Blues legend Lockwood dies

Taught by Johnson, mentored King

Robert Lockwood Jr., a legendary Delta bluesman who learned to play the guitar at the knee of his stepfather, Robert Johnson, has died. He was 91.

Lockwood died Nov. 23 at his home in Cleveland after a stroke.

Johnson came to live with Lockwood's mother in Turkey Scratch, Ark., when Lockwood was a child, and "he never showed me nothing two times," Lockwood said. "After I got the foundation of the way he played, everything was easy."

As a young professional, Lockwood worked on street corners and in bars and became a mentor to blues great-to-be King, who heard Lockwood in the 1940s on the "King Biscuit Time" radio show out of Helena, Ark. It was Lockwood who suggested that King use a big band to anchor his unsteady time.

In the early '50s, Lockwood settled in Chicago and became a mainstay of the studio bands at Chess Records and other labels. By then, he had taken in the harmonic advances of guitarists like Charlie Christian, and his solo sound came as a shock amid the more traditional players with whom he was working.

Known then as Robert Junior Lockwood in honor of his stepfather, he worked primarily as a sideman, backing Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sunnyland Slim and Little Walter, among many others, and played in the pianist Roosevelt Sykes' live band. In 1960 he accompanied Waters' pianist, Otis Spann, on the duet album "Otis Spann Is the Blues."

Lockwood reunited with an old Delta partner, Johnny Shines, on albums for Rounder Records as the 1980s began. Their "Hangin' On" was named best traditional blues album at the first Blues Music Awards in 1980.

Lockwood's 2000 solo album "Delta Crossroads" (Telarc) received the same award and was nominated for a Grammy. His 1998 album "I Got to Find Me a Woman" also was nominated. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989.

Until Nov. 1, Lockwood worked a weekly club gig at Fat Fish Blue in Cleveland. A street in Cleveland's nightlife area, the Flats, was named for him in 1997.

"I eat all the right kind of foods. I try to do the right things for my body," Lockwood told an interviewer a few years ago. He said he did dozens of push-ups and knee bends daily and drank genuine Alabama moonshine.

The indefatigable nonagenarian gave his last major performance in October at the 21st annual Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in Helena, formerly the King Biscuit Festival.