From the standpoint of direct involvement in my life, the most important artist that I have dealt with has been Robert Lockwood. Eddie Kirkland (O&S # 49, 50, 51), Willie Trice (O&S # 9), Tarheel Slim (O&S # 4), and Baby Tate (O&S # 11) have also been important figures for me in my pursuit of the music (Kirkland still is), but none have had the grand effect on how popular music has progressed than Robert has. Modern blues and rock guitar would be a totally different animal without a Robert Lockwood, Jr. The impact of his guitar playing on others via radio, records, or personal contact is immeasurable… just ask B.B., for one! I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of his later career, to have been able to record him at his best (according to all but one in the critical fraternity) and to feel a sense of friendship with this regal and important person.
It was through Roger Brown, former main Atlanta runnin’ buddy of George Mitchell in the sixties, that contact was made with Robert. Roger was then living in Hiram, OH just outside Cleveland and he was teaching German at the small private college (university: UK) in that town. A relationship built up with Robert over time as Roger would go to gigs, and eventually he and his wife would get together socially with Robert and his wife, Annie. He felt, and rightly so, that it was long past due for Lockwood to record again and he effectively “brokered” our connection. I actually had not heard Robert perform before our first session, but I had complete faith in Herr Brown’s judgment in this case.
So we all met at Roger’s apartment over a garage behind a house in June of 1973 for dinner and a get-to-know each other session; all went well and we booked a session the following day at Roger’s place with Robert and bass guitarist Gene Schwartz. Six tunes were recorded in all (all released on Trix 3307 – CONTRASTS) of the two of them covering all the bases between the sophisticated and the down home. Five days later we gathered at Robert’s house on Lawnview Avenue in Cleveland’s Hough district to try and record his full band. By this time I had heard them at a local club on one of the intervening nights and was raring to go! They were that good: Robert on vocal and guitar; Maurice Reedus-el on tenor sax; Gene on bass guitar; George “Cookie” Cook on drums. Cookie was the first blind drummer that I had met and he had played in the past with organist Eddie Baccus (the Art Tatum of jazz organ in my book), Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and even “Sonny Boy Williamson”.
My equipment and my recording abilities were to be put to the test here, for I had never recorded such a large group before… I had six microphones and a six in/two out mixer to work with and had to do quite a bit od mixing and balancing in advance, just like in the old days. No way to “fix it in the mix”! So Cookie set up his drum kit in the front room (with two mics) facing the band through the double sliding doors into the living room. (This is a big “Victorian” frame house with three stories, plus a basement.) Then Gene’s amp on the other side of the open doors (one mic), Robert with two mics (one vocal, one guitar), and finally Maurice on the other side of the living room Looking stage left) with one mic. As they ran down some of the tunes, I worked out a proper balance under headphones on the other side (stage right) of the living room – then off they went! Most of the songs were done in only one or two takes (it WAS a working band), save for “Majors, Minors, & Ninths” a song that I had really liked in the club. Robert had written one tough tune! Many takes later, the band took a break while Robert and Gene recorded “Drivin’ Wheel”, Robert playing my SJ Gibson acoustic on that one… I could never get him to record with my National. Then more band numbers and finally a great take on “M, M, & N” at the end to cap it all off. Eight gems to add to the other six… we had achieved album.
And we must have done something right, for CONTRASTS was widely reviewed in a very positive light in both the US and Europe (except for the one with tin ears). Gary Giddins chose it as his blues album of the year in either NEW YORK MAGAZINE or THE VILLAGE VOICE, among other reviews outside of the blues fraternity. I once watched Bob Koester sell a copy of the album off of his in-store turntable as he played it in The Jazz Record Mart!! It was interesting and gratifying that none of the reviews had commented on it being living room or field sessions, a positive non-comment n the equipment that lead me to believe that I was onto something here for the future. Robert in full swing and full breadth was impressive indeed. And of course it was a good example of the Pythonian dictum “… and now for something completely different” for the Trix catalogue beyond the Piedmont and acoustic focus thus far.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM #178 – Apr 2003, p.21.
One thing I’d like to mention is that on the slide pieces, Robert is playing his Gretsch “Country Gentleman” guitar and is using a piece of thick HARD PLASTIC tubing as a slide, rather than metal or bottleneck. That’s what gives it such a mellow sound, slightly muted when compared to a metal or glass one.