A FEW MINUTES WITH… Bobby Brooks Wilson
By Don Wilcock
Bobby Brooks Wilson may not be one of the original singers on the bill for the Golden Oldies Spectacular at Proctors in Schenectady on Saturday night (October 20), but he’s Jackie Wilson’s son and has inherited his dad’s amazing style.
Jackie Wilson was a bridge between the rhythm and blues of the ’50s and the soul sounds of Motown and Stax Volt in the ’60s. He was the black Roy Orbison with a four-octave range best heard on his hit “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” A former boxer, he had moves that were smoother than James Brown and more
integrated into the sounds of his songs – including such crossover chestnuts as “Lonely Teardrops,” “Reet Petite,” “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend” and “Baby Workout.” There was nobody like him.
Until Bobby Brooks came on the scene….
In 1989, after 10 years in the Navy and a failed marriage, Brooks joined the Love Notes, a family doo-wop group run by Peter Hernandez, whose six-year-old son Peter Jr. was doing an Elvis imitation. Peter Jr. would go on to become pop star Bruno Mars. Brooks was first noticed for his performance of the Motown classic “My Girl.” But he also began doing vocal impersonations of Jackie Wilson for the Love Notes. That said, he had no idea at the time that he was Jackie Wilson’s biological son.
In 1994, Paul Revere of Paul Revere & the Raiders took note of Brooks’ uncanny similarity to Jackie Wilson: the vocal range, his moves, his very emotions. Revere introduced Brooks to Billy Raquel Davis, co-writer with Berry Gordy Jr. of Jackie Wilson’s early classic hit songs.
Davis wrote “Feels So Fine” that became “Reet Petite,” Jackie Wilson’s first hit in 1957. “Billy started questioning me about my family,” says Brooks, who was adopted as an infant. “Nobody had ever asked me about my family, nobody until Billy came along. I told him I didn’t know who my father was. Billy said, ‘Do you know your mother? What’s her name?’ I told him, and he goes, ‘I know your mother.’”
It turns out that Brooks’ mom had been a party girl who at age 14 looked 25. Jackie Wilson was a chick magnet. Nature took its course, and Brooks finally confirmed that his biological mother had given birth to Jackie Wilson’s son. Brooks had been emulating Wilson on stage without a clue that he was his real son. At the time he was already in his mid-30s.
As iconic as Jackie Wilson was, Brooks adoptive mother’s story is just as fascinating. When she died at age 96 in 2014, she had raised 400 foster children. That’s not a typo – four hundred! “She was the baby girl with 12 brothers,” explains Brooks. Her father was a big-time preacher in the south, and half her brothers turned out to be ministers in Washington D.C., and so she came from a really strong Christian background. I think that may have droiven her to raise foster kids because she was ousted out of her own home at 16 years old when she had her first child. So, her family disowned her and her aunts raised her son.”
While Brooks’ adoptive mom had teen experiences not unlike his biological mother, she grew to become a loving and supportive role model for Jackie Wilson’s son. Two of her favorite sayings were, “There’s nobody but you and God, nobody else,” and “You’re very special. That’s why you’re here.”
Word on the street is that even though there are many great oldies acts in Saturday’s Golden Oldies Spectacular – and most of them are the originators of the hits songs being performed – Brooks is likely to steal the show because he “channels” his dad.
Headlining the show are The Lettermen, whose hits include “The Way you Look Tonight,” “When I Fall in Love,” “Theme from a Summer Place,” “Goin out of My Head/Can’t Take my Eyes off You,” “Put Your Head on my Shoulder” and “Hurt so Bad.” The group is still led by founding member Tony Butala.
Co-headlining the show is “Lightin’” Lou Christie. He was renowned for his soaring falsetto vocal prowess, and his hits include “The Gypsy Cried,” “Rhapsody in the Rain,” “Two Faces Have I” and, of course, “Lightnin’ Strikes.” Christie became a teen idol, appearing many times on “Where the Action Is” and “American Bandstand” and touring with Dick Clark’s Cavalcade of Stars.
Dolores “La La” Brooks was the leader of The Crystals, one of the most successful “girl groups” in pop history. Produced by Phil Spector, La La sang lead on their smash hits, “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then he Kissed Me.” Both songs were included in Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Jimmy Clanton had seven Top 40 hits including “Just a Dream,” “Go Jimmy Go,” “Venus in Blue Jeans” and “A Letter to an Angel.”
Opening the show is Ladd Vance, son of Kenny Vance. Most recently featured on PBS’ “Doo Wop Generations” special, which combined legendary performers with the new generation of doo wop singers, Ladd has been singing duets with his dad and featured with the Planotones since 2010.
WHAT: Golden Oldies Spectacular
WHO: The Lettermen, Lou Christie, La La Brooks, Jimmy Clanton, Bobby Brooks Wilson and Ladd Vance
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
WHEN: Saturday (October 20), 7pm
HOW MUCH: $39.75