Robert Lockwood Jr. took his first guitar lessons from none other than Robert Johnson, who was, for a time, Lockwood’s mother’s beau. Lockwood has been playing the blues since he was a teenager and now, at almost 90 years of age, he’s one of the last immediate links to the original Delta blues. This fine CD was recorded in Phoenix at the Rhythm Room. Accompanying himself on 12-string guitar, Lockwood tracked 12 songs—each a blues classic—including four Johnson originals. Lockwood’s performance proves there can be a great deal of elegance in simplicity. His guitar work is economical yet tasty; his vocals are charming. Lockwood brings a dignity to music that some have considered to be nothing more than juke-joint dance tunes. He can do this because he’s an old bluesman who knows that these songs are cultural pearls. Celebrate the fact that Lockwood is still playing his blues.
Blues In Britain Magazine
Legendary is a word that is bandied about far too frequently when talking about blues artists, often being ascribed to artists purely and simply because of their age, and bearing no reflection on their talent. In Robert Lockwood Jr we have an artist who qualifies for the sobriquet ‘the legend’ on both counts, being an octogenarian, having been born in 1915, and possessing a rare talent, as both an instrumentalist and a singer, preserving it intact to the present day, as evidenced by this live set recorded at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix in July 2003.
Over the course of the 44 minutes that this CD lasts, Lockwood transports us back to an era when the blues was in it’s prime; telling intimate stories, that everyone could connect to, and doing so to a subtle guitar backing that mirrored the moods and emotions being expressed, the guitar an extension to, not a substitute for the vocals, as one listen to the plaintive ‘Meet Me In The Bottom’ will testify.
As Lockwood has grown older, his vocals have developed a natural poignancy that is mesmerizing in it’s quality, luring you into a world where sorrows and loneliness can be shared with others who have experienced and can understand it’s emotions and frustrations; the Leroy Carr numbers, ‘Mean Mistreater Mama’, ‘How Long’ and ‘In The Evening’ being prime examples of this as they effectively capture the plaintiveness and weariness inherent in Carr’s work. Lockwood is also an acknowledged doyen of the twelve string guitar, often using his mastery of it to add subtle tones, textures and shades to his blues, bringing a jazzy quality to the relaxed swing of numbers like ‘Exactly Like You’ and Roosevelt Sykes’ ‘Feel Like Blowin’ My Horn’.
Lockwood’s connections to Robert Johnson are well documented, so I won’t delve into those again, but inevitably several Johnson numbers are featured on this set, and one has to say that no one else is more ‘qualified’ to perform these than Lockwood; but, to his credit, he is no mere imitator, investing each of the four Johnson blues chosen with his own unique personality and style, the numbers just a launching pad allowing him to express his own vision of the blues. ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ conjures up a vision of an almost sophisticated Big Joe Williams; ‘Love In Vain’ is an almost palpable piece of melancholia; the pensive qualities in ‘From Four Until Late’ are mesmerizing in their intensity, whilst ‘Rambling On My Mind’ evokes none of the torment of the original, Lockwood’s phrasing and tone indicating a reluctant resignation to accepting the inevitable.
‘The Legend Live’ is a simple but apt title for this set, which receives an unqualified recommendation.
– Mick Rainsford
At 89 years young, Robert Lockwood, Jr. looks and sounds great. Lockwood made his first record for the Bluebird label in 1941. Think about it! He’s been recording for 63 years and performing for 75 years. His newest session for M.C. Records has a street date of March 9, 2004.
Take a moment to read a few facts about one of the finest surviving acoustic bluesmen. The year of 1915 not only heralded the birth of Robert Lockwood, Jr. in the hamlet of Turkey Scratch, Mississippi. Within a 100 mile radius of Robert’s birthplace, and in the same year, several other notable players were born including Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Johnny Shines, Little Walter Jacobs and Honeyboy Edwards.
When young Robert switched from organ to guitar, his tutor was none other than Robert Johnson. The blues pioneer had taken up with Lockwood’s mother and shared their home. In his teenage years, he played professionally with his renowned stepfather and Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson). It wasn’t until 1941 that Lockwood made his first recordings with Doc Watson and strangely, decades passed before he cut another solo session in 1970. The songs from his first records are still part of his repertoire today.
The famed King Biscuit Flour radio broadcasts from Helena featured Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson and influenced hundreds of budding bluesmen. He found a comfortable niche in the studios and recorded as a “session man” for Chess, Mercury and various labels in the 1950s with friends, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, Sonny Boy and others.
Robert Lockwood, Jr. has called many cities home including Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago. In the sixties, he settled in Cleveland, Ohio and still resides there, performing regularly at Fat Fish Blue. An indefatigable player, Lockwood continues to tour the world preaching the blues.
