Rock idols from past inspire young performer’s future

schandler@newsobserver.comSeptember 29, 2013 

  • SEE HIM LIVE

    Brooks Paul’s next local gig is Oct. 13 at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater, part of the SUMfest weekend that features a set from Led Zeppelin cover band Zoso. The Brooks Paul Band will take the stage around 8 p.m. Ticket information at SUMfest.org.

    FOLLOW THE MUSIC

    See a video of Brooks Paul performing “TNT” on this story’s page at newsobserver.com/thumbsup. For more videos and info on upcoming shows, visit BrooksPaulMusic.com.

There are plenty of bands out there covering the songs of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and other classic rock greats. But not too many of them are fronted by a 12-year-old.

Brooks Paul of Creedmoor may have braces and stand a full head shorter than his bandmates (all adults), but he also has long blond hair any rocker would kill for, and when he steps on stage with his sparkly bandanna, mirrored sunglasses and giant belt buckle, he looks the part.

What’s more, when he opens his mouth to sing, he sounds the part. He came to know the old songs he performs, which were big decades before he was born, in a thoroughly modern way: the Rock Band video game. He learned the lyrics of songs by Journey, Alice Cooper and Aerosmith and more from singing and playing along, said his father, Chuck Ferguson, and soon he wanted to delve deeper. So he turned to YouTube, and while he listened, he looked. And a stage presence was born.

Brooks formed a band when he was 8 and took his show on the road. Nowadays, he plays one or two events a month, in nightclubs (only nice ones, his dad assures), festivals and, earlier this month, Ray Price Capital City Bikefest in downtown Raleigh.

Even some seasoned rock veterans might be nervous about playing to bikers, but Brooks wasn’t worried before the show.

“They look really tough,” he said, “but when you talk to them, they’re really nice.”

The leather-clad crowd at Bikefest was enthusiastic, despite a steady rain, dancing, taking pictures and yelling approval when Brooks yanked the mic stand sideways during songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song, Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and “School’s Out for Summer” by Alice Cooper.

Unlike some of his adult idols, however, Brooks leaves the rock-star persona on the stage.

“His teachers don’t hardly believe that’s the same kid,” his dad said. “At school he’s just a normal kid, except for the long hair.”

The Brooks Look, as his father calls it, started even before Brooks’ band did. He’s had only two haircuts in his life: the first when he was a toddler, and the second at age 7, when he donated his hair to Locks of Love. Since then, he’s been growing it out, and it now reaches nearly to his waist.

“I just liked it,” he said with a shrug.

He’s more specific when asked why he likes songs from his parents’ generation more than the contemporary music most of his peers listen to.

“It’s more rock with guitars,” he said of the ’70s and ’80s music he favors. “Now, it’s all computers.”

Brooks attracts a diverse crowd to his shows: adults who love the music he covers and even sometimes, his dad said, “crying girls.”

But he doesn’t want to be a cover act forever. His set already has a few original songs, which Brooks co-wrote with members of his band, and he wants to one day make his own way in the music business.

“That’s really what he wants to do,” Ferguson said. “He wants to be his own person on stage.”

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