Sunday, November 11, 2018


Well is this the one to finally get me my marching orders? The 'Thanksgiving' theme is the one I generally sit out, it being a holiday I neither partake or understand fully, together with (this theme's) Arlo being someone I know precisely 2 songs about, the restaurant and the 'sickle. Other Arlo's have me stuck after the Good Dinosaur. But then I remembered the penchant for abbreviating names so de rigour your side, you know, J-Lo and, um, I can't think of any more, but, hey, never let evidence get in the way of a good idea. So I give you R-Lo. (Drumroll.) No, not that one.

Robert Lockwood, Jr, was one of the last credible links between the very early days blues of the blues and the appropriation of their legacy by white boys in the 60s, managing to haul back some of the credit, if little of the cash, raked in by these latter-day pillagers. Robert Johnson was the King of the (Delta) Blues, and Lockwood was (almost) his step-son, Johnson living, albeit intermittently, with his mother over a 10 year period, the seminal part of his childhood and early adulthood. What better guitar tutor could he have had, and he spent these years picking up many of the tics and trades of his default stepfather, performing with him and other local luminaries. Indeed, such was the similarities in style that an early nickname was Robert Junior.

During the 30's he plied his trade as a working musician, coming into contact with a who's who of who is who, even if it was before they were. So Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson were all contemporaries with whom he played, until he was able to kick off his own career, in 1941, with a brace of 78rpm discs, which includes the song, 'Black Spider Blues', featured above, before he and Williamson started a long connection with the King Biscuit Time radio show. Cited as an influence on B.B. King, he later played in an early version of his band, before working in the band of harp player extraordinaire, Little Walter, the Coronets, which also included the likes of Willie Dixon and Otis Spann. Quite a c.v.!

In his mid-40s he moved to Cleveland, becoming a well-established local performer and bandleader. with residencies at many a venue that lasted right up to his final years. But it was in his 60s that he made a further notch in the bedstead of blues history, discovering the 12-string guitar, adopting it and using it near exclusively for the final 3 decades of his life, in 2008 winning a posthumous Grammy for his performance with 3 other veterans, 'Honeyboy' Edwards, 'Pinetop' Perkins and 'Mule' Johnson, as the Last of the Great Missisippi Delta Bluesmen, made in 2004. And this a decade or so after he was an endowed with the highest honour in folk and traditional arts bestowed in the U.S., a National Heritage Fellow.

Modern history is full of tales like this, largely often forgotten footnotes. But there are possibly many other than enthusiasts who are familiar with his material. I refer back again to my earlier comments about the late 60s and early 70s blues boom, from the Rolling Stones, Mike Bloomfield and John Mayall, through and via Cream and the Allmans to, ultimately, Led Zeppelin and beyond. There have been a slew of records reinterpreting the music of said bands, often with performances by the individuals who influenced them in the first place. One such was 'Whole Lotta Blues: Songs of Led Zeppelin', which featured Lockwood on both parts of 'Bring It On Home'.

He died, age 91, in 2006. Here's a great short film about him.

This is a good place to start listening, emanating for his time in the 50s a a band leader, but he also appears in just about any compilation of blues greats that you might find.

O, an afterthought, harking back to the intended theme of my imposition, Thanksgiving by way of Arlo, Lockwood was born in the town of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.

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