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.
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.