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Every time Ia€™ve seen him live over the years, Ia€™ve chided myself for not having remembered to grab him for a feature article. Brooks has been living in England with his wife, Jo, who is British, for four years at this point.
Speaking with Brooks from a€?across the pond,a€? I found someone who is so acclimated in his new life that he speaks in a clipped, slightly British, almost Cockney manner, sort of like the way a Northern visitor to the U.S. Brooks appeared a couple of times at The Fast Folk Cafe in the mid-a€™90s, where I was a volunteer manager.
In addition to New Everything, which he mailed to me, I remembered owning How the Night Time Sings (1991) and Knife Edge (1996). Red Guitar Plays Blue is a self-issued collection of vintage recordings of songs written during 1986 and 1987. One instrumental track on How the Night Time Sings, a€?Look What the Cat Dragged In,a€? is itself cat-like, aurally walking the top edge of a fence and nimbly leaping from one tiny surface to another. The opening instrumental track of Live Solo, a€?Chasing The Groove,a€? is typical Brooks a€” a bouncing fret-skipper that easily beguiles the audience who will now hang on every note and syllable of the eveninga€™s performance.
His new CD, appropriately named New Everything, is at times a good-time, jump-out-of-your-seat, get-up-and-dance guitar clinic. When he lights into a€?Deep River Blues,a€? the classic made famous by Doc Watson, my body does a giddy flinch of joy. The title track is a skewed version of the old country song a€?Flowers on the Wall,a€? by The Statler Brothers (a€?countina€™ flowers on the wall, that dona€™t bother me at alla€?). This batch of stories reflects his expressed career goal to continue following the primal urge to express reactions to life events with sung poetry and a guitar riff.
Brooks is quick to remark how welcome and appreciative his British audiences have been and continue to be.
Brooks appeared a couple of times at The Fast Folk Cafe in the mid-a€™90s, where I was a volunteer manager.A  His first appearance was on a co-bill with Frank Christian. The opening instrumental track of Live Solo, a€?Chasing The Groove,a€? is typical Brooks a€” a bouncing fret-skipper that easily beguiles theA  audience who will now hang on every note and syllable of the eveninga€™s performance. Youa€™d need to know a lot of those ways if you were to count the places Brooks Williams has been referred to in that manner.
If you watch a YouTube video like his version of a€?Weeping Willow Blues,a€? recorded at Uncle Calvina€™s in Dallas, the guitar seems like ita€™s been grafted onto him. With the release of his new CD, appropriately named New Everything, wea€™re finally getting that corrected. Southern states might return northward, dragging the expression a€?ya€™alla€? across the Mason-Dixon Line.


Whenever they got to a new town, the first thing shea€™d do was call a music school or store and ask who taught violin.
He noticed that not many other boys his age were inside on sunny summer days playing violin. Rather than accept an offer from Berkelee School of Music, he attended a liberal arts school for a couple of years. A check of our CD shelves uncovered a forgotten treasure trove: Red Guitar Plays Blue (1994), Nectar (2003) and Live Solo (2004). It carried me back in time to when Brooksa€™ jackhammer-steady rhythm and pristine clear picking were a new revelation. Knife Edge illustrates Brooksa€™ love for Ireland in the rollicking instrumental track a€?Belfast Bluesa€? and the stomping slide romp a€?Rotterdam Bar,a€? which recounts the time he played Belfasta€™s legendary Rotterdam Bar alone on stage to an empty room after it had been closed down (a favorite playera€™s venue during the a€™90s, an Internet search as to whether it was saved from demolition is inconclusive).
He plays fingerstyle on a resonator guitar while Martin Simpson, British guitar monster, adds background slide licks on a second resonator. Maverick is an Americana festival held every year in eastern England during the 4th of July weekend.
If further proof of his prowess is needed, in another video, apparently from the same set, he laughingly tosses off a guitar medley of the most famous rock and folk riffs. They hit it off immediately, but didna€™t see each other for another year, so their relationship developed a€?at a slow burn,a€? he said.
He would get tired of one line of work or things would get slow and hea€™d switch back and forth.
Bored with playing classical pieces and with the instrument itself, he wandered off and came across an older boy, a teenager, playing guitar. It kept him away from the drinking and racial conflicts that pervaded the lives of many Southern teenagers. He also bought a book of the greatest hits of the a€™70s a€” Beatles, Carly Simon, CSNY, Arlo Guthrie a€” and it showed him how to play chords. He left for another couple of years, but went back and re-enrolled, this time at Salem State College in Massachusetts and graduated with a B.A in English. I played anywhere that would have me a€” cafes, bars, open mics a€” and lots of restaurants. The title track invites the female listener to walk with him on the insecure a€?knife edgea€? of a relationship. If further proof of his prowess is needed, in another video, apparently from the same set, he laughinglyA  tosses off a guitar medley of the most famous rock and folk riffs.
Brooks said he was a€?in awe.a€? Frank was a damn fine picker himself, so the evening was a thrill.


The violin practice and concerts brought him in contact with other youngsters, so early on, it was fun. He thought, a€?I want to do that.a€? Brooks returned the next day and asked the boy to show him how to play.
During this time, in the late a€™80s, stalwarts such as Vance Gilbert, Ellis Paul, Jonatha Brooke and Catie Curtis were beginning to make their mark. In addition to all the guitar pyrotechnics, I came away with the indelible image of Brooks cleverly easing forward and using the mic stand as a slide at the finish of one song. Brooksa€™ first time playing guitar in front of an audience was in a concert on his last day of high school. When I finally got it together enough to make a little money from playing a€” and I decided thata€™s what I wanted to do a€” I was playing five to six nights a week in the little clubs, bars and coffeehouse of New York and New England. Red Guitar Plays Blue is out of print and I dona€™t see it in the iTunes store, so I feel pretty lucky to have it.
On the drive home, a full moon hung in the sky and awoke reminiscences of people who werena€™t there that day, specifically Michael, who had passed away.
When I finally got it together enough to make a little money from playing a€” and I decided thata€™s what I wanted to do a€” I was playing five to sixA  nights a week in the little clubs, bars and coffeehouse of New York and New England. Feeding a habit I started at the Cafe, I bought CDs from Brooks and had him autograph them.
He was really nervous, a€?shaking in my boots,a€? he said, but he loved the experience and was determined to do more of it.
The midweek gigs were in loud bars where I could barely even hear myself and I played for four hours without stopping. Looking at the a€?Listeners Also Boughta€? thumbnails in the iTunes store below Brooksa€™ albums, one sees Kelly Joe Phelps, Taj Mahal, Susan Tedeschi and Muddy Waters. He gave Brooks a fresh push back in the early 2000s, lining up gigs in numerous venues, when Brooks was struggling. While he immediately felt at home with the guitar, he kept that promise for four more years. His mother approvingly noticed that he was enthusiastic about guitar a€” the violin, not so much.



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