Digital images of Ronnie Earl by Kurt Swanson and Soulful Impressions
Ronnie Earl was born Ronald Horvath in Queens, New York, on March 10, 1953. After picking up his first guitar twenty years later, he went on to stretch the boundaries of electric blues guitar playing higher, lifting hearts and souls a little higher as he did. Like a harmonic seventh note sliding its way into a piece of music before being felt, he would eventually emerge into the New England blues scene as a budding young guitarist.
In 1963, when he was ten years old, Ronnie’s parents signed him up for piano lessons, which he quickly abandoned, discovering that he disliked the discipline of practicing. He graduated from Forest Hills High School in New York in 1971. After high school, Ronnie attended C.W. Post College on Long Island for a year and a half studying American History. It was during these early college years that Ronnie first started playing the guitar. Eventually he transferred to Boston University where he would graduate in 1975 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education & Special Education. Ronnie spent a short time teaching and working with children with special needs in the Newton school system, as well as the League School in Government Center.
In 1973, Ronnie purchased a Martin acoustic guitar; however, he returned it the very next day for a Fender Stratocaster. He took a serious musical turn toward the blues after attending a Muddy Waters concert at the Jazz Workshop, a small club in Boston. By his third year in college Ronnie was seriously pursuing the guitar, now practicing hours at a time having rediscovered the discipline that would continue to serve him well throughout his life. Ronnie has said that musically it was his time to “catch up with the world.”
Ronnie’s first professional job was as a rhythm guitarist at The Speakeasy (also known as Speakeasy Pete's or The Speak) in Cambridge. He began to play along with and learn from the great blues guitarist and vocalist Otis Rush, as well as the harmonica master Big Walter Horton, who would share an apartment with Ronnie when he was in town. On two different occasions Ronnie boarded a Greyhound bus for Chicago, spending time with Koko Taylor, now a Grammy award winning blues vocalist. Koko introduced Ronnie to the Chicago blues scene, where he was able to sit in on sets in clubs. Back in Boston, Ronnie began playing with Johnny Nicholas and the Rhythm Rockers, as well as Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones with harmonica player and singer Sugar Ray Norcia.
In 1978 Ronnie took an eight-month leave of absence from his teaching job to travel down South with John Nicholas. Together they visited blues clubs in Atlanta and New Orleans, then landed in Austin, Texas, where they were introduced to Kim Wilson and Jimmie Vaughan of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, a blues band that burst onto the scene in 1974. Ronnie stayed with Jimmie and his wife while he was in Austin and still considers The Fabulous Thunderbirds to be one of the greatest young blues groups he has ever heard. Following this trip, Ronnie felt he could no longer keep up with both the rigors of teaching and his emerging musical career and he left the teaching profession.
Ronnie’s first record was playing slide guitar with blues pianist, guitarist and vocalist Sunnyland Slim. In 1979, under the Baron Record label, Ronnie Horvath released a 45RPM followed by two recordings with Johnny Nicholas and the Rhythm Rockers and then another 45 release with Sugar Ray and the Bluetones. Playing at the time with blues guitarist and singer Muddy Waters, and in light of the fact that Muddy couldn’t remember his last name when he would call Ronnie up on stage, he changed his last name to “Earl” as a tribute to blues slide guitarist Earl Hooker.