post

Blues queen Erica Brown on taking care of our veterans

/0 Comments/in  /by 

Erica Brown and Theo Wilson in ‘Honorable Disorder.’ Photo by Celia Herrera/URBN Brands.

The new Emancipation Theater tackles the difficult issue of how we support our veterans when they return from war

MEET ERICA BROWN
Erica Brown, who has been called “Colorado’s Queen of the Blues,” plays Nancy Foster, mother of a Denver military veteran struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the new play Honorable Disorder. This is the inaugural production by the new Emancipation Theater Company, and is being hosted at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre. Brown, namesake of the former Erica Brown Band, has worked with some of the finest artists in the world, including B.B. King, Al Green, Delbert McClinton, Tab Benoit, Kenny Neal and, most recently, Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters

  • HometownSikeston, Mo.
  • Home now: Denver
  • Training: Degree in Management from the University of Phoenix
  • What’s your handle? @ericabrownenter on Twitter and @ericabrownentertainment on Instagram
  • Website: ericabrownentertainment.com (photo at right by Steve Mack)
  • Twitter-sized bio: Nerdy girl who loves the blues, history, reading, African-American science fiction and romance — and her family.
  • One role you were completely miscast for: Hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been uniquely suited to every role I’ve played so far. 
  • Bucket-list role: It doesn’t exist: I’d love to play a lead role as a magical teacher-mentor — who also just happens to be a witch or a sorceress —  -n a Harry Potter-style stage play with black characters fighting the forces of evil in America. Black women are not heralded enough for their lives as wise women, crones, witches and Curandera in American theatre and film, and such a production has never been put on, as far as I know.   
  • Big Mama ThorntonWhat’s playing on your Spotify? Any old guard blues woman such as Koko TaylorBig Mama Thornton (pictured right)Memphis Minnie (or Erica Brown )
  • What’s one thing most people don’t know about you? One of my original passions in life was to be a librarian, because I so love history. I would have made a great museum curator. I love old things.
  • One time you saw greatness play out in front of you: When my truly stage-frightened daughter stepped up to the musical plate and slayed an audience of 6,000 people singing at her first real gig — at the Telluride Blues Festival!
  • One thing we should be doing to foster the next generation of theatregoers? Let’s engage them in difficult conversations through theatre. Our play Honorable Disorder has strong language and situations, but we should not necessarily shelter our youth from the realities of life. One of our attendees last weekend was a young teenager, and she absolutely loved and understood everything about our play.
  • What is Honorable Disorder all about? Honorable Disorder, written by pioneering local hip-hop and spoken-word artist Jeff Campbell, tells the story of DeShawn Foster, a native of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood and a veteran of  Operation Iraqi Freedom. Following the loss of his commanding officer and father figure, DeShawn struggles to hold on to his “Soldier’s Creed” back home in Denver.
  • Why does Honorable Disorder matter? Because we are tackling the difficult issue of how we support our veterans when they return from war. It also explores the difficulties the families of returning servicemen and women face, and the scarcity of support they receive. We also talk about and portray homelessness, drug addiction and poverty. These are important conversations that should be at the forefront of how we care for and about ourselves as a nation.
  • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing Honorable Disorder? A sincere desire to go back into their communities and make real change happen for our vets and their families and support systems. The conversations and help must be real and ongoing. They’ve been there for us, now it’s time for us to step up and care for them.
  • What do you want to get off your chest? Let’s all just try to love each other without anger, rancor and violence, please.  We can do it!
post

ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC: WILLIE DIXON TRIBUTE


Every so often Todd Parks Mohr, frontman for Big Head Todd and the Monsters, breaks free from his music to celebrate legends.

todd

Todd Parks Mohr (right) and Ronnie Baker Brooks

I had the good fortune to see him and his band team up with some remarkable musicians, Mud Morganfield (Muddy Waters son), Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Erica Brown (who joined the group as their backup singer and power house), to sing songs from Willie Dixon.

One of the remarkable things about this concert was its venue, a small renovated theater, something out of the Vaudevillian days, in downtown Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing is a small Mississippi river town that I’m sure no one outside of Minnesota would have hear of, but regardless, it was perfect for an intimate night with Todd and his friends.

As always, I’m very easily “blown away” by live music, not just any live music, but music of soul shaking proportions, and this was surely a night to remember.

Erica Brown only came out twice, which was a shame, because she had some “pipes” in her, holy god…..it was living the Maxell tap commercial, fantastic.

