January 2011

Happy New Year all! I hope it has been safe and fun so far and wishes to you for the future to be happy, healthy and prosperous.

This month we’re featuring two artists that are highly regarded Chicago Bluesmen. Lonnie Brooks has been featured in Northwest Wisconsin several times and his son, Lonnie Baker Brooks, still comes to our area occasionally to bring us his brand of soulful joy.

Albert Collins Profile:

By Reverend Keith A. Gordon, About.com Guide

Born: October 1, 1932 in Leona TX

Died: November 24, 1993 in Las Vegas NV

Guitarist Albert Collins was a unique stylist and an incendiary live performer whose appeal jumped across the aisle from fans of houserockin' Texas blues to include many fans in the rock world. Influencing talents as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Collins rode high during the 1980s blues revival, ensuring his place in music history.

The Iceman

Born in rural Texas, Collins' family moved to Houston when he was young, growing up in the city's notorious Third Ward with musicians Johnny Copeland and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Collins originally wanted to play keyboards, but by the age of 18 he had switched to guitar. Collins served his apprenticeship in Houston clubs with performers like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, T-Bone Walker, and his cousin, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins.

Collins developed his own original style of playing involving minor tunings and the frequent use of a capo on his trademark Fender Telecaster. Beginning in 1958, Collins recorded a number of singles for regional labels with titles like "The Freeze," "Sno-Cone," and "Defrost." In 1962, Collins enjoyed a national hit with his song "Frosty." These singles, along with his cold, crisp guitar technique, earned Collins his nickname, "The Iceman."

Adventures In Babysitting

Upon moving to California in the late-1960s, Collins became a hit with the growing blues-rock audience, performing with bands like Canned Heat and the Allman Brothers at San Francisco venues. After five years, Collins would move back to Texas and put together a new band.

While in Texas, Collins signed with Alligator Records, which released Ice Pickin', the guitarist's incredible 1977 album debut. Collins would record six more albums for the label before signing with Pointblank in 1989. The guitarist's spirited appearance in the 1987 movie Adventures In Babysitting, along with numerous TV performances, brought his music to an entirely new audience. Sadly, Collins succumbed to cancer at the young age of 61 before he could fully capitalize on his high profile.

Through the years, Collins also performed on albums by talents like David Bowie, John Mayall, B.B. King, Gary Moore, Jack Bruce, and Robert Cray.

Recommended Albums: Ice Pickin' is the quintessential Albert Collins album, but 1985's Showdown!, with guitarists Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray, provides more bang for your buck.

Lonnie Brooks Profile:

By Reverend Keith A. Gordon, About.com Guide

Born: December 18, 1933 in Dubuisson LA

Guitarist Lonnie Brooks forged a distinctive style that is often described as "voodoo blues," mixing elements of R&B, Chicago blues, Memphis soul, and Cajun music into an intoxicating brew. One of the most popular performers on the Chicago blues scene, Brooks also remains in demand on the festival circuit. Both of Brooks' sons - Wayne Baker Brooks and Ronnie Baker Brooks - are full-time musicians with their own blues bands, and they often appear onstage with their father. The three musicians also have performed together as The Brooks Family.

Guitar Junior

Born Lee Baker, Jr. in Louisiana, Brooks didn't begin playing guitar until he was in his twenties and living in Texas. His first professional gig was playing under the name "Guitar Junior" behind zydeco legend Clifton Chenier as part of his Red Hot Louisiana Band. Brooks began recording as Guitar Junior in 1957, releasing a number of regional singles, and scoring a minor hit with his song "The Crawl."

Brooks joined soul giant Sam Cooke's touring band in the late-1950s, but upon arriving in Chicago, he found another Guitar Junior already working in the city. Changing his name to Lonnie Brooks, the guitarist worked with Jimmy Reed for a while before setting out on his own. At first, Brooks' country-flavored songs fell upon indifferent ears, but as Brooks refined his sound, he grew in popularity on the Chicago blues scene.

Bayou Lightning

Brooks toured constantly throughout the 1970s and '80s, including appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival and as part of the Chicago Blues Festival. Alligator Records released Brooks' critically-acclaimed label debut, Bayou Lightning, in 1979. Brooks followed with Turn On The Night two years later; Alligator would subsequently release six more Brooks albums through the years.

A master showman and charismatic performer, Brooks has often branched out beyond records to take advantage of other mediums. The guitarist appeared in the movie Blues Brothers 2000 as well as various television shows, and co-wrote the book Blues For Dummies with his son Wayne and roots-rocker Cub Koda.

Recommended Albums: Brooks' Alligator label debut, Bayou Lightning, is considered his signature work, although 1999's Lone Star Shootout, with guitarists Long John Hunter and Phillip Walker, is an enduring fan favorite.

In future Blues Notes, I will bring you more histories and more info about performers, concerts in the region and other blues news from around the country.

On that note, I’d like to announce the Chippewa Valley Blues Society will be hosting our fourth spring fundraiser on March 13th at Action City in the Metropolis Hotel complex. The schedule is still pending, but we can promise that it will deliver some excellent  rockin’ blues, funk, soul & more. So break out your boogie shoes and plan on joining us to shake off the winter blues!

Thanks for lending me an ear. See ya around.