THE BLUESMEN, NOT THE SUITS
When a child goes into the same business that
a parent has made a career out of, pressure is added that the child will succeed and
comparisons to the parent are imminent. In the blues world, you have families like the
Copelands, the Kings, the Kinseys and the Neals. At the home of blues great Lonnie Brooks,
he has two boys that are stepping out of his cowboy hat-wearing shadow. Ronnie Baker
Brooks, 32, and Wayne Baker Brooks, 29, are two young men with projects separate from what
Poppa Brooks, 65, is doing.
Ronnie has just released his debut solo album
on Watchdog Records called GOLDDIGGER. Younger brother Wayne jus co-authored his first
book, BLUES FOR DUMMIES. He is also shopping around to record labels for his own music.
If you've ever seen Lonnie Brooks perform
live, its a regular blues family affair. Both boys became an intricate part of
Lonnie's show. As a band warm-up, Wayne was on rhythm guitar while Ronnie soloed and sang
three songs. When Lonnie was ready, Wayne stepped down and took over backstage as
One of the best highlights from a Lonnie
Brooks show was seeing father and sons arms all wrapped around each other while
soloing at the same time.
Seeing Lonnie, Ronnie and Wayne perform
together is a lot like seeing this trio at home, which is where the Brooks brothers got
their first musical taste.
Wayne said he first performed with his
brother and father at age 5, Ronnie was 8.
"My dad used to write songs while we
were little. He would come up with an idea and when he couldn't finish it off, Ronnie
would play the bass line and I would play the drums with boxes and spoons," Wayne
said. While Wayne didn't play music until his teens, the environment was still there.
" I always knew about the blues,
always loved the blues because dad would play it all night long. He would play other
stuff, like Bobby Bland, Albert King and Chuck Berry. It would be around the house. Me and
Ronnie would listen to it and laugh and go 'Listen to that lyric.' I never thought about
playing music seriously until I was 19," he said.
Ronnie said he first got the bit of the
music bug was on his ninth birthday (1975) when he saw his father perform for the first
time. By this time, young Ronnie was tugging on Lonnie's arm and saying "Daddy,
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy..."
"He was touring Europe prior to my
birthday. He used to call home and I would say 'Daddy, I want to play with you.' He told
me 'if you learn two songs, you can,"' Ronnie said.
"I was gettin' rid of him,"
Lonnie joked. "When I came back he had it."
By the time Lonnie returned home, Ronnie
learned "Messin'With The Kid, "and "Reconsider Baby" on the guitar.
This earned the 9 year-old a trip to the stage of Peppers. Lonnie said his son made one
heck of a debut.
"Even if a kid can't play, if he's
got the nerve to get up on stage and everybody wanted to see it. They threw $90 that night
and I wasn't gettin' $50 to play. He made $40 more than I made," Lonnie said.
By the time Ronnie hit his teens, his
interests went from music to basketball. He became a hoop star for Hale Franciscan High
"I didn't realize at the time that I
had hurt my father. He was hurting, but he was supportive. He would come to my games every
Friday night. I almost went to college on a basketball scholarship. I chose the College of
Hard Knocks and to play the blues with my dad. It was like going to school watching him
work. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't go through that with him," Ronnie
Ronnie joined Lonnie's band in 1986 and
made his recording debut on his father's LIVE FROM CHICAGO (Alligator, 1988) on rhythm
"It was fun. We had some magical
moments. Doing that recording in front of everyone live really pumped up the audience. I
want to do a live album myself and get the same energy," Ronnie said.
Lonnie said having both boys on the road
was just like being home.
"When both of them started travelling
it felt like I was at home. It was rough doing one-nighters at first, but when we had a
night off or two, we'd stay in the hotel room and play cards or start rehearsing together,
writing songs. Even on stage it felt like we were in our basement rehearsing," Lonnie
Ronnie also played rhythm guitar, provided
solos on two songs from SATISFACTION GUARANTEED (1991) along with co-writing and singing a
duet with Lonnie on "Like Father, Like Son." On ROADHOUSE RULES (1996) he played
rhythm and wrote "Hoodoo She Do."
Ronnie formed his own band in 1992 and was
juggling his time with Lonnie's band while making a name for himself.
Ronnie went into the studio in January of
1998 to record GOLDDIGGER. "We did 16 tracks in 12 days. I was working my butt off,
but I enjoyed it," he said.
Lonnie knew that Ronnie's departure was
inevitable, although it brought on mixed feelings.
"He said 'You got to make a name for
yourself.' It came to a point where I wanted to do a bit more and had to work around his
schedule. People wanted a notice of three months, but I didn't know what Dad's schedule
was. He also told me, You can always come back home.' I was worried about leaving
him. I've always been loyal to my father," Ronnie said.
