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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Thursday, November 23, 2006


Went to my computer this morning and learnt of the death on Tuesday of Robert Lockwood Junior. He died in hospital of respiratory failure after suffering a stroke on November 3rd in Cleveland, where he had been based for many decades. He was 91.

His death severs almost the last direct link with the pre-war Mississippi blues world. His father disappeared when he was young, and his mother took up with Robert Johnson, who was only four years older than Junior; Johnson taught him guitar and they played together live many times. Lockwood first recorded when Bob Dylan was two months old.

My wife Sarah and I were lucky enough to see him perform at the end of August this year, when, an hour or two after my talk at the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, we happened to go into a bar called the Fat Fish blue, where there was a septuagenarian group playing, including several sax players. There was no cover charge, the place was busy, a couple of drunk white women were dancing with embarrassing enthusiasm, looked down upon with merited disdain by the leader of the group - and then they announced "Once again, ladies and gentlemen, the great Robert Lockwood Junior!" . . . and this immaculately dressed, sharp-suited old gent with excellent co-respondent shoes and a more modest smile walked slowly across the front of the band, up a couple of steps to a stool, sat on it, was handed his electric guitar, plugged in, and gave a strong performance, including some forceful and dexterous guitarwork: a far better set than such an old man could have been expected to deliver.

We got talking to the bandleader afterwards, and when I told him I was writing Blind Willie McTell's biography he insisted on introducing me to Mr. Lockwood, saying that he would be able to tell me stuff about him from way back when. Privately I doubted this, since McTell had no Mississippi connections, but I was very happy to meet Robert Lockwood Junior - and he was lovely: a warm handshake, an easy manner and a much-appreciated straightforwardness. "I never met the man," he told me a propos of McTell. He invited me to come back to his house to talk more, though time didn't permit. It was a privilege to have met him.

The photos I took of him performing were not very good, but here's one anyway:


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