Robert Lockwood Jr. Ties 20th Century Blues Together
There are hardly any direct links to Robert Johnson left. The best of them is Rocket Lockwood Jr. In fact, Robert Johnson taught Lockwood to play guitar and the “Junior” is because Lockwood thinks of himself as Johnson’s stepson.
Robert Lockwood Jr. was born in, no kidding, Turkey Scratch, just outside of Helena, Arkansas, in 1915. At age 8 he started playing organ in his father’s church but his essential musical education came after his parents’ divorce when his mother started living on-again-off-again with her lover Robert Johnson.
Not only did Johnson teach Lockwood a great deal about his guitar style, but he also imparted a strong sense of stage presence and good timing. The two traveled and played together for several of the last years of Johnson’s short life.
Although late in life Lockwood declared disliking the appellation, people began calling him Robert Junior and the name stuck.
After Robert Johnson’s murder in 1938, Robert Lockwood Jr. embarked on his own career, playing with many other greats over the years including Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters and B. B. King.
I’m pretty sure no one else on that list, or anywhere else, can name all of the rest as collaborators, let alone when you include Robert Johnson.
Two things that impress me the most about Robert Lockwood, Jr.: He could eerily recreate the guitar sound of Robert Johnson, which many other guitarists have proclaimed impossible. And despite that ability and the powerful influence of Johnson, Lockwood has never been confined by that heritage. Some of my favorite Lockwood playing is delightfully Jazz tinged and played on electric twelve string guitar.
You get the feeling while viewing a Lockwood show that you are glimpsing what Robert Johnson might have been like in performance. At least it is as close as we can ever get, unless my fantasy that some Johnson footage miraculously turns up should come true.
I highly recommend all the eras and styles of Robert Lockwood, Jr. and have included him on this week’s Nine O’clock Blues.