Ronald Moore, better known as Ronnie Brewer during his musical career, is known for his voice that was comparable to Bobby “Blue” Bland in his prime. When he first heard Bland’s version of “Stormy Monday Blues,” it was the main inspiration to become a singer in that style. In addition to his immense vocal ability, Ronnie also played drums for many years as well.
Born in Des Moines in 1939, and armed with the desire to make good with his natural talent, Ronnie made his big break from a period of life on the streets by entering a talent contest that was being held at the 1112 Vets Club in 1961. He remembers this momentous occasion well – it was 10 o’clock at night – and he won.
This eventually led to the opportunity to perform at the 790 Vets Club, downstairs from The Empire Room, both owned by Mel Harper, who Ron credits for giving him a real chance to make things happen in the music scene. The house band at the 790 included Prez Lovett, Rufus Spates, and Eddie Eugene. (Harper is a member of the IBHOF, because of his great contributions of providing gigs for musicians to play and cultivating a vibrant nightlife for many years.)
Ronnie remembers one of his first steady gigs was singing with organist Sam Anthony (Salomone) and guitarist Don Archer. (Both men are members of the Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame, and Salomone is also a member of the IBHOF.) Tommy Gordon or Curly McFadden (Martin) provided the drumming.
Brewer eventually began drumming himself, discovering that he had a natural ability to keep time. “Frosty” by Albert Collins was one of his favorite songs to play. Artists that he performed with include Lincoln Berry, Rudy Green, and the legendary Pee Wee Crayton during the couple of years that the great singer/guitarist was in Des Moines.
Brewer became part of the vocal group, The Blendtones, which consisted of George, Gilbert and Audrey Davis, along with Johnny Walker. (George and Gil are both now members of the IBHOF.) The group enjoyed some significant popularity with a West Coast tour and their song “Lovers” (with lead vocal by George) reached #3 in Los Angeles, behind #2 “Just One Look” (by Doris Troy) and the #1 hit “Fingertips” (by then 12-year-old Stevie Wonder). The flip side of the single was “Dear Diary,” with Ronnie on the lead vocal, making for a potent one-two punch. Another highlight for The Blendtones was opening for Ike & Tina Turner at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis.
In 1965, Brewer played drums and sang with the phenomenal guitarist, Earl Hooker (cousin of John Lee Hooker), who would periodically stay in Waterloo, Iowa, performing in the clubs there. Earl was constantly on the move and Ronnie traveled with Hooker on a tour that took them south, where Ronnie says he cut a couple sides with Albert King when his drummer had taken ill.
As Brewer’s reputation grew as a top-notch vocalist, he would participate in shows billed as “Battle of the Blues” with other singers like Rose Marie Gaiters (Webster) and Ella Ruth Piggee (both members of the IBHOF). Ronnie also sang off and on with The Soul Brothers, a longtime fixture on the Des Moines Blues scene, and which featured several current members of the IBHOF, including Gene Jackson, “Chicago Rick” Lussie, Harlan “Soul Man” Thomas, Ronnie McClain, and George Davis.
Ronnie traveled extensively, doing stints on the “chitlin circuit” for many years. From around 1967-’72, he had a regular house gig at venues in Phoenix, Arizona for six months out of the year.
Drawing inspiration through the years from singers like Bobby Bland, Albert King, Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock, Little Milton, and Johnnie Taylor, Ronnie Brewer is well-respected as a superb vocal stylist in his own right.
– Don Erickson