Every once in awhile, I believe in magic. There was magic surrounding Luther Allison. Over two years have gone by since we lost Luther. When Luther played and sang, it touched your soul, your heart, and your body down to your toes. I long for that incredible emotion when I see and hear a blues artist. I remembered Luther Allison at Buddy Guy’s 60th birthday party at Legends in the summer of 1996. Luther went on stage to jam and then called out Ronnie Baker Brooks to the stage to play with him. They both ended up on their knees and everything else stopped in the club. Right there I knew something happened. To quote Ronnie from another Luther and Ronnie moment:
"When we started playing, he and I got into this zone where I forgot where I was. I didn’t even know what I was playing. It was like that every time he called me up. The first time was at Bruce Iglauer’s wedding in 1995. We just locked in and forgot where we were. It was more than music. There was something spiritual there. From that, every time we’d see each other, he called me out. He said I gave him energy, that’s why he called me out. He definitely gave me energy. It was an honor to be on stage with him."
I saw Luther and Ronnie do this again the day after Buddy’s party at the 25th Alligator Records Anniversary Tour at Navy Pier in Chicago. Since then I have been anxious to see Ronnie out there on his own. I had seen Ronnie when he played at the Coral Gables Blues Festival with his dad in 1998 (sponsored by Harald Neuweg – owner of the new blues club in town – Satchmos). He opened the show before Lonnie came on and tore up the crowd.
Born in 1967, the son of Blues Legend, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie has played in his father’s band for the last 12 years until this past January 1999 when he finally went on his own. Lonnie taught him well, as did the other mentors he speaks of – Albert Collins, Jr. Wells, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Luther Allison. This summer while I was in Chicago, I got my chance to see him – and see him I did. After the first show, I found myself following him to a total of 5 clubs or festivals around the area in the 11 days I was there. He was fabulous.
From my first Saturday in Chicago, July 31, 1999, I found my way to the 1st annual St. Charles Blues Festival sponsored by Chord on Blues Club. Ronnie didn’t let me down. Even more than that, he did something that hit me deep inside – I felt Luther Allison’s soul. For a minute during the show, I walked back away from the stage – and – all of a sudden – I knew it was that "thing" inside jumping out of me. Ronnie doesn’t really sound like Luther, he just reached that same place deep inside. All the pieces to the magic were there. His heart is within his soul and his music. He feels and we feel; he sings and our hearts sing; he plays guitar and our blood flows – he touches your heart with love and joy. WOW!! That’s quite a statement, but it’s how I felt.
In every show he pays tribute to his dad, and especially so, since almost all of his other heroes have passed. Ronnie began playing with the guitar at about 3 years of age. When he was 6, Lonnie realized that this son of his wasn’t just fooling around anymore and began to teach him.
When he was 9, Lonnie told him that if he learned to play "Messin’ With the Kid" (Junior Wells’ famous song) and "Reconsider Baby" he could get up on the stage with him. Lonnie was playing in Chicago at the now gone – famous "Peppers Lounge." To quote Lonnie from an Art Tipaldi article in Blues Connection – March 1999:
"Nine years old, and he played ‘Messin’ With the Kid’ perfect. I let him play like I promised. Had a suit made like mine. People thought I just had him up there as a gimmick; they still thought it was me playing. When he got to his solo, I took my hands off the guitar and held them up in the air. Boy, when the people seen that, they started throwin’ him money! He made more money in one night than I did."
Ronnie’s new CD, GOLDDIGGER, produced by Ronnie and Jellybean Johnson, is a testament to his blues soul. All original cuts, he mixes very modern ideas with the traditions of his heroes. I was especially impressed with his live performances and one of the spectacular cuts "Stuck on Stupid" is an incredibly beautiful, searing blues ballad. His guitar squeals, talks, and cries out to us and expresses the entire range of human emotion. Again, this intensity can only be compared to seeing and hearing Luther Allison. Ronnie pays tribute to his heroes on "Keeping the Blues Alive." This is a very cleverly written song that incorporates his love of the music with the people he loved who taught him and played it from their hearts. That is Ronnie’s goal – to just be honest and play what he feels and believes. I am confident that as people begin to see him on his own, he will move up to that place where only the very few can reach. Ronnie’s character and music will soar to the top.
Miami, FL and Chicago, IL
This article is copyright © 1999 by Gloria Pierce, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.