Live’n’loud: Rock, dance and ro­mance at Cooly Rocks On

Rock ’n’ roll is stamped in Bobby Brooks Wil­son’s DNA, writes Rose Sadleir

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - CONTENTS -

BOBBY Brooks Wil­son im­per­son­ated Jackie Wil­son on stage for years be­fore he dis­cov­ered the rock ’n’ roll le­gend was ac­tu­ally his fa­ther.

Grow­ing up in foster care meant Bobby only tracked down his birth mother, Wil­lie Mae Ben­ton, as a teenager. She never dis­closed the iden­tity of Bobby’s real fa­ther.

Af­ter a decade in the US Navy, Bobby turned to his life-long pas­sion and be­gan singing in karaoke bars. That’s when he met Peter Her­nan­dez, fa­ther of now-fa­mous singer Bruno Mars. Bobby be­came a back-up singer for the Her­nan­dez fam­ily group.

‘‘I was work­ing with Bruno Mars’ fam­ily when Peter (Re­vere) from the Raiders walked in and saw me in the show,’’ Bobby says on the phone from Las Vegas.

Re­vere told him that he looked, laughed and danced like Jackie Wil­son.

‘‘At the time there was no YouTube for me to re­search. I couldn’t find any­thing on him (Jackie). I didn’t have a lot to go on. By the time YouTube came to pass, I was al­ready heeded in the im­per­son­ation world as the No.1 Jackie Wil­son im­per­son­ator. It’s the fam­ily that came to me and called it out.

‘‘The Four Tops saw me per­form. They said: ‘You don’t even know how much you are him. You couldn’t learn to walk and talk like him with­out ever see­ing him’.’’

Levi Stubbs, a mem­ber of The Four Tops and a cousin of Jackie Wil­son, was also con­vinced Bobby was part of the fam­ily.

Even­tu­ally Bobby was in­tro­duced to mu­si­cian Billy Davis, who knew Ms Ben­ton and was able to con­firm that Bobby was in­deed Jackie’s son.

‘‘Once ev­ery­thing came out and it was ver­i­fied, I was the joker of the town with a lot of my friends,’’ Bobby says. ‘‘Peo­ple heard the ru­mour and sus­pected I was try­ing to pave my way. They didn’t re­alise you need to have tal­ent to make it in the en­ter­tain­ment world – not a fam­ily con­nec­tion. Ini­tially I backed away from it.’’

Bobby, who is now based in Las Vegas but trav­els the world per­form­ing, has al­ways had a tal­ent for im­per­son­ations. He be­gan to cover songs by and im­per­son­ate a va­ri­ety of stars to take his show to the next level.

‘‘When I grew up we had to cre­ate our own world from imag­i­na­tion. I am a child at heart, any­way – just ask my ex-wife,’’ he says, chuck­ling. ‘‘I be­lieve (this up­bring­ing) has a lot to do with me be­ing able to jump into dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters.

‘‘I have the most fun act­ing. I have done some stage plays and episodes in TV shows. I was in a show called Las Vegas. The pro­ducer wanted me to play a young Chubby Checker. He (Checker) was on the set and it was quite funny. He kept say­ing: ‘Why the hell did you fly Jackie Wil­son up here! Th­ese pro­duc­ers don’t know what they are do­ing’.’’

Bobby has spent five years de­vel­op­ing his trib­ute show A Rock ’n’ Roll Party, in which he im­per­son­ates artists in­clud­ing Ste­vie Won­der, Lit­tle Richard, Elvis, Chubby Checker, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wil­son.

Bobby brings the show to the Coast this week­end as part of ’50s and ’60s nos­tal­gia fes­ti­val Cooly Rocks On.

‘‘I like to bring all the mu­sic from yes­ter­day to now. I bring all the char­ac­ters out with no makeup or cos­tumes. I just get into char­ac­ter,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s a trib­ute to the Mo­town era. It’s all about fun with a lit­tle com­edy and lots of danc­ing and ro­manc­ing.’’

Bobby Brooks Wil­son’s A Rock ’n’ Roll Party plays Twin Towns on Satur­day at 8.30pm. Tick­ets are $35.

Left: Bobby Brooks Wil­son and (above), his dad Jackie Wil­son.

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