Golden brown and 6 foot 2 inches Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of blues great Lonnie Brooks, is carrying on his father's legacy of presenting solid, hard-hitting, Chicago blues with that down home blues feelin'. Ronnie stepped on stage at 9 years old and today, some 23 plus years later, he's still standing tall in the blue light of the music business. The rays from his father's star may shine on Ronnie, but he's had to learn how to walk the walk on his own path. And as Ronnie says: "I might be Lonnie's son, alright, but I got to earn my place on my own. In this business, nothin' comes easy".
Jacquie: : 4: 33 or so in the Twin Cities and if I have all the right buttons pushed, we have Ronnie Baker Brooks on the line. Are you there Ronnie?
Ronnie: Hello, how are you doing?
Jacquie: : I'm doing just fine. How are you doing, young man?
Jacquie: : I have to move these buttons around a bit. I've got to confess, I always have my headphones up so loud, I always have to turn everything else down so I can get all the volumes right without that feedback squealin' thing goin' on. So, how are you doing, Mr. Brooks?
Ronnie: Pretty good...pretty good. Just trying to stay cool. It's pretty warm here in Chicago.
Jacquie: : It's kinda warm here in Minnesota too. But, we like it that way this time of year.
Ronnie: I know. We've had enough of winter.
Jacquie: : Hey-Hey....let's not even talk about the "W" word. So, how did your dad (Lonnie Brooks) feel about you leaving his band to start your own band.
Ronnie: It was kinda bittersweet, you know. We talked about it after I finished recording my first CD (a 1998 release called Golddigger on Watchdog Records). He said "Son, its time for you to go out there and make a name for yourself. You worked with me for 13 years...you did everything you can for me. Now, it's time to do somethin' for yourself." It was really a bittersweet thing. I really miss playing with my Dad, but I'm also having a ball playing on my own. We're hoping to come together sometime in the future and do something together....either record together or do some touring together. So, that will help out my missing him a lot.
Jacquie: : So, he's playing with his band in one group of places and you're playing with your band in another group of places...you guys never end up in the same place at the same time?
Ronnie: Well...very seldom. Actually, we're doing a show together next week here in the outskirts of Chicago at, like a family fest, and I'm opening up for Dad, then he comes on. But very seldom....maybe once or up to maybe three times a year....we might do something together.
Jacquie: : Well...the family that plays together stays together, huh?
Ronnie: Well, we're always together. We're a team. He's doing his thing and when people see me, they see him, so his name stays out there and when they see him......I hope they see me. We're just building it up and hopefully one day we'll come together and, you know, drop the bomb on 'em.
Jacquie: : Cool....so how many of you Brooks brothers are out there playing?
Ronnie: I got a younger brother, Wayne Baker Brooks...he's playing with my Dad now and then, he's doing his own thing, too. He just finished his first solo CD and it's slammin'....it sounds real good. They're gonna release that sometime this September. But basically, just me and Wayne are the only siblings that play music. We have a couple of my Dad's grandkids that's interested and we kinda schoolin 'em right now...preparing 'em for it. So maybe in the next five years they'll come out with their thing. I don't know......we'll see. But as of now, it's just me and Wayne.
Jacquie: : Just to remind my listeners, you are Rollin & Tumblin with me, Jacquie Maddix, "Lady J". On the telephone with us live from Chicago, we have Ronnie Baker Brooks on the line....guitar player, singer, songwriter and.......what else do you do out there, Ronnie?
Ronnie: Oh man, I'm doing it all right now (laughing). I produce a little bit....along with my producer, Jellybean Johnson...whose from there, Minneapolis. He kinda schooled me on how to make records and that's my partner there, too. We're a team also....he's part of the team. He's been helping me out a lot, just tremendously......showing me a lot of things and when I'm playing in the area and he's off with Morris Day & the Time, he comes out and plays with us. So, I'm trying to do some producing, and writing and arranging.....and, you know, just something to keep growing musically.
Jacquie: : For all the gear heads that are out there listening...the first thing that they want to know is what kind of guitars do you play and what kind of amplifiers?
Ronnie: I primarily play Fender strats. I got a couple of Gibsons guitars....like a 335 and I got a Les Paul SG....but I don't bring them out as much cause they kinda tender. They sound great...I use 'em in the studio, though. But on the road, they kinda tender whereas the strats.....they can take the beatin'. I primarily use those...the strats....and Fender amplifiers, pedal boards and stuff like that.
Jacquie: : I understand you've been doing this since you were 9 years old.
Ronnie: Nine years old was the first time I was on stage. Then I took a little break to play basketball.....(Ronnie and Jacquie laughing)
Jacquie: : Well....you got to be a little kid sometime......
