Turkey Day blues

For most kids, Thanksgiving’s like a big, fun family picnic. For them, it represents the seemingly harmonious reunion of cousins and kinfolk around pumpkin or pecan pie.

It even carries subtle humanitarian undertones, what with all that “accepting people of all stripes” and “being thankful for what you have” business — drawn from those cheery textbook renderings of Pilgrims and American Indians feasting together on a bountiful harvest, situated just inland from a shiny, happy Plymouth Rock.

But, alas, Thanksgiving tends to lose luster as you grow older. You learn a little real history, for one thing. And suddenly, the Turkey Day reunion of the Packers and the Lions promises more harmony than what’s happening tableside with your own family.

Whatever the case, there’s always one place besides the fridge packed full at the end of a hearty Thanksgiving. And that would be the local watering hole.

Enter Chicago-blues scion Ronnie Baker Brooks, who drops into Black Mountain’s Town Pump this Thursday to carve up some Turkey Day blues.

R.B. Brooks is a classic blues man, raised by another classic: his father, Lonnie, a tireless torchbearer of the genre now for decades. Lonnie, 71, appears on Ronnie’s last two records — and both guitarists hail from an important tradition of Chicago blues, where legendary staples like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf played out their own tireless legacies.

“I was blessed to grow up in a place where those greats played, see the spots where it all happened,” the younger Brooks tells Xpress by phone. “Through my dad, I was even able to meet some of those guys.”

Ronnie began following his father’s blues journey when he was just a boy — first joining him on stage on his ninth birthday. Later, after years of honing his licks alongside Dad at gigs all over the country, Ronnie cut out for a solo career, ready to dish out the blue in his own blood for a new generation.

“Sometimes it’s hard, because of the industry right now,” says Brooks about record execs who see few dollar signs in contemporary blues. “But we’re trying to keep this music alive, to honor it.

“Blues is in a transitional period now,” he explains. “It’s at a standstill — as far as going to another level.

“But you can feel it coming, boiling up. People are looking for that emotion, something true.”

And if you like your blues with a little rock pomp thrown in, you’ll warm to this alleged renaissance in Brooks’ ripping electric-guitar strokes. Now 37, he’s no kid to the blues game anymore. His splendid, often-soaring licks evoke hints of Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King. And when he’s not wielding his axe like a blues chainsaw, Ronnie drops heartfelt tearjerkers with the help of his nimble backing band of drums, bass and keys.

Brooks’ stuff is decidedly less somber than the whiskey-bent laments of, say, R.L. Burnside or John Lee Hooker. And that’s no accident: Ronnie knows that extra energy will help carry his storied genre to the long-awaited next level — record execs willing.

[Stuart Gaines is a contributing editor to An Honest Tune, and writes Mountain Xpress’ “Junk Journal” column.]


Ronnie Baker Brooks plays The Town Pump in Black Mountain (135 Cherry St.; 669-4808) on Thursday, Nov. 25. 10 p.m. $10.

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