Wayne Baker Brooks calls it the power of a dream. A member of the first family of Chicago blues, the youngest son of blues legend Lonnie Brooks, and the brother of Ronnie Baker Brooks, Wayne finds strength in a dream manifested in his dogged independence. He records and releases his own singles, books himself, and lives with the words of his father echoing in his mind: “You can never beat nobody being them. Ain’t nobody can ever beat you being yourself. Whenever you write, make sure it’s not cover songs or (even) like a cover song. Do your own. Don’t do what others are doing.’”
The dream is built on a lifelong dedication to the music Wayne first learned as a roadie for Dad in 1988. He would go on to tour with dad and his brother playing lead guitar on more than 150 shows a year as well as booking his own band for almost three decades until his father’s passing in 2017.
What is the dream? “The whole thing is to keep not only my dad’s legacy going, but have my own going, too, because a lot of people tend to forget where it comes from, and I personally want everyone, all Americans, to know their history, no matter whether they’re white or black; but especially if you’re black because this is a lot of stuff that a lot of people went through – a lot of hell and pain and back, and they used this music to get over that. This is something you should cherish and know that if this wasn’t around to heal a lot of souls, you might not be around.”
Being the son of a blues legend was not always easy. “It’s a double-edged sword”. You have a lot of people who don’t want to see you do good. A lot of people don’t want you to be in the room, period. They think I have an upper hand.
“I used to jam with a different name. I would say my name was Shawn, man, because I had this complex. Maybe people only like me for being Lonnie Brooks’ son. I would jam, and nobody knew who I was. It was like progressing and learning a song and asking my dad, ‘Can I play this song tonight?’ He was like, ‘You know it?’ I could play it, and he would determine if I knew it or not. So, it’s always been knowing that I got it. That’s how you get over it is knowing that you got that thing, you know?
“Don’t get me wrong. (Being Lonnie Brooks’ son) will get me in a room, but I gotta keep those people in the room. No matter who you are, your name alone is not going to keep the people in there. And if you’re not talented, and if you’re not their taste, then you’re probably not going to get the response you’re looking for.
“We felt the love and the hate. It’s a double-edged sword, but me knowing I could do this was the thing that when I started writing my own songs and then they started playing them on the radio gave me self-recognition like, ‘Hey, they like me, ’cause I wrote a kick-ass song right there, and people love it.’ People call it ear candy, you know?”
The power of the dream is more important to Wayne than the power of signing with a record label like Alligator with whom his father recorded nine albums. He had three dinners with Alligator CEO Bruce Iglauer but ended up not signing with the premier blues label. “We both sat down and talked about a possible record, and the more we got into a talk, we couldn’t agree on what each other wanted. Obviously, I was talented enough to have dinner with him at least three times to talk about….”
Wayne stops and sighs.
“It’s about knowing what my dad went through in the past and hearing all the stories that was painful from him for one to think about like what his life would be like if those people back in the ’50s (prior to signing with Alligator) would have done him right. If they’d have made sure that he got the copyright, the publishing of his songs right, that he got the money right on all the tunes. That would uplift someone, man, to know that he got something, and you accomplished something, and you thought it out, and you made it happen and that builds confidence. That builds a character.”
In all fairness to Bruce, Alligator is meticulous about seeing it their artists are fairly treated. But for Wayne, there was more to it than that. To him, his music is all in the family. And while others sign with labels that release albums, he releases singles on his own.
“The way I release music has always been the environment. What is the environment? The music industry, first of all, the ones that control the market, is country, hip hop and rock and roll. Blues is a very, very small market, so by the time you get a PR person, a radio person, a sales person, this is going to cost money to do all that, and if the album doesn’t do well as an independent , that’s all on you.
“So, I’ve been releasing singles where the overhead is low. The vibe is still like I’m releasing something new while others are doing everything to get signed to a label, and all they’re doing is giving away their independence. I’m my own agent as well. For the most part it’s difficult going against all of these agents that have these big rosters, and when they contact a promoter, they’re very likely to book three or four artists on the same roster.
“There’s very little room for somebody like myself who’s independent who takes every gig with pride. To me, every gig is important. I make it worthwhile for both me and my audience. If anything happens to me, it goes directly to my family. I don’t want my kids to have to fight for that. It came from my brain, out of my fingers onto my instrument into a recording, using my money.
“Again, it goes back to self-worth, man. It gives you an unlimited positive feeling of self-worth and like you achieve something, and then you’re doing something no one else can do, which is be you. No one else can do you.”
Wayne Baker Brooks is playing the King Biscuit Blues Festival on Saturday, October 8th and will be on my Call and Response Seminar that same day. The Biscuit is dedicated to festival founder Bubba Sullivan who passed away in November. Bubba was instrumental in getting Wayne signed to this year’s event. Wayne had suggested the Biscuit sign an act like Gov’t Mule and have him open for them. “Bubba was like, ‘Man, you should be headlining these guys yourself. What the hell!’
“I couldn’t wait to see Bubba again. I know he’s gonna be there in spirit for real ’cause everybody’s waitin’ to play for him.”