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Blue to Brown

Photo: Bread And Shutter

England’s father-and-son blues rock duo talk about their backgrounds, their influences and their spirited new album, with PETE SARGEANT..and his son

There are a few dad&lad outfits on the music circuit at present, some in folk and some in blues and not to mention the rock legacy that dear departed ace Pirates guitarist Mick Green’s boys are maintaining with great aplomb.  But the Browns are particularly interesting to your scribe as they are making their blues music as well as working in other strands of entertainment and music. Hence we meet in Soho for one of Pete’s infamous lunches on a Sunday, before another busy week for us all…

FH: We are just talking now about running a band, never easy at the best of times – do you find it an easy call, Rob or is it a can of worms ?

Rob Brown : It’s a can of worms ! For example, if you gotta get your album out then get it played to the public what happens of course is that people say ‘ Yeah – we’ll give you a gig..when you’ve got the press..’.  Well we’ve got press coming, we hope and we have PR on the album, so we are in a kind of hiatus, but we are NOT ‘organised’…because I tend to be very disorganised ….Dom’s much better than I am

FH: Fine, but tell us a little about your background because you’re not just a singer of blues and soul and we’ve all heard your voice, but speaking …

I was a teacher until very recently..I have been a blues singer for what seems like forever..and I was in a band called Gets Loose, for a very long time. George McFall ( late Irish promoter, lyricist and drummer and a very close friend of mine – PS)  was involved with that band ..and it was a four piece with a guy called Rob on acoustic and slide guitar and in the early and later days Peter Hope-Evans on mouth organ – he won’t allow it to be called a harmonica or harp – half of Medicine Head and associate of Pete Townshend.and Mick Mahoney ( singer and songwriter and at time of writing, hospitalised with various problems ) on bass and me beating conga’s til I bled..and er, shouting. That went on for years. One year we did 120 gigs!

FH: Where did you play ?

RB: Well Blues West 14 was a regular place ..there was a little club at The Railway in Teddington

FH: Did you play The Station Tavern ( just up from Shepherds Bush Green) ?

RB: I think we did, yeah

FH: I used to pay slide there, with Shakey Vick..

RB: Oh wow, I remember Shakey Vick ! ( Graham Vickery, the harp maestro)..but that the background as regards to music..Mick Mahoney was the person who educated me, the 70s. I knew I liked music, I knew I liked blues and he put me onto many, many things – particularly and most importantly working with a band. And in terms of my income, I combined being a teacher, with Gets Loose shows with voiceover work, in the last twenty years

FH: Where might we have heard your dark and dulcet tones, Rob ?

RB: (Sighs) Everywhere !! Adverts? Lynx adverts, Adidas..anyone who’s interested in that should go to my website which is and there’s music on there, examples of my work..most recently I have been the main voice on VIVA the TV channel..we won a gold medal at ProMax which is the body of the promotions industry..(chuckles)..and kids in the teens and twenties when they hear I’m Mr VIVA man,. they’re incredibly impressed ! Most people OLDER than that have never even heard of VIVA !..(Sargeant Jnr was certainly taken with meeting Rob, so this is very true – PS) So that’s quite a good job. Plus I’ve got stuff on Radio 2 at the moment. The trouble with voiceover work is that people look over your shoulder expecting to see a Porsche throbbing in the gutter! But it isn’t like that, you’ve got to work a lot , a number of times a week to make a living..but an advert – I do the Pokemon advert oh and Nintendo  – well a bunch of those will keep you going. I was the main voice on Sky 1 for a long time, probably too much on air…I’m just a tart ! but I do really enjoy the work..
( At this point the sons have returned from ordering the food downstairs, the guitar star of the act is now available to contribute ..)

FH : So Dom – we turn to you and you have a double, treble life…you co-write and play guitar with your dad and organise the group, but…

Dom Brown : Yes Pete – my ‘day job’ is playing guitar in Duran Duran


FH: Live touring band ?

DB: Correct and co-writer on their new stuff as the last album, the Mark Ronson album..a great experience that was..we are on a bit of a break at the moment
( 2011 saw several DD tour dates recorded and the cuts include a breathtaking florid Dom Brown guitar break on the poprock veteran’s excellent song ‘Ordinary World’, as evidenced on a live album and a DVD of the tour – PS)

FH: Next DD album plans ?

