Charlie Brooks says his Fourth of July nearly ended in a coma after he passed out following an outdoor performance in Mount Horeb.
Doctors who know Brooks, 62, is fighting liver cancer helped him pull through and released him the next morning. "Got home, took a nap," Brooks says, almost flippantly. "They said 'Don't do anything!' I'm like, 'My God, hey, come on!' I think if I could sing out of a hospital bed, I would do it that way." Two days after the incident, he played another show.
A week later, last Friday, Brooks helped his band Charlie Brooks and the Way It Is lug P.A. speakers into the Locker Room, the sports bar next to the north-side Oscar Mayer plant. In his undershirt and suspenders, he worked up a sweat before the show even started. "I'm not supposed to," he admitted, talking briefly before the show.
The R&B singer has spent the past year building up more gigs under his own name and awaiting a transplant. Brooks left legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield's Funky Mondays residency last spring. Stubblefield retired from the residency in 2011 to deal with advancing renal disease and left nephew Bret Stubblefield in charge. "He needs kidneys, I need a liver," Brooks says.
The Way It Is features some Funky Mondays players, including guitarist Joe Wickham and keyboard player Steve Skaggs. Brooks brings a horn section when possible, and plans to at his July 28 show at the Memorial Union Terrace. The new band keeps a lot of the songs Brooks accentuated with an arsenal of swanky moves at Funky Mondays. Brooks' recent CD, The Way It Is, boasts Stubblefield on drums and Funky Mondays staples like "Mustang Sally" and "Heard It Through the Grapevine."
At Funky Mondays shows, Brooks was as much the frontman as Stubblefield was the quintessentially funky anchor. He learned his command of the stage early in his career as part of the Motown machine, which groomed him as a backup singer for groups including the Supremes. His showmanship and well-rounded vocals make him one of Madison's greatest musical charmers, even in a time of illness.
The band name and album title are simply Brooks' reflexive, accepting answer to life's questions and problems. "That's the way it is," he said before last Friday's show, trying to ignore a gangly drunk who'd been heckling him and other patrons at the Locker Room. "Christ, he's going to be a hassle tonight."
Brooks plays the first Friday of each month at the east side's Knuckle Down Saloon, a gig that's billed as "Charlie Brooks Soul Salvation." Flyers for those shows urge fans to "Dance away your wicked ways" or boldly proclaim "$5 admittance ... and you will be saved." He's also working on establishing a monthly Monday-night residency at the High Noon Saloon, in between gigs he's picking up at resorts, casinos and local spots from the Harmony Bar to Picasso's Pizza in Fitchburg.
Last Friday, Brooks still had enough spirit to pry people away from their barstools and sad video-slot games - which seemed like a tough task. The band's cover of "In the Midnight Hour" got some chunky, burly dudes hopping around and slapping fives. Even the sloshy heckler brought up a woman for a clumsy dance or two.