Singer and guitarist Lonnie Brooks, known for his intense guitar work and a unique style that mixed Southern soul, Louisiana rhythms and Chicago blues, died April 1 in Chicago. He was 83.
His son, Ronnie Baker Brooks, confirmed the death to the Associated Press but did not specify a cause.
Mr. Brooks was a mainstay in Chicago’s blues bars, recorded for local labels and accompanied other entertainers in the studio. Mr. Brooks’s six-string work adorns the 1961 hit by Jimmy Reed, “Big Boss Man,” a song later covered by Elvis Presley.
In 1978, he recorded four songs for Alligator Records’ anthology “Living Chicago Blues.” A full-length album of mostly original songs, “Bayou Lightning,” followed in 1979.
During an appearance at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival, Mr. Brooks befriended country performer Roy Clark and, in an unusual move for a blues singer, appeared on Clark’s television show, “Hee Haw.” He later appeared as himself in the movie comedy “Blues Brothers 2000” (1998), starring Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman.
Mr. Brooks was born Lee Baker Jr. in Dubuisson, La., on Dec. 18, 1933. He began his career playing zydeco with accordionist Clifton Chenier and, by the mid-1950s, was leading a band in Port Arthur, Tex., under the stage name Guitar Jr.
He first recorded in a rock-and-roll style for Goldband Records in 1957, and had regional hit recordings the following year with the ballad “Family Rules” and a dance number, “The Crawl,” later covered by the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He settled in Chicago at the urging of singer Sam Cooke, and changed his name to Lonnie Brooks because there was a Guitar Junior playing in the Windy City.
Mr. Brooks’s notable recordings include the albums “Hot Shot” (1983), “Roadhouse Rules” (1996) and “Lone Star Shootout,” a 1999 collaboration with blues guitarists Phillip Walker and Long John Hunter, both veterans of the Port Arthur juke joints.
New York Times music critic Jon Pareles once wrote of Mr. Brooks: “He sings in a rowdy baritone, sliding and rasping in songs that celebrate lust, fulfilled and unfulfilled; his guitar solos are pointed and unhurried, with a tone that slices cleanly across the beat. Wearing a cowboy hat, he looks like the embodiment of a good-time bluesman.”
Among his survivors are two sons, the blues guitarists Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks, who had toured with him in recent years as the Brooks Family Dynasty.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1992, Mr. Brooks said the Chicago blues style did not come naturally to him at first.
“Then one night, I saw [singer-guitarist] Magic Sam in a little blues club on the South Side,” he recalled. “He went on stage right after he’d gotten into a big fight with his girlfriend, and it was like he was taking it out on his guitar. I seen how it came from the heart, so I went home to the basement, and got into that mood that Magic Sam had been in, and the blues came to me.”
Read more Washington Post obituaries