The rest of the boys shared the spotlight singing their renditions of Willie’s master pieces, but what was surprising to me, though maybe not to you, was “You need Love” which Mud sang….Led Zeppelin has also covered it pretty famously.

One of the highlights was the up close and personal moment each singer spoke about, their introduction to the blues, meeting Willie, and how the Blues changed their lives. Mud spoke of his father Muddy and the day Prince showed up in a long Limousine, or Todd’s first meeting with Ronnie Baker Brown 20 yrs ago.

Billy Branch, Erica Brown, and Mud Morganfield

Billy Branch, Erica Brown, and Mud Morganfield

Paul and I have followed Big Head Todd since their debut album back in the 80’s. They remain one of our favorite bands to see live, showing us music is timeless, and uniting.

post

BIG HEAD BLUES CLUB – Review

BIG HEAD BLUES CLUB

With Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks & Erica Brown

Presents: The Songs of Willie Dixon

November 2, 2016

Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL

 

By Linda Cain

Photos: Dianne Bruce Dunklau (except where noted)

For more photos, visit our FB page

What happens when two once-in-a-lifetime events converge on the same night at the same time in Chicagoland – one a unique alliance of blues and rock superstars and the other a team of baseball superstars playing the World Series for the first time in 71 years? And not just any blues stars or sports stars, but OUR very own Chicago beloved hometown heroes? What’s a Chicago blues lover to do? Choose between the Cubs or the blues? It was enough to give you the blues!

Ron Onesti, Arcada Theater owner and concert promoter, did his best to give the best of both worlds to blues fans and Cubs fans by showing the World Series game on two giant screens in the theater with the sound turned down during the concert. He explained that normally they would never disrespect the artists by interfering with their performance, but in this case an exception was truly called for. Of course the audience, many clad in Cubs attire, appreciated it. The excitement in the air was palpable. The musicians took it in stride; it was often hard to distinguish when the audience’s bursts of cheers and applause were directed at the Cubs or for the incredibly talented artists on stage. Nevertheless, throughout over two hours of nonstop, top-notch blues performances, the crowd continued to show their love to the artists on stage with much robust applause and well-deserved standing ovations.

\Big Head Todd & The Monsters is a major rock act on the jam band and festival circuit, known for inspired, eclectic jams and soulful ballads, such as hits like: “Bittersweet,” “It’s Alright,” “Broken Hearted Savior,” and “Please Don’t Tell Her I Love Her.” They recorded a rockin’ cover of “Boom Boom” with John Lee Hooker that hit the charts in 1998. In 2011, the first edition of The Big Head Blues Club celebrated Robert Johnson’s Centennial with a CD and tour featuring late blues legends Hubert Sumlin and Honeyboy Edwards, along with young blues artists Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcom. (You can see our review of their Chicago concert HERE).

But on this night Todd Park Mohr and his band mates – drummer Brian Nevin, bassist Rob Squires and Jeremy Lawton on keyboards — transformed themselves into The Big Head Blues Club. It was a tribute to the legendary Willie Dixon, starring Chicago artists who all had ties to the brilliant blues bassist, singer, songwriter and producer. The band just released a download-only version of their upcoming 2017 CD, titled Way Down Inside, featuring covers of 13 Willie Dixon songs — with help from Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Somehow, Todd and Ronnie (who have been collaborating for years) were able to coordinate their busy schedules with international blues stars Mud and Billy to do a special Fall tour together. Blues fans knew it was worth the journey to suburban St. Charles to see it. It wasn’t sold out but there were a respectable number of seats filled.

 

The show began as Todd introduced each featured guest with flair as the band vamped while Ronnie and Billy took their places on stage. Mud Morganfield, dressed in a bright orange suit and tie, made his entrance last. The second he sat down at the mic, they launched into the first number and Mud belted out: “I Want To Be Loved,” a Dixon song made famous by his legendary father, Muddy Waters. Larry “Mud” Morganfield’s resemblance to his parent, in both appearance and voice is remarkable. His bold performance was a fitting tribute to Mr. Dixon’s legacy as well as that of his father’s. The accompanying solos — Billy Branch’s wailing harmonica with Ronnie and Todd’s guitars blazing away – gave the classic song an updated feel.

 

The elite Blues Club members all joined in on “Good Advice,” as Todd, Mud, Ronnie and Billy traded verses and harmonized together accompanied by Billy’s harp solo and Todd’s electric dobro licks that rang out like a bell.

