Wayne Baker Brooks had both heredity and environment working in his favor. The son of renowned Chicago bluesman, Lonnie Brooks, Wayne grew up surrounded by some of the most famous blues players in the Windy City. His older brother, Ronnie Baker Brooks is already carving out a name for himself and based on his recent performance in the Twin Cities, Wayne won’t be too far behind. For the past year Wayne has been leading his father’s band whenever they tour, taking over the spot from Ronnie when he left to hit out on his own. This exposure has helped Wayne gain additional road experience and prime him for the job of leading his own band. This interview took place over the phone prior to his recent debut show in the Twin Cities. See the end of this interview for a link to Wayne's live review.
Ray: You have a new book called Blues For Dummies, how did that book come about and how is it doing?
Wayne: I was hanging out at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1996 and some friends of mine were in town from Cleveland and they introduced me to some friends of theirs from here. We were having so much fun, I said man I would love to write a book about this. Light bulbs went off, the friend of my friend who lives here worked with IDG Books (…for Dummies Books) and we brainstormed on it and it went from there. It's doing pretty good, its been out here in the states since September, so its been about a year and 3 months. Cub Coda is a part of it, and my dad is a co-author, B.B. King did the afterward, we had to give a King the last word. Aykroyd did the forward, I did an interview with John Lee Hooker about how they would party back in the early days. They would throw a rent party, so basically what they would do, whoever was down and out on their rent they would throw a party for them and charge at the door and John Lee Hooker would play for them. Sometimes he would play to pay his rent. I interviewed Robert Cray about what his ideal party would be. Its a lot of fun stuff. The book, "Blues for Dummies," some people take if in the wrong way, like "I ain't no dummy." But its all positive, its about fun. What we wanted to do with that is show how blues can be fun. People have the wrong perception of blues. You know blues is the healer man, blues music helps you get over whatever your blues is. A lot of people don't know that, so we tried to make it as positive and as fun as possible. Take all of the positive stuff and all of the fun stuff out of the blues and put it into this one book. It did very well here in the states and we plan on selling a lot more. It was just released in German in October and its doing very well over there. They translated it into Italian and Dutch and so on and so on. Its translated into 38 different languages now, its all over the world. Its spreading the blues world wide. A CD comes with it too, of all the blues classics. If you want to turn somebody on to the blues its perfect. We talk about blues on-line, we talk about different guitars, what guitars are great for blues, what amplifiers, what microphones. We go heavily into the bios, we start from the 1900's and on up. It was a lot of work but it was a lot of fun to do too. The CD part of it--we all sat down my ourselves and wrote down 16 of our favorite classic songs and 12 of them were the same between all three of us. So we put 12 of them on that CD. The original recordings. We even go into the records we wish we could afford, like collector items. Like Robert Johnson stuff. A whole lot more stuff, there is so much information on blues man, its needed. Its targeted to everyone. Its a lot of information that even blues lovers don't know. And is a great starting point for somebody who wants to know about blues. I am happy to be a part of it. Being able to turn on so many people world wide is a dream for me. I figure if I can't do it right now with my guitar and a CD I can do it some other way. And this is the way man, I can't say much about it, its just great to have if you want to turn somebody on to the blues.
Ray: You grew up in a musical family (Lonnie Brooks), what was it like growing up having your father being a blues musician and being around music all your life.
Wayne: Actually we lived not so comfortable, 'cause Dad didn't work and all he did was music. He tried to get gigs when he could and also hustle some pool. As far as the musical aspect, man, just being around that was something. We used to help him write songs. I used to play along with pots and pans, sometimes boxes and spoons, and Ronnie played bass and Dad told us to play a certain pattern and he'd write songs. That was my first musical experience, Dad sitting us around him and telling us to play a beat for him while he wrote. I was about 5 and Ronnie was learning bass and guitar. (Ronnie was born in 1967 and Wayne in 1970.) Just knowing that my dad can play (was fun), he would like make up songs during Christmas and make us have so much fun with his guitar. Have us laughing, playing around, jumping around acting like him. I used to have this broom stick and jump around the house like I was Daddy.
