty with this release is already bright.