Robert Lockwood Jr., b. March 27, 1915 in Marvell, AR, d. November 21, 2006 in Cleveland, Delta blues guitarist, who recorded for Chess Records and other Chicago labels in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the only guitarist to have learned to play directly from Robert Johnson. Lockwood is known for his longtime collaboration with Sonny Boy Williamson II and for his work in the mid-1950s with Little Walter.
Lockwood was born in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, a hamlet west of Helena. He started playing the organ in his father's church at the age of 8. His parents divorced, and later the famous bluesman Robert Johnson lived with Lockwood's mother for 10 years off and on. Lockwood learned from Johnson not only how to play guitar but also timing and stage presence. Because of his personal and professional association with Johnson, he became known as "Robert Junior" Lockwood, a nickname by which he was known among musicians for the rest of his life, although he later frequently professed his dislike for this appellation. By age 15, Lockwood was playing professionally at parties in the Helena area. He often played with his quasi-stepfather Robert Johnson and with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Johnny Shines. Lockwood played at fish fries, in juke joints, and on street corners throughout the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s. On one occasion he played on one side of the Sunflower River while Johnson played on the other, with the people of Clarksdale, Mississippi, milling about the bridge, reportedly unable to tell which guitarist was the real Robert Johnson. Around 1937–1938 Lockwood worked with Williamson and Elmore James in the Delta, at places like Winona, Greenwood, and Greenville (where they most probably met Johnson, who died in 1938). Lockwood played with Williamson in the Clarksdale area in 1938 and 1939. He also played with Howlin' Wolf and others in Memphis, Tennessee, around 1938. From 1939 to 1940 he split his time playing in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago; and Helena. On July 1, 1941, Lockwood made his first recordings, with Doctor Clayton, for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois. On July 30 he recorded four songs, which were released as the first two 78-rpm singles under his own name: "Little Boy Blue" backed with "Take a Little Walk with Me" (Bluebird B-8820) and "I'm Gonna Train My Baby" backed with "Black Spider Blues" (Bluebird B-8877). These songs remained in his repertoire throughout his career. In 1941, Lockwood and Williamson began their influential performances on the daily radio program King Biscuit Time on KFFA in Helena. For several years in the early 1940s the pair played together in and around Helena and continued to be associated with King Biscuit Time. From about 1944 to 1949 Lockwood played in West Memphis, Arkansas; St. Louis; Chicago and Memphis. He was an early influence on B. B. King and played with King's band during his early career in Memphis. In 1950, Lockwood settled in Chicago. A 1951 78-rpm single featured "I'm Gonna Dig Myself a Hole" backed with "Dust My Broom" (Mercury 8260), and a 1954 release contained "Aw Aw (Baby)" backed with "Sweet Woman (from Maine)" (J.O.B 1107). In 1954 he replaced Louis Myers as guitarist in Little Walter's band. He played on Walter's number 1 hit "My Babe" in 1955. He left the band around 1957. In the late 1950s he recorded several sessions with Sonny Boy Williamson for Chess Records, sessions which also included Willie Dixon and Otis Spann. Lockwood also performed or recorded with Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd, Roosevelt Sykes, J. B. Lenoir, and Muddy Waters, among others. In 1960, Lockwood moved with Williamson to Cleveland, Ohio, where he resided for the second half of his life. In the early 1960s, as Bob Lockwood Jr. and Combo, he had a regular gig at Loving's Grill, at 8426 Hough Avenue. From the 1970s through the 2000s, he performed regularly with his band the All Stars at numerous local venues, including Pirate's Cove, the Euclid Tavern, Peabody's, Wilbert's and, in the last years of his career, Fat Fish Blue (on the corner of Prospect and Ontario in downtown Cleveland) every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. He played his regular three sets two days before the illness which led to his death. The All Stars continued the Wednesday residency for two years after his death. His studio albums as a bandleader include Steady Rollin' Man, with the Aces (recorded 