ASHBURN — The family of Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks paid tribute to their late father through music Monday, celebrating his life at an Ashburn church.
Brooks, who was born Lee Baker Jr., died April 1 at age 83.
Wayne Baker Brooks grabbed an electric guitar and sang "everything is gonna be all right" while his brother, Ronnie, joined on acoustic guitar. Billy Branch played harmonica. Ronnie later played "Thank You," a song he previously wrote to his parents.
During Brooks’ musical career, he gained many followers from all walks of life through his music and infectious laugh, family said. The wake and funeral were held at Liberty Temple Full Gospel Church, 2233 W. 79th St., in Ashburn.
“I’m so proud we kept it together as a family,” Ronnie Brooks said. “I truly believe because of what we did, he stayed this long because we kept love and positive energy around my dad. My dad made me stronger, he made all of us stronger.”
Wayne Baker Brooks shared childhood stories, bringing those sitting on the church’s pews to laughter. It wasn’t a day of mourning, but one of celebration, everyone said.
The blues singer and guitarist was born in Dubuisson, La. on Dec. 18, 1933. Brooks’ grandfather, Joe Thomas (Banjo Joe), inspired him to become a musician. He would travel with him at an early age to house parties where Thomas played.
Over a 60-year career, Brooks recorded 11 full albums and dozens of singles for several labels. In the early part of his career he performed under “Guitar Junior” throughout Texas and Louisiana.
In 1959 he became friends with Sam Cooke, who suggested he move to Chicago. He would eventually live with Cooke and his parents as he got situated in Chicago. There was already a Guitar Junior, so he changed his performing name to Lonnie Brooks.
Brooks recorded four songs for Alligator Records’ Grammy-nominated "Living Chicago Blues" anthology in 1978. That work led to a full contract with the label. His Alligator debut, "Bayou Lightning," dropped in 1979. His name got bigger after that. Rolling Stone would later do a six-page feature on the musician. He also won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque Award from the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival.
In 1983 Brooks spent the summer touring across the country with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells and Eric Johnson.
Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records said at the service Monday that he was glad he signed Brooks when he did. He first saw him play at Avenue Lounge at Madison and California on the West Side, where he played from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. multiple nights a week.
[Photo by Dave Newbart]
“They say you can recognize the best musicians with one note and that was true of Lonnie Brooks,” Iglauer said.
“Lonnie didn’t play the blues to make you feel sad,” he said. “His blues made you forget your blues. He could reach down inside of you, he could soothe your soul ... he could get you on your feet.”
Brooks became a friend to the record company over the years. Iglauer said he was well respected and always wore a smile on his face. He never put himself above others.
“He was never too important to meet with fans,” he said.
Tom Marker, who hosts "Blues Breakers" on WXRT, said Brooks was literally a giant of a man — especially because he always wore cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat. He said he was kind and all about family.
Ronnie Baker Brooks said family members will continue to keep their father's legacy alive.