“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Paul Brown
Smitty: Kickin it with me here at JazzMonthly.com is one of the “real deal” musicians in the business. You must check out his great new record. It’s called White Sand and let me tell you, when you talk about this cat, he is just a man with a Grammy groove, from an engineer, from a producer, and as a recording artist as well. Please welcome the spectacular Mr. Paul Brown. Paul, how ya doin’, man?
Paul Brown (PB): Hey, what’s happenin’, brotha?
Smitty: It’s cool my friend, I’m just gonna have to start a Hall of Fame for you, you know? (Both laugh.)
PB: God bless you, man.
Smitty: Wow, man, I love this record. You’ve got that guitar thumpin’, dude.
PB: Oh, wow, thank you. It’s a gas to hear my guitar with great people like Al Jarreau and Bobby Caldwell and Lina, and just to hear their distinct voices and have the guitar sort of on top of them is just a lot of fun to hear for me.
Smitty: Yes indeed, man. I said earlier, “He’s just in heaven with all these great musicians and singers.”
PB: Oh, yeah.
Smitty: You’ve produced so many top hits and worked with so many great musicians, and then you get to play with them and you get to hear them sing. Is it more rewarding to have that atmosphere of them in studio or ProTools, whatever, or is it producing them?
PB: I mean, it’s all good. I enjoy the process of it all and it doesn’t really matter whether I’m producing or writing or playing or engineering, whatever. It’s all part of the same thing, but playing is more fun certainly.
Smitty: Spoken like a true musician. Briefly walk through the process working with some of these great people.
PB: You know, the interplay…I mean, Al…I recorded his vocal first and then I put my guitar on. But with Bobby Caldwell we actually did it at the same time, which was a ball. So that’s really fun to do it that way, and I did it that way with David Benoit on the “R ‘n’ B Bump” song, we played it live, and with Boney [James], we did that together as well, so that’s really fun.
Smitty: Very cool. Now, you and Boney in particular have had a long relationship of working together in a musical sense, and does it get easier or does it just get harder because you’ve done it all?
PB: Well, I mean, with Boney we just have this like unspoken language between us that’s great and musically, when he plays and I play, there’s just a really cool thing that happens. He knows what I’m gonna play and I know what he’s gonna play, so we never really step on each other and we really complement each other in a nice way, but, no, it never gets tiring or old or anything like that. I mean, he’s just such a great player, but we did nine records together, over a hundred songs, and wrote probably 75 of those.
Smitty: Wow! That’s putting it in a really cool perspective.
PB: We’ve definitely gone down the road together there for the last few years.
Smitty: Yeah, so you cats have just developed this cool, symbiosis sort of relationship.
PB: Yeah, it’s really cool.
Smitty: Yeah, the results speak loudly. Now talk to me about these instruments that you’re so fond of. What did you use? How many guitars did you use on this project?
PB: Actually, I used three guitars: the L5 that I played on my first two records….I used that on half of it….and then on my last record on the song “Winelight” I used this other guitar, this Johnny Smith guitar, and I played that on four songs, and I played this Les Paul guitar that I had. I usually play an archtop guitar no matter what, but I used this Les Paul on the song “More or Les Paul” and when I played it, I listened to it back and when I tried my L5 and my Johnny Smith, it just didn’t have enough power for this track, and when I played the Les Paul on there, I listened to it back and I was afraid that it wasn’t a distinct enough sound that didn’t sound like me.…maybe it sounded like Jeff Golub or Chuck Loeb or someone like that, but everybody convinced me that the notes that I was playing still sounded like me, so I was okay with it.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Wow. Well, let’s get into some of these tracks, man. I mean, the title track featuring Jessy [Jessy J] is just incredible.
PB: She’s terrific.
Smitty: Yeah, Can’t wait for solo project.
PB: Yeah, man. It’s a good one.
Smitty: Getting back to your title track, “White Sand.” I mean, right away we hear that Paul Brown groove, you know? And it’s just got that “are you ready for this” kind of vibe.
PB: It’s just a real elegant kind of warm, inviting kind of a thing. When I first heard the track I was just like that just sets me up to wanna just lay back and just listen, you know?
PB: And that song….I don’t know if you’ve seen the cover of the album yet. But it’s a painting by this guy Andrea Razzautti, who’s this amazing Italian painter. He’s also a guitar player. I’ve been working with him on his music and some of his artwork just inspired me to write that particular song, and it’s kinda like a beach, a white sand beach with some palm shadows, and you see the ocean with white sand and it’s just a beautiful image, and so I sent him that song and he actually painted an original painting and that’s what’s on the cover of the album.
Smitty: Ah, now that’s feeling it, you know? That’s feeling the music.
PB: Yeah, and when you see the cover, you’ll see that it just goes with that song perfectly.