We start work on that in March

FH: Now this interests me – from a guitar player’s point of view, which I know well from backing all sorts of people, you adapt to the singer’s voice. You have your father’s voice which is deep, gravelly, Stax-label influenced and you have Simon’s ( Lebon) higher range which is slightly more nasal and do you adapt your playing ?

To be honest with you, originally I had to study and take on Andy Taylor’s guitar parts and riffs..he had kind of set the sound and tone of what was needed. So the first job was to learn his style, in essence. I had two days to learn the entire set. So at that time you can’t put your own stamp on it, you get to the nuts and bolts of it. But over the last few years I have been encouraged to put my own stamp on it, still keeping to the songs’ shapes, structures, all the melodies, and adding my own flair..

RB: And people have noticed this and commented

Reviewers of the last set feel you are becoming more and more your own man on phrasing, approach..which presumably is fine with the Duran camp..

DB: (Emphatically) Yeah absolutely which is why they keep me on..they feel I’m quite integral to their set-up now

FH: I saw them in an acoustic era when they had Warren on guitar ( from Zappa’s band – PS) and apart from the songs’  ID-DNA figures he was doing an original thing throughout the set..Rhodes and LeBon seemed very OK with that

DB: Yes, they are obviously open to all that, they are with me

You’re quite lucky to be in an established band and have that element of freedom, still

(Pauses) I think Duran are quite different to a lot of bands really – whilst they are not an improvisation group per se, live we do stretch things out for the audience

FH: With say Sheryl Crow, you recognize the songs and the arrangements, but she gives her players a lot of freedom within that..

DB: They are a rock/pop band..

FH: An ENDURING rock/pop band

DB: Exactly ! and still doing good shows..last year we headlined Madison Square, which is not a bad place to be doing ( North American readers – this is classic English understatement..)

FH: Your new (family) album – let’s pitch you in here, Dom – right from the opener ‘Blue Boy’ with the cruising tempo, the guitar tone conjures up a picture of a lad of about fourteen fired up by Stevie Ray Vaughn and K Wayne Shepherd – guilty or not ?

DB: ( Thinks) Stevie Ray, yes – one of my biggest for Kenny Wayne, to be honest I haven’t ever really listened to him, but I’m very aware of who he is

FH: The main features of the album are the clarity of the vocals, the words and the lively guitar that fair ?

DB/RB : Yeah…

FH: he combination of those makes it somewhat different from other albums I have had through to review lately..

DB : So you think the vocals come across well ?

FH: They’re very clear and they’re who writes the lyrics ?

RB: We both do…there’s probably 60/40 weight in my favour, overall..we do work together – largely because I am so lazy, he has to get me round, for us to work together

FH: So we’re not always talking your lyrics and poems, Rob – set to music by Dom ?

RB: No – in fact, we finished off one song using texts..the talking blues..

FH: Track 5

RB: (Ponders) Who died that night ? one of the really big guys in music

FH : Hubert Sumlin ? Les Paul ?

DB : Les Paul..the second part of the song came line by line

RB: And another one that was done by text was the duo with Kat

Photo: Bread And Shutter

FH: That’s ‘The Heat Has Gone’ ?

RB: That’s – for lyrics – me on a hill in Devon trying to get a signal and Dom in London and we got quite a few words for that song, by text..

DB: That was worked on very late at night

RB: See, that song was a very different number at one was a song that I thought was absolutely hilarious..and er, apparently it isn’t

DB: Songs have to take those transitions sometimes

FH: The album sound very surefooted, it doesn’t sound does know what it’s doing, it’s not a jam

DB: That’s right – there’s a lot of improvisational sections mixed in there however

FH: It doesn’t sound as though it’s feeling its sounds crisp..usually that’s the result of a load of gigs OR a mindset that’s going for that

RB: Ah well we have done a load of gigs together, but not that material..unfortunately!

DB: It’s great fun to play..

FH: ‘Going Down But Not Slow’ – a grainy horn sound, reminds me of early Kool & The Gang..the guitar sound very like Buddy Guy on this cut

DB: He’s a big influence on me !

