TWO LEGENDS ONE STAGE... A SHOW REVIEW
It was quite a night.
By Mark Fredell
I’m not sure where to start, I suppose the date will be fine it was Friday the 21st of October and The Cedar Cultural Center was having a fundraising show. Now the Cedar is a wonderful venue, a community based non-profit concert hall that is a host to all kinds of world, folk, avant-garde and other music’s; it’s nothing fancy simply a large dance hall with a good sized stage to one side, terrific sound system and for most shows they place folding chairs throughout for seating. It’s nice on many levels, it’s mostly volunteer staffed, they serve food, buffet style and have a good choice of beers and wine plus as a community venue it is all ages and there seem to always be at least a few young people in the audience (including my daughter from time to time). They always seem to do a good job even if at times the volunteers seem a bit lost or perplexed about what they should be doing at any given time, they always get the job done in the end. On this night they had a pretty daunting task at hand as for this fundraiser the Cedar was playing host to 2 of the last direct links to the delta blues of Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James, Willie Brown and even Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon, these two me, both 90 years old, born three months apart in 1915 with-in one hundred miles of each other and so many other notable blues legends not the least of which are Waters and Dixon both also born the same year in the same region. But even though Muddy Waters often sited Johnson as a major influence and Dixon would eventually become one of the cornerstones of the modern blues world, neither have as direct a connection to the so called King of the delta Blues as David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards or Robert Lockwood Jr. Robert Johnson was pivotal in the development of both of these men’s musical lives for Lockwood it began at the age of 11 when Johnson was the (sometime) live in boyfriend to his mother and began showing the youngster some guitar techniques though just a few years his senior, Lockwood looked up to and respected Johnson’s skills and learned his lessons well eventually heading out as a young teen to accompany his “stepfather” at local fish fries and juke joints. It was this relationship that caused the younger Robert to be dubbed Robert Jr. a moniker he has long disliked considering his father by blood was also named Robert and in reality he is Robert Lockwood Junior, putting the Junior before his sir name has always been a thorn in his side so to speak. At the time of Johnson’s somewhat early death Lockwood was already on his way to becoming a legend in his own right, his guitar skills kept developing and through the influence of players like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and others, he began to integrate jazz phrasings into his deeply rooted delta playing eventually developing a sound and style all his own, he became the guitar player behind Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Radio show and eventually landed in Chicago where he was one of the most sought after session players at Chess, backing not only Sonny Boy but Little Walter, Sunnyland Slim, Muddy and countless other Chess records stars. Eventually Lockwood progressed from a standard six string to Twelve string electric guitar and today he stands alone as a master of twelve string electric blues. On this night, with his seniority as the elder of the two 90 year olds Lockwood closed the night out with just over an hour of spectacular guitar wizardry accompanied only by a bass player, Robert displayed his mastery with style and grace weather digging deep into the delta blues of his mentor and friend Robert Johnson or amazing the crowd with his dexterity on some remarkable jazzy instrumentals reminiscent of Les Paul and even Wes Montgomery, Robert Lockwood Jr. is a truly phenomenal instrumentalist and it’s easy to see even at this advanced stage of his life and career why so many of the biggest and best in the blues wanted his guitar to accompany them, he’s not a great singer or even a particularly good singer but he delivers the songs with confidence and authenticity. Robert Lockwood is one of just a very few surviving American musical treasures that connect the beginnings of the blues to today.
One of the others of course is the other genuine legend on the bill this night David Honeyboy Edwards, who also born in 1915 was making a name for himself by his late teens as a guitar player and singer around the delta, when he met up with Robert Johnson and the two developed a friendship that allowed them to travel and play together, making Edwards one of the few men to have the opportunity of such an experience. As a gambler, a ladies man and a traveling troubadour, Edwards was popular though out the delta and beyond when he landed in Chicago around 1944. He fast became a fixture on Maxwell Street, playing for tips with some of the other early legends in town like Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Rogers, Elmore James and others. It was 1948 or 49 when on a trip back down south that Honeyboy met up with a then teenaged Walter Jacobs blowing harmonica and persuaded the young man to head up to the north with him, and of course the rest is history, Jacobs became Little Walter, hooked up with Muddy Waters and changed the blues forever, meanwhile Edwards stuck to his guns and kept mostly to playing for tips on street corners his acoustic guitar in hand and recording only very sporadically for decades, he would occasionally hook up with a band or small combo but invariably returned to his solo delta blues sound.
Now for the past 30 plus years he’s been managed by Michael Frank owner of Earwig Records (whom also accompanied Honeyboy on harmonica this night) and has enjoyed an ever increasing level of success and notoriety as one of the second generation fathers of the delta blues, and for this show he was plugged in with a funky off brand electric guitar yet the sounds were pure delta blues, weather playing straight or slide Honeyboy tore it down then built it up again whipping the house into a frenzy singing some standards and a few originals and then telling some stories about Chicago in the late ’40’s it was a terrific set of music by a passion filled performer who even at 90 years old is today busier than ever before; traveling world wide to help keep the delta blues alive. If there was any let down from this night it was that these two giants of blues didn’t get onstage together and play a song or two but aside from that it was a spectacular night of authentic living blues history. Thank you Cedar Cultural Center.