Ronnie: Well, I wasn't going to be the next Jordan...I found that out quick!
Jacquie: : There's only one Michael Jordan......
Ronnie: Well, I just wanted to do music as a career.
Jacquie: : Well....set the stage for us. Here you are a 9 year old kid....only 9 years old...okay? And you're stepping out on stage to play with your Dad for the very first time. What do you see out there? Are you scared? What was going through your mind?
Ronnie: Initially, I was a nervous wreck. I had on....well, back in the day, we used to wear those mood rings...and I had on one of those mood rings, and it was turning all different kinds of colors...blue, orange....all colors. Finally....though...once I got up on stage I felt at home. The nervousness, everything.....was gone...I just felt comfortable. My Dad made sure that everything was set up right and it just felt natural being up there with him. Then, you know, when I came down off stage, it was like a circus. People were throwing money on stage......it was wild....they couldn't believe a kid could play. My Dad had to up hold up his hands to prove it wasn't him playing guitar. I didn't know back then how good I was, but my Dad saw it and he was...and still is....the type of person that don't force anything on you. If you want to do it, he'll support you one thousand percent, but he don't force it like the situations some kids of stars get forced into.
Jacquie: : Yea...you always hear about the stage parent that forces the kid up on stage whether they want to go or not or whether they've got the talent or not.
Ronnie: Exactly. But, that was the cool part about it, cause once I did decide I wanted to go play basketball and put the guitar down, my Dad supported me with that, as well. He took me to my games......he would play on a Friday night and come in at 3 or 4 O'Clock in the morning.....then get up and take me to my games at 8 O'Clock in the morning. And sit there through them. He's been very, very supportive to me and my career. I owe him everything.
Jacquie: : Did your Dad actually groom you to do this or did you just get it in your head at 9 years old that you wanted to play blues guitar?
Ronnie: At that age, I just wanted to be like my Dad. I used to see him around the house playing. And actually, my sister Denise...she used to play a little bit....and I'd see her playing and think "Well, man, I can do that. Let me try." And then, it was almost like a competitive thing between me and her and she quit. She totally gave it up and I continued on. My Dad showed me....he sat me on his lap. I would go around the house and mock Dad, entertain the family by doing my Dad's moves...(Ronnie laughin).....
Jacquie: : I bet he loved that, actually....
Ronnie: He ate it up. Then, when he left for Europe, he called me at the house and said if I learned two songs....well, see...I was sad that he had left and I was like "Dad, I wanna go, I wanna go". So, he was like...."Next time, if you learn two songs.....when I come back....you can come play with me." I learned Messin With The Kid by Junior Wells and Reconsider Baby by Lowell Fulson. And I played those two songs, and when he got home, he was shocked. He couldn't believe I learned them from beginning to end. He kept his word and took me on stage and that's where the bug hit me.
Jacquie: : So, what does your Mom think about all this?
Ronnie: My Mom is very proud. At first, she sent me on the road to watch Dad, you know(laughing). Then, when she saw me playing...she couldn't believe it. She was real shocked. Then, my brother came along, she sent him out there, too. She said: "You go, too". Next thing you know, Wayne was playing his butt off, as well.
Jacquie: : She got you boys out of the house, that's what she did! I'm gonna switch gears here a little bit and talk about Bernard Allison. Wayne's your brother and Denise is your sister, but it seems like you and Bernard are brothers, too.
Ronnie: Yea...me and Bernard come up together. I look to him as a brother. He's been very cool with me for years. He's an inspiration to me because....at the time when I did quit....he was playing with his Dad, Luther Allison. You see, coming up, I didn't have anyone that was listening to blues at that age. They were listening to.....whoever......it definitely wasn't blues. When I saw Bernard...and we was around the same age.....I related to him. His Dad played, he played, I played and my Dad played. We had a whole bunch of things in common. And he loved sports as well....we had a connection. I was like, "Man if I had of kept playing, I would have been much further." And Bernard was much, much further than I was at that time and it kind of inspired me
to get back into playing again. And it definitely gave me a shot in the arm to go back and start playing guitar again and take it seriously cause I had someone to relate to and ever since then, me and him been very, very good friends. I love that guy.
Jacquie: : I know...I can tell. I looked at the pictures on your website (www.ronniebakerbrooks.com), and it's apparent that you guys have a certain bond.
Ronnie: He's an excellent talent and I have a lot of respect for him and love him as a brother. Even if he didn't play guitar or anything, we have that special bond....coming from a blues family and some of the things we both have in common. I understand he's playing up there at Paisley for Prince this coming Tuesday, the 25th (Prince's Xenophobia June 21-26, 2002). I was hoping to get up there and hang out with him and see him jam with Prince.
