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John Taylor “In Conversation” with Dom Brown

August 28th, 2012

Dom Brown is a great asset to Duran Duran. Andy and Warren left big shoes to fill and Dom has succeeded in filling them, both on stage and in the studio. Now the workaholic guitar hero has released an album of original songs, that he recorded with his Dad, Rob, an accomplished blues-rock singer himself, and a group of London-based players who Dom has been playing on and off with for years. The album is called Blue to Brown. Anyone who enjoys hearing Dom’s playing with the band is going to enjoy this album. There are some great songs on it, mostly written by Dom with his dad, and his playing throughout is superb. – John Taylor

JT: The thing that makes the album most exceptional for me is the fact that you and father working together. I am really into father-son bonding experiences, and this is a pretty unusual one! So, tell me about your Dad and how your relationship with him has developed in regard to music and playing together?

DB: Yeah, well my Dad, Rob, is in his late 60s. He didn’t get involved in music until he was in his late 30’s. We actually first played together probably 25 years ago in a blues covers band, called Brown Book, named after one of Wittgenstein, the philosopher’s, writings. But let’s not go down that path! It was always good fun and originally it was all covers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters and even Robert Cray, you name it – lots of the blues guys. And we did that for fun really – pubs and clubs in London. And we really loved it. We did that for a couple of years and then – went our own ways musically – he had a band called Gets Loose – an acoustic blues band with a great slide blues player. And he played 200 shows in one year or something ridiculous. But then we got back together probably about 7 or 8 years ago, and started to play again, as Blue to Brown, initially as a covers band again. Eventually I thought ‘hang on, what is the point in this? We are doing great shows, the reception is fantastic, so why not start and write some songs?’ So, probably 2.5 or 3 years ago, having taken a break, we got back together and began the writing process.

I wrote all the music, though in the early stages, co-wrote four of the basic backing tracks with Martin Winning, (Van Morrison’s sax player). My Dad and I co-wrote all the lyrics except for ‘I Get Loaded’ that I wrote many years ago… my dad is a real character and we had to sort of draw it out of him, it was his first ever experience, writing lyrics…

JT: It is your Dad’s first album?

DB: It is his first time writing lyrics actually yeah, he has written poetry and – you know – formally as an English teacher, he is very used to that whole thing– he has got the whole literature side of it down…

JT: He must have influenced you as a young man to pick up the guitar in the first place?

DB: Yes, his tastes were always in the blues – that blues sort of idiom, cross over to Bob Dylan, he was a big Dylan, Stones and Beatles fan also. So, that very much influenced me. He loved the original guys, you know, going right back, the Robert Johnson’s – all those great artists.

JT: When did you get your first guitar?

DB: I was 13 years old. Massively late!

JT: Do you think that music was always something that your father and you shared?

DB: Yeah, I guess when I used to see him we would sit around listening to Beatles and we would have discussions about them. It’s funny because at the time, he wasn’t so into some of the heavier stuff that I liked then but now, it has come full circle. He now really appreciates Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and AC/DC etc, the kind of stuff I was into as a 14 year old kid. That was the thing to be into at my school then.

JT: There is a strong sense of authenticity to this album, the music and the recording of it. But this is the first time the two of you have recorded together?

DB: Yes, except for back in the day – 20 years ago when we had the first covers band, we did a cover’s demo. I’d like to think that this album portrays an honest interpretation of the blues and most of the parts you hear are first or second takes.

Though, for example, I would sometimes have my dad re-record his entire vocal with a different approach or mood if we thought the original wasn’t quite working or was going in the wrong direction.

As it was his first real experience recording his singing voice a fair bit of experimentation was required.

JT: When did you decide to make a record and when did you decide that the record would be made of original songs?

DB: We decided about 3 years ago to make the record and I insisted it must be of all original material. The main reason it took so long to finish is that I’ve been very busy with you and Duran. We wrote a handful of tracks back then, some which made it to the album and some not. In between touring and recording with Duran I would find time to work with my dad for a few days before I’d be off again for 7 weeks or so, then we would resume work in the next break.

In February this year, when we got back from the first leg of the European Tour, I decided to give it a final and intensive burst of energy that was required to finish it.

JT: As the producer, how was that, producing your Dad? Was there a point when you weren’t thinking of him as your Dad, that he was just the singer on the project, or was there always that sense of ‘I am telling my Dad here that he needs to do another take’?

DB: Yeah, absolutely that and he really appreciates it, because he is an extremely organic and very spontaneous type of performer and does need guidance. He doesn’t really understand anything about music in terms of notes or scales. Or the recording process and just basically, hears something and will perform it, listen back and most of the time think, yeah that sounds good. Whereas, my job as producer is looking at the bigger picture and saying, well actually it is not fitting or integrating well with that particular instrument or whatever. He really took that on board and he always said that ‘Dom, you are the producer, I have faith in you so tell me when it is ready.’ It wasn’t always that easy as he can sometimes be a stubborn b*****d!

