[Dixielandjazz] Robert Lockwood - Blues legend - obit

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 25 08:49:16 PST 2006

For those who hear Blues as OKOM, a legend passes.
Steve Barbone

Robert Lockwood Jr., 91, Bluesman, Dies

NY TIMES - By JON PARELES - November 25, 2006

Robert Lockwood Jr., the Mississippi Delta bluesman who was taught by Robert
Johnson and became a mentor to generations of blues musicians, died on
Tuesday in Cleveland, where he lived. He was 91.

The cause was respiratory failure, said his wife, Mary Smith Lockwood. Mr.
Lockwood had been hospitalized since suffering a brain aneurysm on Nov. 3.

Mr. Lockwood considered himself Johnson¹s stepson, since Johnson had a
decade-long romance with his mother. For long stretches of his career, he
called himself Robert Jr. Lockwood to acknowledge Johnson¹s influence.

Mr. Lockwood carried the music of the Mississippi Delta to other emerging
blues scenes. He performed on the pioneering blues radio show ³King Biscuit
Time.² He gave B. B. King guitar lessons. He became a studio musician at
Chess Records and played on sessions that defined electric Chicago blues and
went on to shape rock ¹n¹ roll. Although he could play in the old Delta
style, he embraced blues from across the United States and drew strongly on
the harmonies and phrasing of jazz.

³I never did want to sound like anybody else,² he said in a 2001 interview
with the Big Road Blues Web site. ³What I play sounds easy, but you just try
it. It¹s not easy.²

Mr. Lockwood was born on March 27, 1915, in Turkey Scratch, Ark. He learned
to play the family pump organ and hoped to become a pianist. But when he was
a teenager, Robert Johnson moved in with his mother (who was separated from
Robert Lockwood Sr.). Once Mr. Lockwood heard Johnson¹s music, he turned to
guitar. Other bluesmen worked in guitar duos, but ³Robert came along and he
was backing himself up without anybody helping him, and sounding good,² Mr.
Lockwood recounted in Robert Palmer¹s 1981 book, ³Deep Blues.²

Johnson was secretive about his technique, but he instructed Robert Jr. in
his songs and his guitar style. ³Robert wouldn¹t show me stuff but once or
twice,² Mr. Lockwood said, ³but when he¹d come back I¹d be playing it.²

When Johnson was killed in 1938, Mr. Lockwood was so shaken that he didn¹t
perform for a year. ³Everything I played would remind me of Robert, and
whenever I tried to play I would just come down in tears,² he said.

Mr. Lockwood often insisted that he improved on what he learned from
Johnson. ³On a lot of things, you know, Robert kind of messed the time
around, and I played perfect time,² he said.

In 1940, Mr. Lockwood traveled to Chicago, and in 1941 he made his first
recordings in nearby Aurora, Ill. But that year he returned to the Delta,
where he and Rice Miller (calling himself Sonny Boy Williamson) inaugurated
a daily blues radio show, ³King Biscuit Time,² on KFFA in Helena, Ark. It
made them stars across the South.

Growing up in Mississippi, a young B. B. King heard Mr. Lockwood on the
radio and went to him for guitar lessons, and Mr. Lockwood worked with Mr.
King in the late 1940s. In interviews, he said that while Mr. King was
already a skilled guitarist, his timing was bad.

Mr. Lockwood settled in Chicago in the early 1950s and became a mainstay of
the studio bands at Chess Records and other labels. Although he recorded a
few singles of his own, he worked primarily as a sideman. He backed Muddy
Waters, Howlin¹ Wolf, Sunnyland Slim and Little Walter, among many others,
and was in the pianist Roosevelt Sykes¹s live band. In 1960 he accompanied
Muddy Waters¹s pianist, Otis Spann, on the duet album ³Otis Spann Is the

As the 1960s began, Mr. Lockwood moved to Cleveland, where he reigned as the
city¹s leading bluesman. He resumed his solo recording career in the 1970s
with albums for the Delmark and Trix labels, drawing on blues, jump blues
and swing styles from across the country. He also recorded live albums in

Around 1975, his first wife, Annie Roberts Lockwood, gave him a 12-string
guitar, and he made it his main instrument, switching from the six-string.
He is survived by his second wife and nine children.

Mr. Lockwood reunited with an old Delta partner, Johnny Shines, on albums
for Rounder Records as the 1980s began. Their album ³Hangin¹ On² was named
best traditional blues album at the first Blues Music Awards in 1980. Mr.
Lockwood¹s 2000 album ³Delta Crossroads² (Telarc) received the same award.
Mr. Lockwood was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989.

In the ¹80s, Mr. Lockwood made albums of Robert Johnson songs, and in the
¹90s he started his own label, Lockwood Records, which released ³What¹s the
Score.² In 1995 he received the National Heritage Fellowship Award,
America¹s most prestigious traditional arts award. He toured the worldwide
blues circuit. 

Until Nov. 1, Mr. Lockwood worked a weekly club gig at Fat Fish Blue in
Cleveland. A street in Cleveland¹s night-life area, the Flats, was named for
him in 1997. Verve Records released his album ³I¹ve Got to Find Me a Woman,²
on which B. B. King and others sat in, in 1998. It was nominated for a
Grammy Award, as was ³Delta Crossroads.²

³I just do what I¹m doin¹,² Mr. Lockwood told Living Blues magazine in 1995.
³Express my ideas, explore new ideas.² 

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list