This CD stems from a solo session at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, AZ and was recorded on July 24, 2003. Lockwood performs Robert Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicagoand claims it was the first piece he learned to play 75 years ago. His rendition is as pure as the blues can be and echoes in the listeners mind seemingly forever. The same can be said of Leroy Carr’s How Long Blues. It’s a classic performance! The intimate atmosphere of the club and an attentive audience bring out the best in the veteran bluesman. His command of the 12 string guitar is legendary and has been imitated by countless players around the world. The pure beauty of Lockwood’s guitar style is evident on all the tracks but especially on Ramblin’ On My Mind.
“The Legend Live” is a fine performance by a pioneer of the Delta Blues. Give it a listen!
Tracks: Meet Me In The Bottom; Feel Like Blowin’ My Horn; Mean Mistreater Mama; She’s Little And She’s Low; How Long Blues; Sweet Home Chicago; Exactly Like You; Love In Vain; From Four Until Late; Ramblin’ On My Mind; Big Leg Woman; In The Evening; Farewell Speech.
– Richard Bourcier
Charleston Daily Mail
It’s one thing to live to 89, it’s quite another to be 89 and still be performing well. Robert Lockwood, Jr., is perhaps the last living link to the origins of the blues. Blues archetype Robert Johnson lived with Lockwood’s mother and Johnson taught the teenaged Lockwood the rudiments. Lockwood went on to play with greats like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II (on the legendary “King Biscuit Time” radio show) and Sunnyland Slim, and, after moving to Chicago, was the first-call session guitarist for Chess Records. This solo set, featuring Lockwood on his trademark electric 12-string, is as down home and laid back as it gets. Lockwood pulls out treasures he’s performed throughout his long career, from the like-minded Mance Lipscomb’s “Meet Me In the Bottom” and Roosevelt Sykes’ “She’s Little and She’s Low” to four of Johnson’s tunes including “Love In Vain” and “Four Until Late.” And closing the record, the sassy Lockwood lets the crowd know that he’s just as cantankerous as ever.
There are very few artists who could appropriate the moniker “Legend” for an album title. There are fewer who should. But here there is little room for debate. Robert Lockwood Jr. is one the true living legacies of the original tier of Blues creators who first carried their personal music from the Delta. In a year when artists as wildly popular as Eric Clapton are celebrating the work of Robert Johnson, there is no one living who can take us closer to the Crossroads than Lockwood. This is not some kid who heard the music and copied it, Lockwood lived the music and learned at the knee of the master. And after decades of perfecting what he learned, he offers us a taste from the source. This is Robert Lockwood Jr.’s first live solo release, though he did record a live in Japan LP with the Aces in the 1970s. This new release is a great way to hear Lockwood’s mastery of solo Blues guitar in action. The opening cut, “Meet Me in the Bottom,” shows off Robert’s skill in keeping the bottom notes going while chording at the top, just as his stepfather Robert Johnson would have done. There are other numbers on this CD that show this off to even more advantage; the first song Johnson ever taught him, “Sweet Home Chicago,” as well as “Love In Vain” and “Big Leg Woman.” These are all numbers we’ve heard Lockwood play before, but he’s so comfortable playing and singing them in this solo context that they sound utterly organic and natural.
Robert’s vocals on this CD are a treasure as well, even with age taking its toll a bit. Listen to him singing at the end of “Love in Vain” about “…two lights on behind” and you know he’s been on that platform back in the day. The vocals on the two Leroy Carr numbers also show off his old time roots, this is classic Blues in all its subtle splendor. The grit has been smoothed down by time and is even nearly silky in these deliveries.
Players like Robert Lockwood Jr. deserve all our attention while they’re still with us. His playing is still unbelievably magnificent and unequalled today in its depth of feeling, taste, and subtlety. Robert and his compatriots truly come from a different place and era, a different time and space, a space that’s come and gone like the train he sings about in the song “Love in Vain.” In the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, such a time capsule is truly a gift that should be savored.
Mark Hummel is a contributing writer at BluesWax
Blueswax Rating: 9
This is Lockwood’s first domestic release since 2000, and the exquisite live album is well worth the wait. The performance at Phoenix’s Rhythm Room sees the 89-year-old elder statesman of the blues draw upon six decades of bluesmanship. This masterful performance on 12-string electric guitar comes to us from the only living performer to have learned the craft from Robert Johnson, his stepfather. (Lockwood performs four of Johnson’s songs here, including “Sweet Home Chicago”.) Lockwood spent the ’30s and beyond gigging with Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf and became a noted Chess session guitarist. Lockwood continued to innovate and improve his clear, crystalline style through the ’70s resulting here in a gifted performer exhibiting emotion and soul honed to a sharp edge with precision and technical ability shining with the glint of a jazz patina. The dozen songs here cover material by Mance Lipscomb, Leroy Carr, Roosevelt Sykes and more. Lockwood never before recorded many of the songs here, or never recorded them as a solo performance.
