Chicago Blues music legend Lonnie Brooks, born Lee Baker, Jr., passed away on April 1, leaving behind a rich discography of music and adoring family and friends who fondly remember the man behind the music.
Brooks’ funeral service, held at Liberty Temple Full Gospel Church, 2233 W. 79th St., on April 10, witnessed family members, friends, colleagues, grateful fans, and the like all paying their final respects; however, the ceremony was anything but solemn. Two of Brooks’ sons, Wayne Baker Brooks and Ronnie Baker Brooks, took up their respective guitars and joined fellow musician Billy Branch on the harmonica to pay tribute to their late father by playing a rendition of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” Later, Branch played “Amazing Grace” and Ronnie Baker Brooks played one of his original songs, “Thank You,” which he said was written with both of his parents in mind.
Toward the close of the ceremony, the two brothers shared stories with the audience that depicted Lonnie Brooks just as they saw him: a wonderful father and devoted family man. Wayne Baker Brooks recalled frequently joining his father on visits to the local pool hall where the two shared laughter and a bit of adventure; moments when his father disciplined him in front of his childhood friends; and how he was able to convince his father to co-author the Blues For Dummies book along with other giants of the genre. Ronnie Baker Brooks said he and the family surrounded the patriarch with “positive energy” and “love” toward the end of his life.
“My Dad made me stronger, he made us all stronger,” said Ronnie Brooks.
Known best for his 10 gallon hats and his charming smile, Brooks’ rise to the Blues Hall of Fame Class of 2010 began with his grandfather, Joe Thomas, taking him to house parties he performed at. It was during those moments Brooks’ lifelong love of music first began.
Throughout his 60 year musical career, Brooks recorded 11 full albums including hits “Family Rules” and “The Crawl” when he was known as Guitar Junior during his time as a recording artist for the Goldband label. The Dubuisson, La., native performed throughout Texas and Louisiana before meeting and befriending music great Sam Cooke in 1959, who suggested he move to Chicago. Upon arrival in Chicago, Brooks officially changed his name to Lonnie Brooks because there was already another performer with the name Guitar Junior in the city. He performed in bars on the city’s South and West sides as well as in Gary and East Chicago, Ind. He would also forge a partnership with blues star Jimmy Reed with whom he would tour and record music with.
Brooks’ biggest break would come after he signed with Alligator Records. In 1979, his debut album with the label Bayou Lightning was critically acclaimed and would go on to the win the Grand Prix du Disque Award from the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival. He would go on to record a live rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago,” which would become one of his staple tracks. In the summer of 1993, Brooks joined blues great B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells and Eric Johnson for a national concert tour.
Bruce Iglauer, founder of Alligator Records, who originally signed Brooks to the label said, “[Lonnie] played blues to make you forget your blues.” He said Brooks was always just “one of the guys” and that he worked as hard as he could for every audience.
“It was an honor to work with him,” said Iglauer.