Sixty seconds with...
A minute’s all it takes to find out what makes a great guitarist tick. Before he jumped into his limo for the airport we grabbed a quick chat with Chicago bluesman extraordinaire, Ronnie Baker Brooks.
GT: Do you have a type of pick that you can’t live without?
RBB: I use a custom heavy shell celluloid pick. I like heavy picks because I play hard sometimes and I like the feel of the resistance.
GT: You have to give up all your pedals but three. Which ones stay?
RBB: My producer Steve Jordan wouldn’t allow me to use any pedals on my new record! But for my live shows I would keep my Fulltone Deja Vibe, my Vox wah and my Fulltone Fat Boost.
GT: Do you play another instrument well enough to be in a band?
RBB: I’ve done shows on bass when I was in my Dad’s (Lonnie Brooks) band. I’ve even jammed with Stevie Ray Vaughan on bass guitar at a club called The Grand Emporium in Kansas City, back in 1988!
GT: Do guitar cables really make a difference? What make are yours?
RBB: My friend Eric Johnson said they do! I use Mogami cables.
GT: Your studio is burning down: which guitar do you salvage?
RBB: My ’67 Gibson SG. It’s my first guitar that my Dad bought me. We used it on many recordings. I got that guitar when I was 7 years old!
GT: Who was your first influence to play the guitar?
RBB: My father, Lonnie Brooks. I saw my Dad perform at the Chicago Fest in front of thousands. I became intimidated and thought I could never play like that, but my Dad would always say, “You can do it and do it better”! Then I met Albert Collins! Albert saw me playing with my father, then pulled me to the side to say, “You will never be your Dad or me, but take what you can from whoever you like and make it you.” That boosted my confidence because it came from someone else I’ve admired other than my Dad Albert Collins the ‘Master Of The Telecaster! My Dad started the fire and Albert Collins poured gas on it! I’ve looked up to my Dad and Albert like some people look up Elvis or the Beatles. Lonnie Brooks is my best friend, mentor, inspiration, and a talented, wonderful father!
GT: What was the first guitar you really lusted after?
LBB: My 1988 Strat Plus. When I became my Dad’s rhythm guitarist I was able to buy that guitar myself. I walked into Guitar Center in Chicago, and that guitar started talking to me. I then picked it up and fell in love. I bought it off the wall with no set-ups or adjustments.
GT: Single best gig you ever did…
RBB: I always give it all I got at every gig, but I had a gig earlier this year at the Banana Peel in Belgium, six days after the bombing in Brussels. I never felt that appreciated by an audience before. The crowd was very glad we didn’t cancel the show! It was very emotional and healing for all of us!
GT: …and worst playing nightmare?
RBB: While playing with my Dad, we got booed off the stage opening for George Thorogood!
GT: What’s the most important musical lesson you ever learnt?
RBB: First, music is very powerful. Second, stay respectful and humble to it. Third, parts are parts when playing in a band, so know your role within it. I learned that the hard way from playing with my Dad, KoKo Taylor and Jr. Wells!
GT: If you could put together a fantasy band with you in it, who would the other players be?
RBB: On my new record, Times Have Changed. I’ve got to play with Steve Jordan on drums, Willie Weeks and Leroy Hodges on bass, Charles Hodges and Jonathan Richmond on keys, Teenie Hodges and Michael Toles on rhythm guitar, Eddie Willis of the Motown Funk Brothers, Steve Cropper, ‘Big Head’ Todd Mohr, Lee Roy Parnell and my Dad Lonnie Brooks on lead guitars, Bobby Blue Bland, Angie Stone and Felix Cavaliere on vocals with the Memphis horns, a background vocal group and String section! That’s a fantasy come true!
GT: Is there a solo by someone else that you really wish you had played?
RBB: Albert Collins’ Listen Here, Live In Japan, BB King’s Sweet Sixteen live in Africa, Hubert Sumlin’s on Louise with Howlin’ Wolf, Lonnie Brooks’ Cold Lonely Nights on Bayou Lighting Strikes live in Chicago, Albert King’s on Blues Power live, Freddie King on The Stumble, Buddy Guy’s on Yonder’s Wall live at Antone’s, Carlos Santana’s on The Healer with John Lee Hooker, Ernie Isley’s on The Isley Brothers’ Voyage To Atlantis, and Jimi Hendrix on The Band Of Gypsies’ Machine Gun to name a few! LOL.
GT: What’s the solo/song of your own of which you’re most proud?
RBB: I’m proud of the songs and solos on Times Have Changed and Old Love from my new CD. She’s A Golddigger from my first solo CD Golddigger is one I like also. My big brother and the producer of that CD, Jellybean Johnson, gave it to Prince; I’m told he said, “Hey Bean, your boy is bad”!
GT: What are currently you up to?
RBB: I just finished the threemonth Big Head Blues Club tour with Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Mud Morganfield (Muddy Waters’ son), Billy Branch and Erica Brown in support of the Willie Dixon Tribute record, Way Down Inside - all Willie’s songs. I’m home for the holidays then get ready to support my new record, Times Have Changed, next year!
albert collins said, “you’ll never be your dad or me, but take what you can and make it you”
Ronnie Baker Brooks: starstudded career