Smitty: Oh man, that’s too cool.
PB: And if you look at him online you’ll see his artwork. It’s incredible.
Smitty: I’ll do that. You know what else I like about this record….the progressive order of the songs; the first two tracks just blow you away and then you bring in Al [Jarreau], like you haven’t heard everything, you know.
Smitty: And what a voice. You know, Al is just….
PB: Talk about distinctive.
Smitty: Yeah, he’s just so one for the ages, you know?
PB: As soon as he starts singing, you know, it’s just like yeah, that’s Al Jarreau.
Smitty: True, and that’s my boy!
PB: One word.
Smitty: Exactly. There’s no two Al Jarreaus.
Smitty: And when I was listening to “Ol’ Skoolin’,” the Boney track, I call it.
PB: “Ol’ Skoolin’,” yeah.
Smitty: It was so reminiscent of some of the work you cats have done in the past, you know? It was like this should be….
PB: More like my song “24/7.” That’s what I was kind of aiming for.
Smitty: Yeah, yeah.
PB: And, well, yeah, it does sound like some of the old school Boney stuff that we did, yeah. It’s kind of a good time party kind of vibe, which is my favorite Boney stuff.
Smitty: Right, and it’s kinda cool to sort of reminisce with that and I said “You know? It’s so fitting that this track should be here, given your great history together.”
Smitty: And I just wanna say something about Lina and Jessy as well. Thank you for including some up and coming fresh new….
Smitty: .…voices and sounds because most musician will tell you that somewhere they got a break.
Smitty: .…somewhere they got an opportunity, and it’s so cool when you can give something back like that, so thanks for lookin’ out.
PB: Well, they’re both really, really good and Lina….it was funny because I had heard her actually on Smooth Jazz. They were playing one of her songs a couple of years ago and I was like, man, I really like that voice. It’s got Billie Holiday old school type of sound.
PB: And I was working with this DJ at my house and I was actually doing a remix of “24/7” and we were messing around and I mentioned to him that I really like this chick Lina. He said “Oh man, she’s a friend of mine. I’ll call her right now. She’d love to work with you.” I’m like “All right.” So he called her right on the spot, I got on the phone with her, and she’s like “Yeah, I wanna sing on your record.” So that track “Say A Little Prayer,” I really wanted to have this sort of Brazilian-y Smooth Jazz track but with that old school jazz flavor on top, so she was just perfect.
Smitty: Oh man, that’s so cool. That really mixes it up, you know?
Smitty: It just diversifies the whole vibe. I like that.
Smitty: Yeah man, you gotta have it. And you gotta talk to me about working with Lee Hershberg. That had to be a treat for ya to do this record.
PB: Well, he gave me my start in the business and he was actually married to my sister at the time that we were talking….30 years ago. He gave me my start as a kid in the studio and when he was married to my sister, I was in this band….he used to bring my band in the studio. I’m talking about when I was like 14, 15 years old.
PB: And so that was my kinda introduction to recording, you know, as an artist and he was just such a great guy, and then when I got married….at the time, I was a drummer, and in that band I was a drummer as well….and when I got married, I was making my living as a professional drummer and he called me and he said “Man, how are you gonna support your wife?”
PB: “Drumming. How else?” He goes “Forget it. Get down to the studio tomorrow.” And I started second engineering for him and then that was really my start in the studio and I just started bringing bands in, producing them and doing all that, so he really, really gave me my start, and he also introduced me to golf.
PB: He was with Warner Bros. for 35 years and he finally retired, but he’s still doing some mastering at home, so I just thought it would be great to work with him, and we still play golf all the time and we’re very close.
Smitty: Oh, that’s cool, man. So now when you went in the studios as a producer assistant….
Smitty: .…did you just throw the drums away or did you.…
PB: No, I still played a little bit and I had been playing guitar as well, but, you know, I was basically just drumming, I was doing studio work and bands and stuff.
PB: And I used to work with this English blues guy, Long John Baldry, for a few years, so I was doing what I thought was good, you know? I never thought I would really do anything else but that.
PB: And then I found a real comfort zone in the studio engineering and producing, and so I just kept doing it.
Smitty: Yeah, you’re in a sweet zone, my friend. Talk to me about Mr. Norman Brown, switching gears a little. He did Just Chillin’….
Smitty: .…when you produced that record and it was a Grammy hit.
Smitty: When you’re working with these great guys and young ladies, can you feel any touch of “Hey, I think this is the one” or is it just “This is a great track, I know we’re gonna get some radio play, and I know it’s gonna be really cool, the fans are gonna love it,” but do you ever feel something that says “I think this is the ‘G’ song or the ‘G’ record”?
PB: Almost every time.
Smitty: (Laughs.) You just nail it.
