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American Routes Shortcuts: Detroit Brooks

Eliot Kamenitz
Detroit Brooks

New Orleans guitar and banjo player Detroit Brooks got a start touring with his musical family, including father George Brooks Sr. of the gospel group Masonic Kings, and his sister, gospel singer Juanita Brooks. Detroit grew up downriver, living four blocks from Fats Domino, and was greatly influenced by the late Creole banjo and guitar player, Danny Barker. He created a festival in his memory. In addition to his career in music, Detroit worked as a barber and for Amtrak. He's well versed in traditional jazz, R&B, soul, and funk. He's here as bandleader of the Syncopated Percolators at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, playing “Hindustan,” on American Routes Live.


Nick Spitzer: Classic New Orleans traditional jazz from Detroit Brooks and the Syncopated Percolators. We're going to meet all the Percolators by and by, but first of all, I just want to say hey, Detroit, it's good to see you again, man.

Detroit Brooks: It's good to be seen, and it's good to be here.

NS: Yeah, and you're somebody that has a great appreciation of a man who became known as both a banjo player and a guitar, mostly in New York, and then he came back to New Orleans, and that's Danny Barker, somebody that you tribute each year. Say a little bit about you and Danny Barker, the late Danny Barker.

DB: I actually had the opportunity to meet and be in his presence because I played with my brother-in-law's band, I don't know if you know Awood Johnson?

NS: Mm-hm.

DB: I was married into that family. Being married into that family, I played in his band, and did you know Ernie Cagnolatti?

NS: Mm-hm.

DB: One-legged guy. Well I played–he was my uncle-in-law.

NS: Okay.

DB: And Danny would come by his house when they do these trips, these long trips, and come home, they would have parties. Danny would come to the house, and he would never play. He would talk to the band, but he would always go with the elders and tell, you know, just what he do.

NS: He's a great talker.

DB: Tell stories.

NS: Raconteur.

DB: Right, so, I never really got an opportunity to–just to confront him, you know, to talk to him about that, and today I'm sorry I didn't because it would have been a great history for me.

NS: Right.

DB: You know, but I still–like you said I had the opportunity through records and his music, you know, and people that played with him.

NS: And Danny had come back in, I guess, 1963, 1964?

DB: ‘64.

NS: From New York City, where he had been for many years with his wife, Blue Lu Barker, and she had the big hit on “Don't You Feel My Leg,” among other things, and he also had bands that sang in Creole and recorded in Creole back when the Jazz Revival was just starting so, and then he came here and really put together a lot of younger people who have now become the senior generation of traditionalists in the city.

DB: Right, right, and I can actually say because of Danny, that's the reason we here.

NS: Uh-huh.

DB: All of us you see sitting up here today, we all had some influences.

NS: From Danny Barker?

DB: From Danny Barker, yes.

NS: Yeah, he had quite a personality. What was it led you to make the make the festival happen? Banjo and guitar and Danny Barker's name on it and his memory.

DB: Because of his contribution, you know, he came–Danny could have, I guess he could have stayed in New York and become Sidney Bechet or Louis Armstrong, you know, just as famous as they were, but he decided to come home and give his time and spend his time in his last days with the youth of New Orleans, and you know, he made a big difference, you know, like I said, you look around, you got Wyntons, you got Dr. Michael Whites, you have Greg Staffords, Lucien Barbarin, and all these people who are products of Danny Barker, so...

NS: Right, the Fairview Baptist Church Band.

DB: Exactly right, and Danny never–like you said, he never met somebody that wasn't a friend.

NS: Yeah.

DB: He was that type of a person.

NS: Well, is there a song that you do, either with guitar or banjo that recalls Danny Barker?

DB: Yes, we can. We can do the one that I'm just learning, “Nevertheless.” This is a song that Danny used to perform, and I'm going to go for it. It won't be like Danny, but it'll be a little different. There was only one Danny Barker. Ready?

Join Nick Spitzer talking about 25 years of American Routes radio 10:00 AM Saturday, March 10th at the New Orleans Book Festival.  For more information, go to To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at