New Year's Eve 1998 at Buddy Guy's Legends
was Ronnie's swan song from his poppa's band. Lonnie's Jan. 8 gig at Founders Hill in
Downers Grove was his first gig without Ronnie.
"I knew he was leaving, but it didn't
feel like he was leaving," Lonnie said at Founders Hill. "I know he's not there.
It still hasn't sunk in that he's gone. I got so used to him taking care of all the
business. He'd get the money and pay off the band. He took care of everything on the road
and I know Wayne will do the same."
Wayne, sounding like a supportive brother
than a rival, said his older brother should have and could have gone solo sooner.
"He should have been gone at least
five years ago. He could have stood on his own on the stage anywhere. He just loved
playing with my dad so much. I had to wait, but I got to do my thing. Everyone knew what
was on everyone's mind. We just made the best out of everything," Wayne said.
Regardless of Wayne's brutal honesty, he
loves his older brother's solo debut. "He showed a lot of himself on this album. He
can make a song go to another place. He's doing a great job and opening a new avenue for a
lot of guitar players. So many people were afraid to what he's doing because they're
afraid of being categorized. Ronnie just said, 'I'm going to be me. I gonna what what I'm
gonna do and I hope y'all like if and a lot of people are liking it," Wayne said.
Since January, Ronnie has been hitting the
road to promote GOLDDIGGER. He recently celebrated his 32nd birthday with three hot shows
in the Chicago suburbs; Jim Shooze in Chicago Heights, Beale Street Blues Cafe in Palatine
and Chord on Blues in St. Charles (reviewed in this issue of FVBS Blues News).
While audiences have been screaming in
approval over his solo debut, two of Ronnie's toughest critics gave the album much praise.
"I think if s a good album and its well produced. He did it himself. He didn't
try to be like the others and he stayed closer to the blues," Lonnie said.
Wayne said the idea of writing DUMMIES
came after spending a long 1996 Chicago Blues Festival (Where Lonnie headlined) with
"We woke up one morning and I said
'Man, I would love to write a book about all this.' Both of my friends looked at each
other and went 'Yea.' One of my friends happened to work at IDG (Books Worldwide). The
light bulbs went off, I took it to IDG and they said 'Let's do it.'
When IDG said the book needed the
perspective of a blues legend, Wayne knew just who to call. One simple call home. "I
said that I know a blues legend (smiles). The hardest part was finding the music
historian. The first time I saw Cub (Koda, co-author), I knew he was the one. He was fun,
and that what the whole thing should be about. An education and having fun with it. Me,
Dad and Cub got together for one week on the road. We brainstormed and then we all went
our separate ways and then wrote the book," Wayne said.
Wayne said he spent close to 7,500 hours of
Internet and library research. After brainstorming with Koda, he wrote seven chapters in a
week. He also got to interview legends like Robert Cray, Syl Johnson, John Lee Hooker and
B. B. King. Wayne said it felt funny being on the other end of the interview.
"I've always been interviewed. To get
into that writer's mind frame and to love the blues so much, I was so nervous talking to
these guys because I idolized them," he said.
Wayne formed his own band, a septet including
horns, in 1998. He's been shopping around his own recordings, but had to put his search on
hold to be in Lonnie's band. Like Ronnie was doing in Lonnie's band, Wayne will juggle his
own band with the family business.
"I wanted to make sure that Dad was
comfortable first," Wayne said. Wayne said one of his goals is to do a cover of one
of his dad's songs on every album. "I want to do what Bernard (Allison) is doing and
putting one song of his dad's on every album," he said.
Wayne said he's happy to keep the blues alive
in two methods, with his guitar and his computer. "I want to able to spread the news
further than I could with my guitar. I may not be able to get my band into 30 different
countries, or be able to translate my guitar into 30 different languages. I never imagined
this book would go into 30 different countries," Wayne said.
Lonnie said his contribution to BLUES FOR
DUMMIES was tales of blues past and the people he met and were influenced by. Even with
the years of experience, Lonnie said Wayne holds up his own blues knowledge academically.
"Wayne knows more about the blues better than I do. He reads a lot. His head is
always in a book. The only thing I could talk about were the experiences that I had and
the people that I met in my life, which were probably the people he was reading about. He
knows some things that I don't know," Lonnie said.
Don't think of Ronnie's departure as a
"never again" situation. The elder Brooks and the Baker Brooks boys are planning
to record a trio acoustic album. "It was supposed to be recorded last year, but we're
going to do it this year. That will be something to talk about," Lonnie said.
"It will be like being at home, but on a CD," Wayne said.
BLUES FOR DUMMIES is available in bookstores.
GOLDDIGGER is available at