Interview with Lonnie Brooks
April 17, 1998

Lonnie Brooks
The Cabooze, 4/17/98
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Lonnie Brooks was born Lee Baker, Jr., December 18, 1933 on a small farm in rural Louisiana. "They called it Dubuisson, Louisiana. That's where I was born. A year after I was born my dad moved a little way down the road. It wasn't far, you could walk there in 30 minutes. I Stayed with him until I was 17 and left for Southern Louisiana. I got married then went to Port Arthur, Texas looking for work. Got a job, bought me a guitar, learned how to play, and made some records. Records took me on the road and away from the job."

It was while Lonnie was in Port Arthur, Texas in the early 1950's that he first hooked up with Clifton Chenier.

How did you meet Clifton?

"I was sitting on a porch practicing on the guitar and he drove up and he saw me and come up there and asked who was I playing with. I said 'I'm not good enough yet.' He said 'you sound good to me. How about coming over to the house and lets jam.' Back then I could learn anything I wanted to, man I was sharp. So I went to his house and jammed. I couldn't believe I was jamming with this guy because he was such a popular person. He took me out that Friday night and I played with him and he gave me a job. I played with him around the area for some time. The reason why I didn't stay with him was because I had a day job and couldn't be gone from home long. Later he got contracted to go to California to cut a record for the Specialty label. So he took Phillip walker and Lonesome Sundown instead. In the early 50's it was Clifton Chenier, B.B. King, Gatemouth, and T. Bone Walker. T. Bone was the boss then."

What type of music did you play back in Texas?

"I learned everything back then. I would learn everything I hear. In Port Arthur, if you wanted to work you had to learn how to play everything. Sometime we play country bars, sometime we play rock and roll bars, sometime we play jazz bars. We learned everything. We wouldn't do just one thing. One night it was Zydeco, Wednesday night might be rock and roll, Thursday and Friday might be jazz or country."

Lonnie Brooks had some regional recording success during the 1950's under the name of Guitar Junior. When he moved to Chicago in 1959 there was another guitar player going by the same name of Guitar Junior (Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson). People were always getting the two mixed up and were not sure whose show they were going to see so around 1961 or '62 Lonnie decided to just change his name.

Lonnie Brooks
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
How did you come up with the name Lonnie Brooks?

"I know I had to change the name, and the producer I had said, 'to tell you the truth, Guitar Junior is catchy but its not a real name. If you're going to play blues you need a real name.' I could have come up with something probably better than that, but I had this thing for this lady who used to take care of me for my mama when she go to work. Her name was Bertha Brooks. She treated me like I was one of her kids. Sometimes my mama would be so tired, (Bertha would say) 'well let him stay all night' and then she would keep me there the next day. My mom would go to work and I would stay there. I was like 4 or 5 years old and she treated me better than she treated all the kids. After I grew up I figured I didn't have nothin' to give for her so I though I just use the name. I remember a long time ago, the people in Louisiana they don't speak English so good, and my mother would call me 'Little Lee' which is named after my dad. And when she would call me she wouldn't say 'Lee' she called me 'Little Lee.' The Creole people heard her say it and they couldn't say 'Little Lee,' they say 'Lee Lee.' And it went from 'Lee Lee' to Lenny and I got mad about it at school. Everybody would tease me so I didn't like Lenny. I was going to use Lenny Brooks but I didn't like that so I just put Lonnie. I liked Lonnie so I chose that (name)."

What did you do between that time and when you first signed with Alligator Records?

"I was cuttin' records. I cut records for USA, Cherub, a bunch of small labels. I did some for Chess and in 1967 had a hit with "Let It All Hang Out."

Did the different names (Lee Baker, Lonnie Brooks, and Guitar Junior) become confusing?

"Lee Baker is on my union card. They used Lee Baker when they gave song writing credit. Right now lot of people don't know that I'm writing for myself. They think Lee Baker is writing for me (laughs). There was a guy once and I thought he was just teasing me. He said 'man, how do you find these good writers?' I say 'writers?' He say 'yeah, that Lee Baker can really write some tunes.' I thought he was pulling my leg. I thought he knew that it was me (more laughter)."

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