Q&A with Wayne Baker Brooks, one of today’s top bluesmen, playing that honors his rich blues heritage

"For me, Blues music is my therapy. It keeps me sane in this sometime-y crazy world. The word BLUES is associated with being blue, depressed, sad, or not happy. Blues music is the total opposite. The music in blues makes you wanna dance, party, or sometimes makes you wanna get closer to your partner, make you laugh, make you cry from emotional songs, or cry out of pure joy. I would love it if blues affect all people in this way."

Wayne Baker Brooks: Blues in His Vains

Wayne Baker Brooks is considered one of today’s top guitarists who's signature style combines powerful vocals with liquid fire guitar playing that honors his rich blues heritage yet effortlessly expands the boundaries of the genre. Born and raised in Chicago, IL amongst the most prolific blues legends and blues masters in the world, Wayne Baker Brook's blues roots may run deeper and wider than the Great Lakes themselves. Chicago Blues laid the foundation for Wayne's innovative style. Growing up Brooks was a regular visitor to such historic places as Chess Studios, Checkerboard Lounge, Wisefools, and many other blues landmarks at which he witnessed many live performances by blues masters like Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, Luther Allison, KoKo Taylor, the great Muddy Waters, & his father. The youngest son of blues master Lonnie Brooks - Wayne Brooks was literally born into the blues!    (Wayne Baker Brooks / Photo by Alain Boucly)

Leaving no way around the fate appointed him he soon joined his father's (Lonnie Brooks)  band as his rhythm guitarist then quickly became the musical director. Then in 1997, he formed the Wayne Baker Brooks Band while continuing to work with his father's band. He made a cameo appearance in the film Blues Brothers 2000. With the release of his acclaimed debut CD "Mystery" "an album that brilliantly draws on blues, blues rock, soul, funk and beyond". "Mystery" received multiple awards and praise from the music world. WBB has performed with, supported/opened for, and/or appeared on TV with such notables as: Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Bo Diddley, Corey Harris, The Black Crowes, Otis Rush, Jr. Wells, Shemekia Copeland, Johnny Lang, Susan Tedeschi,  Keb Mo, Jimmy Vivino, Robert Randolph, Taj Mahal, Mick Fleetwood, Otis Clay, Bobby Rush, Elvin Bishop, Billy Branch and many more... Wayne Baker Brooks and this Band continue to play the world over with WBB's signature top-shelf brand of guitar playing and a live show that should not be missed.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music (and people of) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

My view is… we are all the same. Deep down we are all the same. We all have the same emotions or are capable of having the same emotions or feelings from love to hate with everything in between. Sometimes at the same time like at a concert of your favorite artist who sings a very compelling song that we all feel at that very moment. That no matter what language you speak many people can still understand or even feel the same emotions or feelings in the sense that an artist sing or plays.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy, and songbook?

Everything I create will always be blues-based because it is my foundation, my rock, my savior, my everything. Chicago Blues in particular. Growing up in a musical household every day we were listening to the best Chicago blues music you could hear on earth from artists like Muddy, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Jimmy Reed (whom my dad played rhythm guitar for), of course, my dad Lonnie, Magic Sam, Buddy & Junior, and being raised around Luther & Bernard, KoKo. But then also growing up in an urban neighborhood we were also exposed to mainstream radio which played everything from James Brown, Rick James, George Clinton, Earth, Wind and Fire, Prince, Michael Jackson Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, and the Furious Five. The rock stations would play Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, to Elvis.

My philosophy has always been I have to be myself when writing originals and that includes even If someone writes with me or for me, I have to feel that it’s me before I can record a good performance. I got to feel it, feel the vibe of the song, & make sure that it’s relatable.

"I truly miss the real blues guys and gals back then BB, Etta, John Lee, Bo, Junior, Albert King, Albert Collins, Denise Lasalle, Gatemouth, Luther, Koko. There was no fake in them when it comes to their music and their character. You know they actually lived the real everyday life of blues coming from the south." (Wayne Baker Brooks / Photo by Fred Fouché)

Where does your creative drive come from?

