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Interview by Bob Wood, Associate Publisher

I had the opportunity to interview a good friend of mine, blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks. I first met Ronnie when he was the lead guitarist and leader of his Dad's group, the legendary Lonnie Brooks, at the 1998 Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth, Minnesota. We have met on several occasions since then. He is a wonderful person and a very spiritual person. He is also a fabulous musician.

After more then a dozen years with his Dad's group, Ronnie is making his own personal assault on musical stardom. His final performance with his Dad's group was at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago on New Year's Eve 1998.

MHL: At what age did you first pick up a guitar?
RBB: My Dad would tell me ever since I was 3 years old man. I would crawl to his guitar and pick on it and try to play it. I recall when I was about 6 years old, my Dad would sit me in his lap and show me how to play certain songs, and I took it on. He would sit in the house for hours writing songs. I think that kind of kept me out of trouble too, because I always wanted to be like Dad and be around him. I always enjoyed what he was doing and the sounds he would make with the guitar.

MHL: Tell me the story about the first time you played on stage.
RBB: It was about 19.., well I was about 9 years old and my Dad was on tour over in Europe. He called home and I told him I wanted to go with him the next time he went. He said, if you learn two songs by the time I get home, maybe you can come and play with me. He was gone for a couple of months or so and he would call and check to see if I had the songs down. I was learning Messin' With The Kid by Junior Wells and Reconsider Baby. By the time he got home, I had it down! He said, well if you have it down, let's go do it. They had a welcome home party for him down at Peppers in Chicago. My Mom was sitting with me and got me a glass of orange juice. I had a mood ring on and the ring was turning different colors because I was so nervous, (laugh). My Mom said, just think about it like when you're all at home, and there ain't nothing to worry about. Then my Dad called me up on stage! We had on the same color suits and I started playing like we were at home. I forgot about the crowd and just started playing and thinking about the music, and man, you know, we were into it. People didn't believe that it was me. They thought my Dad was using me as a gimmick, so he would hold up his hands and they would see that I was actually playing. They started throwing money on stage and stuff (laugh). I thought I was a star for about a month (laugh). I couldn't come down man, I was floating. That was the first bug man!

MHL: What was your very first guitar?
RBB: I would try to play my Dad's guitar which was kind of big for me. So he bought me one that kind of fit me. I can't even recall what the brand was, but it was a small guitar. I'm pretty sure he got it from Sears & Roebuck, because we were really tight on money back then. If we showed any interest in anything, Dad would bust his butt to get it for us.

MHL: What was your first really good guitar?
RBB: My very first professional guitar was a maroon Gibson SG, and I still have it. Actually, it's on the cover of my Dad's Bayou Lightening CD. I played it from about age 9 to about age 13 and then I quit to play basketball. My Dad said, Well if you ain't using it, I'll use it, and he took it back. He took it into the studio and recorded the whole record with it. He fell in love with it and took it on the road with him.

MHL: What kind of amp did you use with your Gibson SG?
RBB: Good question, but I don't have the answer man. All I remember is it was a gray amp, but I can't recall the name of it. I think my Dad still has it in his attic. I always wanted a Fender Bassman when I was young. My Dad's guitar player in his band had an old, old Fender Bassman, that sucker used to growl! I loved the way that it sounded!

MHL: I know your Dad was a big influence on you. Were there others?
RBB: My Dad was my only influence back then man, because that's all I knew! You know what I'm saying. I know I listened to other records and I liked the way they sounded, and I liked what I heard. But when I picked up the guitar, I wanted to play and create like Lonnie Brooks, because Dad would preach to us, "be yourself." He was the first person that I would say was my initial influence. Then as I got older and got to go on the road with Dad or go to his gigs, his guitar player was very attractive. I mean, he'd attract my attention because he was a great guitarist too. Dad would take me down to the Checker Board Lounge and Theresa's and I would get to hear Buddy Guy, even Muddy Waters and people like that. Once I would hear them, Dad would play their records for me and I got really impressed. This is the guy you just heard the other night. It was like WHOA! That kind got me into listening to records. We would listen to Muddy Waters, the older stuff, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jon Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and stuff like that. When I got more serious, I did more research and I got more into the electric stuff, Freddie King and B.B. King were always around the house. Dad would go play with B.B. King and he would send notes home saying, keep your grades up and how is my nephews doing? B.B. probably would not remember doing this today, but I remember that man. I wish I could have kept that stuff he was sending home, he was definitely an influence. Also Albert King, and then it just grew from there. The more I got into the guitar, the more research I would get into, the more guitars that I liked. Once I heard Hendrix, it was like WHOA! It was a whole different vibe then what I was hearing from the other guys. Then from Hendrix I got to Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the more I got into that, the more I got into Carlos Santana. I could go on and on.