1970, Delmark); Contrasts (recorded 1973, Trix); ...Does 12 (recorded 1975, Trix); Hangin' On, with Johnny Shines (recorded 1979, Rounder); Mister Blues Is Back to Stay, with Shines (recorded 1980, Rounder); What's the Score (recorded 1990, Lockwood); and I Got to Find Me a Woman (recorded 1996, Verve). A 1972 45-rpm single included "Selfish Ways" backed with "Down Home Cookin'" (Big Star BB 020). His solo guitar and vocal albums include Plays Robert and Robert (recorded 1982, Evidence), Delta Crossroads (recorded 2000, Telarc) and The Legend Live (recorded 2003, M.C.). A duet session with the pianist Otis Spann in 1960 resulted in Otis Spann Is the Blues and Walking the Blues, released by Candid. At the age of sixty, in 1975, he discovered the 12-string guitar and preferentially played it almost exclusively for the latter third of his life. His most famous 12-string was a blue instrument custom designed and made by the Japanese luthiers Moony Omote and Age Sumi. It was acquired by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in February 2013 and is displayed there. Lockwood began touring again internationally after 9/11 as a result of new management by Michael Wood becoming a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and nominations for two Grammy awards. In 2004, he performed at Eric Clapton's first Crossroads Guitar Festival, in Dallas. A live performance by Lockwood, Henry "Mule" Townsend, Joseph "Pinetop" Perkins, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, recorded later in 2004 and released in 2007 as Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas, won a Grammy Award in 2008 in the category Best Traditional Blues Album. It was the first Grammy Award for Lockwood and Townsend. Lockwood's last known recording session was at Ante Up Audio studio in Cleveland, with longtime collaborator Mark "Cleveland Fats" Hahn, to record the album The Way Things Go for Honeybee Entertainment. Lockwood died at the age of 91 in Cleveland, having suffered a cerebral aneurysm and a stroke. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery, in Cleveland.
by Bill Dahl
Robert Lockwood, Jr., learned his blues firsthand from an unimpeachable source: the immortal Robert Johnson. Lockwood was capable of conjuring up the bone-chilling Johnson sound whenever he desired, but he was never one to linger in the past for long -- which accounts for the jazzy swing he often brought to the licks he played on his 12-string electric guitar. Born in 1915, Lockwood was one of the last living links to the glorious Johnson legacy. When Lockwood's mother became romantically involved with the charismatic rambler in Helena, AR, the quiet teenager suddenly gained a role model and a close friend -- so close that Lockwood considered himself Johnson's stepson. Robert Jr. learned how to play guitar very quickly with Johnson's expert help, assimilating Johnson's technique inside and out. Following Johnson's tragic murder in 1938, Lockwood embarked on his own intriguing musical journey. He was among the first bluesmen to score an electric guitar in 1938 and eventually made his way to Chicago, where he cut four seminal tracks for Bluebird. Jazz elements steadily crept into Lockwood's dazzling fretwork, although his role as Sonny Boy Williamson's musical partner on the fabled KFFA King Biscuit Time radio broadcasts during the early '40s out of Helena, AR, probably didn't emphasize that side of his dexterity all that much. Settling in Chicago in 1950, Lockwood swiftly gained a reputation as a versatile in-demand studio sideman, recording behind harp genius Little Walter, piano masters Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd, and plenty more. Solo recording opportunities were scarce, though Lockwood did cut fine singles in 1951 for Mercury ("I'm Gonna Dig Myself a Hole" and a very early "Dust My Broom") and in 1955 for JOB ("Sweet Woman from Maine"/"Aw Aw Baby"). Lockwood's best modern work as a leader was done for Pete Lowry's Trix label, including some startling workouts on the 12-string axe (which he daringly added to his arsenal in 1965). He later joined forces with fellow Johnson disciple Johnny Shines for two eclectic early-'80s Rounder albums. He also recorded a Robert Johnson tribute album and founded his own label, Lockwood. In 1998, he signed to Verve for the Grammy-nominated album I Got to Find Me a Woman, which featured sit-in guests including B.B. King and Joe Louis Walker. He was still working a weekly gig in Cleveland until early November 2006, when he suffered a brain aneurysm. He died on November 21.