Jacquie: : Speaking of blues family, your personal blues family kind of extends to more than just the Brooks family. You've been friends with, or as a child you grew up knowing the folks we call the "blues greats', like John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan.....the list goes on and on. How do you keep your ego in check?
Ronnie: Well....just hangin around them people will keep your ego in check for sure, if you got any kind of sense! (Ronnie laughing) I mean, I've been blessed to be around the masters,
Jacquie: ! From playing with my Dad to traveling around the world, I got to hang out with B.B. King...I just played with B.B. King this past Sunday in Traverse City, Michigan. I got a chance to talk with B.B. and hang out with him and I gave him my new DVD that I have out and my new CD, Take Me Witcha!(a 2001 release on WatchDog Records). And just to sit back and talk with those guys and pick their brains or get up and jam with 'em...it just rubs off. And if you're paying any kind of attention, something happens there...some kinda connection. I think that they can feel my love and respect for the music and what they do and for them as well. And I've been fortunate enough to be around those guys and record with some of them and play with them and sit around and pick their brains.
Jacquie: : So what I'm hearing you say is the greater the player, the lesser the ego.
Ronnie: Yea....I think so. I mean, you don't have to say anything to no one and people know. What may be good to you, may not be good to the next person. Like, some people might say Buddy Guy is the world's greatest guitar player. Well....maybe to me, John Lee Hooker is. That's just my taste. Not to take nothin' away from Buddy...Buddy's great. I love Buddy too. But different people have different taste. So, whose to say you're better than someone else. Also, there's definitely a thing to keep you on the ground when you got Lonnie Brooks as your father. (Laughing and verbalizing "umm-humm")
Jacquie: : (Giggling) Cause Daddy sure will keep you on the ground. So, would you recommend that the aspiring blues player....there's a few out there listening right now.....would you recommend that they start at the age that you and Bernard started, or should they wait until they've had more life experience?
Ronnie: They have to start when they feel it. There's got to be a hunger for it....a passion for it. You got to want it. And if that comes at the age of five, so be it. You may not realize it at that age, but if you feel like that's what you want to do, go and follow your dreams. You will know when it's something you want to do. You'll know for sure cause you'll love it with a passion and you can't put it down. That's how I've been ever since then. Luckily, I had my Dad around to give me direction. But then again, my Dad gave me that freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. I wouldn't be what I am today if I didn't want it. Yes, being Lonnie Brooks' son helps, but I have to get through the door myself. I'm not gonna ride on my Dad's coat-tails for that. Whatever I get, I'm gonna earn it.
Jacquie: : It wouldn't last no ways, cause you could only ride it so far.
Ronnie: Exactly! And I think talent will prevail. And if you believe that this is what you want to do, follow your dream. But you gotta work hard. Don't nothing come easy. Especially something you love to do and something you want. It's not gonna come easy, because if it comes easy....it goes easy. That's what I would suggest to the young folks that's listening out there.
Jacquie: : Got another question for you....kinda off the wall. As a blues DJ and blues fanatic...I guess you might call me.....it seems like through the years......the music itself, the blues.....has undergone a change. It's been hard and tough for a while, then it went to this more softer edge. And now it's moving back to that hard, tough, testosterone-based sound. Even the women....Debbie Davies, Susan Tedeschi, Sue Foley...they're all playing with that harder edge. Is it because it's the youngsters...like yourself....the young Turks...coming into the music that's making this sound so dominant? Or is that this whole business of a "cross-over" sound just doesn't matter as much as it used to cause everybody is just playing the same kinda thing?
Ronnie: It's probably a lot of all of that involved. I think you're hearing what's going on today. I think blues music is a reflection of whatever's going on at that time.....it's the facts of life, the true facts of life. If you're being real to the music, that's the way it's gonna be portrayed by you because of what's goin' on in the world or what's goin' on around you. I think then, with the young people coming in, a lot of the older people are like "Hey, I got to put my belt on a little tighter and "come wid it", cause these young guys are coming with it hungry and it's rejuvenating the blues, and rejuvenating a lot of the older people. But then again, there's different shades of blues....different kinds of blues. Just right now, I guess you could say that that hard edge is more pre-dominant because that's what people like to hear now. I don't know, but if you listen to my records, I have a variety of all that cause that's what I come up on. I have that hard "to-the-edge" blues, then I have the down home blues, then I got the blues with a neck-tie on it. I try to mix it up a little bit cause that's what I was raised up on...all styles. I mean, I even listened to Lightnin Hopkins at an early age and was feelin' it. I used to get
teased from my friends, you know. It would be "Man, what ARE you listenin to...."
Jacquie: …That slavery-time music.