Mud exited as Billy stood in the spotlight and got the crowd clapping for the intro to a very upbeat version of “Bring It On Home” which Todd dedicated to the Cubs! Billy sang and played his heart out with an extended solo that brought things up a few notches with his harp notes sailing the high C’s, as the crowd cheered and whistled. Billy hammed it up while the band rocked behind him. The fans rewarded him with a standing ovation.

 

It was Todd’s turn as he sang the breezy “The Seventh Son,” a Dixon song that Willie Mabon recorded in 1955; it was revived by Johnny Rivers in 1965. Lawton played a lively keyboard solo and Ronnie ripped off a fierce guitar solo that drew cheers from the fans.

Now Ronnie stood alone in the spotlight, wearing a vivid red suit and hat, with only the trio of Monsters behind him. A cloud of fog rolled in as the lights dimmed and Ronnie sang the mournful “My Love Will Never Die,” immortalized by living legend Otis Rush. The drummer kept a tense beat, like a grandfather clock ticking; the bass notes thumped like a broken heartbeat as the funeral-like organ swelled in the background.

 

Ronnie’s voice soared up to falsetto wails as he pledged his love, even in death, to a woman who mistreated him. He squeezed teardrops from his guitar strings as he moved to the front of the stage for an emotion-packed solo. The crowd stood and cheered.

Thankfully the Cubs remained ahead for the entire concert, otherwise this ominous song may have ended up being the death-knell theme for loyal Cubs fans, whose love has never died through thick and thin.

The band cleared out, making way for Todd in the solo spotlight for a triple play version of the often-covered Dixon classic “Spoonful.” Seated on a chair, playing acoustic guitar with a slide on his pinky finger, Todd started out the tune in a Delta blues style as the crowd clapped along. Part 2 was served up the way Honeyboy Edwards played it, complete with Edwards’ own set of lyrics and powerful string bending. Then, Todd showed us how Charley Patton would have played it with very old timey, rhythmic strumming.

Ronnie, Billy and Mud joined Todd for a blues story and song session, in-the- round style, with all four seated on chairs. Each one took a turn to sing a verse from “Hoochie Coochie Man” and tell a personal tale about Willie Dixon and other blues legends.

 

Ronnie played dobro and recalled being on tour with his Dad and Dixon as a youth. Father Lonnie Brooks let Dixon know that his son aspired to sing the blues and could use some advice. Willie Dixon told young Ronnie to sing “from the heart” so it will go straight “to the heart” of the listener. Ronnie proceeded to do just that for us and we cheered each familiar line beginning with: “Gypsy woman told my mother, ‘fore I was born…”

 

Todd told a story about being on the road with Hubert Sumlin, who played guitar for Howlin’ Wolf, an artist that had hit records with many a Willie Dixon song. Hubert and Todd planned to record together but the legendary guitarist died on December 4, 2011 at age 80 before they got the chance. Todd wrote a song for Hubert the day he died and he was asked to perform it at Sumlin’s funeral and gravesite services. “It was the greatest honor of my life,” Todd declared and then he belted out: “I gotta black cat bone, and a mojo too…”

 

Billy Branch’s story was next. “August 30, 1969 was the greatest blues fest in history,” he began. “Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Reed and about 30 more legends performed. It was produced by Willie Dixon and it was the first day I ever heard the blues.” Young Mr. Branch immediately set about learning to play blues harp and a few years later was asked to join Willie Dixon’s band. Billy sang a few original autobiographical verses he wrote for “Hoochie Coochie Man,” that got us laughing.

Not to be outdone, Mud reminisced about sitting on Muddy Waters’ front porch with Willie Dixon at age 12, when a giant limo pulled up, shocking the both of them. He described a little skinny man who jumped out, speaking in a strange accent. “Can you guess who it was?” he asked us. “Mick Jagger.” Mud then belted out the final lyrics, that could have been written about him: “On the seventh hour, on the seventh day, on the seventh month, the seventh doctor say: I was born for good luck…”

This treatment of “Hoochie Coochie Man” was a real highlight of the show so far, and we were only coming up on song Number 8. “Midnight Lover,” a realistic tale of infidelity, was performed with both humor and pathos by Mud Morganfield with appropriate anguished solos by Ronnie on guitar and Lawton on keyboards. A standing ovation was given.

A Bo Diddley beat got our hips shaking and kicked off Todd’s version of “Pretty Thing” that featured an animated guitar duet with Ronnie and Todd that earned huge applause and cheers.