Now in 1913, Leroy “Lasses” White told us “Oh, the blues ain’t nothing/But a good man feeling bad.” This scintillating performance from Lockwood is journey by time machine to meet many of those good men of the past. Lockwood initiates the show with “Meet me in the Bottom” by the renaissance man of the blues, scholar songster Mance Lipscomb (“Meet me in the Bottom”). However, the shining and smiling delivery takes from the lows to the lofty heights where Lockwood stands arm-to-shoulders with the smiling jester of the blues, Roosevelt Sykes (“Feel Like Blowin’ my Horn”). Another pianist, prolific songwriter Leroy Carr, comes up next with the rollicking “Mean Mistreater Mama”.
As the set does turn emotional and sad, Lockwood clamps down on the strings to suppress the ringing tones for a pointedly and poignantly delivered “She’s Little and She’s Low” (Roosevelt Sykes). After this deliberate delivery, Lockwood loosens a bit more to perform a great follow-up tune, “How Long Blues” (Leroy Carr). The crowd, largely silent to this point (rapt), claps as the anthemic pinnacle at the midpoint of this set, Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” begins. Keeping things interesting, Lockwood follows this up with “Exactly Like You”, the pop gem from the songwriting team Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. All this focus on pianists’ songs seems to strike at the heart of the Lockwood style: melody over rhythm. After this brief pop interlude and the addition of a comical, self-deprecating coda, Lockwood launches into a trio of Robert Johnson songs: “Love in Vain”, “From Four Until Late” and “Ramblin’ on my Mind”.
While “Love in Vain” is delivered with ringing melody, and gives the most vociferous audience reaction of the disk, Lockwood echoes the after-hours mood “From Four Until Late” with a more sparse, understated delivery. “Ramblin’ on my Mind” is similarly delivered with a lot of empty space which Lockwood fills with a bright and clear vocal delivery. Lockwood then rambles on to the antecedent of the Robert Johnson style, Johnnie “Geechie” Temple. Syncopating the rhythm, Lockwood gives us the salacious “Big Leg Woman”.
Lockwood turns back to Leroy Carr’s songbook for a delicately and simply delivered “In the Evening” as an apt closer to the set. In a final farewell speech, Lockwood sharply and suddenly asks the audience for something – money? Applause? Regardless, it is the saddest note on this golden example of the craft of solo blues from a master of the art.
– Tom Schulte
In the timeline of history, the blues can be said to have come into being as a reaction to the brutality of slavery. Its earliest practitioners are lost in the dim haze of time. The first recorded evidence of the blues can be laid at the feet of Charlie Patton and Sun House. Their lineal descendants are too numerous to mention en masse but include Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and the legendary Robert Johnson. These and all the other followers of Patton and House have long since shuffled off this mortal coil (many quite a few years ago, Johnson first in 1938, at the age of 27). Today, direct descendants of those original blues players are far and few between. One of the last is known today simply as “The Legend,” but is more commonly recognized as Robert Lockwood, Jr., stepson (and student of) the great Robert Johnson himself.
His latest CD, The Legend Live, is a primer for what the blues may have originally sounded like. It’s just Lockwood, Jr. and his 12-string hollow-body electric guitar. That’s it. No added accompaniment, no overdubs, just one man, his guitar and the blues. It was recorded live in front of an extremely appreciative audience at The Rhythm Room, in Phoenix, Arizona on July 24, 2003. And while Lockwood may not be as quick and nimble as he was three or four decades ago, he proves here that even at 88 he can still summon the abilities of his younger days whenever he chooses, albeit now only in select spots. Today he’s learned that the say-more-with-less approach, together with a greater depth of feeling and world-weariness, will let him communicate to his listeners on a closer, more personal level.
I love the way he bends his strings when playing his stepfather’s tune, “From Four Until Late.” Lockwood adds nothing superfluous. He plays only what’s needed to get his point across. This song alone is worth the price of admission. But close behind it is Lockwood’s version of Johnny Temple’s “Big Leg Woman.” He revitalizes a tune many of you will already be familiar with. Lockwood has been playing and singing many of the songs on The Legend Live for most of his life and he knows them inside and out. As a result, he looks for new ways of interpreting them that keep them fresh, much as jazz musicians do for the tunes they choose to play. An example of this rejuvenation is Lockwood, Jr.’s rendition of “In the Evening.” Here it is sung with an I’ll-see-ya-later feel, as opposed to its more familiar farewell style.
The sonic qualities of The Legend Live are quite acceptable. You can get a sense of the Rhythm Room’s dimensions (despite a lack of any real ambience), the size of the crowd, and Lockwood, Jr.’s guitar playing. His vocals are recorded clearly enough to let you hear that he’s no longer a young man. This disc can’t be considered to be of demo quality, but on the whole it’s a rather nice job that allows the listener to “get into” the music.
The disc closes with a 1:19 farewell speech from The Legend that is a fitting close to a wonderful album of real, down-home blues playing. We are lucky to still have Robert Lockwood, Jr. around to teach and entertain us and to give us great recordings, such as this one. The Legend Live, whether it’s your initial introduction to this great musician or the latest purchase from his catalog, will be a perfect addition to your blues library. Don’t miss it.
– John Crossett