Ronnie: Exactly. Well, now them same friends are trying to get free tickets to the shows. That's why you got to follow your heart and do what you want to do. That's another thing....do what you feel in your heart. Junior Wells told me this.....if you can't feel it, you can't make the people feel it. That's the bottom line. Now you can dress it up and be cool and be slick because that's the hip thing to do now, but it won't be authentic cause people can tell if you're not serious. People can feel it when you're "coming with it". And I think even more so today, now, after what's going on in the world, you got to come with it to get people's attention.
Jacquie: : People are way more sophisticated now than they used to be and they know the real deal when they see it and when they hear it.
Ronnie: And these kids coming up behind me are playing. They got some younger than me that's just chillin' out there....I mean really playing the blues and I think that's great for the music. Because you get the kids involved, you bring in a wider audience to the music and I think that's what we need.
Jacquie: : What about this new trend that's starting to mix world music together with blues, like Taj Mahal does?
Ronnie: It's all good,
Jacquie: . You know why you can do that....because the blues is the basis of all music.
Jacquie: : That's what I wanted to hear you say!
Ronnie: It is! If you dissect every song, you can hear the blues in there. Either the feel of it or some kind of thing technically...it's got the blues "5" to it. It's the basis of all music.
Jacquie: : So when're you bringin' your "basis of all music" back here to the Twin Cities?
Ronnie: I'm trying to get back there in October of this year (2002). Got a couple things in the air. But, I know I'll be back on Friday, July 19th at the Whiskey Junction in Minneapolis on Cedar Street.
Jacquie: : You've got one more Minnesota connection, too. Not just Jellybean Johnson, but Dave "Biscuit" Miller, too.
Ronnie: Yea....Biscuit....he's living down here now. He used to live there but he's here now. He's originally from Chicago, but I met Biscuit years ago at the Blues Saloon in St. Paul. He always wanted to be in a traveling band, and then one time we needed a bass player in a pinch and he drove down....took that 7 hour drive (to Chicago)......made
the gig and ever since then, he's been in the Lonnie Brooks Band. So, he's part of the family.
Jacquie: : Next time you see Biscuit, tell him
Jacquie: said hi.
Ronnie: I sure will. And you tell Big Walter Smith I said hi, too. He might just be listening.....
Jacquie: : I'll be sure to tell him. I think he's listening...I know for sure his wife Shirley is.
Ronnie: Tell them both I said hi. I love those guys. They're sweet people.
Jacquie: : I believe Walter has chosen a couple of your songs for a CD project.
Ronnie: That's what he told me when I was last up there. I would love to hear him do that!
Jacquie: : I really love "Take Me Witcha" (Title track from Watchdog release Take Me Witcha)
Ronnie: That's the one B.B. King says he likes. I really had a ball recording that. You know, I recorded that album with some guys from Minneapolis....Michael Bland, Lloyd "Sonny" Thompson and Stanley "Chance" Howard. Those guys used to play with Prince. And because of Jellybean's relationship with them, I had a chance to have them record with me. I'm real proud of the record and of the DVD. I just try to do things I'm proud of and feel comfortable releasing. Hopefully, the people will like it too.
Jacquie: : The gentlemen you were here with at the Minnesota Music Café (June 8, 2002)...the band....will they be back with you in July?
Ronnie: Oh, yea....that's my traveling band. They're with me all the time. When you see me, they're there.
Jacquie: : Monster bass player......he's just this thin guy, but when he picks up the bass, all this sound comes out.
Ronnie: Vic Jackson...and Daryl Coutts plays keyboard, and the newest member...Mo Taylor on drums. Just a four piece....or a five piece when Jellybean Johnson comes around. But normally, we're just a four-piece and I'm real proud of the guys. We got a family atmosphere. You know, I made two goals when I left Dad's band. To make the blues survive and to take it to another level....to take the Lonnie Brooks legacy to the next level. And those guys definitely fit into those goals. They're definitely on the same page with me. I just try to take care of them....keep 'em motivated and have fun together....and make good music!
Jacquie: : Thank you for the interview, Ronnie!
Ronnie: Thanks for having me....I'm looking forward to coming back there in July and hopefully, we can do this again.
Jacquie: : Right on! Maybe then, we can get you live in the studio.
Ronnie: It's a deal. Peace!
Closing the interview with "Baby Please (Come Back Home)", a Ronnie Baker Brooks original track from the 1998 release Golddigger, on WatchDog Records. Ronnie's next appearance in the Twin Cities will be at the Whiskey Junction on July 19th, 2002. Check out the website at: www.ronniebakerbrooks.com.
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order Ronnie's first CD NOW!
This interview is copyright © 2002 by Jacquie "Lady J" Maddix, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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