Today’s artist is one I “discovered” at the Fryeburg Fair back in October. I was sitting waiting for my daughter and her aunt to come out of a yarn shop when I heard some fine picking and singing going on around a corner, so I got up to check it out. There were two people on the small stage performing “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” with more than a little soul and truth; so I decided to sit down a few rows back from the platform to catch the rest of the set and just take in this unexpected musical treat.

The guitarist, Brad Hooper from Wayne, was joined by Rusty Wiltjer, who had quite a compact yet elaborate collection of drums and other percussive instruments to enhance and decorate Hooper’s spot-on vocal skills and tasteful licks on his instrument of choice. I decided that here was a talent that deserved to be heard by everyone who fancies from-the-heart music, hence this week’s column … keep your eyes open and catch him wherever and whenever you can! I called him at home back on the 19th of last month and here’s a bit of that conversation.

Brad Hooper Derek Kenison photo

Q: One thing we talked about when we first met at the Fryeburg Fair was your entering into the Maine Songwriting Contest in the past — have you signed up for this year’s contest?
Hooper: I didn’t enter anything this year because I wasn’t sure when my hand surgery was going to happen. And even though it’s not supposed to have anything to do with the performance, they still require that you perform it, so I didn’t enter because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the show and then be disqualified, then I couldn’t reenter the song, so I said, “I’ll wait.”

Q: Are you still performing nowadays?
Hooper: I’ve been playing pretty steady. October is one of my slowest months, October and April. I live by a ski area so usually in October and November I need a break anyway (laughter). I do a couple of shows a week, I have two shows left in October and then I didn’t book anything in November, I just didn’t know how long it’s going to take my hand to heal. I’ve talked to some friends and they said, “Oh, don’t sweat it!” but I’m still fretting it, it’s how I earn my living (chuckle).

Q: You did a song there at the fair that you introduced as one of your own, it was a mid-tempo tune with a lot of fine picking on it, unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of it.
Hooper: It was probably “Memories & Mileage,” which is the song that I named my second album after. It’s basically about an old couple that dementia slowly slices through their life and each of them begins to forget what it was that they thought they’d never forget, you know?

Q: Yes, I really do. And that sounds like the song I was thinking about.
Hooper: That song is pretty close to me and I’ve played that a lot of places and gotten the same reaction as what you had, especially the folks that really understand.


Q: Do you use the percussionist that was with you in Fryeburg?
Hooper: I use Rusty as often as possible. We play together at the Freedom Café every Sunday all summer long, weather dependent, but we’ve been pretty lucky; this year was a bit wet, we’ve been doing that a long time, I think 12 years or so.

Q: Where’s that venue?
Hooper: That’s in Naples, Maine, right on Long Lake, and it’s a great little gig.

Q: Now that song, “Memories & Mileage,” is that the one you were going to use in that songwriting contest?
Hooper: No, I think that that song actually got me to the finals one year. I’ve been to the finals three times now for songwriting as I was learning my craft. I didn’t even place at that show, it was a really down-heartening experience.

Q: I can imagine it was.
Hooper: Well, I have been whittling on a song now since 2015 and I think I have it in its final form. I don’t think it’s going to change much more, and it’s the one I’m going to use for next year’s competition.

Q: What’s the name of it?
Hooper: It’s actually a song called “The Piano.”

Q: Now, having worked on “The Piano” for such a long time, I’m curious to know if some of your earlier material has also changed a lot over time.
Hooper: They have. It’s funny because for a long time I listened to my own stuff all the time trying to pick at it. I have a song that I play almost every show now called “Sufferin’ for the Blues” and it needs a bridge and I’m seeking it out now. So I went back and listened to the original on the CD and I said, “Wow! That song has changed a lot!” I mean, there are subtle changes but as a player, boy, it’s not the same thing. I’ve been considering some of the songs that I put out on the first CD, which were just all my raw material, and I’ve been considering going back and redoing those songs as full-mixes with a professional.


Q: How do you rank yourself as a songwriter?
Hooper: Well, I don’t consider myself a songwriter, I guess. When I think about it, these guys that can crank out hundreds of songs but, boy, when I write one then I have to finish it, it takes a long time. I’m more of a storyteller, I guess, everything is rooted in fact in some way, shape or form with some artistic license to make it flow.

Q: And you should dance with the one who brung ya, that’s for sure. I’ve got to say that what grabbed my attention at the fair was your acoustic guitar work, lyrically and vocally you were spot-on, but it was what you were doing on your instrument that pulled me in to sit down and really pay attention to your set.
Hooper: You told me that and that’s why I shook your hand, too, because for me I hear all the mistakes.

Q: If you were making them, I never heard them, and that’s the truth, man! Your acoustic work is one of your strengths.
Hooper: That’s my primary instrument, in fact, I just had it all reset and it is beautiful.

Q: Well, when your hand heals you’ll be all set to go back out gigging and doing your thing. Is there anything, Brad that you’d like people to know about you? I save the hard question for the end of a chat. Oh, and I’m going to run your web page at the end of this column so they can check out your performance schedule … it shows you’re busy in December, that’s for sure.
Hooper: Well, that would be great. And as far as what I’d like folks to know about me, I don’t know how personal to get, so I’ll tell you the story and you can decide if it works. I always wear the same kind of driving hat. I’ve worn one since I was 21 years old, they just fit me and I like ‘em, and I wear my sunglasses at most of the show because I do my best work in the dark. I mean, I play in the kitchen when I’m writing with just an oil lamp; I need that comfort space because some of the words that I’ve written, that I’m saying to the people, if I was to try to play them and look the people square in the eye, my chin would wobble; you know what I mean?

Q: Yup, I do.
Hooper: Even telling you that makes my chin wobble, but I don’t want them to not hear my words, so that’s my little way of getting my own safe place.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.