On Monday, April 10, Lonnie Brooks was buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago. Lonnie passed away after a long illness on April 1st. He arrived at his grave site in a horse drawn carriage led by a marching band.
Lonnie was born in Louisiana in 1933 as Lee Baker, Jr. He had a couple of regional hits in the Louisiana-Texas area before following the blues path up north to Chicago in 1960 at the age of 27. Lonnie was of the same generation as Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Freddie King and his longtime close friend Eddy Clearwater. He was well known among WXRT listeners for the songs he recorded for Alligator Records between 1978 and 1999, but he was best known for his recording of “Sweet Home Chicago” at Chicagofest in 1980. For generations of Chicagoans this is the version they know best.
Between Lonnie’s death and his funeral his son Ronnie Baker Brooks honored a commitment to perform at FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn on Friday, April 7. He did the show because his father had told him, “If anything happens to me I want you to carry on.” Lonnie would have done that show therefore so did Ronnie, joined by his brother Wayne Baker Brooks. It was an emotional night in a packed house, a real Lonnie Brooks love fest. The show began with Ronnie and Wayne performing a tribute to Lonnie.
Lonnie was a great bluesman but where he really succeeded was as a human. Lonnie was a kind gentleman, and a family man. A family man’s success is measured by looking at his kids. Two of Lonnie’s kids are public figures; blues artists in their own right. In the early 90’s Lonnie recorded a song with one of his son’s, Ronnie, a song that Ronnie co-wrote. A song called, “Like Father, Like Son.” This a beautiful and yet kind of funny song about a father and his son. The son stays out late at night and hangs around with musicians and maybe the father seems to almost be hoping the son will grow to follow a path a little closer to the straight and narrow. But the line in the song sung by the son goes, “Daddy I’m just doing what you done,” and the father answers, “I hate to admit it, like father like son.” Well, as good as that song is, Lonnie did not hate to admit it, he was extremely proud of his blues playing sons, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks. And never, ever, have I heard a son’s love for his father expressed from stage more than I have from both of Lonnie’s sons. And I am sure, that every other member of Lonnie’s family, from children to grandchildren to great grandchildren, got the same love and sense of pride from their Daddy or Granddaddy as these two sons did. And I’m sure Lonnie got the same kind of love back.
Rest In Peace, Lee Baker, Jr. You will not be forgotten.
April 10, 2017 was declared Lonnie Brooks Day in Illinois.