FH: Got ya there, then..but the song itself is maybe more Bobby Bland territory

DB: Well, time to mention the contribution of Martin Winning..he worked with me on some of the tracks including this one

RB: Yes they started writing stuff to reflect the ‘Howlin’ Wolf’ element of my live performances

FH: ‘Bad Boy’ has slide acoustic on it..Cooder / Kottke tinge..any inspiration behind that song ?

DB: That was one of the last songs we wrote for the album….we had realised that having recorded and produced some numbers, they wouldn’t actually fit in as well as others..

FH : That’s why it sounds sure-footed ! as an album. That thought process is there

DB: I thought we should go for something really simple here.. and let rip on the vocal..there’s the softer build-up on the verses

FH: Sounds like a live set highlight

DB: Yes – it does go down very well live

FH: ‘I Get Loaded’ is a Texas strut..SRV/Duarte there’s a great vocal on that, plus an understated Hammond part..

DB: That’s actually the oldest song on the album

RB: One that Dom wrote on his own, a LONG time ago

DB: True – written about fifteen years ago, in fact

FH: But how did you get through that without tapping on the wahwah pedal though ??

DB: That song works really really well live, the build up

FH: A crowd-pleaser tempo..vocally that’s the cut I’d play to someone new to your ‘Talkin’ Blues’ is a classic blues tread, are you using fairly heavy strings ?

DB: I went through a stage of using twelves, having I read that Stevie Ray used fourteens

FH: Telegraph wires. Trower told me that having less than twelves on a Strat won’t get all the tones

Photo: Bread And Shutter

DB: Well I’m using elevens, so…

FH: But he tunes down to D..two semitones down

DB: Ah!!! There you go

FH: ‘Sweet Mercy’ – electric slide and the handclap…the mood of this is such that it’s a good illustration of the essence of the album – but what is the inspiration

DB: Hmm. Once again a song that took on a whole different light …that was a song called ‘Killing Blues’

RB: And it was a horrible, aggressive lyric ! Dom, you came up with a riff for that in a hotel room, no ?

DB: That song I recorded with drums and bass.. a three piece thing, but it didn’t work. Didn’t gel. So it needed to be stripped back down to a more basic sound

FH: Now it’s almost a European Taj Mahal effect.  Now there’s a blissful progression on ‘Please, Please ‘and it’s as far ‘South’ as the album goes, New Orleans mood. I think it’s a lovely inclusion – you ?

DB: Yes, we think it was worth including it. That song is the one that most people would say is the most ‘poppy’ on the album

FH: It’s like a Louisiana bar jukebox flipside

DB: Yes, a throwback to the Fifties almost..John Taylor when he heard the album said that this song seemed to him to be the most commercial..maybe a famous artist could cover that song

FH: It would suit Imelda May, for a start ! ‘The Heat is Gone’ – I thought it might be a BB King fact when I first played it and not looking at the sleeve, I thought it was about a used car problem – ‘ The Heater’s Gone’..(This sets Rob Brown off laughing)..some neat piano on that

DB: The other vocal is by Kat Pearson who is a blues singer, works in London

RB: She’s got a band called Kat & Co..she’s from Los Angeles, lives next door to Snoop Dogg

DB: That song’s got quite an interesting arrangement going on, though I say it myself

FH: ‘Love Another Day’ – more Texas feel here, country more and an upwards turnaround

DB: Has it ?   well yes it has

FH: And this is the closest, Rob that you sound like Captain Beefheart

DB: Yeah there’s a bit of distortion on his vocal there..deliberately..a useful tool…

RB: Gets Loose days , we used to do ‘New Electric Ride’

FH: You should do ‘Plastic Factory’ ! Live shows to promote this ?

RB: Yes !! several of the venues we had earmarked in town are no longer available..Blues Kitchen’s a a possible…the Bedford, too  – we feel the album is the album but we have to be experienced live, that’s where we will come across best

The ‘Blue To Brown’ album is best hunted down per REMEDY RECORDS and should be released online February 2013

Pete Sargeant

-    Thanks to Alan and to Glenn Sargeant

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