Elevator Chat: Brooks Long, musician/singer/songwriter
Melding the traditions of vintage Rhythm & Blues and Rock with the aesthetics of classic singer/songwriters, Brooks Long brings the old school into the 21st century in a style all his own. Whether by himself or with his backing band, the funky and righteous "Brooks Long and The Mad Dog No Good,” Brooks brings the kind of passion, energy, and humor rare in today's music scene.
Long, 29, will perform with The Sherman Holmes Project at the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival, June 13 at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, Baltimore.
Long first took guitar lessons at Bill's Music in Catonsville. Once before a lesson, he fooled around with a guitar he couldn't afford. A man heard him and asked Long to join his gospel band. Brooks' mother said she was driving him to either lessons or rehearsals, but not both. He chose the job, but the gospel group only lasted about three months. Since then he’s been teaching himself guitar through his favorite records ever since – for 15 years.
MSAC: What or who inspired you to become a musician?
Brooks Long: There are a few strong Sunday singers in my family; nobody played [instruments] growing up. The real rabid music fanatic was Uncle Bill, a very good singer in the high tenor R&B tradition. He loved Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations. Fanatics wake up thinking about music, go to bed thinking about music and dream about music. Uncle Bill is one of those.
My dad said the "Johnny B. Goode" scene in Back to the Future, contributed to my musical voyage. Chuck Berry is still a favorite and, I remember hearing Little Richard’s "Tutti Fruitti" when I was four. Long after the song was over, I couldn't stop singing it, and the energy would not leave my body. I will never forget that moment. I just can't remember a time when I wasn't drawn to music.
MSAC: Who are your musical influences?
Brooks Long: Here is my random top 10: Smokey Robinson, Lauryn Hill, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Amy Winehouse, Cody Chestnutt, Randy Newman, Prince, The Band and now, certainly The Holmes Brothers.
MSAC: You have been in the Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship program for the past year, what have you taken away from this experience?
Brooks Long: Spending time with Wendell [Holmes] and trying to absorb his wisdom has been crucial. There are many Baltimore artists who have been so educational and supportive. However, The Holmes Brothers are up my alley artistically. So much of what I want to do, they have done. To have someone like that guide you, listen to you and tell you that you've got potential - the impact of that cannot be measured. I owe Maryland Traditions big time.
In a more sobering sense, some misfortune has befallen The Holmes Brothers; Popsy Dixon has passed, and Wendell has had to retire from the stage due to illness. Phil Wiggins, Eric Kennedy and I are helping Sherman Holmes continue the legacy; we're very sad that is necessary but very happy to contribute and be apart. Already, I've met some wonderful people.
MSAC: How do you go about writing songs? Do you have a process or does the lyrics/music just come to you?
Brooks Long:There is a crafting process to it, but often the best songs write themselves. I know that sounds esoteric, pretentious and impractical, and it certainly is until it happens to you. Then you just let it flow for as long as it's flowing. When it stops, that's when you run through your thesaurus, try to figure rationally out what the next chord should be, try to figure out what you are trying to say. That's when the craft starts. Of course, knowing your craft comes from an intense study of your favorite music. It's not all about calling on the spirits.
MSAC: What genre of music will you be performing at the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival?
Brooks Long: I'm happy to perform as a part of The Sherman Holmes Project, which will include a few of my tunes. Wendell calls The Holmes Brothers' music "Southern Roots Music" and I think that's as accurate as you could get. They come from a time when there were many divisions in society, but the music wasn't one of them.