MHL: What about your set up. What guitars did you use when you recorded Golddigger?
RBB: Whoa, I did Golddigger down in Memphis. I didn't bring all my guitars but I brought my Baby, which I call The Baby. The yellow Fender Strat, I used a lot. And I brought my Gibson 335, but actually I didn't use that one. I ended up using my dads, the one he is using now because I love the way it sounds. He brought it down with him when he came to play on a couple of tracks with me. I ended up using his guitar on two tracks. I got this Les Paul Stereo that I ended up using on a lot of tracks too. I got a Road House Strat and I used, and a Hamer on the slide stuff I did. I took my Gibson Acoustic down there too, so I had about 5 or 6 guitars down there. I took my Super Reverb Amplifier, I believe it's a 1970 Silver Face. I bought it in Memphis when I was recording with my Dad 3 or 4 years before that. That amp sounds SO sweet! I'm still using it today man, it's a great amp. I hooked up on that amp and I took a Victoria Amp, and my Fender Bassman. They also had a couple of Marshall's and a Mesa Boogie down there for me.

MHL: What about effects or stomp boxes?
RBB: I change so much, but I know I use the Dasha Vibe, and I use the Full Tone and the Ibanez Tube Screamer ES 9 Reissue, the Octave Fuzz Octavia, and the Roger Mayer Octavia. I use the Octave Fuzz now, but back then I used the Roger Mayer Octiva. I had my Cry Baby Wah Wah and I used my Vox first. We weren't happy with the sound we were getting back because of the way we had it wired up. So Jellybean, my producer, gave me his Cry Baby that he had rigged up in L.A. and we ended up using that one and it came off a little better then what we were doing at the time. But right now I am using my Vox Wah Wah. What else did I have man, a Boss Chorus and a Boss Digital Delay and CD 3. Now I got the CD 5. That was about it.

MHL: What string gauges do you use? Are they different on each guitar or are they the same?
RBB: They're all the same gauge. I use 10 through 46 and sometimes I go 48 on a low E, but basically I use the same strings on all the guitars. I am kind of endorsed by Ernie Ball Strings and endorsed by Fender Guitars.

MHL: I know you've got a Fat Strat, it looks like a Jimi Hendrix.
RBB: Yea, I've got the Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Strat and then I've got the Big Apple Strat. I'm waiting on Fender to send me a guitar, they haven't sent it to me yet. They were supposed to send me a Relic. I just did their Catalina Blues Festival and they all kind of fell in love with me. But I haven't seen the guitar yet so we'll see how much they really love me (laugh). I still play their product even though I know they've got a lot of people that they endorse. Who is Ronnie Baker Brooks compared to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck? They did come and get me when no one else wanted to get with me. I used to be a Hamer too, but the guy that I was with left and we kind of lost contact. Now I understand he's with Gibson, working with my Dad and my brother. But I used to endorse Hamer. My Dad and I actually did ads for them.

MHL: Do you use the same setup when you're playing live?
RBB: Close. Yea, right now I'm using the Dasha Vibe. I use two Tube Screamers now and my Vox Wah Wah and I've got an Octave Stone Fuzz by Robert Mayer. I've never met him but we bought a lot of his products. I'm still using the Chorus and went up to a CD 5 Digital Delay and I switch. You know I get tired so I switch mostly my overdrives every now and then. I'm always trying to find a tone that I feel comfortable with, and I think every musician does. That is probably my biggest challenge is getting a tone because we play in different rooms and you'll have all the changes with the room you play in so you have to adjust. We're all going to sound similar. I heard Carlos Santana say your tone is like your fingerprint. You can play through all kinds of amps and all kinds of effects and all kinds of guitars. But if you're playing from the heart and soul, your tone, your fingerprint, is going to come out. Yes, it's going to have a different sound to it, but the touch is going to come out as you are playing. A lot of times you don't need all that stuff, so I don't always use it.

MHL: Are there any secret techniques or style of set-up that is used when you are recording?
RBB: Plug in and play. I like to do a lot of research on that to get an advantage on getting the tone quicker. There is a lot of times you can spend a lot of time in the studio trying to get your tone together. You're wasting time when you should be recording. I just try to plug in and play and get as close to what I like to hear back and do all my homework before I get in the studio.

MHL: I know you "practice" your new songs during your show. Is that helpful when putting an album or CD together?
RBB: I got an idea of what I want to do solo-wise and then a lot of stuff I leave alone. A lot of the time I like to prepare or have a structure of what I want to do, ya know, then go for it and if something spontaneous happens, GREAT, I love that part of it too. The song that I am doing live on stage, I kind have an idea of where I wanna go solo-wise, and I go for it.

MHL: I know as a blues artist you're always looking for that distinctive style or sound for your music. Who really influenced you in that regard?
RBB: Well, I would say Eric Johnson. I worked with Eric Johnson and we did a tour with Buddy Guy, B. B. King, Eric, my Dad, Junior Wells and Koko Taylor. We were all on the show together, and night in and night out I got to see Eric and B. B. and Buddy. Eric is a perfectionist on tone and playing man, God he is an unbelievable man. We became real good friends. We'd talk and I got a few pointers from him, and that's when I started taking it a little more serious. I mean, I like the vibe of plugging in and playing, but when I got to know Eric Johnson, it opened my eyes to certain little things to be cautious of. If you got everything on 10 and everything is growling on your tube screamer or whatever, you're missing a point, you just got a lot of noise. But if you set it to get your warm tone or set it a certain way where you can get the best out of your pedals, then that will help you get to that point of plugging in and playing sooner.