JT: Does he still teach?

DB: No, he gave up a couple of years ago.

JT: So, he is full-time music?

DB: No, he has been a successful voice-over artist for about 15 years. You have definitely heard him on TV or radio in the UK without realising it.

JT: There is one song on there ‘Please Please’ Which I feel is more of a pop song, I could hear it in the Top 30.

DB: It is a cross-over song, yeah, and I could also hear it sung by one of the great soul singers.

JT: But other than that one, the songs have a very authentic feel to them. I could hear those songs being sung by singers in Chicago in the 50s, you know…

DB: Well, actually that song ‘Please Please’ it is funny that you should say that because someone recently said they thought it sounded like it could be a classic song from the 50s. With the horns and strings and that kind of production. No, I think generally the album is very authentic and I tried to keep it that way as much as possible. We did write a lot of songs that were great I think but didn’t fit into the blues genre so well. The album already covers quite a broad scope of blues.

JT: What would you say your guiding principle was? What were you trying to do with the record?

DB: To basically just play and express the songs in the best way whilst trying to capture as much spontaneity and rawness as possible.

JT: Who are the musicians on the album?

DB: The drummer is Darren Mooney, Primal Scream’s drummer for the last 15 years. He and John Noyce, who plays bass on one track, were in Gary Moore’s band, before he died, so they have the whole blues thing down. We have played tons of blues gigs together in the past.

Martin Winning is playing sax and keyboards, Mike Bramwell plays keyboards also. My wife Martha plays violin on one track. We have Anna Ross (Duran’s backing singer) doing bvs on a couple of songs and a special guest vocal from Kat Pearson who duets with my dad on one song.

We are very lucky to have such great players working with us.

JT: I have to ask – like the experience you have had with Duran over the last – how many will we say – 9 years did we say?

DB: 8 and a half!

JT: Would you say you have done anything differently because you work with Duran?

DB: Other than keeping the guitar solos short, ha ha! That is a tough one to answer. I don’t honestly know John.

JT: My favourite song on the album is ‘Loaded’, and I told you I just love the solo on that, the way that it just builds, it is just so well constructed. I said to you ‘It could go on for another five minutes’ and you said ‘Well, actually live we do…’

DB: Live it goes on for a good while and does keep building and building…

JT: So, how many takes did you do of that song?

DB: Well, yeah that song is – that was a trio, that was recorded live as a trio. I then picked the best take and had my dad overdub the vocal.

JT: That is not bad.

DB: And basically just picked the best one.

JT: Yeah, so that is a one take solo, no edits?

DB: That is one take. I think there are a couple of little edits where a drum beat goes off and I managed to copy it from somewhere else in the song – but apart from that it’s the real thing – the live thing there.

JT: A couple of the songs, the lyrics in particular – you know – seem kind of talking blues ‘Sweet Mercy’ you know, this is a man talking about his woman or the problems with his woman and he talks about – they are blues themes but you know, is this your Dad talking about your Mum? You know, did you get any of that or are you way past that?

DB: Oh no, that is way past. I mean, I hope not because if it was, I wouldn’t be happy putting that out there…

JT: It would be weird…

DB: Yes, it would.

JT: You have got two sisters and they are your father’s daughters?

DB: My sisters have always been into music and Rosie, is great and has been having some success as a singer songwriter for many years now.

Basically the whole family is pretty musical. My mother, who is half Italian, has a fantastic ear for music and her mother was a successful concert pianist. I get more of my musical and melodic side from her. Where I get more of the energy and performance side from my Dad. He is just a raw performer, you know. He has got that element, that is just him.

JT: Didn’t your mother take you out of school to see the Rolling Stones when you were 10 or 12 or something?

DB: Yes, exactly, yeah. The headmaster came and said ‘Dominic Brown, you are excused for the afternoon. Your mother is taking you to Wembley Stadium.’ I was actually about 14 and the whole class were very jealous.

It was an amazing and inspiring moment in my musical life.

JT: What about the duet, who else is that singing on ‘The Heat Has Gone?

DB: The duet – that is my Dad and a singer called Kat Pearson.

JT: There is a lot of personality in it, I mean you really get the sense, she knows your Dad inside out!

DB: Well, actually at that point, they had never met.

JT: Right, but that is the great performance, isn’t it? It really sounds like she is just taking no shit from him.

DB: Yeah, she is great – it took a few takes to get her really in the pocket. I had actually sung a guide vocal with the lyrics so she could learn the lyrics and get into the role. When she did I knew it was really working… she eventually nailed it and she sounds great! I think it is a strong song. It has an interesting and original arrangement and is one my favourite in terms of my guitar sound.

JT: What about blues heroes? Who are your Dad’s blues heroes?

