LOCKWOOD JR, ROBERT (27 March 1915 – 2 November 2006), was a prolific AFRICAN-AMERICAN blues musician who was taught guitar by Robert Johnson, one of the most influential figures in blues history. Lockwood would build on his early training in traditional blues to create a unique jazz-tinted style of his own, which garnered him accolades from serious blues guitarists over his nearly seventy-year career as a performer.  

Lockwood's early years were immersed in blues tradition. Born the second of two children on a farm in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, Robert Lockwood Jr’s parents, Robert Lockwood Sr., and Esther Reese Lockwood separated early in his life. Young Lockwood started off his musical career playing the organ, but switched to guitar in his teens when his mother began a relationship with Robert Johnson, who became Lockwood's musical mentor.  With and without Johnson, Lockwood honed his musical craft in juke joints and street corners in the Mississippi Delta region. After Johnson, Lockwood formed an important musical relationship with Sonny Boy Williamson II (aka Rice Miller). With Williamson and other studio musicians, Lockwood performed regularly on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Arkansas, one of the only radio stations to play African American music in the Mississippi Delta region at the time. 

Lockwood's later career mirrored the traditions of the Great Migration, when millions of African Americans relocated to Northern industrial cities from rural areas in the South. In the 1950s Lockwood moved to Chicago and worked as a session guitarist for Chess Records, where he played with blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Little Walter among many others.  He also continued his collaboration with Williamson, who recorded an album with Chess during this period.  When Williamson moved to Cleveland in the 1960s, Lockwood followed and eventually established his own path as bandleader and regular blues recording artist. 

Even though Lockwood often toured across the U.S. and internationally, Cleveland would remain Lockwood's home base for the rest of his career. For decades, Lockwood was a fixture in the Cleveland-area music community, gigging at clubs like Pirates Cove and Brothers Lounge. During his later years, Lockwood and his eight-piece band had a weekly standing show every Wednesday at Fatfish Blue, on the corner of Prospect Avenue. and Ontario Street. 

He produced 16 studio albums during his lifetime and won several awards including two National Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation, four W.C. Handy Awards, and posthumous Grammy in 2008 . He was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989 and his 12-string semi-hollow bodied guitar is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The city of Cleveland renamed a street in the Flats entertainment district Robert Lockwood Junior Drive in 1997.  

Lockwood was still active musically until his passing in Cleveland at the age of 91.  At the time of his death, he was survived by eight stepchildren--four from his second wife Mary Smith Lockwood and four from his first wife Annie Roberts Lockwood, who died in 1997.  

Kevin Jones

Article Categories