MHL: Do you feel your sound adequately reflects your personal touch?
RBB: Yea, I do. I think it is. My Dad would tell me that, you know, always be yourself because if you try to play like, I mean, I get a lot of compliments, "Man you sound great, you remind me of Stevie" or whatever. I know that's going to happen because that's what the people are used to hearing. They're used to hearing Jimi Hendrix, or hearing Stevie Ray Vaughn, those kind of guitar players. I listened to them, and yes, I learned some of their songs and some of their licks, but I tried to learn their language and make it me. I think if you do it that way, that becomes your fingerprint, because anybody can play an Albert King lick, but no one is going to play it like Albert. But if you play it with your soul andyour heart and it comes from the heart, no one's going to play it like you.

MHL: Other then your Dad who we know is #1, who have been your favorite players that you have performed or jammed with?
RBB: Whoa! I can go on man, forever. I've jammed with Taj Mahal. I've jammed with, I mean that I've loved, I mean all of them, Albert Collins man and Buddy Guy. I even jammed with Stevie Ray Vaughn. Like I said, I've jammed with Eric Johnson, Elvin Bishop, oh man I could go on! Luther Allison, even Junior Wells would give me goose bumps when I played with him. Just being around Dad, I got to hang out with these cats man and jam with them. I feel so blessed because those are guys that set the tone to what I am doing today. They gave me the base to grow from. You know, the ground to grow from and to be able to jam with my idols, man, and have the experience. You know, talk to them or playing with them. I am so grateful for that man, because that goes a long way. That's something that nobody could ever take away from me. 

MHL: Do you collect any guitars?
RBB: Not really. I have every guitar I've ever owned. I never traded or sold guitars, I don't like that, I keep everything. I even have amps and effects, I try to keep them. I know a lot of my friends trade in their stuff to get new stuff, I just go buy it if I want it. I don't trade nothing in or sell nothing. They become a part of me, they're like my kids!

MHL: Do you have one guitar that is your absolute favorite?
RBB: Probably my Baby man. That's the one that took me through a lot of wars (laugh). Took me all around the world too, that's the one man. I mean I love them all for certain reasons, for certain sounds, and when I'm in certain fields or when I want to have a certain approach to a certain song. But I can pick up that guitar and play any song with it and feel comfortable. My yellow Fender Strat Plus, I bought it right off the rack man, at Guitar Center.

MHL: Is there a guitar that you would like to have someday? What guitars do you current own?
RBB: Oh there's a lot of them, you can't ever get enough guitars man. I like the Parkers that they've got out now, and the Gibson Firebird. It just takes time to collect all that stuff, and it costs money! Acoustic guitars, I'd like a Martin and the Paul Reed Smiths. I could go on forever, I love guitars. I love the way some of them look, the way they feel, and the way they sound. And if you can find one that looks, sounds and feels good, you got one. I got one right here next to my bed now man, the one Luther Allison left me in his will. It's a Fender Strat, with gold knobs, a gold bridge, where you plug it in is gold, the strap holder is gold, and the tuning pick is gold. It's real heavy man. It's got a kind of pre amp in it, I can't tell you the name of it, but I know it's a regular Strat. I've got several in the living room. If I get an inspiration to play, I've got them out and ready to play, you know! I have my Hamer in the living room, actually I've got two Hamers, I got the arched top, then I got the Strat Hamer that they gave me. I've got my Roadhouse, the one I recorded Golddigger with. I've got a custom made Tele that my friends at The Slim Brothers made, they've got a store here in Chicago, actually it's in Evanston. I used to play it when I first started playing with my Dad, actually my Dad bought me that guitar too. I used that a lot when I first started playing with him on the road. Then I got a Les Paul Stereo. Then I got a Les Paul Custom that me and Dad fight over, it's actually Dad's but I'm keeping it for him as I tell him. I used that on the road too. Dad had a beer sponsorship and they had Gibson aboard to help with the sponsorship, and Gibson would give us guitars and they gave Dad a Les Paul, it's got a beer logo on the pick guard, and they gave Dad an SG. I kept the Les Paul. Then I got my SG that I never break out unless I got company over. I talked about my Baby, my first guitar. Then I got a bass. I got a SD Curly over here that I use to write songs. I got 2 acoustic guitars, a Gibson, Chicago Blues model, and I've got an acoustic Washburn. I also have my Hamer that I play slide on. I think I named them all.

MHL: Thanks for your time Ronnie. It's been nice talking to you, we appreciate hearing about your music.
RBB: Thank you Bob. Hope to see you soon man.

Ronnie Baker Brooks has a new CD in the works. It is hoped the CD will be released in Spring of 2001. Ronnie is from Chicago and is playing and traveling every week. Ronnie's current CD is called Golddigger and it is on Watchdog Records.