Blues Bytes


December 2006

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Order Steady Rolling Man today

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Robert Lockwood Jr.
Steady Rolling Man
Delmark Records

Robert Jr. Lockwood Plays Robert & Robert
Evidence Records

Robert Jr. Lockwood

When Robert Lockwood Jr. passed away on November 21, one of the last living links to Robert Johnson was taken. Johnson, though only four or five years Lockwood’s senior, kept company with Lockwood’s mother and taught the youngster the style he jealously kept from nearly everyone else, even helping him build a guitar from the back of a phonograph using baling wire for strings. Lockwood was never interested in playing the guitar until he saw Johnson play because Johnson was the first person he ever saw play rhythm and melody by himself.

Lockwood proved to be a quick study. In addition to learning Johnson’s style, he also developed an affinity for a jazzy blues style similar to Charlie Christian or Eddie Durham that he eventually seemed to prefer to the Johnson style. Lockwood also served as a big influence to B. B. King and even gave King guitar lessons. He was one of the most in-demand session guitarists of the late ’40s/early ’50s, appearing on numerous tracks by artists like Sonny Boy Williamson (with whom he also appeared on the King Biscuit Time radio program), Little Walter (“Juke“), Roosevelt Sykes, Dr. Clayton, Muddy Waters, Willie Mabon, and Sunnyland Slim, along with a legendary session backing Otis Spann for Candid Records.

Surprisingly, except for a few singles for Bluebird and JOB, Lockwood never recorded a complete session as a bandleader until 1970, when he recorded Steady Rollin’ Man for Bob Koester’s Delmark label. In fact, Lockwood had settled in Cleveland, Ohio and was off the scene for a few years in the ’60s.

Steady Rollin’ Man features a few songs from Robert Johnson’s repertoire (“Ramblin‘ On My Mind,” “Kind Hearted Woman“), spiced up by Lockwood’s jazzy guitar work, many of which ended up as permanent fixtures on his set list. In addition, Lockwood played several of his own compositions that we would see on later releases as well (“Western Horizon, “ “Take A Walk With Me”).

Assisting Lockwood on this session was Little Walter’s former band, the Aces. Louis Myers played rhythm guitar, his brother Dave Myers played bass, and the great Fred Below served as timekeeper. They get an opportunity to stretch out on several Lockwood instrumentals, “Steady Groove,” “Lockwood’s Boogie” and “Tanya.” You couldn’t ask for a better backing group and they complement Lockwood very well.

This was not a bad first session as leader for Lockwood, but his subsequent ’70s recordings for Trix (Contrasts and ...Does 12, now available as The Complete Trix Recordings) were livelier sets and more representative of the style he was playing. However, Steady Rollin’ Man was the release that put him back on the blues map to stay, and is a nice, relaxed set from a seasoned group of professionals.

Robert Jr. LockwoodIn 1982, Lockwood returned to his roots in a manner of speaking, recording a solo set on his instrument of choice, 12-string guitar. The set was recorded in Paris for Disques Black & Blue and reissued by Evidence in the mid-’90s. Robert Jr. Lockwood Plays Robert & Robert features six songs by Robert Johnson and five songs by Lockwood.

Lockwood’s 12-string gives an added dimension to the Johnson tracks, though he is faithful in his interpretation. Many of these songs are regulars on Lockwood releases (“Sweet Home Chicago,” “Kind Hearted Woman,” “Rambling On My Mind,” “Steady Rollin’ Man”) but Lockwood’s jazzy stylishness is mixed with the original desperation and urgency of Johnson’s originals and it gives the songs a fresh look and feel.

Lockwood’s own songs (“Western Horizon,” “Little Boy Blue,” “She’s Little and Low,” “Take A Walk With Me”) give the listener a pretty good idea of what Johnson might have sounded like had he survived past 1938. While no one knows for sure, Lockwood once told writer Peter Guralnick (recounted in Guralnick’s essay, Searching For Robert Johnson) that had Johnson lived, their styles probably would have matched up pretty closely. Plays Robert & Robert is an underrated gem in the Lockwood catalog and is essential listening.

Lockwood once said, “People accept me like I am or leave me alone.” That statement summed up his entire career. He never compromised, either musically or personally, and he succeeded on his own terms. If you’re a newcomer to Robert Lockwood Jr., these two discs are a great place to start.

--- Graham Clarke


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