PB: Yeah, I mean, and there’s definitely the one that’s the obvious choice that you either spend a little more time with or just make sure that you’ve got everything you need, and then there’s other songs that are clearly album cuts that maybe you can be a little bit less critical with and just let them sort of be, so, I mean, there’s definitely those choices as you go along on a project, but it’s funny how when you have ten songs for a project and you start the project, certain songs, like “Oh yeah, this is gonna be the one,” then you get in the studio and the musicians play and “Now this one really sounds good.”
Then you get to the mixing stage and then you mix it, then you go “Ooh, I really like this mix. This song is the one,” you know? And then again in mastering when you hear it all together and you’re like “You know? I think I like this one.” So you gotta do what you think is right along the way, but usually the single jumps out. I mean, it was funny on my last record with “Winelight,” I never thought that was gonna be a single and it turned out that Paul Goldstein over at The Wave just started playing “Winelight.” The record company never asked him to or anything else, so he started playing it and he started to get phones ins on it and he just kept playing it and everybody just kinda followed suit and that was the number one song of the year last year.
Smitty: Wow, amazing. It sounds like Paul heard something special about the track and he was dead on!
PB: Sometimes you never know.
Smitty: Yeah, yeah, you don’t. That’s pretty cool. So now the street date for this record, White Sand was 27th of February?
PB: That’s right.
Smitty: That’s exciting! Yeah, and you’ve found a new home.
PB: Yeah, Peak Records.
Smitty: Yeah, you’re over there with some great people, Andi Howard, a good friend.
Smitty: And you’ve got some great musicians in your camp over there as well.
PB: Yeah, it’s like a little happy reunion. (Both laugh.) It’s great. Everybody seem to be very into it and they seem to have a lotta good ideas and keep my fingers crossed.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a great label and a lotta great people with some great visionaries over there, and you’re connected with Concord and all those people.
Smitty: And then you’ve got one of my good friends that is so talented, who’s on the record, by the way, David Benoit.
PB: Oh yeah.
Smitty: Yeah. He’s a golfer too, isn’t he?
PB: Um, you know, I don’t know if he golfs. If he does, he’s kept it a secret.
Smitty: Well, You’ve got two golfers over there, I know, and that’s Russ Freeman and Gerald Albright.
PB: That’s right. Gerald told me he’s a golfer and I’ve never golfed with either one of those guys.
PB: One of these days.
Smitty: Yeah, you guys may have to go on tour.
PB: Yeah, golf tournament coming up.
Smitty: (Laughs.) I’m totally diggin’ your new record, man, and the diverse flavor of it is as well. Bobby Caldwell, when you said that you laid down the track [Mercy, Mercy, Mercy] with him in the studio.
PB: That’s right.
Smitty: That’s a classic song, man. I know that when you’re doing a record and you’ve got a voice like Bobby Caldwell in the studio, it’s gotta be so much easier to do that track with a voice that just fits the record so well.
PB: Well, yeah, he certainly did that. I mean, it was funny ‘cause he was supposed to come that night after rehearsal and he called me and he said “Man, my voice is blown out, I can’t sing and I gotta leave tomorrow at ten o’clock in the morning” and blah-blah-blah. I said “Well, just come over in the morning.” So at 8:30 in the morning he showed up at my house and sang that down and basically just killed it the first time.
Smitty: Wow! Bobby’s got some serious pipes.
PB: It was the only time he had that we could do it so we did it, and I’m really grateful that he had the strength to come over in the morning like he said, and most guys would’ve been like “Nah, it’s not gonna happen.”
Smitty: Yeah, but those first takes are sweet, aren’t they?
PB: Yeah, I mean, he just, you know, first thing out of his mouth, “My baby….” Wow!
Smitty: (Laughs.) You didn’t need a cup o’ coffee after that, did ya?
PB: Oh man.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Well, I tell ya, man, I know there are some other great stories and you’ve got so much to look forward to with this record, like the previous two, and looks like this one’s gonna be a hit, too.
Smitty: Yeah, I really think so. You’ve got so much to pull from with this great record, and congratulations on the new deal with Peak and hopefully you’re gonna tour and share some of this live.
PB: Yeah, we’ve got some serious touring stuff coming up, so it’ll be great.
Smitty: Oh cool, man. Well, I look forward to catching you out there on the road and hearing this great record and looking forward to all the other great things you’re gonna be doing in 2007.
PB: Well, thank you for all your help.
Smitty: All right, Paul. We’ve been talking with Peak recording artist Mr. Paul Brown. He has a great new record released on February 27th. It’s called White Sand. It is a magnificent project with some great sounds, great tunes, and some fantastic musicians. Paul, thanks again, my friend, and here’s to another great year in 2007.
PB: Thanks so much.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.paulbrownjazz.com , www.peak-records.com and www.concordrecords.com
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