Ronnie Baker Brooks talks the blues

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110796603418768.jpg’, ‘Photo by James Thompson’, ‘Ronnie Baker Brooks performs at a Jan. 20 concert in Palatine, Ill.’);

Ronnie Baker Brooks is the son of the legendary blues player Lonnie Brooks. This is the first part of an interview conducted before a concert in Palatine, Ill., Jan. 20.

The Rock River Times (TRRT): I think most everyone knows how you got started in music and who your father is, so I’m going to skip over that for now and ask you some questions you haven’t been asked … hopefully.

You’ve come a long way since “Messin’ with the Kid” and “You Consider Baby,” the first two songs you wrote. What original tune do you enjoy performing the most?

Brooks: “Make These Blues Survive,” “Hit Me On The Hip,” “Take me Witcha.”

TRRT: Who/what inspired you to start writing songs?

Brooks: My father. I asked for a dollar, and he said, “You write a song and I’ll give you a dollar.” A short time later, I came back, “I need some money bada da da.” (laughs)

TRRT: Where does your inspiration for new songs come from?

Brooks: I use my life experience and that of those close to me as a basis for the songs I write.

TRRT: Do you keep a pad next to the bed and use your dreams as inspiration for writing?

Brooks: Yes, I keep a pad, and also carry a recorder in my briefcase when I’m on the road. You have to get those ideas down when they come, or they are gone.

I used to call my service and record thoughts for songs on the message recorder… . One time, the phone company changed my service and deleted all my songs and ideas!

Brooks still seems mildly annoyed by the loss, but one has the feeling that nothing upsets him for too long.

I had a dream recently…. I was walking onstage, and Stevie Ray Vaughan was there with Luther Allison. Stevie walks up to me and gives me a big hug and whispers something in my ear.

TRRT: What did he say?

Brooks: I can’t tell you that… It’s deep and not something I want to share.

TRRT: You’ve played with the best of the best including Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther Allison, Jimmy Wells and, of course, your father. What was going through your mind the first time you walked onstage with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan?

Brooks: You can’t fool these guys. They will let you know if you faking it and they let you know.

TRRT: Playing with these guys must have been the equivalent of a science major attending MIT with Einstein as the professor.

Brooks: When I was 22, I thought about going to college, and my father and I discussed it. He didn’t have the money, but said, “If you want to go … I’ll find a way to make it happen.” I spoke to the students, and, of course, they all knew who my father was. They said they would pay 10 times the college tuition to have an opportunity for an apprenticeship under Lonnie Brooks.

At that point the thought of continuing his musical education inside a classroom was shelved for good for Brooks. When you’re studying with Lonnie Brooks, Stevie Ray Vaghuan, Luther Allison and, Albert King, among others, who needs a classroom?

TRRT: When I listen to your music, I hear your father in some of the riffs, and then it changes. You add something that makes the sound your own. It’s almost as if you forced yourself to change your style so as not to duplicate your father’s. Is this analogy accurate?

Brooks: Yes, I incorporate all the influences of the people I listened to when I was learning to play. I took all those great players and blended them with me to obtain my own unique style.

TRRT: You have a way of touching the audience and making them feel they are part of your family. The first time I saw you play, it was in a small club. You really connected with the audience that night. Is it harder to touch people in a small venue or larger one?

Brooks: It really depends on the crowd. Some nights it’s easy to get them involved, and others I have to work harder to get them into it. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s a large or small venue.

Read the second part of this interview in next week’s issue.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!