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FEATURE: Interview with Ronnie Baker Brooks


Carrying the torch and infusing new energy into the blues, the talented son of blues legend Lonnie Brooks is featured on a heralded new tribute album.

Ronnie Baker Brooks
photo: Jennifer Wheeler


By Eric Schelkopf

You can't make an album about Chicago blues without including Ronnie Baker Brooks.


Brooks is part of Chicago blues royalty, the son of legend Lonnie Brooks.

As a youth, the talented guitarist apprenticed in his father's band for many years before leaving to carve out his own music career.


He is one of a star-studded cast of musicians featured on Chicago Blues: A Living History The (R)evolution Continues, which will be released on June 7. The double-disc album is the follow up to 2009's Grammy-nominated CD, Chicago Blues: A Living History.


Produced by Larry Skoller and backed by The Living History Band (Billy Flynn-guitar, Matthew Skoller-harmonica, Kenny "Beady Eyes" Smith-drums, Felton Crews-bass and Johnny Iguana-keyboards), the album represents a continuing tribute to Chicago blues.


Special guests on the album include Ronnie Baker Brooks, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Magic Slim, Zora Young and Mike Avery. The album also features the talents of Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson.

Ronnie will make two Chicago appearances during Chicago Blues Fest week. On Wednesday June 8, he will perform with his dad Lonnie Brooks and brother Wayne Baker Brooks at Buddy Guy's Legends as part of the N.A.R.A.S. fundraiser and Blues Fest Kickoff show.

On Thursday June 9, The Baker Brooks family, along with Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater will perform at Legends for a free live broadcast concert on WXRT radio, 93.1 FM.  The show is from 6 to 7:30 p.m.. So get there early.

I had the chance to talk to him about how he came to contribute his talents to A Living History, Part 2.

Chicago Blues: A Living History 2 CD


Q - How did you enjoy being part of the project?


I really enjoyed it, man. When I heard the first one, I thought it was a great idea, and I said, "Man, I should have been a part of that."


When they were putting the second one together, (musician) Matt Skoller, Larry's brother (the producer), told me that they wanted to get me on the new one. Larry called, and got me a part in it.


I'm honored to be a part of a record like that. It's a great concept.


Q - On the album, you cover one of your dad's song ("Don't Take Advantage of Me") and remake one of your songs ("Make These Blues Survive"). How did that work out as far as song choice?


It was kind of up to those guys. They initially came to me with some other artists, and then the thought came to do one of my dad's songs.

Ronnie Baker BrooksI never really thought about recording any of my dad's stuff, because I played with my dad for 13 years, and I had heard those songs probably about a thousand times or so. I figured if I could bring nothing to those songs, why do it?  

photo: Michael Kurgansky

So I was really intimidated by it. But they talked me int doing it. And I'm happy they did. I got the approval from my father first.


It was a mountain for me to get over as far as my career goes. I always looked at my father's stuff as untouchable, as an artist. Doing this was like paying tribute to my father.


Q - What did you want to inject in the song? How did you want to make it your own?


I didn't make many changes. That song is so dominant, you've got to almost leave it like it is. We added a little more energy to it. It was almost like an updated version of it.

Ronnie Baker Brooks trio
photos: Michael Kurgansky

Q - Do you see yourself as a bridge between audiences who grew up listening to your dad and your own audiences? How do you see yourself?


You hit it right on the head. I always try to be a bridge. I latch on to what my dad, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Luther Allison, all those guys, what they laid down.


What I try to do is keep that authenticity in today's sound. I try to stay true to the music and true to myself, because I love that stuff too and I love what is going on today.


Hopefully I can be that bridge for the younger generation to come on over and listen, and also get the approval of the older generation, to come on over and listen to what the younger cats are doing.


Q - Do you see people like Jonny Lang bringing younger people to the blues?


Yeah, Jonny's done that, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has done that, along with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. They've all done that and are still doing it. Their crowds getting older with them, and my crowds get older with me.


But Jonny and them have gotten into the mainstream a little more than I have, and of course they brought some of those young audiences into the blues. And we need that. And we also need the ones that are keeping it alive playing to the generation before me.


Q - And of course we keep losing the great ones. Pinetop Perkins recently passed away, along with Lacy Gibson.


It's sad to hear all that, but you know, it's a part of life. Buddy Guy has a song out now that says, "Everybody's Got To Go." It's so true.

Ronnie Baker BrooksThat dash in between when you were born and when you die is what you want people to remember. Not the day you died, not the day you were born, but what you did while you were here. Pinetop laid down some serious stuff for us to follow.

photo: Michael Kurgansky


That's why it's an honor to play on this record and showcase it on this record with people like James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Billy Branch, Magic Slim, all these great blues musicians.


Q - This isn't the first time you've rubbed shoulders with some living legends. You were also on The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue CD with the likes of Magic Dick. How was that experience?


That was cool. It started out being the cruise, the blues cruise. We would jam on the boat sometimes until 5 or 6 a.m. Tommy Castro was smart enough to take that concept onto land.

It was a great idea, and I wanted to be a part of it. We recorded every night, and we took the best that we had and put it on a CD. It was a fun gig every night.


Q - Growing up, did you listen to the J. Geils Band at all?


Yeah, I watched them on MTV back in the day. Every day, I would be picking Magic Dick's brain about what was going on back in the day. He would tell me a lot of great stories about the J. Geils Band. I would be picking his brain about the whole thing.


Q - It's been a while since you've had a new album out. The Torch came out in 2006. Are you working on anything new?


I'm always working on something new. I've been writing for years. I produced Eddy Clearwater's last album, West Side Strut.


I just produced this group from Holland called The Juke Joints. They have a CD called Going To Chicago that I produced.


I think it is time for me to start focusing on myself. That's what I have been doing, just trying to get songs together.


Ronnie & Eddy Clearwater
Ronnie Baker Brooks & Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater at Chicago Blues Fest 2008. Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Q - How do you like the producer role?


I enjoy it. I really do. I enjoy being in the studio, creating stuff and watching it come to life and then playing it live. When I was on Eddy's record, it was one of the best times of my life.


It reminded me of when I was a kid with my father. I used to be in the room with him and he would show me how to play.


I would spend the night at Eddy's house, and we would spend the whole night playing songs, listening to songs and writing songs. Those creative juices were just flowing. I get as much excited from that as playing live.


Q - What's the biggest thing your father taught you?


To be a man, and to treat people the way you want to be treated.


And then secondly, he gave me a platform on how to do what I am doing today.


I started out picking up equipment, loading the van, driving the van, booking hotels, tuning guitars, carrying luggage, everything.


He said to me, "If you want to go out here and do this, I want you to prove it to me. You are going to work just as hard as anybody in this band or harder, because you are going to have to prove that you want to be here."


Without knowing, he prepared me for what I am doing today.


Ronnie Baker Brooks SketchQ - It seems like there was a renewed interest in the blues in '90s, but maybe it's taken a back seat these days. It's always been a struggle to keep the blues out in the forefront.

Sketch by Terry Lape, President Electro Glide Records

Yeah, we have a small pool of people who support it, as opposed to the other genres of music. That's kind of frustrating. You see the blues featured in a movie or a commercial and you get a little hope, and the next thing you know, it's gone.


Like with the movie Cadillac Records. There was a little buzz going. I thought it was going to be like the Blues Brothers, and ignite the blues a little bit.


I think it brought some more attention to it. But the blues will never die, because it's the truth.


And as long as we continue keeping it true, it will never die.

About the writer: Eric Schelkopf has covered the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago for the past 25 years. Visit his informative blog at:



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