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
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.