I get inspired by real things, real emotions I go through, or others go through. Sometimes inspiration can come from a simple conversation or even passing through a neighborhood and I will see something that sticks out and I will -without trying too hard- just start singing about it.

Why do you think that Lonnie Brooks's music legacy continues to generate such a devoted following?

Not only because he had hits in the 1950s but because of his amazing talents. He was a great singer with power and finesse, a great guitarist with a signature style. His sound was unique and his songwriting was top-notch. Then he has 2 sons with 2 bands carrying his legacy into the future…Long Live Lonnie!!!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Sitting right in the middle of BB King and John Lee Hooker while Buddy Guy was performing in the San Francisco area Concord pavilion (on the BB King Festival Tour with BB King, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, and Jr. Wells) when Buddy stopped in the middle of the song to say “ladies and gentlemen we have the greatest bluesman in the world here with us tonight’ and the crowd starting cheering really loud right away that John Lee didn’t hear Buddy say “give it up for John Lee Hooker” and BB reaches in front of me to guide John Lee to stand up and right away said “stand up John..” and John Lee goes to BB and says “No no you stand up B” and BB says “no you gotta stand up man” and John Lee goes no “He said the greatest blues man in the world - that’s you” and BB goes “no you are the greatest bluesman in the world man now stand up man” John Lee stood up with his classic ‘the Healer” pose and the crowd goes even more bananas.

I feel like being in between 2 of the greatest bluesmen on earth at that moment was one of, if not the most important experience for me, because I witness 2 of the greatest ever fight about who was the greatest but they were not fighting about themselves being the greatest - they were giving it up to each other with the utmost respect. That was the most humbling learning experience I’ve ever felt in my life. I will forever be humble because of that moment in 1993.

"My view is… we are all the same. Deep down we are all the same. We all have the same emotions or are capable of having the same emotions or feelings from love to hate with everything in between. Sometimes at the same time like at a concert of your favorite artist who sings a very compelling song that we all feel at that very moment. That no matter what language you speak many people can still understand or even feel the same emotions or feelings in the sense that an artist sing or plays." (Wayne Baker Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks and the late great Lonnie Brooks Sr. / Photo by Martin Goettsch)

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I switched from drums to guitar at 19 years old. My dad’s dream was for us to go out on the road with him on guitar and vocals, Ronnie on bass, and I was to be on the drums. But we all ended up playing guitar. He knew I loved Albert King and we toured with him occasionally. So during the early 1990s at the Detroit Blues Festival, he told Albert while I was setting up the stage “man I’m trying to get my son Wayne back to playing the drums man and he really likes you and want to play the guitar now. Can you get him to change his mind for me?” And Got Albert to have a talk with me about switching back to the drums. So Albert got me all by myself and said “meet me in my office” the office was his tent dressing room. We sat down, he lit his pipe, and he said “Son yo daddy tells me you wanna play guitar but he wants you to go back playing the drums, do you love or like playing the guitar?” I said, “I love playing the guitar Mr. King, I wanna be like my dad and you.” He said “well - son there’s a guitar player a dime a dozen if you gon’ play the guitar you gotta play the fuck outta that motherfucka”. Lol

After our talk, my dad went up to Albert and asked “did he say he say he was gonna go back to drums? I heard Albert say to my dad “Look like you got yourself another guitar player Lonnie” with that signature laugh “heheeeeee”

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

My first time jamming with Buddy Guy was amazing. At his club in around 1994. Let me rewind to why. I remember seeing buddy for the first time at around 10 or 11 years old at the old limelight in Chicago while he, Junior wells, Koko Taylor was opening up for my dad who was doing an event for the great Mayor Harold Washington and Buddy and Junior were performing and I heard this man on the guitar that was wild, fearless, strong, and full of passion. These sounds coming from the guitar struck me so hard I couldn’t stop watching him. So fast forward to switching from drums to guitar, he became my favorite Chicago guitar player along with my dad, Luther, BB, Freddie, and Albert King. Then one night in 2002 while Buddy was playing he called my dad up and by total surprise, he called me up and man I was floating on the clouds, and what I’d like to think I played my heart out when he gave me a solo - the crowd went crazy. I got off the stage hugged my dad tight and said thank you. He immediately knew why I said thank you!                                                (Wayne Baker Brooks / Photo by Alain Boucly)

"I get inspired by real things, real emotions I go through, or others go through. Sometimes inspiration can come from a simple conversation or even passing through a neighborhood and I will see something that sticks out and I will -without trying too hard- just start singing about it."

