By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
So the next day we went and visited Leon in the hospital and he looked terrible. He had tubes all over the place, in his nose and in his arms, and he sure didn't look like a man who was going to make it. So I gave him this chromatic harmonica I had bought for him as a present and I said, "Leon, we want to do a record for you, and you need to get better so we can have these recording sessions."
And he said, "Bob, I'll try. I'd like to make that happen." So he put all of his strength together and got himself better and did a couple sessions for me.
Well, because we were on such a shoestring budget, it took a few months to get everything together. And the very last thing that had to be done was for Big Leon to do an interview with Jim O'Neil, who was a good friend of mine and the editor of Living Blues magazine. I wanted Jim to write the liner notes for the album, and Leon knew the last thing he had to do for the record was to sit for that interview, and he did the interview and that very night he died. It was like he was just waiting until he could go.
[Editor's note: In 1994, the Chicago label, Earwig Records, rereleased the Big Leon Brooks album Let's Go to Town (CD4931) along with Little Willie Anderson's Swinging the Blues (CD4930).]
NT: As the number of living blues legends continues to dwindle, do you see anyone emerging as a clear tender of the flame?
BC: Let's face it. There will never be another Muddy Waters. There will never be another Albert King. There will never be another Lightnin' Hopkins. Those were musical personalities that were so strong, so vivid that they're irreplaceable. They're national treasures that we once had that are no longer. And I think that when B.B. King and John Lee Hooker pass, we will truly know the end of an era. Still, there are people who keep the traditions going. People who, themselves, are middle-aged and older. But it's sad because at this point it's not clear who the next huge blues artist will be, so there is a sense of a widening void.
NT: Do you feel, then, that the blues as a form has gone stagnant?
BC: Not hardly. I recently had a conversation with Cary Wolfson of Blues Access magazine, and he mentioned that he received 600 blues releases for review last year. So, no, the blues is not stagnant. Look around you. Just recently, the Blues Legends postal-stamp series came out, and on General Hospital, one of the characters just opened up a blues bar and so we had the rather strange sight of B.B. King playing a gig on a soap opera. No, the blues is still widespread and popular.
I think, if anything, the market is so full of blues that people are a little bit overwhelmed. It's hard for a new artist to break in now because of all the new releases and all the people looking to obtain their place in the new scene as the old generation of blues continues to die out.
NT: That's commercial success, but what about artistically? As a music form, can blues take an evolutionary next step, or is it creatively maxed out?
BC: You can look at the blues from the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, and every decade has brought its own accomplishment. Who knows what will happen now? But something will. It may be that the whole '50s thing [the dawn of electric blues] will repeat itself and, if that's the case, then what we'll see is people relearning that language and finding their own voice within it.
Right now, the blues seems to be heading in two directions at once. There are new people coming up in the blues who are doing a great job keeping the tradition alive by playing a retro style of blues, learning that vintage-'50s style, but finding their own voice within it; and there are people who are updating the sound and making it even more modern and that needs to happen. Blues has always been played toward its audience, and it has to grow. Those are the two approaches, and I think they're both cool. Again, if they're well-played, if they become a statement of one's heart and soul, I dig 'em. And if they don't, then I don't.
But whatever direction it goes, the blues will never die. Because people will always fall in love. And so, people will always get their hearts broken and there will always be that emotional statement that needs to be made.
NT: Did you ever catch any flak for being a white guy who plays the blues?
BC: I never really caught any direct flak. But I think that white blues players as a whole are looked at in a condescending way at times by certain people--especially critics who have a hard time accepting white people playing the blues. But the funny thing is the black musicians have never had a problem with it. Because I think they see it as the continuance of the form.