Robert J.R. Lockwood
Robert Lockwood Jr
Born 27th March 1915 Died 21st November 2006
Robert Lockwood Jr. was born in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, a farming hamlet about 25 miles west of Helena. He was the godson and musical heir to Robert Johnson, who is considered the greatest of the delta bluesmen.Lockwood had an early interest in music, his first lessons were on the family ‘pump’ organ. Lockwood took up guitar at the age of eleven, getting lessons from Robert Johnson the greatest of the delta bluesmen, who was lodging with his mother. By the time he was fifteen Lockwood was performing professionally quite often with Johnson, when he was in town. Other artist Lockwood regularly performed with were Johnny Shines and Rice Miller, who was later to be better known as Sonny Boy Wiliamson. They would play anywhere they could raise an audience such as street corners and juke joints. It is reputed once Johnson played one side of the Sunflower River, while Lockwood manned the other bank. The people of Clarksville, Mississippi were milling around the bridge; they couldn’t tell which guitarist was Robert Johnson. Young Lockwood had learned Johnson’s techniques very well.
Lockwood’s first recordings came in 1941, with Doc Clayton, on his famous Bluebird Sessions in Aurora, Illinois. During these sessions, he cut four singles under his own name. These were the first incarnations of “Take A Little Walk with Me”, and “Little Boy Blue,” Lockwood staples sixty years later. Later in 1941, Lockwood was back in Arkansas where he re-united with Sonny Boy II to host a live radio program broadcast at noon from KFFA in Helena, sponsored by the King Biscuit Flower Company. James “Peck” Curtis and Dudlow Taylor provided the rhythm. This show became a cultural phenomenon; everybody would listen during his or her lunch hour. Several generations of southern bluesman can trace their musical roots to the show.
Lockwood moved around, the usual route was Memphis, St. Louis, to Chicago. By the early 1950’s, he had surfaced in the Windy City, where he became the top session man for Chess Records, the epitome of blues labels. Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, and Eddie Boyd, whom he toured with for six years, you can hear his smooth chords on their recordings.
Blues was giving way to Rock and Roll, even in Chicago, so Lockwood moved to Cleveland, Ohio at the urging of his old pal, Sonny Boy. Settling down and raising a family took priorities but blues was still in his soul, just on the back burner.
In the late 1960s Lockwood would gig all around Cleveland, playing whenever he got the chance. Long-forgotten clubs like Pirates Cove and Brothers Lounge were places where Lockwood taught his blues to generations of local musicians and fans. Lockwood’s solo recording career, exclusive of the 1941 Bluebird Sessions, began in 1970 with Delmark’s ‘Steady Rollin’ Man’, backed by old friends Louis Myers, his brother Dave, and Fred Below, collectively known as The Aces. In 1972, Lockwood hooked up with famed musicologist, Pete Lowry to record ‘Contrasts’, the first of two for Trix Records. ‘Does 12’ followed in 1975. They have been remastered and repackaged by Fuel 2000 Records.
In the early 1980s Lockwood teamed up with another long-time friend, Johnny Shines, to record three albums for Rounder, which has been comprised into 1999’s ‘Just the Blues’. ‘Plays Robert’ and ‘Robert’, a Black and Blue recording of a solo show in Paris in 1982, was re-issued on Evidence in 1993.
In 1998, ‘I’ve Got to Find Myself a Woman’ was released by Verve, gaining a Grammy nomination. This was followed by Telarc’s ‘Delta Crossroads’, also a Grammy contender in 2000. In 2001, ‘What’s the Score’ was re-issued on Lockwood Records which has the rights to his Japanese live recordings, previously only available on Peavine.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Lockwood toured more than ever at age 86. Lockwood led an eight-piece band every Wednesday at Fat Fish Blue in Cleveland, roamed the world playing his jazz-tinted Delta Blues. His guitar playing was as crisp as ever. Like a fine French cognac, he seemed get better with age. Robert Lockwood Jr. passed away at the age of 91 on November 21, 2006. His career was legendary, his accomplishments legion. Here is a brief sample: Two W.C Handy awards, a National Heritage Fellowship award, one Grammy award, two Grammy nomination, an honorary doctorate (from Case Western Resereve University), an honorary degree (from Cleveland State University), induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, the Delta Blues Hall of Fame, and now the Cleveland Blues Society Hall of Fame.