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past?

I truly miss the real blues guys and gals back then BB, Etta, John Lee, Bo, Junior, Albert King, Albert Collins, Denise Lasalle, Gatemouth, Luther, Koko. There was no fake in them when it comes to their music and their character. You know they actually lived the real everyday life of blues coming from the south. I also miss the long touring. Damn near all the authentic national blues guys could tour 3-5 months straight at a time because there were a lot of blues festivals, blues clubs, and societies in the USA & EU that supported the national acts.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I fear that the true meaning of the blues will be watered down and pushed through by someone who never went through real hardship like African American people and then they will become the face of the blues while the authenticity is overlooked by shredding and the popularity contest.

Now the local blues societies are understandably wrapped up in their local blues bands thinking that they will hopefully become a national act that they are overlooking the real national bands. I get it you want to support your best band but the contests, battle of the bands, and competition organizations are recklessly looking for the great white hope to save the blues as SRV did. The thing is SRV didn’t do competitions. He played his ass off and just worked his way into the mainstream and it eventually gave a big boost in the blues genre bringing those who he idolized with him without thought. He loved, cherished, & respected all bluesmen & women. He knew how important it was to feature these people in a genre he loved so.

What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

One of the keys is songs, you can’t do anything without good songs. Being able to write well-rounded meaningful relatable songs can take your career to a whole new level. The other key is to be very talented and passionate enough to reach people's hearts, minds, and souls.                                        (Wayne Baker Brooks / Photo by Michael Taylor)

"I fear that the true meaning of the blues will be watered down and pushed through by someone who never went through real hardship like African American people and then they will become the face of the blues while the authenticity is overlooked by shredding and the popularity contest."

If you could change one thing in the "Blues world" what would that be?

I would put yesterday’s and today’s great blues records on mainstream radio (and streaming) and shove it down people's ears like they do pop music lol and watch us grow as a whole.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

To Stay Patient. Stay Hungry. Don’t be thirsty. Be humble!

What is the impact of the Blues on the socio-cultural implications?

Most of the implications come from the change of views in the black community on blues music. Most African Americans back in the 1950s and before were listening to blues on mainstream radio. Now in the urban neighborhoods, people are listening to rap and hip-hop music. Most kids in urban neighborhoods do not know anything about blues music because it is not on mainstream radio like it used to be. Hip hop is the voice of the nation now and in some cases the voice of the world. The way I view it, Rap and Hip Hop are the blues just presented differently! They are rapping about the same subjects in a sense, money, cars, women/men, sex, alcohol, etc. Blues artists back in the day (and still today) were mostly singing about how they wish they had it all. Rappers are rapping about how they got it all and they do have it all. Blues was the voice of the community back then, rap is the voice of the community now. All while blues music is still waiting on its turn to be respected by mainstream while rappers are not waiting and taking what is due to them now. So in the eyes of a young black impressionable kid, he or she is mostly looking up to the rappers more than the bluesman. Add all of that up with deeply embedded systemic racism and you have a change in the genre that is changing like Rock and Roll changed quickly back in the old days - the true inventors are pushed out and others step in and take over slowly but surely. Unless those others who step in who truly respect the genre will be passionate and compassionate enough to right the wrongs.

How do you want the music to affect people?

For me, Blues music is my therapy. It keeps me sane in this sometime-y crazy world. The word BLUES is associated with being blue, depressed, sad, or not happy. Blues music is the total opposite. The music in blues makes you wanna dance, party, or sometimes makes you wanna get closer to your partner, make you laugh, make you cry from emotional songs, or cry out of pure joy. I would love it if blues affect all people in this way.

Wayne Baker Brooks - Home

(Wayne Baker Brooks / Photo by Alain Boucly)

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