DB: Well, my Dad’s are mainly the Mississippi and Delta guys – Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Mississippi Fred McDowell the Howling Wolfs right through to more modern artists like the Stones, The Band etc.

JT: Was he a teacher to you in terms of the blues?

DB: Later…

JT: Did you first hear Howlin’ Wolf in his company or did you have to get to Howling Wolf yourself and then you guys were able to sort of track around together?

DB: I can’t honestly remember but I do remember seeing him performing Howlin’ Wolf songs with his band Gets/z Loose

JT: And you were how old then?

DB: 16 I would say, 16 or 17. That was quite inspiring. He had a fantastic harmonica player – a guy called Peter Hope Evans – who was with him for 15 years and was also Pete Townsend’s guy. He did all Pete Townsend’s solo stuff. And he was in a band called Medicine Head, who you may have heard of. He is one of my Dad’s best friends and a quirky guy it must be said. Going and watching them play was quite inspiring.

JT: Just the two of them?

DB: No, they had a great acoustic guitarist called Rob Garner and often had a guy called Mick Mahoney on bass, who was also great. A really great musician.

JT: You were always comfortable around musicians?

DB: Yes.

JT: That is a nice thing to have. And what about your blues heroes?

DB: Well, mine started with Hendrix, who was obviously much later on – he is further along…

JT: Hendrix is the door into blues for a lot of young guys isn’t he?

DB: For me, it was Hendrix, then it was Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Albert Collins etc– I loved those guys but thought ‘what are their influences?’ So, I went right back to Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker etc–– it is funny how it took Hendrix, who had all that blues, but mixed in the soul and the funk and the rock, psychedelia, everything – for him to inspire me enough to then go back to where it all began – btw I saw Buddy Guy at Dingwalls, in the mid-80s. It was a truly eye opening experience.

JT: He must have been one of the last Chess artists – significant Chess artists to be touring.

DB: Yeah, I think you are right…

JT: Is he still touring? He is still around?

DB: Yes he is, yeah. But seeing him then was absolutely just mind blowing, you know. It was in the mid-80s, in a small club, Dingwalls. Have you ever been to Dingwalls?

JT: You see – I never really got blues music, I think by the time I was getting exposed to 12-bar blues, there was just so much mediocre blues around.

DB: Absolutely, still is and that’s why I made an effort to keep the songs on this record varied. I don’t think there are any songs based on a straight ahead 12 blues progression.

JT: And it is very much the kind of music where you really do need to step carefully, because you – because there is – everywhere you look there is blues and most of it is bad. You have to be – it is like art, it is like painting, you know, it is like you have really got to be sure to go to the right museums, go into the right rooms and have the right curator point out to you ‘This…’ And I must say, every time I have done that and I have looked deeper and I have found that the really sort of significant recordings – it has paid off.

DB: Yeah, I think it is a form of music that is easy to sort of become okay and mediocre at, but to go beyond that and to do it really well – and excellently, that requires something special from within and something unique and individual from the artist, I believe.

JT: Yeah, you should do a Spotify playlist, you should do like a 12-bar blues, you should make a list and do 12 blues songs and maybe put it on Spotify or something. Are you on Spotify?

DB: Yeah.

JT: Yeah, you should do that and they people can go and hear your 12 favourite blues tracks and sort of – because I think a lot of people that are going to be listening to this – a lot of the Duran fans – you know are really not going to have any clue about blues.

DB: No, I absolutely will…

JT: So, this is an opportunity to educate!

DB: Yeah.

JT: I hate it when journalists say this to me – is there anything else that you want to say to the people?

DB: If you don’t already own a copy go and buy it. No, I think it is an enjoyable album – and as you said, it is a good passageway into that style of music. It is quite varied, for me some artists can get very samey and that gets tiring. It has an interesting, eclectic range of songs and tones…

JT: I would agree, it is a very easy album to listen to. It is not over long and I think you are right that every song – you know there are gear shifts – you don’t get bogged down in it at all. And it is a good production, there is a lot of ear candy and really, if you like – anybody that enjoys your playing with Duran, I think they are really going to enjoy hearing you on this. And your voice sounds great too.

DB: Yeah thanks, on this album – I am mainly doing backing vocals except on ‘Please Please’ where my voice is more dominant. But no, it is mainly my Dad. And there is Anna Ross from Duran, our backing singer; she is doing a couple of BVs on there.

JT: Good, we like to keep her in play…

DB: Yeah, she sounds great. I think it is an album that people should have a listen too.

JT: And where can they get it?

DB: It will be available on iTunes pretty soon but at the moment the best place to get it is through the web.

You can purchase the physical CD at Remedy Records or from my website at Dombrown.com – they are the two main places at the moment, just via Paypal.

Click here for the link to Dom’s Spotify list of Blues Classics.