Todd brought out the show’s secret weapon, singer Erica Brown, while declaring: “She’s the one that’s gonna get the Grand Slam going.” Todd sang the Muddy standard about lusting after the ladies, “Same Thing,” as Erica slinked about the stage. Her exotic moves were so mesmerizing, it was like watching a rocket getting ready to launch. Erica prepared for countdown by securing all loose items and then removing her glasses and glittery bracelet. Her verse came up and it was like “Houston we have lift off.” Erica’s earth-shaking voice virtually exploded as she stomped her feet, shook her body, and waved her arms and hands with each word. She blew the roof off the Arcada in one fell swoop! Ronnie and Billy joined in with some guitar slashing and harp blasts to finish the song to a rousing standing ovation!

Ronnie capitalized on the momentum, asking the crowd to cheer on the Cubs. “When we win, and I say WHEN, not IF. So WHEN we win you will never forget where you were at watching the game.”

Ronnie (RBB) than burst into song: “oooh wee baby, when you walk, you shake just like a willow tree,” as Todd wailed away on his B&W electric guitar for “Let Me Love You Baby,” a Dixon song made famous by Buddy Guy. Ronnie got the crowd on its feet clapping while he, Todd and Billy Branch all traded chops, hamming it up by the front of the stage for photo opps. Of course, RBB played guitar with his teeth and tongue!

Howlin’ Wolf’s “Hidden Charms,” was served up by Todd and his blues Monsters, featuring a blazing guitar solo by the bandleader.

 

RBB returned to play rhythm guitar while Todd sang “Sittin’ And Cryin’ The Blues” with sorrow in his voice and tortured emotion in his guitar solo. The audience went wild with cheers and applause as David Ross hit a solo home run for the Cubs, but Todd took the interruption well. The crowd gave him a standing ovation in return.

The room went silent as the sound of a harmonica was heard echoing from the wings. It became louder and Billy walked on stage while blowing his harp. He hit us with a total stomp down display of styles, technique and note scaling and then toned it down to begin Dixon’s anti-war protest song “It Don’t Make Sense If You Can’t Make Peace.”

Billy and the band put their own haunting, jazzy spin on the arrangement as Billy declared: “imagine a world where, instead of wars, we just played baseball games.” RBB added a striking guitar accent — a ringing note he sustained with the whammy bar. Branch’s harmonica provided emotional backdrop and when he sang, he used his body language to deliver the message like a preacher in the pulpit. RBB, Erica Brown and Todd sang backup. The song ended with RBB and Erica flashing the peace sign and the audience flashed it back.

Then it was time to boogie down for a rockin’ version of “Crazy Mixed Up World,” featuring Todd on vocals and Billy jammin’ on harp like a man possessed.

For the 16th song and final number, Mud came back on stage to hit us with a dramatic version of “Whole Lotta Love/ You Need Love” complete with starts, stops and tempo changes. Mud’s hands were flying about as he sang and Billy moved about the stage blowing harp. Mud then declared that he bet Billy $100 backstage that he couldn’t moonwalk like Michael Jackson. Branch accepted the challenge, prowled about the stage and moonwalked backwards to cheers. Not to be outdone, Mud jumped up, raised his bright orange blazer and did a hip-thrusting hoochie dance before walking off stage, laughing his head off while the band finished the song Led Zeppelin style.

The crowd shouted and stomped for more and soon they returned for “Little Red Rooster.” Billy belted it out, channeling a bit of Howlin’ Wolf’s growling vocals. Mudd and Erica added some back up howls. Billy approached Mud and started talking in a nonsensical manner (perhaps a Jerry Lewis character?), trying to crack him up. Mud was amused, and promptly took over; he and the band kicked off a stompin’ version of “Someday Baby” that got everyone up and dancing. Mud pointed to the drummer, who gave us a killer solo as we cheered him on.

Mud brought on Erica, who danced all over the stage, as Mud urged her, “take your time, baby.” When she was ready, Erica burst into “Wang Dang Doodle”; it was like an atomic explosion hit us! By now, everyone was up on their collective feet as she led us into a call and response for “all night long.”  The Cubs were still ahead and it was the 8th inning. Everyone was ecstatic as the band took its final bows and exited at 9:35 p.m. The 20 song set included all 13 of the songs from the new Big Head Blues Club CD, Way Down Inside.