Lonnie came to Chicago in 1959 and that's when he met my mom. He used to live with Sam Cooke. He toured on a caravan with Sam under the name of Guitar Junior. He came with Sam to Chicago wanting to play the blues. Sam was living here with his mother and his brother and he offered my dad to live with them for about 6 months. After that he would frequent the clubs all the time, go see Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Howlin' Wolf and all them cats. Eventually he met my mom and he had us. He would do odd jobs, die casting plants, working at night. During that time we would go to school, he would be playing guitar and writing songs. We'd come back home and he'd still be doing the same thing. We'd go to sleep and he'd be playing, we would wake up and he'd be playin' man so it was like 24 hours of music for us man. (Ronnie and Wayne are the only siblings in the family who play.)
Ray: So you started out beating the drums on pots and pans, how did you progress to the guitar?
Wayne: I used to act like I was my dad, and it would tickle my mom, but I went through school (just doing) the regular things, played basketball and chased girls (laughed). But when I graduated I started going out with my Dad as a roadie. I was trying to seriously learn the drums but it didn't feel comfortable. I give high respect to drummers man, because it's a lot of stuff that you have to do, first you have to keep time, you have to keep great time. It just didn't feel right. After about 2 years roadieing for my Dad I started messing around with the guitar. I would ask my Dad to show me a few things. It progressed to where I started learning on my own. Basically, when I was on the road with Dad, I would practice 18 hours a day (when I turned 20 that's when I started playin'). I would find a song that I wanted to learn and I would play it and play it and play it. I would rewind it until I get that one part then move on. Then when I turned 21 that's when I played my first song on stage with my Dad. "Sweet Home Chicago," that's the first song I ever played. My dad called me up here in Chicago at Fitsgerald's. I was smiling ear to ear man. That rush, man , when he called me I was so nervous I didn't want to go up. He saw that I was learning so fast. Each time he would call me up, I'd be so nervous and I'd say no. But this time I just took me a drink of beer and got up there and when the people started screaming for what I did I got this rush. That rush man, I knew right then and there that this is what I'm gonna being doing for the rest of my life (that was in 1991).
Ray: How was it having Lonnie as a teacher…or inspiration
Wayne: At first he didn't want me playing because he saw how hard it was for him coming up. He was watching Ronnie, how he was growing, it was being hard for him too. He kind of wanted me to go to school. But I had made my mind up, I said man I want to play guitar and I'm serious about it. He sat me down and showed my two licks. The first lick he said do this. And then I did it. And then he said well DO THIS? And then I did it. He said man you got the feel for it. He should not have said that if he didn't want me to play the guitar. Because after that I was like, alright I'm learning this man. That's when I dedicated myself. All I did was roadie for him so I didn't have anything else to do during the day, so I would practice 18 hours a day man. I mean I was really serious about playing.
Ray: You toured with the Lone Star Shootout show this past year (with Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter and Phillip Walker).
Wayne: Yes and more gigs coming up. Bruce (Alligator Records president) suggested they use Dad's band, because it was a tight knit family type of thing. And it worked out pretty cool. He let me do a number up front, and call up all the artists. It was a great experience for me man. The first thing I did for Alligator was in, I think 1996 was the 25th Anniversary tour over in Europe. We did about 3 weeks over there and I played rhythm guitar for Kenny Neal. That right there was an experience that let me know I was on the right track. That was the biggest step I made as far as becoming guitar player. Until then I was only known as Dad's roadie, his guitar tech. Nobody took me serious as a guitar player until Kenny asked me, I've seen you play man, I want you to play rhythm guitar with me. So I Started playing and eventually it led into me getting my own band after that. I was so pumped up. I felt like I had achieved something. It just helped me grow. I continue to play in Dad's band. Ronnie was the rhythm guitar player and I'd play with Ronnie the first couple of songs before we bring Dad up. Eventually it led into solos and me actually singing a song before Dad comes up. We played Buddy Guy's Legends last New Year's (this year too, 2000). Ronnie left after that gig and I took over the spot as the rhythm guitar player. I've been Dad's rhythm guitar layer since January 1999.
Ray: You play in your own band too?
Wayne: When Dad has time off I go out with my own band. Sometimes I would open for him too. When he's off I'm trying to work as much as possible. I have a five piece, sometimes I will go out with bass, drums, keyboards and rhythm guitar (and myself). Then I would have the horn section (saxophone, trombone and trumpet). We play blues and I kind of venture off into a little blues rock but its my own style, nothing like Texas blues rock. I do a bunch of originals and I love to play low down blues, like slow blues and shuffles. Most of my stuff is much different than the standard blues. But I do write slow blues and shuffle stuff too.
Ray: Do you find your writing comes easy?
