This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 161 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
Little recognised by most, and sometimes recognised under a different name by others, I have pulled from the Crate this week a guitarist who started in the 1940’s and was still playing and touring until his death in 2017.
The artist is Guitar Junior and the album is titled – The Crawl.
Released on vinyl in 1984 on Charly Records it has the identifying code of CRB 1068.
Like Raven Records in Australia, Charly is known for releasing the music of artists who have either been forgotten, or releasing material by them that might now be overlooked.
The album never existed before Charly released it and it has 14 early tracks by Guitar Junior.
Now on this occasion I will start more toward the end of the story, the ongoing story of Guitar Junior.
Today he is better known as Lonnie Brooks, aka “The Bayou Boogieman!” It was around 1960 the then Guitar Junior changed his persona to that of Lonnie Brooks, and he continues to perform and tour right up until this time.
But we need to travel back to 1957 to understand the formation of his career as Guitar Junior, and even earlier to get the full story.
He was born Lee Baker Junior on December 18, 1933 on a small farm in Dubuisson, Louisiana. It wasn’t the radio or the church hall or any what we might come to expect to call by normal ways that he first heard the blues.
For him it came about courtesy of a local ice-cream truck that used to play, at a very loud volume, Lightnin’ Hopkins music.
To further reinforce a love for music, his uncle happened to be a very fine banjo player and worked regularly with a local dixieland jazz band. So between the regular visits from the ice-cream van, visits to and from his uncle he began to crave more and more music.
Then as he got a bit older he was allowed to watch and listen to his uncle’s band, and so a life-long love for music developed in the young Lee.
In 1952 Lee moved to the town of Port Arthur in Texas for reasons that are not clear, but he married and began working in a local construction company.
Port Arthur had some fine clubs and Lee would visit them and it was in one of those clubs that he saw and listened to the then young B.B. KIng. This particular club was part of a regular circuit for King so young Lee got to see him every couple of months.
Another early and strong influence was the Texan bluesman, Long John Hunter. In an interview many years later, Lee was quoted as saying of Hunter, “I would watch his fingers on the guitar and memorize it.”
He purchased an electric guitar and a record player and learned from available blues record the various pieces note by note. He is further quoted as saying, “The first song I remember learning was Lowell Fulsons ‘Guitar Shuffle‘”.
Within a 12 month period Lee Baker had become an outstanding guitarist and was picked up and taken under the wing of Clifton Chenier.
His short time with Chenier gave him the confidence to stretch out his style of playing and just as he was finding his way in the group, Chenier announced he had to go the the west coast for a recording session.
Baker was still not earning enough from his music and had kept his day job, which he didn’t want to lose, so he left the group.
Some stories have him striking out alone, but in fact he joined a local outfit called the Lonesome Sundowns, as their lead guitar, and decided it was time to have a stage name and chose Guitar Junior.
Again there seems to be nothing documented that suggests why he chose that name.
Now a local Dee-Jay heard Lee, now known as Guitar Junior, and liked what he heard and invited him onto his show.
This gave Junior a chance to play a song he had just written called “Family Rules“. The response was as unexpected as it was overwhelming, as within minutes of singing it the station was flooded with calls.
Impressed with the response the Dee-jay took the tape to Eddie Shuler.
Eddie Shuler in 1951 started his own recording company called Goldband Records and Eddie was looking for his first record to cut, and on hearing the track knew he had found it.
So it was that Guitar Junior recorded his first track with his own band called The Reveliers, who were formed for this purpose from some local cajun and hillbilly players.
In fact they turned out to be some damn fine players and included Danny George and Leroy James on saxes, Boogie Joe Joseph on piano, Clarence Garlow on 2nd guitar, Ice Water on bass and Little Brother Griffin on drums.
The result was the single – Family Rules backed with I Got It Made (Goldband 1058).
The track became a runaway hit in Louisiana and parts of Texas and was covered by many groups including the then well known Johnny Spain and His Famous Flames. Today, the track is considered as a “swamp pop standard”.
