GUITAR JUNIOR (a.k.a. LONNIE BROOKS)
Born Lee Baker, Jr., 18 December 1933, on a farm near Dubuisson, Louisiana
Singer / guitarist.
Lonnie Brooks had a long career as a blues vocalist, but from a rock & roll point of view, he made his most interesting recordings under the name Guitar Junior, in 1957-1960, for Goldband and Mercury.
Born on a small farm near Dubuisson, Louisiana, Lee Baker grew up in nearby Garland. The first blues singer he heard was Lightnin’ Hopkins whose records blared from the speakers of the local ice cream van. Baker’s uncle was also an early influence ; he was an accomplished banjo player who worked with a local dixieland band. In 1952 Baker moved to Port Arthur, Texas, where he subsequently married and worked in construction. Among the first blues artists he saw were B.B. King and Long John Hunter. Baker bought himself a guitar and a record player and learnt all those blues records note for note. Within a year or so Baker became an outstanding guitarist and he began to think about making money from music.
Lee Baker joined Lonesome Sundown’s group as lead guitarist and began to call himself Guitar Junior. Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier heard him strumming his guitar on his front porch in Port Arthur and offered him a job in his Red Hot Louisiana Band. Junior would soon embark upon a solo career and was signed by Eddie Shuler, the owner of Goldband Records in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His first single, “Family Rules”/“I Got It Made”, was released in September 1957 (Goldband 1058) and became a big hit in Louisiana and East Texas. “Family Rules” was covered by Johnny Spain on Backbeat and is now a swamp pop standard, though it never made the national charts. The next single coupled “Roll, Roll, Roll” with “Broken Hearted Rollin’ Tears”, the latter a typical swamp pop ballad.
For Junior’s third Goldband release Eddie Shuler had chosen a fast rock ’n’ roll song, “The Crawl”, written by Eddie’s son and Ray Victorian, who also recorded for Goldband as Ray Vict. “The Crawl” is a classy rhythm-dance rocker, later revived by the Fabulous Thunder- birds. Next came Junior's recording of a country number (“Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”, written by Harlan Howard), which featured backing vocals by a young Barbara Lynn and her sisters. After this single, released in January 1959, Guitar Junior left Goldband. Hungry for greater success, he wanted to get on a major label. Eddie Shuler did his best to help him by leasing some of his songs to Mercury, which resulted in the release of “Love Me, Love Me”/ “Knocks Me Out” on Mercury 71602 in March 1960. Junior moved to Chicago and did a session for Mercury in May 1960. Four songs were recorded, but the company released only two, “The Hoss” and All Of My Life” (Mercury 71681).
The two Mercury singles were still released under the moniker Guitar Junior, but while in Chicago, he found out that there was already another Guitar Jr. (Luther Johnson). He then changed his name to Lonnie Brooks and subsequent recordings would be released under that pseudonym. Using his own name (Lee Baker) was judged to be dangerous in Chicago. In 1960-61 he played on a few Vee-Jay sessions by Jimmy Reed. He spent most of the 1960s playing all the rough blues joints in Chicago and recorded the occasional single for local labels such as Midas, Chirrup, Palos and USA. In 1967 Lonnie’s manager, Tex McGinnis, leased a master of the soul song “Let It All Hang Out” to Chess and it became a regional hit in the Chicago area.
In 1969 he recorded a blues album for Capitol (“Broke and Hungry”, released under his old moniker Guitar Junior), but his real commercial breakthrough didn’t start until he signed with the Chicago label Alligator Records in 1978. By then he had forged his own sound, a vibrant mix of rock ’n’ roll, R&B, swamp pop, country twang and hard Chicago blues, a style his band dubbed "voodoo blues”. Lonnie Brooks made eight Alligator albums between 1979 and 1996 and built up a large following on the Midwest college and club circuit. He also made several trips to Europe. He appeared in the films “Blues Brothers 2000” and “The Express”. In 2010 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Lonnie Brooks died in Chicago on April Fools’ Day 2017. He was 83.
More info : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonnie_Brooks
Official website : http://www.lonniebrooks.com
CD : The Goldband recordings (including those leased to Mercury) have been reissued on the CD “Guitar Junior : The Crawl” in the series Charly Blues Masterworks (Vol. 1). Released in 1992 (Charly CD BM 1). 14 tracks from 1957-59. Liner notes by Ray Topping.
Acknowledgements : Ray Topping, John Broven, Wikipedia, the official website.
Dik, November 2017
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