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BLUES : The Family That Plays Together . . .

December 05, 1991|FRANK MESSINA | Frank Messina is a correspondent with The Times Orange County Edition

It's a story as old as the blues itself: Life between gigs for 57-year-old Lonnie Brooks meant long stretches in a used van, riding down America's two-lane highways 250 days a year. The excitement of playing for the crowds at night would war with the loneliness during the day that came with being far from his family and home.

Enter Ronnie Baker Brooks, the veteran guitarist's 24-year-old, guitar-playing son.

Ronnie joined his dad's band recently, and as the elder Brooks put it over the phone from a hotel in Colorado last week, "now that I've got him on the road, it feels like I never left home. Playing with my son is like a dream come true. I can't explain how good it feels."

Now, a day on the road "isn't much different from what we do at home," added Ronnie, taking the phone from his father. "We sit around, playing guitar and writing songs. For me, it's great. How many people get to jam every day with someone like my father?"

The decision to keep it in the family is turning out also to be a good financial move. "Like Father, Like Son," a rollicking, semi-autobiographical tale of father-son conflict written by Ronnie, is getting heavy airplay in Chicago and other cities.

Backed by their searing, Southern rock/blues guitar licks, Lonnie and Ronnie trade vocals and guitar solos on the song, challenging each other to "show me what you got."

At the Chicago Blues Festival in June, playing the same guitar, Lonnie ran leads using the top three strings while his son pulled solos off the bottom three.

So who's better? Give the edge to Dad, said Ronnie, as his father cackled loudly in the background.

"Hey, I'm a part of him," Ronnie said. "You can't get any bigger than something you're a part of."

The legacy that Ronnie Brooks is inheriting from his father reads like a Who's Who in American R&B. Born in the bayous of Louisiana, Lonnie got his first break as sideman for a zydeco legend, the late Clifton Chenier. As the 1950s ended, the young guitarist signed on with Sam Cooke, embarking on a tour that brought him to Chicago, where he decided to strike on his own.

Brooks earned a major reputation among bluesmen but he also struggled for several years, releasing only a few albums. It wasn't until he recorded "Bayou Lighting" in 1980 that he finally found national popularity.

And the beat goes on: Lonnie says he has a 10-year-old grandson who talks about nothing but playing guitar. "He says he's gonna play with me someday. I think he will, because I plan to play until I drop."

What: Lonnie and Ronnie Baker Brooks.

When: Saturday, Dec. 7. The Delgado Brothers open the show at 9:30 p.m; Brooks and Brooks go on at 11:30.

Where: Bogart's, in the Marina Pacifica Mall, 6288 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego Freeway to the Seal Beach Boulevard exit, go left, then right onto Westminster Avenue and right again onto the Pacific Coast Highway. Bogart's is just past the intersection of Westminster and the PCH, on the left.

Wherewithal: $10.

Where to Call: (310) 594-8975.

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