Robert Lockwood Jr.: 03/27/1915 to 11/21/2006
Perhaps his father’s name was Robert, too, but the junior stuck because he learned to play guitar just like his mother’s boyfriend, Robert Johnson. And so he became Robert Junior Lockwood in some circles, and almost certainly that name and legacy wore tired over the years.
No matter who taught him, Lockwood could play. Born poor in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, he ended up in Helena, Arkansas, playing guitar on the radio against the harmonica of Rice Miller/Sonny Boy Williamson II. And then in Chicago as a session player for Chess.
By 1965 he’d started playing a twelve-string, but (not counting four sides cut for Bluebird in 1941) he didn’t record as a leader until 1970, releasing Steady Rollin’ Man on Delmark. By that point he’d left Chicago for Cleveland, but once he started recording, he kept at it steadily, ending, at age 88, with The Legend Live for M.C. Records.
Maybe Lockwood would have been better-known had he written hit songs, or sought the spotlight sooner, or limited himself to the feral qualities of his first teacher. Nevertheless, he received the very first W.C. Handy Award for best traditional blues album in 1980, and a slew of honors after.
He was the quintessential blues guitarist, playing clean and nimble and full of feeling, an irreplaceable supporting player, if never quite a star. With his passing on November 21 at age 91, we have lost our final link to the class of 1915: Willie Dixon, Honeyboy Edwards, Little Walter, Johnny Shines, and Muddy Waters, all born within 100 miles of each other.