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.
Since that fateful day when he decided to do the loop, a€?Doc Phippsa€? has become a regular attraction at air shows. A A A  With the help of a friend, Phipps actually built his own stunt a€“ sorry, aerobatic a€“ plane. A A A  Phipps launched his medical career with the same bravado that got him into flying loops.
A A A  His latest diversion, like aerobatics and his former pastime of competitively lassoing 800-pound cattle while on horseback, is somewhat risky: motorcycling. When I was in high school, I acquired some oil paints, brushes, and some of those canvases wrapped around cardboard. Nevertheless, I pushed on painting about one work a year hoping the talent I needed so badly would miraculously appear.
Working in a small school can be very gratifying, but one must be careful not to let folks know what youa€™re good at. When I began my earnest effort to get better at art, I did a lot of paintings of groups of people. I certainly wasna€™t developing talent while painting all those cats, but I was developing skills and techniques.
If an art gallery had not opened about a block and a half from my home, I guess Ia€™d have over five hundred paintings stacked up in the garage by now. One day about four years ago, Cheryl and Cathy called and asked if they could come by to see my work. Before the cat show, a€?Cats, Cats, and More Cats,a€? Cheryl asked what my expectations for the show were. A year later, we had a third show, a€?Dogs,a€? which I did in conjunction with Jane Dubose of Houston. I had and still have so many paintings; I needed to find other places to attempt to sell them.
I was invited to show my works at one of the local restaurants in Bryan, The Village Downtown. By searching the internet, I found one really great gallery in a little community within my 30 mile limit. Another place is Blues Alley in Navasota which is owned by Russell Cushman, one Hell of an artist and a fellow I met and liked years ago when he and a couple of other artists had a gallery in Navasota. One thing that youa€™ve probably recognized as a characteristic of the art dealers I work with is that theya€™re nice folks. Recently the Arts at the Lake association sponsored an art trail that ran through several small towns along Highway 36. Nevertheless, I pushed on painting about one work a year hoping the talent I needed so badly would miraculously appear.A  No such luck. I never mentioned to Cheryl or Cathy that I painted.A  However, to my dismay, my wife kept mentioning it to them encouraging them to come by our home to see my work.
One thing that youa€™ve probably recognized as a characteristic of the art dealers I work with is that theya€™re nice folks.A  Life is too short to work with any other kind.
At yet another Tuesday night at the Living Room on New York Citya€™s Lower East Side, a performer in John Platta€™s monthly On Your Radar series mesmerized an audience. The notes rained steady like a metronome, the bass strings rock-solid and the treble, bell-like.
He finished his set, and the audience rose to its feet, giving him an ovation that seemed longer and more fervent than the usual appreciative applause regularly awarded by monthly On Your Radar attendees. Ia€™d made a brief acquaintance with his work back in the mid-a€™90s, when his song a€?Irelanda€? hit the airwaves. A phone conversation a week later would reveal that what Greg called a€?boringa€? turned out to be quite a roller coaster ride as he was pursuing his craft.
Although he had a band, he wanted to go to school, so he enrolled at the University of Kansas.


In 1980, a a€?benchmarka€? year, Greg moved to New York City, to make or break it as a performing songwriter. Although he played solo, he was a€?looking for a banda€? and sought out guys who were a€?fun to play with.a€? After about two years of different lineups, he certainly found one. Grega€™s solo and co-written work form a treasure-trove of great listening a€” a desert-island collection, which, in my case, according to iTunes, amounts to about five-and-a-half hours.
Once people dig into Grega€™s body of recorded work, the reaction usually is, a€?Why isna€™t this guy (take your pick) bigger a€¦ more well-known a€¦ hugea€¦?a€? While we mention a variety of lyrics and instrumental effects, the anchor for everything is Grega€™s voice, a dense baritone that reaches high notes with ease and packs emotion into every line. The live album Between a House and a Hard Place (2002) will give listeners a sample of Grega€™s sense of humor. On The Williamsburg Affair (2009), Greg covers Neil Younga€™s a€?Wrecking Balla€? that Emmy Lou Harris had success with on her Daniel Lanois-produced album of that name. 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.
He has joined together with some other docs (who apparently have speech impediments) to form the a€?Health Angels.a€? Motorcycles, biplanes, cattle a€“ bring a€?em on! His father worked in the design department of WOR Radio, one of the sponsors of the Beatlesa€™ shows at Shea Stadium.
Jim and Tom Paschetto, two other extremely talented friends, joined them to form a band, which they called The Ravioli Brothers.
His material included songs by Townes Van Zant, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Happy and Artie Traum.
The Greg Trooper band that evolved consisted of Greg on lead vocals and guitar, Larry Campbell on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, Greg Shirley on bass harmony vocals and Walter Thompson on drums. Although he moved back to New York in 2008, most of his recorded output has been from Nashville.
He can shift, mid-note, into a higher range for greater emphasis or break into a yodel if a Hank Williams cover demands it.
Its blistering attack of chiming guitar chords and steady tom-tom beat take me back to 1957. It kicks off with a€?Nothina€™ But You.a€? This one chugs through with the urgency it needs to express a guya€™s return to the woman he regrets leaving behind. During the intro strumming of a€?Ia€™m So French,a€? we can only wonder whata€™s happening when the audience laughs as he says, a€?Ia€™m recording here!
Ita€™s also not possible to convey the warmth and self-effacing humor of his live performances. 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. After nearly a year, Greg moved back to New Jersey for a short while and then went to Lawrence, Kan.
Around 1979, Jim Paschetto moved to Lawrence and joined Grega€™s band and the idea of writing original material took serious hold. Campbell, whoa€™s played with Dylan, gets our attention, but anyone in that kind of company would need to be good.


