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.
In 1979 Ronnie Earl joined the Roomful of Blues, then a ten-piece ensemble group based in Providence, Rhode Island, where he would spend the next eight years playing and touring while releasing a number of albums, beginning with Hot Little Mama in 1981 through the 1986 release of Live at Lupos Heartbreak Hotel. Ronnie’s Roomful of Blues days were as rewarding as they were difficult. Those days involved extensive traveling and touring with a large group of musicians and it was during these years that he began heavy drug and alcohol use. In addition, as a composer, Ronnie was writing more music than was able to be played with such a large group and he began to seek a way to express the music of his own voice.
In 1983, while still with Roomful of Blues, Ronnie recorded with vocalist Kim Wilson, Darrell Nulisch and Sugar Ray Norcia, releasing Smokin in 1983 and They Call Me Mr. Earl for Black Top Records. In 1988, he left Roomful of Blues for a solo career.
In 1988 Ronnie formed his own band that he called The Broadcasters, named after the first Fender guitar which originally had been labeled The Broadcaster and was distributed in 1950. The first group of Broadcasters included Darrell Nulisch (vocalist), Jerry Portnoy (harmonica), Steve Gomes (bass), and Per Hanson (drums). They released their first album, Soul Searchin, followed by Peace of Mind in 1990.
With the release of I Like It When It Rains, Ronnie welcomed to the Broadcasters Ron Levy (piano and vocals) and Michael "Mudcat" Ward (bass); and on Surrounded by Love he welcomed to the Broadcaster fold Sugar Ray Norcia (harmonica and vocals), Tony Zamagni (organ), and Dave Maxwell (piano and organ).
With the release of Still River in 1993, the Broadcasters would become the first completely all instrumental blues group, which included Bruce Katz (organ), Rod Carey (bass) and drummer Per Hanson. They then embarked on a tour of Europe. It was during this time that the Broadcasters released some of their most critically acclaimed work, including Language of the Soul in 1994, Blues Guitar Virtuoso – Live in Europe in 1995 and the 1996 release Grateful Heart Blues and Ballads. Live in Europe won Pulse magazine’s year-end poll as Best Blues Album and DownBeat magazine recognized Grateful Heart as the year’s Best Blues Album.
In 1997 Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters released The Colour of Love on the Verve label which was produced by Tom Dowd, well known for his work with Aretha Franklin, The Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton. In 2000, with the release of Healing Time, the Broadcasters included "Little" Anthony Geraci (organ and keyboard), Mark Greenberg (drums) and Michael "Mudcat" Ward (bass). In 2001 the Telarc label released Ronnie Earl & Friends which was called a successful “full-on collaboration between Ronnie and people he has known and loved for years."
The current and gifted group of Broadcasters, Jimmy Mouradian (bass), Dave Limina (organ), and Lorne Entress (drums), began playing together prior to the 2003 release of I Feel Like Going On on the Stony Plain Record label and have now released a string of successful blues albums, including the 2007 release of Hope Radio and the 2008 DVD release of the Hope Radio Sessions. Nick Adams (guitar) also joined the Broadcaster fold on Hope Radio with his skills on Blues for Otis Rush. Also a Broadcaster, although not appearing on an album was Dick Reed (organ). In 2008 the group celebrated twenty years of distinguished Broadcaster music, which Ronnie feels has taken on new meaning from the time he became clean and believes that the purpose of the Broadcasters is to broadcast peace, hope, good vibrations and soul. On June 2, 2009 Ronnie and the Broadcasters released Living in the Light, a clear reflection of Ronnie's good health and a story of a life firmly grounded in love.
Ronnie considers blues guitarist and vocalist Otis Rush as having the greatest musical influence on his life, as well as Magic Sam, Guitar Slim, Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, Grant Green, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, all of whom have deeply and profoundly shaped and inspired his playing.
Ronnie is a two-time (1997, 1999) W.C. Handy Blues Award winner as Guitar Player of the Year. He has served as an Associate Professor of Guitar at Berklee College of Music, taught for five years at the National Guitar summer workshop in Connecticut, and has given private lessons. In 1995 Ronnie released Ronnie Earl: Blues Guitar with Soul, an instructional VHS tape that was then rereleased in DVD format in 2005. Ronnie Earl has played alongside such greats as B. B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, Otis Rush, Earl King, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy, as well as gifted young blues guitarists who he just might pull up on stage at a moment’s notice.