Guitarist Lonnie Brooks Dead at 83
Lonnie Brooks, the singer and guitarist whose distinctive style made him a cornerstone of Chicago blues and a major influence over generations of rock artists, has died at the age of 83.
The Chicago Tribune reports on Brooks' death, confirming through his son, Ronnie Baker Brooks, that the elder Brooks died in Chicago the night of April 1. A cause of death was not immediately available.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel quickly moved to commemorate Brooks' legacy on behalf of the city, calling him a "blues legend with a towering talent and soulful style that won him legions of fans across the country and around the world" and adding, "His celebrated career inspired generations of music lovers, garnered numerous awards and brought him from the clubs of Chicago's west side to the concert halls of Europe and beyond."
A relative latecomer to the guitar, Brooks was born in Louisiana and moved to Texas as a young man, absorbing a country blues influence that would later proved to set him apart as an artist. He started out using the alias Guitar Jr., under which he embarked on a solo career after cutting his professional teeth playing with famed zydeco act Clifton Chenier. After his 1969 debut Broke an’ Hungry failed to find a large audience, he spent time touring and gigging around Chicago before landing a handful of cuts on the 1978 Alligator Records anthology Living Chicago Blues.
The late '70s proved a turning point for Brooks, who subsequently found himself in demand among blues enthusiasts around the world. Later years saw him rubbing shoulders with famous fans and musical disciples such as Johnny Winter (who made an appearance on Brooks' Wound Up Tight LP in 1986) and Eric Clapton, who invited Brooks to perform during a stop on his From the Cradle tour in 1993.
While his recorded output slowed in later years, Brooks remained a fiery stage presence, notorious for a playing style that often saw him using his mouth as well as his hands. As he settled into statesman status, Brooks brought his sons Ronnie and Wayne into his band, dubbing their combo the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty. As Ronnie told the Chicago Sun-Times, Brooks wasn't shy about letting his sons know what the experience of playing together meant to him.
"It’s difficult being a musician and raising a family, let alone playing the blues. And he did that. He taught me and my brother Wayne how to play and be men. And there was always love in the house," Ronnie told the paper. "Those were some of his proudest moments, being onstage with us."
"I’ll be on the totem pole," Brooks allowed when the Sun-Times asked him to assess his blues legacy. "With Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Little Walter, many others I can’t name. ... I’ll probably be on the last spot."