A Doorway to the Blues and Memphis Man About Town: Dennis Brooks is greatly missed by all that knew him.
There are some people who enter our lives for a brief instance and are gone, rarely if ever, to be thought of again. Then there are those who blow through like a gentle wind, hang around, and bestow their kindness and wisdom for as long as they are here with us and leave a smile when they are gone. Dennis Brooks was a quiet mover and shaker in the blues world and the Memphis musical community but his calm manner and insistence on the music he loved still reverberates to this day, over a year since his passing. Born and raised in Memphis, with its heavy doses of music and culture, Brooks was a true reflection of his environs.
Musicians Elam McKnight and Bob Bogdal wanted to show their respect for the memory of their friend and mentor by dedicating their new album, Zombie+Nation, to Brooks. “Dennis was a one of kind. He was the old school connector and it was out of total love” McKnight says “he just wanted everyone he felt something for to know a bunch of other people he felt something for. It was never about money or advancing an agenda, it was just Dennis. I miss him a whole bunch. When we started doing the liner notes it was a no brainer, it was just one small thing we could do for someone who loomed so large in our lives. We want people to remember the example of a great, decent human being Dennis was to all that knew him.”
These sentiments are felt by many who knew Brooks. “Dennis did more for the promotion of Memphis music and Blues than any other person I knew or have worked with in the professional Memphis Music Scene for almost 25 years. Dennis was a Mensch, a friend and my contemporary in an otherwise often self serving and inexperienced genre and community. I miss him a great deal” remembers Charley Burch, music producer, songwriter and president of Burch Entertainment Group in Memphis.
Brooks was always sharing his love for music, connecting people, making introductions to all that surrounded him, and not just within arm’s reach. Many can remember phone calls from him on his cell with Dennis at some blues or music events which were invariably interrupted with “hey check this out” and Dennis would take the phone and let the receiver hear what he was experiencing. He wanted them to experience what he was experiencing because he cared enough about it to want that person to be there, in some way.
There were few who did not know Dennis Brooks in the Memphis music community or the Blues world at large. Always the friend to the musician Brooks was held in high regard by any artist he worked with, booked, or managed. Dennis is fondly remembered by world renowned harmonica master Blind Mississippi Morris as a person filled with love first, “Dennis was carefree, loved life, music, but most of all people.” Eric Hughes, resident Beale Street bandleader and recording artist, remembers Brooks as a benefactor unlike any else “Making my way into the blues scene years ago, I noticed Dennis again and again at concerts, parties and other blues events… even my own shows. As we became acquainted, Dennis was constantly giving me tips, introductions, names & numbers, and advice. I was new to the business of the Blues, and assumed Dennis ‘wanted something’ for the connections, promo, and references he provided me- but when I offered, he constantly refused. It took some time for me to realize that Dennis was working, as he put it: “for the love of the Blues”. Love is not a noun, it is a verb. Dennis helped me learn that.”
Many have posted on message boards Brooks frequented that they feel a loss when they open their email accounts and no longer get the frequent messages from Dennis, still always pushing his love for music, even in the new age of technology, he was hard at it. They also say they cannot bear to delete his email account from their address book, it just means that much to them.
Heidi Knochenhauer, a close friend of Brooks and an active member of the Blues community, remembers Brooks’ penchant for not only being the consummate listener but an active participant in so many ways “Dennis loved telling me stories about how he’d have to get an artist’s signature on a contract and drive to the middle of nowhere in Mississippi just to find this artist sittin’ on the porch playing or singing. He was the man to get things done for whatever in the blues world. He networked like no-other person I know. He knew everyone around the world and expected me to know them as well. If I didn’t know the person, he’d explain who they were and what they did, etc. He ALWAYS remembered everyone’s name.” Brooks’ respectful demeanor is also remembered in how he carried kindness with him wherever he went “He never had a bad thing to say about anyone” remembers Knochenhauer.
To this day many have their stories, because Dennis was such a constant fixture on the scene, of thinking he is still there, somewhere, cell phone in hand, ready to share his love, his presence still felt as does Melody Henderson Cummings, wife of Blind Mississippi Morris, “Once in a while, I see someone out of the corner of my eye that reminds me of Dennis physically. But then I look closer and realize that it’s not Dennis. Then I am sad. I miss him very much. He was always so kind to Morris and me. I never saw him upset or angry. He was one that could diffuse even the most volatile situation. Too bad there aren’t more people like Dennis Brooks in this world.”
Inside the album (Zombie+Nation) are words which McKnight and Bogdal feel encapsulate Dennis Brooks and his approach to life, they are a quote from the 19th century writer Stephen Grellet “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.” McKnight holds these words personally “they were words I used when asked to eulogize my own grandfather and they came back to me when thinking of Dennis. He just lived that way man and talking about it is not doing it. Dennis did it. Dennis lived it.”