Ronnie Baker Brooks
Photography by Mark D McKinley
(November 2008) - The value of the dollar actually goes up in a time of economic vulnerability with the purchase of Ronnie Baker Brooks tickets. Brooks has a passion for live performance - a crowd pleaser - combining high energy blues and soulful ballads. His music and background are steeped in blues tradition - the son of Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks.
Ronnie Baker Brooks is carving his own signature on the blues - pulling generations together through music that transcends age barriers. His 2006 release The Torch and the 2008 DVD release Command Performance showcase the talents of this modern day bluesman.
In October 2008, the Ronnie Baker Brooks Band performed two shows in Kentucky - I had the pleasure of meeting Brooks and arranged an interview.
- Mark D McKinley [Mark's Online Music Source]
mogswebsite.com: Your live performances are inspiring - glancing at your tour schedule... do you remember what home looks like?
RBB: It's funny because when I'm on the road, I really miss my family and just being home. Then when I'm home for too long, I can't wait to go on tour again. So I try to keep a balance of touring and being home because I have a 6 year old daughter who needs Dad and Dad's money. So Dad got to go work too! (laughing)
mogswebsite.com: How much time does the Ronnie Baker Brooks Band spend on the road each year?
RBB: Lately it's been more then previous years. You have to work to keep a band together and luckily we've been working - considering the gas prices and the economy. I'll say we do about 125-170 dates a year.
mogswebsite.com: Your live performances are polished and entertaining - what do you hope fans will take from a live performance?
RBB: Well, Thank You Mark! The thing I hope people take from our show.... is a good time. If we can take their minds off all the stressful things that are going on in their lives that day for a couple of hours...... then I'm happy. I get joy from seeing people happy.
mogswebsite.com: That spark of joy is apparent during your shows - reciprocated between performer and audience.
Tell me about the band...
RBB: Carlton Armstrong is the bassist in the band and he's from Washington, DC. Carlton has been in the band about 6 1/2 yrs. CJ Tucker is the drummer in the band and he's from Chicago. CJ has been in the band about 1 1/2 yrs. Steve Nixon is the keyboard player and he's from Chicago too. Steve has been in the band about a 1 1/2, as well. They all are good musicians who love music and not only that, they all are good people. That makes a big difference when you're on the road for a month! Plus, we all love seeing people enjoy the music.
mogswebsite.com: How and when did "Take Me Witcha" become an essential part of your live shows?
RBB: I used to play a club name Bugsy's in Highland, Indiana every Thursday back in the day and we use to try out a lot of different stuff on the crowd down there. A lot of the songs I wrote, we would try at Bugsy's before we recorded them. I wrote Take Me Witcha after a jam at Bugsy's and just tried it on the crowd one night and it caught on, especially with the ladies. (laughing)
mogswebsite.com: Tell me the story behind "When I See You Again", featured on your Golddigger CD.
RBB: We had a period when we lost many Blues Legends in the 90's. All of them were important to me in my growth and learning about Blues music. Many of them I either knew or even Jammed with. I wanted to do some kind of tribute to them.
One day after watching a video of me and Albert Collins jamming together, I went to my room and picked up my guitar and the music and lyrics just came out, as if they came from somewhere else. I grabbed my recorder and taped it. I didn't have to think about anything, it just came out. I played it for my producer, Jellybean Johnson, and he said "we've got to record it just like that", alone and acoustic. That song brought a lot of healing to me during that period and even today. I lost my friend and driver, Ricco a year ago and now it helps me get through today because I know....I'll see all of them again.
mogswebsite.com: Describe a unique experience while performing onstage with Lonnie...
RBB: I've had many! Too many to explain and I enjoyed all of them! I never thought I would be on stage with my Dad. I remember watching my Dad from the side of the stage when I was about 11 years old, at Chicago Fest on Navy Pier. I saw how he moved the crowd and I was like WOW! I could never do that! I mean at home he was just Dad..... but there I saw something else that day. Every since then, I looked at him like some people look at Elvis. I never thought I could play guitar again. He would always say "yes you can and you can do it better, just be yourself". Even today, he inspires me, he instills confidence and supports me and my brother, Wayne Baker Brooks. I have tremendous respect for my Dad and his music. I think he's very important in the growth of Blues music today. He brought a different approach to it when everyone else was playing a straight 12 bar Blues chord progression...... Dad would mix it up with all different kinds of styles and chord progressions and people would say " that ain't the Blues". Today, I hear a lot of his influence on others..... including myself.
mogswebsite.com: Share one nugget of wisdom you learned from your Dad?
RBB: Well, my Dad taught me everything I know...... but not everything HE knows! He still tells me today, "you're a man first..... and treat people the way you want to be treated". He would also say "you got to practice because ....it's like the bank...if you don't put nothing in, you won't get nothing out".
mogswebsite.com: As a songwriter - what fuels your creative process?
RBB: Everyday life and experiences. I try to write about things I can relate to or someone I know experience that I can relate to. I love writing songs as much as playing live. A good song is powerful and can live forever.
mogswebsite.com: Shemekia Copeland, Bernard Allison, Ronnie Baker Brooks - each of you, blessed with incredible talents - did sense of duty enter your mind while growing up or has passion always guided you?
RBB: Both. It was always something about Blues music that pulled me in, I mean even when I was a kid. I love the truth and the feeling in the songs and the voice or instrument. Like John Lee Hooker said, "The Blues is a Healer". And yes, it's a duty for me because I know now.... that I was born in a unique situation and I got to pass it along. Hopefully, I can be a link in the chain with the great musicians that made this music what it is today.... for the future.
mogswebsite.com: Tapping into your creativity - imagine you're asked to write the soundtrack for a Stevie Ray Vaughn documentary - explain where you'd start and the mood of your composition.
RBB: It would have to start with guitar of course and it would have to showcase Stevie's passion and maybe his tone....with fire... some space... and excitement, but sweet and smooth. But most of all, I would have to do it with the same spirit. Stevie was a cool cat. I got to jam with him once in Kansas City and I will never forget it. I miss him.
mogswebsite.com: What elements can you imagine being introduced into blues by future artists, say ... in the next twenty years?
RBB: It's endless. Because the Blues are the facts of life and as long as we have humans living on Earth or anywhere, we will have the Blues.
With technology and the Internet...the world has gotten so fast and small. The kids today are exposed to a lot, more than what was available to me as a kid.....and way more than my Dad when he was a kid. We've got Youtube today. I mean, you can find the direct source and learn from that... through a video the day it happened. It's endless but........ its got to have that feel and the truth....you can't learn that from a video, you've got to live it.....That's the Blues.
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