Wayne: I do a lot of writing man. Sometimes I will write a song in five minutes. And I'm still writing songs that I started on five years ago. Different feels. Sometimes I come up with a line or phrase and I'll fill it right then and there and I'll change it around and then it turns into something else and then five years later I'm still trying to change it around. But some songs, like most of the songs that I perform on stage is the stuff that really came easy to me.
Ray: Did your Dad ever give you credit for any of those songs you and Ronnie helped him out with when you were five years old (when he had you beating on the pots and pans)?
Wayne: (Laughs.) No, but we (Wayne, Lonnie and Ronnie) are writing songs for an acoustic album we are supposed to be doing soon.
Ray: On Alligator?
Wayne: It's supposed to be on Alligator. I would like it to be on Alligator. But first we just got to pump out these songs and then we're going to give it to Bruce (Iglauer, owner of Alligator) and see what he thinks.
Ray: Anything in the works for you doing your own album?
Wayne: Well I'm still trying to wait for the smoke to clear man. You know Dad came out with Roadhouse and the Deluxe edition and Shoot Out and Ronnie came out with his album. I don't want to put out one while the rest of my family is putting out stuff so people will be undecided on who to get. But I am focused on recording. I do want to record with a label that knows what they are doing. I don't want to just jump out there with any record company. I can do that but I want to make sure that when I do record, its with a plan, I want to make sure they get my name out there like my Dad's name, like Buddy's name. I just want to make sure its done right before I do it. So I'm kind of like sittin' on my songs. If I have to I will do it on my own. Right now that's what I'm focused on doing, doing it on my own and hopefully somebody will pick it up, if not, then I will just put it out on my own label.
Ray: What types of music did you listen to and were influenced by when you were growing up?
Wayne: I remember my dad he would listen to a lot of stuff and he would always be the first to get the new Muddy Waters album or single. I remember listening to some Albert King, Bobby Bland, Chuck Berry, Magic Sam. When dad was away, Ronnie and I used to put his albums on all the time. He always told us not to mess with his stuff (laughs). We would throw his albums on man, and play them and we'd sit up there and listen to the lyrics. Like the songs on Blues Deluxe, we'd play them like silly man because we loved it. Actually we were there when they recorded that at the Chicago Fest with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, Mighty Joe Young and Dad. It was a real treat for us because we were there. We'd play a lot of stuff man, and as soon as dad would get back we'd put it up real quick (laughs).
Ray: Who do you see your guitar style influenced by?
Wayne: Well of course my dad, you know being around him. Style, I love BB King, Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy is like my favorite now. I always knew Buddy, I always liked Buddy. You know when I was a kid my dad would do shows with Buddy and Junior and Koko. I remember the first time I saw Buddy, he and Junior used to open up for my dad. Before dad would go on, Buddy and Junior would be up there just killin' man. I go to dad and I say man, who is that guitar player, who is that crazy man on that guitar (laughs). And he goes, that's Buddy Guy. I say, I like him. And he say, yeah, that's Mr. Buddy Guy, you don't like my music? I said, I love your music daddy but I like him (laughs). Eventually I got into B.B. and Albert King. I love Albert King stuff. I do a lot Albert Kink, like "Born Under a Bad Sign," "I'll Play the Blues For You." I like Freddie King's style a lot. He was just so aggressive on his guitar. He'd send chills through me when I listen to him, every time.
Ray: Did you get to play with any of these people?
Wayne: Yeah, I got to jam with Buddy. Actually I still go down to Buddy's and play the jam on Monday nights. I was up there jamming one night, playin' some slow blues, I had my eyes closed just playin'. When I hear the people cheering and I thought they were cheering for me (laughs) and I looked up and here he was walking on stage. Man, I was like, this was like a dream man. I looked at him and he was like, no man go ahead on, just go ahead and play, I'm just going to sing. And he started to sing some Muddy Waters and he would grab the guitar from the rhythm guitar player and start to play a couple of riffs and give it back and start singing again. A few times I jammed with Buddy man, a lot on his shows, he would do a lot of shows in January and he'd call me up and I'd start playin' and we'd start trading licks and shit (laughs). It was fun man, he would always have fun with me and I would always have fun with him. Other than that I'd jammed with John Mayall, Jonny Lang, he and I jammed a lot down in Memphis when both he and dad were recording at the same time. I got so frustrated watching them record, so I was like, man I'm going down to Beale Street. So I would take the van and go down to Beale Street, sneak down there really, because I was supposed to be in there working. I would go down there and jam with Little Jimmy King at Blues City Café and Jonny Lang was down there and we got to jam together. Jonny called me up on stage here in Chicago and we ended up jamming. Actually I just played for the First Lady man, in October. They called me to play for her when she was in Chicago. A lot of stars were in the audience and they asked me to ask them to come up and I said, hell yeah no problem. So I asked Koko and I asked her what song you want to do and she said, Wang Dang and Bo Diddley was there and I asked him what he wanted to do and he said just do the Bo Diddley beat man. My dad was there and I brought him up on stage. (this was for the National Landmarks, Chess Records was one of the national landmarks). I gave her one of my books and she loved it. I got the chance to jam with Bo Diddley for the first time. I jammed with just about everybody here in Chicago at one time or another. Eddie C. Campbell, I played with him at his anniversary at Legend's. Joe Louis Walker, lot of people, man. Steve Miller, I jammed in his mobile home, we did a show together in Atlanta and before he went up I was hanging out with him, he showed me all his guitars, he has like 200 guitars man and he took me into this little room with all these guitars on stage. He was like man, look at this guitar, and we took one of his guitar into his mobile home and we started jammin' man and he said hey, I like your feel. I said man, I LOVE your shit (laughs).
Ray: When you were touring the Long Star Shootout this past summer, what was that like with those three?
Wayne: Incredible man, it was like going to school. I'm learning so much from them, the Texas style. Just sittin' up there watchin' them and watching how they go about stuff. It's incredible for me man, like I said its just like going to school. Phillip (Walker) shocked me man. I used to listen to his stuff a long time ago but I really didn't get it until the rehearsal of the Lone Star Shootout. We had to go through it and I was like, man this dude can really play his ass off, he is SO underrated. We have more shows to do with them and I'm totally looking forward to that. We will be doing more shows this year, some of the festivals. The biggest thrill for me is like opening up for them cats man, they sit up there and let me do an original and they complement me--that's like a dream. The same people are going to be on our shows this year, people like Kazanoff. That is one hot show man!
Wayne: I got a chance to jam with Luther man. That was 1996. He lived over in Paris and I was supposed to move over there to play rhythm guitar with him. We went over there during the Alligator 25th Anniversary tour, and he came to jam with us in Paris. He asked me then and there, man I want you to come and move over here and be my rhythm guitar player because I don't have a rhythm guitar player, I have the horns playin' the rhythm guitar player parts. I said, man I would love to do this.
Ray: Didn't he move back here right after that?
Wayne: Actually he already had a place here, he and his girlfriend Rocky had a place outside of Madison, someplace in Wisconsin. He would go back and forth. When he toured a lot over in the U.S. he would stay there. But when he went back to tour in Europe he would live in Paris.
Ray: So he was using Solberg's band when he was touring here…
Wayne: Right, and he had another band there. But they worked it out somehow so Solberg's band could over there (Europe) for a couple of weeks and do some of those shows, but when they were here, somewhere near Chicago he invited me down to play with them to actually see if I can work out. I was so nervous man. You know how Luther was he would play forever. The show is scheduled for 2 sets, he did one hour and he took a break and then he said I'm going to get you up on the second set. He was scheduled to do 2 hours, so after like 2 and a half hours of the second set I was like man I am going to p**s on myself (laughs) I was so nervous. He finally called my up and we did "Give Me Back My Wig" and boy we just took off. We did some slow blues and we started tradin' licks and the crowd started standing on their chairs and were screamin' and yellin' man. Boy, I never had that type of an experience before, it was incredible. I never had a chance to do that with my dad and doing that with him it just makes me…, I wanted to cry that night. It was just so incredible that night, the energy in that whole place was unbelievable.
Ray: That was in '96's so you never joined him in Europe?
Wayne: Yeah, he was just started touring a lot here in the states. Solberg was his main rhythm guitar player so I had wait until he would go back over to Europe. He didn't get a chance to go back over to Europe, so by the time he found out he was sick, he had cancelled a bunch of shows so it never came through.
Ray: He played his last show here (at the Minnesota Zoo).
Wayne: That was something I will never forget. I'll take that to my grave.
Wayne: There is a Guitar Player interview coming out in March on Dad, Ronnie and me and other blues families. So it's a big blues feature. Blues don't get that much in Guitar magazine so its great for all of us to get that exposure.
Read the live review.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.