He’s had no formal training whatsoever. But somehow, neighborhood resident Christian Brooks has made a career for himself as a leathersmith, drummer and even songwriter.
It started at the age of 10, when Brooks was a YMCA kid who loved craft-time visits from Charles Tandy Sr., of Tandy Leather Factory reknown, who donated leather products and know-how to the facility. After Tandy’s death, Brooks bought tools and books from Tandy’s leather shop.
It wasn’t long before Brooks had taught himself the craft of leather-making. Soon afterward, an Italian man taught Brooks the cobbling trade, and teenage years taught Brooks to love Jimi Hendrix and all that is rock-n-roll. (It also probably helped that he was a childhood friend of the late Oak Cliff musician Stevie Ray Vaughan.)
His interests conflated when telling a little white lie earned Brooks his first drumming gig, even though he had never played before.
“I was in [music club] The Cellar one night, and the performing band didn’t have a drummer. After an hour, they got up to the mic and said, ‘Is there a drummer in the audience?’ I said ‘I’ll do it.’ I got up and played for two hours.”
During his 25-year stint as a drummer, Brooks honed his leather craft and displayed his work in various shops throughout the Dallas area. In 1985, he opened Blues Suede Shoe in Deep Ellum, which showcased his leather crafts and also became a hub for performing musicians.
It was a late night bargain with a New York City man at the shop that taught Brooks the art of slide guitar, a form of playing for which he is now well-known in musical circles. Eyeing an instrument on the wall, the customer said, “If you sell me this guitar, I’ll show you all I know in 15 minutes.”
Nowadays Brooks claims another passion as his forté — songwriting. Born from a dare from a friend — the late Dallas blues singer Curly “Barefoot” Miller, who chided, “I bet you can’t write a good song,” — Brooks wrote “Low Down”, the first of many songs, and created a CD named after his music shop.
Merchandising his leatherwork had similar origins: “A lady brought me a pair of boots and said, these are my husband’s boots and I would really like something made out of them that I could remember him by.” After making the customer a purse, Brooks expanded the concept of using recycled Western boots and has since created the Original Boot Products Line that ranges from bags and billfolds to lamps. He has also crafted numerous guitar straps for local and national artists; his most famous is Vaughan’s black strap featured on his “Live From Austin” video.
Keeping up with all of his trades, Brooks currently puts songwriting first, inspired by a piece of advice from ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons: “If you don’t write a song that don’t make them move their feet or pull a tear out of their eye, then go to the next one.”
To check out Christian Brooks and his leather products, visit myspace.com/christianscustomleather or srvnumber1.com/ChristianBrooks.html.