One article states that he was writing for Nashville publishers even while living in New York his first time around. The first two albums, Everywhere (1992) and Noises In The Hallway (1996), are out of print and can only be bought as used CDs from Amazon at this point. Ia€™m skipping ahead of a few favorites to get to the track that ends the album, a€?Ia€™ll Keep It With Mine,a€? a Dylan cover that makes a wonderful honky-tonk slow dance. After a couple of listens, I shared it with my wife and she identified it as a perfect Cajun two-step. Critics are saying that this album is yet another wonder in the series of great Trooper releases. 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. Ita€™s perfectly legal to do so, Phipps adds, a€?as long as youa€™re more than 2000 feet above ground.
I was starting to develop a direction and I liked lyric-based folk-rock.a€? Bob Dylana€™s influence crept higher. The track is so amazingly strong that you might cut in on somebody with his girlfriend at the roadhouse, plead temporary insanity and not get your head stove in.
Youa€™ll get a taste if you go to YouTube and type in a€?Greg Trooper,a€? but thata€™s only a taste.
Texas barbeque, Ia€™m so French!A  We also get to hear him do a€?Ireland,a€? in the only version I have at the moment until I can pick up a copy of Everywhere.
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. And I got the bright idea: a€?Well, how about being a doctor?a€™ Not knowing what I was getting into. His brother, two years older, had been instrumental in turning Greg on to the major rock acts of the day. However, a€?WOR was the first New York album-oriented rock-and-roll FM station,a€? he said. In the early a€?70s, Greg was in his late teens when the work of John Prine and Steve Goodman made an impact. On their way out west, Greg and Richard stopped in Emporia, Kan., to visit a friend and wound up playing gigs in the area for about a year. Then, after two years, although he was doing well at school, he felt antsy to move forward in his desire to a€?make records,a€? so he quit.
Also during this time, Greg wrote a€?The Hearta€? with Tom Russell, who was living in New York then. If great writing, perfect recording and stellar performances are your thing, this is the guy for you. However, a€?WOR was the first New York album-oriented rock-and-roll FM station,a€? he said.A  a€?We still have some psychedelic posters from WOR that my father did the lettering for,a€? he stated. 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. There are a few similar characteristics to the main figure in Suttree, but otherwise, ita€™s all Greg.
In addition, a€?Ireland,a€? included on his 1992 album Everywhere, according to a quote we saw somewhere, was written as a tribute to his wife.
While he immediately felt at home with the guitar, he kept that promise for four more years.
The song captured the spirit of Ireland so well that Irish folk diva Maura Oa€™Connell covered it, and the song subsequently saw heavy rotation on Fordham Universitya€™s (WFUV) radio playlist a€” back then, this authora€™s only source of preferred music. His mother approvingly noticed that he was enthusiastic about guitar a€” the violin, not so much. In an online interview, Greg is quoted: a€?I was desperate back then a€¦ I was living in a trailer park a€¦ We were just desperadoes with shitty jobs. A friend and I saw Greg play an inspiring set at the Mercury Lounge in the mid a€™90s and stopped to pay our respects afterward.
It was just different, or maybe it was just different for me, chasing the dream of making music.



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