He's recorded with Bob Dylan, gets middle-of-the-night phone calls from Stephen Stills and resides unseen (but not unheard) throughout the world within home-entertainment centers, family rooms, basements and attics--anywhere and everywhere there exist CDs and albums made between 1964 and 1978.
On the surface, then, it seems odd that the 17th Street Market would become the center of his still-vibrant musical universe--yet somehow, it all makes perfect sense. For some colorful perspective, however, let's get back to the legend.
"During my period of notoriety," he said during a recent interview, "I played bass for The Doors, Miles Davis, Seals and Crofts, the Electric Flag and, of course, the Super Session record (with Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield and Stills). But to be honest, I must have played on hundreds of sessions where I didn't even know who the artist was. You get a call; you come in; you lay down your part, and that's it."
Such was the life of a studio-session player back in the day, and as a bass player, Brooks was a first-call guy.
As the business of rock and blues shifted from session players backing artists to legitimate groups, studio work became extremely competitive, and for Brooks, it eventually dried up. Twenty years ago, he met his wife, Bonnie (re-met, actually, but that's another story), and in addition to continuing to perform in New York, he began supporting her work doing public relations in Connecticut. Looking for rock 'n' roll artifacts for a museum exhibit she was working on, he reconnected with Frank Sanzo, an old friend who was then selling hot dogs from a cart in downtown Tucson.
That was Brooks' first connection to Arizona. Ten years later, with a daughter attending school in Santa Fe, N.M., and Sanzo still in Tucson ("still selling hot dogs"), Brooks and his wife made the move to the desert.
Of course, once a musician, always a musician, so it was only a matter of time before Brooks would attempt to put some kind of band together. What was not expected was that his desire would lead to not only a band, but a unique music store and community-performance space.
"Frank and I have been weaving in and out of each others' lives for a long time," recalls Brooks. Sanzo found drummer Larry Cobb (now with John Coinman and Kevin Costner's Modern West), who found guitarist Tom Kusian, who just happened to own the 17th Street Market, a hard-to-find niche grocery store specializing in seafood, fresh produce and Asian foods.
Eventually, this group morphed into the first incarnation of the 17th Street Band, which played a benefit gig at Club Congress for the Pima Youth Partnership.
"Our gigs are always for charity," said Brooks; those benefit gigs include a long run of monthly shows for community radio station KXCI FM 91.3.
At some point, Bonnie became the 17th Street Market's media and marketing director. "Initially, the idea was to have the band promote the market," she said. "But then Tom (Kusian) had the idea to add music to the store."
A small space was soon set up within the store, where a handful of CDs, musical instruments and accessories were sold. It seemed like an odd fit.
In January 2006, however, Brooks got Richie Havens to play a benefit for Katrina's Piano Fund. They packed 350 people into the space and raised a good chunk of money. "The fire marshals weren't happy," said Brooks, but the show helped raise the profile of the market and the store.
Soon after that, they began putting on live acoustic shows every Saturday from 11:30 a.m. into the midafternoon. Musicians love playing the gig, and the store loves having them.
"Frank's baby is the music store," said Bonnie. "We convinced him to sell his hot-dog stand and come over." Brooks then got KXCI's Marty Kool, who worked at Hear's Music, on board after that store closed; local blues musician Tom Walbank ended up there, too. The store now sells a diversity of CDs--with a healthy local section--as well as drums, stringed instruments and accessories.
In the meantime, the 17th Street Band began to musically prosper. With a solid lineup that now includes Walbank as a frontman on harmonica, slide guitar and vocals, Arthur Migliazza on keyboards, Darryl Roles on drums, Kusian on guitar and Brooks on bass, the band has completed work on its first CD, Positively 17th Street. With guest spots from people including former member AmoChip Dabney on saxophones, Dustin Busch on lap steel guitar and Ralph Gilmore on drums, the album is an impressive collection of mostly originals with three covers, including Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues."
"We have a nice thing happening," said Brooks. "We get on the bandstand, and everyone smiles."
Recently, the music store--officially called the 17th Street Guitars and World Music Store--has moved into a new space within the market, and there have been some changes within the performance schedule. In April, local folk and blues icon Stefan George will host an invitation blues jam on the first Saturday of the month, while starting in February, the 17th Street Band will play every third Saturday.
Additionally, the store currently supports three separate drum circles, including a drum jam for kids, while Sanzo offers two free guitar clinics: one for kids younger than 12, and one for those "12 to 112."
As for Brooks, in addition to the band, he's producing some sessions for Francisco Gonzalez, an original member of Los Lobos, while doing some online session work. ("We used to laugh about phoning in the part," he says.) This summer, he and Bonnie plan to move to Israel part time, and will tour Europe with Walbank in search of new adventures.