Lonnie Brooks AKA Guitar Junior

Listen to The Crawl Family Rules and Roll, Roll, Roll.

Guitar JRSince the late sixties he's been masquerading as Chicago blues guitar killer Lonnie Brooks, but to fans of South Louisiana R&B, the man born Lee Baker Junior will never live down his initial reputation as Guitar Junior, Bayou Boogie Man extraordinaire.

For those lucky enough to have stuck around til the bitter end of the first Ponderosa Stomp back in 2001, when Baker/ Brooks reverted to his former identity for a power-packed blast of Gulf Coast grease that shook the rafters and dissolved the past four decades in a single instant, the man needs no introduction. For all others, take heed, because babies, you've been warned. Warned that you'd better brace yourselves for some of the wildest Bayou-styled guitar-slinging you'll ever hear.

For just a moment, let's return to that fateful first Stomp. Nobody could have closed out the crazed 'n' dazed three nights of musical mania in the way Guitar Junior did as he reeled off the holy trinity of "Roll, Roll, Roll," Family Rules" and "The Crawl" as if he'd recorded them the day before. Only, of course, it had actually been more than forty years since he'd strolled into Eddie Shuler's Goldband Studio and laid down this triad of South Louisiana sickness. Best of all, former Goldband recording artist Classie Ballou—who had last seen Junior prior to his migration to the Windy City—backed him to absolute perfection. To top if off, Ballou's son Cedric (bass) and grandson Cedrell (drums) anchored the proceedings as if they'd been playing with Junior all their lives, while the twin tenor saxes of Derek Huston and Herb Hardesty blasted away. It was a Mau-Mau moment in the truest sense of the word. After all, even in a state chock full of pioneering rock 'n' roll geniuses, there's only one Guitar Junior.

Growing up in rural Garland, Louisiana, Baker took his first musical cues from Lightnin' Hopkins (whose records he heard blasting from the speakers of an ice cream truck) and an uncle who played Dixieland banjo. In 1952 he moved to Port Arthur, Texas where he saw B.B. King and Long John Hunter, whose fingering technique he studiously watched and memorized. He then plunked down the green for an electric guitar and a record player and proceeded to go professional within a year.

Stints with Clifton Chenier and Lonesome Sundown provided the perfect framework for his fabulous debut. "Family Rules," cut in 1957, became an instantaneous swamp pop classic; it's place as one of the most definitive examples of the genre has been assured by Johnnie Allan's ever-popular cover version, which has propelled the song into a life of its own. The flip side of "Family Rules," "Roll, Roll, Roll," was a rocker of the first order, replete with hollering lyrics about "Waking up the dead" and a wild New Orleans-inspired rhythm. Junior's next record followed suit accordingly. "Broken Hearted Rollin' Tears" was another gorgeous triplet-infused ballad and its flip, "The Crawl" was a fret board-defying dance number that found him abusing the tremelo arm of his Stratocaster as only Ike Turner had a license to.

More classics followed in quick succession, including a great version of Harlan Howard's country classic "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" that featured the backing vocals of a young Barbara Lynn and her sisters.

After moving to Chicago and changing his name to Lonnie Brooks, he continued to cut great records, in particular "The Frog" for the Palos imprint. A live 1968 set at Pepper's Night Club on Black Top Records is well worth seeking out, as it finds him in the wildest of Chuck Berry/ Eddy Clearwater territory.

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