 Erica popped back on stage and commanded, “Don’t turn off the mic yet!” We knew we were in for a treat. Erica proudly belted out a powerful, pitch perfect, a’ capella rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” A lady appeared on stage waving a giant American flag, as we stood with hands on hearts. Hearts that were filled with pride and joy in the blues and the Cubs. As Ronnie had predicted, it was a night we would always remember!

For photos, visit our FB page 

Linda Cain is the managing editor and founder of Chicago Blues Guide.

post

Way Down Inside – Review

Big Head Blues Club

Way Down Inside
Big Records

big-head-blues-club-cd-coverIn 2011, Todd Park Mohr gathered a group of established blues giants alongside his own band Big Head Todd & The Monsters. Calling themselves the Big Head Blues Club,  they released the tribute album 100 Years of Robert Johnson that was an incredible recreation of the Johnson’s material and also garnered a Blues Music Award nomination.

Well, guess what? He’s back with a whole new line-up of the Big Head Blues Club. Along with The Monsters, Mohr has been joined by Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Denver-based vocalist Erica Brown who spent a few years playing with Dan Treanor. And this time Big head Blues Club is taking on another of the blues world’s most recognized songwriters, Willie Dixon.

Titled Way Down Inside, the songs included read just like the blueprint for the genre. And that’s because they pretty much are having been recorded by the giants of the blues from Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf to the rock icons The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and many others. Willie Dixon set the standard for writing blues music and this disc pays tribute in aces, hitting it square on target with every number. There is one exception here, with the inclusion of the JB Lenoir penned piece “Good Advice,” but it still fits the musical flow nicely and features Mohr, Morganfield, Branch, and Brooks sharing the vocal lines.

There’s lot of juicy good readings here. Popular numbers such as “Hidden Charms,” “Bring It On Home,” “Crazy Mixed Up Kid,” “The Seventh Son” and “I Want To Be Loved” are all included and maybe a few not as well known. A definite highlight is the pairing of Mohr and Brown on “The Same Thing,” that even mixes in a little bit of another Dixon composition “Insane Asylum” that is not mentioned in the track listing.

Big Head Blues Club is such a winning formula. Add in the Willie Dixon songbook and they’ve once again delivered a refreshing and exciting take on something all too familiar in a very loving and well-crafted tribute.

Total Time: 51:28

Hidden Charms / The Seventh Son / You Need Love / Bring It On Home / Let Me Love You Baby / Pretty Thing / Good Advice / Crazy Mixed Up World / The Same Thing / My Love Will Never Die / It Don’t Make Sense You Can’t Make Peace / I Want To Be Loved / Sittin’ And Cryin’ The Blues

post

BORN TO LOVE THE BLUES

Blues Matters Logo

Adam Pearce’s review, Blues Matters

DAN TREANOR’S AFROSIPPI BAND

BORN TO LOVE THE BLUES

They say that the blues is a broad church and Dan Treanor’s Afrossippi Band are exponents of the whole church. Mr Treanor himself plays some fine guitar and the guests on this album, Erica Brown and Merrian Johnson (MJ) are vocalists of massive talent in blues, soul, gospel and rock. Add to that Michael Hossler’s lap steel, Gary Flori on congas and a wicked rhythm section of Scott Headly and Jack Erwin (drums and bass respectively) why they achieved 3rd place in the International Blues Challenge. The album touches on just about everything that we normally call blues and the best parts of the album are where they try to stretch the format a little or where they do a little of the unexpected. Take Mississippi Fred’s Dream, a delightful piece of North Mississippi with fife and drums at the heart and superb slide geetar. But it is the way that they develop the song, bringing rock & roll, soul, gospel & jazz et al to show the roots of today’s music is in blues. These are not just excellent players who have great heart for the music, they understand it as well. Right from the opener Can You Hear Me you can hear traces of the classic players and singers but it has a fresh feel to it, thoroughly energised and you can feel the pleasure in every note. Treanor’s mouth harp on Done Got Old is stunning; dynamic and carrying the song brilliantly. Hurt Like Mine plays hard, dark and powerful with more of that wonderful harmonica and Erica Brown’s vocals spitting and angry but soulful as well. On the ballad side they do a fabulous version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Going To Come – soulful and loaded with feeling and everything the song needs; Merrian Johnson sounds like one of the few soul vocalists who can sing a note without a Whitney warble and the song hits directly to the listener’s heart. A gorgeous album, one I’ve been waiting around three years for, and I can only hope it is nominated for a stack of awards – it really is that good.

Erica Brown Solo in Denver on te%

Lyrically Speaking in Park Meadows on te%