Both Goldband and Guitar Junior were on their way to success and that first single was quickly followed by a second – Roll, Roll, Roll backed with Broken Hearted Rollin’ Tears.
For his third single, and Goldbands third single, Eddie Shuler chose what is best described as an early and fast Rock ‘n Roll song.
This was written by Eddie’s son and another new Goldband artist, name of Ray Victorian, who would record under the name Ray Vict.
It was on this track that Guitar Junior demonstrates a brilliant technique he had developed, of using his tremolo arm in unison with his unique picking style, which some said was just down and down tremolo arm abuse!.
The resulting sound made everyone, record buyers and musicians listen. In an interesting aside, this track – The Crawl, was later revived by the Fabulous Thunderbirds as a single and as a track on one of their albums.
As his fame spread so did the offers and with Eddie Shuler’s help and encouragement he headed for Chicago, which was about as good as it got at the time.
He developed a friendship with Sam Cooke and Sam eventually sent Junior to meet his brother L.C who took him on an intense tour of all the best clubs in and around Chicago,
Here he picked up a few gigs, getting spotted by Jimmy Reed’s manager, Al Smith.
Smith invited him to a recording session with Reed who in turn invited him to sit in on the session that spawned one of Reed’s biggest hits – Big Boss Man.
A southern tour followed with him playing with Reed in which Guitar Junior was featured as the opening act and then Mercury Records, who were riding high with an Eddy Shuler produced track – Sea Of Love, offered him a contract and a session was up at the Universal Studio in Chicago. Four tracks went down but only two were released, “The Horse” and “All My Love“.
It was at this time that the decision was made by Baker to drop the title Guitar Junior, as there was already another “Guitar Junior”, that being Luther Johnson (Guitar Junior), who was actually born some 6 years after Lee Baker.
Baker believed it wasn’t the done thing to play and record under his own name and so he changed it to Lonnie Brooks.
From this time on his abilities kept growing as did his fame within the blues fraternity, and so a growing and passionate fan group, also grew.
He kept playing and recording and touring, including a European tour in 1975 which spread his name wider around the world.
He continued to play and tour almost up until his death. He died on Oct. 22, 2017 at the age of 70. No cause of death was announced.
Yet, outside some aficionados his name is still largely unknown.
This album features his music recorded as Guitar Junior.
|3||I Got It Made|
|4||Tell Me Baby|
|5||Love Me, Love Me Mary Ann|
|6||Now You Know|
|7||Roll, Roll, Roll (alternate take)|
Roll, Roll, Roll
|2||BrokenHearted Rollin’ Tears|
|3||OO Wee Baby|
|5||Pick Up On Your Way Down|
|6||Love Me, Love Me|
|7||Knocks Me Out Fine Fine Fine|
Let’s kick off with track 1 – The Crawl.
A great uptempo and upbeat track that commences with Guitar Junior’s trademark tremolo’d twang – before we kick into The Crawl.
One of the elements of early R&R was to devise a dance and a dance music style. That way you could “hang your hat” on that style and hopefully the dance would get picked up by the kids which in turn would help publicise your record.
Now the year was 1958 and rock ‘n roll singles releases were the fastest growing of any style. In fact it was the style of music that had in fact been around for many years and was gaining more and more popularity.
The Crawl never gained national popularity, it was a regional hit, but as we sit back and listen we get a good idea of Guitar Juniors style when it came to R&R.
We also gain an understanding of what the kids outside the major cities were listening and dancing to, and when it comes to tracks like this, they were well served.
Track 2 is Family Rules.
As indicated earlier, this was in fact the song that got Junior started when he played it live on a radio program, when was then picked up by Eddie Shuler who recorded it, backed up with I Got It Made and released it as a single.
Now, I Got It Made which is track 3, is a nice uptempo blues/ R&R blend with some smokin’ hot guitar licks. However Family Rules is more downtempo, and is very much a doo-wop style mixed with blues.
What it doesn’t have is that traditional “doo-wop” vocal backing.
It certainly demonstrates that Guitar Junior had a voice that could carry a tune, but it IS his guitar playing that is striking.
