Cleveland (Ohio), USA – Robert Lockwood Jr., one of the last surviving
roots bluesman of the twentieth century, died November 21 at the age of 91 in a Cleveland
Robert Lockwood Jr. was born March 27, 1915 in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, a
farming hamlet about 25 miles west of Helena. 1915 was remarkable because
several other monumental blues artists were born within a 100-mile radius that
year; notably Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Little Walter Jacobs, Memphis Slim,
Johnny Shines, and Honeyboy Edwards. They would all meet up in the future.
His first musical lessons were on the family pump organ. He learned the guitar,
at age eleven, from Robert Johnson, the mysterious delta bluesman, who was
living with his mother. From Johnson, Lockwood learned chords, timing, and stage
By the age of fifteen, Robert was playing professionally, often with Johnson;
sometimes with Johnny Shines or Rice Miller, who would soon be calling himself
Sonny Boy Williamson II. They would play fish fries, juke joints, and street
corners. 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.
Johnson’s fast lifestyle caught up with him, passing away in 1937. Lockwood was
22 but prepared for the future.
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
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
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 Myers, 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 (The
Complete Trix Recordings).
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
Plays Robert and Robert, a Black and Blue recording of a solo show
in Paris in 1982, was re-issued on Evidence in 1993.
From the early 1980s to 1996, there were no domestic Lockwood releases. In 1998,
I Got to Find Me 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.
In the last twenty years, the Blues world has recognized Lockwood’s
contributions to the genre. Recently, Lockwood has amassed so many that it is
not possible to list all of them. The most notable are:
1980 Lockwood received the very first W.C. Handy Award for “best traditional
1989 Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame
1995 Received National Heritage Fellowship Award, presented by Hilary Clinton
1996 Cleveland Mayor, Michael White, proclaims February 3, as “Robert Lockwood
1997 Has street named “Robert Lockwood, Jr. Way” in Cleveland’s Flat District
1998 Inducted into Delta Blues Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Mississippi
2001 Received Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Case Western Reserve in
2001 Received W.C. Handy for “best traditional blues album,” Delta Crossroads
2001 City of Pittsburgh named 8/18 “Robert Lockwood, Jr. Day”
2002 Received honorary Degree of “Doctor of Music” from Cleveland State
University on May 12
The live recording
Legend Live was released in 2004.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Lockwood kept touring in his latter year,
roaming the world playing his jazz-tinted Delta Blues.
Biography courtesy of
Author: World Music Central News Department
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