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Guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks on Maine’s love for the blues

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Chicago-based bluesman Ronnie Baker Brooks says he loves Maine’s enthusiasm for the blues. The musician is scheduled to perform Sunday, July 11, at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland.

Brooks made his first appearance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 2005. He returned to the festival a few years later with his father, the late blues legend Lonnie Brooks, and brother, Wayne Baker Brooks, when they performed as the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty.

Brooks first appeared onstage at age nine playing guitar with his father. He launched a solo career in 1998, the same year he released his debut LP “Golddigger,” produced by Janet Jackson. In 2000, Brooks was nominated for the ‘Best New Artist’ Blues Music Award.

Ronnie Baker Brooks’ most recently released album is 2017’s “Times Have Changed,” featuring appearances from Steve Cropper, Bobby “Blue” Bland, “Big Head Todd,” and Felix Cavaliere.

I caught up with Brooks for an interview where he revealed he’s been working on a new album, partially inspired by the weekly shows he performed at home for fans watching online. He shared his fondness for Maine and the enthusiastic audiences here, and recalled his first appearance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival.

The Maine Edge: What do you recall about the first time you played the North Atlantic Blues Festival back in 2005?

Ronnie Baker Brooks: I remember that day very well. Little Milton was on the lineup, and I wanted to stay in Maine and see him. I played earlier and it was a crazy day for me because I had another gig near Boston that night. Something felt weird to me and I didn’t want to leave because Pinetop Perkins was on just before Little Milton. I felt weird walking away from those guys because they were much older and that ended up being the last show Little Milton ever played. I caught two flat tires on the way to Boston. The promoter didn’t believe me, but it was true and I got there late and just said “Let me play for the people who stayed, you don’t even have to pay me.”

The Maine Edge: You spend so much time on the road, what has the last 16 months been like for you not being able to play in front of a live audience?

Ronnie Baker Brooks: The pressure and anxiety of not having any income during that time almost drove me crazy. I was sitting around playing guitar when my wife suggested I start playing live on Facebook. It was the best feeling, man. I ended up doing it every Friday and I called it “Live From the Brooks Blues Basement.” It gave me just enough of what I needed to stay focused and inspired. So much that I ended up recording a record in that way.

The Maine Edge: Tell me about that. Have you set a release date?

Ronnie Baker Brooks: Not yet, we’re still putting the finishing touches on it. It was coproduced by Todd Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters. I’m happy with how it’s coming together.

The Maine Edge: What do you think about Maine and the audiences here?

Ronnie Baker Brooks: I love it up there. Paul Benjamin has been booking me in Maine for years now. He used to book me a lot at the Time Out Pub in Rockland. I noticed there’s a lot of enthusiastic blues fans in Maine. Every time I play there, they show us love and appreciation and I always look forward to coming back.

The Maine Edge: You are very much plugged into the blues scene and are a good person to ask, how is blues doing these days? I know we have great audiences here but is it like that everywhere? As a genre, blues seems to have cycles where it does really well. Do you see one on the horizon?

Ronnie Baker Brooks: Right now, I think blues is in transition. The older blues men and women are passing on, I lost my father over four years ago. We lost B.B. King in 2015. I see a lot of younger blues players coming up and it’s exciting to see they’re passionate about it. If the younger players get exposure, they can ignite a younger audience.

I find myself sitting in a different seat these days. I’m the middle-aged guy (laughs). I used to be the young guy hanging out with my dad, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I’m learning now that blues will never die, and I used to worry about that because I was seeing all the older players I grew up around pass away but I see a lot of younger blues musicians now and it gives me hope.

The Maine Edge: The last concert I saw with my wife before the pandemic hit was Buddy Guy in Connecticut in November 2019. He was absolutely phenomenal. He turned that place upside down.

Ronnie Baker Brooks: He’ll be 85 this month, man. I saw his first show back after the pandemic in May when he opened the new Hard Rock Casino in Gary, Indiana, about 30 miles from Chicago. Just to see his face gave me inspiration but then to see him play and how he played, it blew my mind. He came out like there was no break at all, I couldn’t believe how good he was.

The Maine Edge: How many shows have you played since live concerts have started coming back?

Ronnie Baker Brooks: When I play at the North Atlantic Blues Festival this Sunday with my band, this will only be the third show we’ve played for a live audience since things have eased up from the pandemic. After I play with my band on Sunday afternoon we’re going to a jam with Coco Montoya and play a tribute to Albert Collins. We had a tour scheduled together before the pandemic and only managed to play two shows before everything got cancelled. I am so looking forward to coming to Maine, seeing some familiar faces and playing with my band.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 July 2021 18:03

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