The world lost one of the last remaining links to blues icon Robert Johnson when Grammy nominee Robert Lockwood Jr. died last month at the age of 91.
Lockwood died of respiratory failure at a Cleveland hospital. Lockwood was hospitalized after a November 3 stroke and died due to respiratory failure November 21, according to University Hospitals Case Medical Center spokesman George Stamatis.
Lockwood, an Arkansas native, took early guitar lessons from a young Robert Johnson. Johnson moved in with Lockwood’s mother when Lockwood was 11. The bond between the two was tight. Despite their close proximity in age, the elder Johnson became a father figure to Lockwood.
Lockwood never achieved the legendary status of his mentor but he worked as a successful sideman and solo artist from the time he was 15.
As a sideman, he worked for Chess Records when they were the premier blues label. While there, he played on cuts by Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, and many others.
Lockwood also played on a couple of terrific Otis Spann solo albums. Spann made his name playing piano in Muddy Waters’ band and is one of the great blues pianists. Lockwood both played and sang on Spann’s Otis Spann is The Blues and Walking the Blues. His playing on those two records displayed his ability to record authentic Delta blues and also showcased a light touch and some jazz-tinged chops. Lockwood set himself apart from the legion of other blues guitarists not only with the jazz elements of his playing but also by often utilizing a 12-string acoustic guitar, a rarity among pure blues guitarists.
Lockwood recorded a number of solo albums and was twice nominated for a Grammy. His first solo album was not released until 1970 although he did record occasional one-off singles in the ‘50s. In 1982, 44 years after his death, Lockwood recorded an album devoted mostly to the music of his mentor, Robert Johnson (Plays Robert and Robert). His last studio album was Delta Crossroads, released in 2000 but he continued to play live until his death.