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Lonnie Brooks

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Long before Lonnie Brooks was headlining major blues festivals and sharing stages with the likes of Eric Clapton, he was forging his bayou-swamp-music-meets-Chicago-blues-via-Texas style. Born Lee Baker, Jr. in Dubuisson, Louisiana on December 18, 1933, he began his career playing everything from rock 'n' roll to country & western and R&B. Originally desiring to play banjo (his grandfather was an accomplished banjo player), Lonnie instead mastered the guitar. His first professional job came when zydeco legend Clifton Chenier saw him playing guitar on his front porch and drafted him into the famous Red Hot Louisiana Band. In the mid-1950s, Brooks, now known as Guitar Junior, cut a series of Gulf Coast proto-rock 'n' roll hits for the Goldband label, now considered swamp rock classics. He hitched a ride with Sam Cooke's touring caravan and got off in Chicago in 1960. Because Chicago already had a Guitar Junior, he changed his name to Lonnie Brooks, and jumped headlong into Chicago blues. He joined Jimmy Reed's touring band, and also recorded singles for Mercury, Chess and other labels in the 1960s, before Capitol released Brooks' first album, Broke And Hungry (under the name Guitar Junior) in 1969.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Brooks performed regularly in some of Chicago's toughest clubs, playing blues, rock, and R&B (and backing up strippers) for audiences composed of pimps, hookers and gangsters. Although he was forced to perform other artist's hits, he was never without a gig. His big break came in 1978, when Brooks introduced four songs on Alligator Records' Living Chicago Blues anthology. By now he had forged his own sound -- a vibrant mix of rock 'n' roll, R&B, funky Cajun boogie, country twang, and hard Chicago blues, a style his band dubbed "voodoo blues." The success of these recordings led him to a full recording contract with the label and a series of stellar albums, each loaded with Brooks' signature guitar playing and rich, expressive vocals. And, as anyone who has seen him in concert can attest, his live shows are legendary for kick-starting parties and spreading good times like wildfire. "Sheer energy and excitement," raved the Village Voice, "Brooks brings an original brilliance to the blues."

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