The guy was brilliant!
The rest of the side is made up of blues/rock, and embryonic R&R and for lovers of early regional rock music, it’s a delight.
Turn over the album, and track 1 is Roll, Roll, Roll.
This was Guitar Juniors second release. It was backed with broken Hearted Rollin’ Tears (track 2 on side 2) – this is pure unadulterated Rock & Roll.
The change in the level of sophistication between that first release and this is quite amazing. In this track Eddie Shuler also makes use of a sax that sits nicely in the back of the track until called upon for a brief but wonderful solo.
Sadly I can find no record of who the sax player was and that is one of the failings of this wonderful release by Charly Records, there is a lack of info on who the various musicians are.
Maybe Goldband Records didn’t in fact, keep written records of the session men and band compositions. If so, that’s a shame because it’s more than giving due recognition, it helps to gradually form patterns of who played with whom and during what periods.
However, this is a fantastic track and in some ways deserved to have been given more exposure nationally, but I guess the competition was fierce.
I think Little Richard would have done a great cover of this track, I can just hear him now, but of course in reality he never did.
Roll, Roll, Roll
Track 5 – Pick me Up On Your Way Down.
This track is quite different again. This is almost a solid country/country & western track.
It was written by the famous country music writer Harlan Howard and the story goes, that when Guitar Junior had a demo of it played to him by Eddie Shuler, he jumped at the chance to release it.
The track is so different to anything else on this album.
It was in fact, the final single he released on Goldmark before moving across to Mercury records.
Another interesting fact is that the backing vocals are provided by a very young Barbara Lynn, who went on to have a number of hits on both the pop and R&B charts.
The interesting thing about the production, is that it isn’t that good.
Lynn and her sisters have an interesting harmony style, not all that terrific on the ears and not always quite in tune – and while most of the early recordings by Guitar Junior at Goldmark, were a tad rough and ready production wise, this is a little more “loose” than the others.
Pick me Up On Your Way Down
Like side 1, there is a good selection of early music by Junior on this side but now we drop down to the final track, track number 7 – Knocks Me Out Fine Fine Fine.
This was his first release on Mercury, and a very fine piece of music it is indeed.
We continue to hear the progression of his music writing and the production of this track is certainly an improvement. Juniors voice sounds like it has more depth on this track and whether that is due to the recording conditions or that he was learning how to use his voice more effectively, we can only wonder!
The composition of the group is good. An organ has been added but yet again, there is no information on the session and the accompanying musicians and again, that is a shame.
It is a great way to finish off this album – as this track is the last by Guitar Junior before he became Lonnie Brooks.
I have a Lonnie Brooks album, and I really should schedule that into a future Cream of The Crate so we can see the continuing development of Lee Baker Junior, aka Guitar Junior, into Lonnie Brooks.
Knocks me Out Fine Fine Fine
So in summary, Guitar Junior and his later alter ego Lonnie Brooks is known by some but not by all.
His contribution to rock and roll, blues and derivatives is significant enough that he should have received far more recognition than he ever did.
This album released by Charly records of his early work with Goldband recordings, certainly provides us with a great range of that very early music of his from 1957 through to his moving across the Mercury Records in 1960.
It is not going to appeal to many music lovers, who might find the “regional style’ and lack of national “hits” on this album as off-putting. However, for collectors of early contemporary music, particularly R&R collectors, a Guitar Junior album is a must, and this is the best.
Oh, and don’t forget, don’t confuse this Guitar Junior with Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson!
The album is available in a CD format on Ebay for under $20.00 and is also available on vinyl at Discogs (the online store), for around $22.00 plus postage.
Sadly there appears to be no known films of Guitar Junior playing live, and in fact, even after he “became” Lonnie Brooks, there appears to be a shortage of video or film recordings of his early years. The 1978 clip and interview seems to be the oldest recording.
interview and live footage from the very first “Guest List” music magazine. Show #1 out of 78
You Know What My Body Needs (2009)
Using Me (2011)
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright