All-Star Blues Bash featuring Bobby Rush, Joe Louis Walker, Wayne Baker Brooks & Shawn Holt, Friday, February 12th, at the Kalamazoo State Theater
By: Nick Hatzinikolis
As a parent, we have let our daughters loose in the kitchen loose with a wooden spoon and an upside down pot, letting our young ones entertain themselves by “making music” with a pot and a wooden spoon, over and over again.
The same thing happened to a very young Wayne Baker Brooks. With the youngest of the Baker brothers, it actually did result in his catching the music bug – in a very big way.
For Wayne Baker Brooks, those impromptu house jams in the dining room with kitchen utensils had a little more meaning to them. They were song-writing sessions with his dad, Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks.
SMASH magazine spent some time talking to Wayne Baker Brooks about the blues, his famous family and life as an artist and bandleader.
Wayne starts out by saying “Growing up, we would help dad write songs. Those were really my first lessons in song-writing – those times helping him, I would be beating on a box or pots and pans with forks and knifes, I was playing the drums. My brother Ronnie, who is a few years older than me, would be playing the bass lines on a guitar. Dad would sit there and say, oh yeah, keep that groove right there. Don’t move it. And he’d and we would be thinking up lyrics as we played. So really, that was my very first songwriting class, and I didn’t know it at the time.”
Wayne Baker Brooks chuckled when we talked about those earliest of memories that he has as a child. He remembers those days as a bit different than the traditional Chicago blues path that his dad is famous for. Wayne Baker Brooks says that’s part of the plan.
“I could do an all blues album, and probably get a lot of recognition for it just in the blues community. And I’m cool with that,” he said. “But I’m influenced by a lot of other music outside of the blues. I grew up on everything from the blues to artists like George Clinton, to Run DMC.
“My dad introduced us to a lot of blues as young kids. I don’t know how to read music and I don’t know how to write music, except from the heart. I have to feel something in order for me to do something. It’s all about feelings and emotions for me. I can’t do anything that I don’t feel inside.”
Wayne continues on to say, “Each song I write is a part of me. I truly think that’s my strongest point –songwriting. I’m not looking to be a Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn or some singing sensation; I just love to write songs. I want to be the best Wayne Baker Brooks that I possibly can be. I am trying to master the Chicago blues, but I also have this other side of me, where I would like to expand the blues. My whole purpose is to turn people on to the blues that know nothing about the blues.”
In addition to being a singer, song writer, guitar player and producer, Wayne Baker Brooks also owns the Blue Island record label. He is his own booking agency and band manager, and he also owns his own publishing company.
And oh yeah, he’s also a published author. The book “Blues for Dummies”, released in 1998, is 400 well-written pages that highlights the founding fathers of the blues genre. He gives detailed insights on how to listen to and appreciate the blues and even tells the proper way to throw a juke joint-styled themed party.
When asked about the “Blues for Dummies” book, Wayne said “That was an unexpected project. It was around the 1996 Chicago Blues Festival. It was the first time in several years that we didn’t have anything to do that weekend and we weren’t playing the festival, so I went and hung out with a couple of my friends there. They were showcasing Muddy Waters’ house at the Blues Fest. So I walked into this shack that 17 people had lived in and I thought, ‘Wow man. This is the deep blues right here.’ But at the same time, I was starting to get angry that they actually uprooted this man’s house to come and show people where he lived. Now think about it, they would never do that to Elvis’ house – never do that to Graceland. Everybody knows who Elvis is, but not everybody knows who Muddy Waters is.
“That’s when I came up with the idea to write a book. People should know who Muddy Waters is. People should go to Muddy Waters’ house right where it should be, just like they go to Graceland. So the next morning, I woke up and told my friends, ‘I’m going to write a book.’ And they laughed. I said, ‘I’m going to write a Blues for Dummies book and then they really laughed.”
Although his calendar stays filled with the projects that he’s concentrating on as a solo artist, Wayne Baker Brooks still makes sure to leave enough open time to take the stage with Lonnie, when he is feeling up to it, and his brother Ronnie, treating blues fans worldwide to the real-deal as a part of the Brooks Family Band.
“A lot of people know who my dad is, and in the last decade or so, they’re learning who me and my brother are. But playing with my dad and brother is just so much fun.” Not only does it give the Brooks kids an opportunity to spend time with their dad, the Brooks Family Band gives Lonnie a chance to just focus on nothing but just playing the blues.
“The whole purpose of doing the Brooks Family Band was so my dad could relax,” Brooks said. “The only thing he had to do is turn on his amp, grab his guitar and get up there and turn the people on. So the role between Ronnie and me is to just let dad have fun and not have to worry about the stuff he has to when he was running his band.”
“Blues music gets a bad rap. It’s usually associated with being down, sad and depressed. It has a negative name” said Brooks. “Because when you hear blues players play blues music, it’s joyous. You get up and dance and move around and get rid of your blues. But youngsters can’t seem to associate blues music with being a positive. But I truly believe that while blues was derived from hardships, it was a way to make people get over those hardships. That’s why blues is appreciated worldwide.”
“I know it’s going to take me a long time to get the mainstream to appreciate what I’m doing, but if I could gather someone with a big name – like Kayne or Jay-Z and get them in the studio, man you have no clue how many blues followers we’d have after that record,” he said. “I’m dying to do something like that. And the reason why is to turn more people on to the blues. That’s needed more than ever now!”
See Wayne Baker Brooks and the All Star Blues Bash at the Kalamazoo State Theatre on February 12th at 8:30pm. Doors open at 7:30pm.
Tickets are available at the Kalamazoo State Theatre box office and the usual outlets.
Follow Wayne Baker Brooks at www.waynebakerbrooks.com