April 2004

Robert Lockwood, Jr. - The Legend Live
M.C. Records MC-0051
Released: 2004

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

In the timeline of history, the blues can be said to have come into being as a reaction to the brutality of slavery. Its earliest practitioners are lost in the dim haze of time. The first recorded evidence of the blues can be laid at the feet of Charlie Patton and Sun House. Their lineal descendants are too numerous to mention en masse but include Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and the legendary Robert Johnson. These and all the other followers of Patton and House have long since shuffled off this mortal coil (many quite a few years ago, Johnson first in 1938, at the age of 27). Today, direct descendants of those original blues players are far and few between. One of the last is known today simply as "The Legend," but is more commonly recognized as Robert Lockwood, Jr., stepson (and student of) the great Robert Johnson himself.

His latest CD, The Legend Live, is a primer for what the blues may have originally sounded like. It’s just Lockwood, Jr. and his 12-string hollow-body electric guitar. That’s it. No added accompaniment, no overdubs, just one man, his guitar and the blues. It was recorded live in front of an extremely appreciative audience at The Rhythm Room, in Phoenix, Arizona on July 24, 2003. And while Lockwood may not be as quick and nimble as he was three or four decades ago, he proves here that even at 88 he can still summon the abilities of his younger days whenever he chooses, albeit now only in select spots. Today he’s learned that the say-more-with-less approach, together with a greater depth of feeling and world-weariness, will let him communicate to his listeners on a closer, more personal level.

I love the way he bends his strings when playing his stepfather’s tune, "From Four Until Late." Lockwood adds nothing superfluous. He plays only what’s needed to get his point across. This song alone is worth the price of admission. But close behind it is Lockwood’s version of Johnny Temple’s "Big Leg Woman." He revitalizes a tune many of you will already be familiar with. Lockwood has been playing and singing many of the songs on The Legend Live for most of his life and he knows them inside and out. As a result, he looks for new ways of interpreting them that keep them fresh, much as jazz musicians do for the tunes they choose to play. An example of this rejuvenation is Lockwood, Jr.’s rendition of "In the Evening." Here it is sung with an I’ll-see-ya-later feel, as opposed to its more familiar farewell style.

The sonic qualities of The Legend Live are quite acceptable. You can get a sense of the Rhythm Room’s dimensions (despite a lack of any real ambience), the size of the crowd, and Lockwood, Jr.’s guitar playing. His vocals are recorded clearly enough to let you hear that he’s no longer a young man. This disc can't be considered to be of demo quality, but on the whole it’s a rather nice job that allows the listener to "get into" the music.

The disc closes with a 1:19 farewell speech from The Legend that is a fitting close to a wonderful album of real, down-home blues playing. We are lucky to still have Robert Lockwood, Jr. around to teach and entertain us and to give us great recordings, such as this one. The Legend Live, whether it’s your initial introduction to this great musician or the latest purchase from his catalog, will be a perfect addition to your blues library. Don’t miss it.