Robert Lockwood Jr.: Robert Lockwood Jr.: The Complete Trix Recordings
Robert Lockwood Jr.'s music is a repository of rhythm, blues, and jazz styles from the last century. From the crude and virile slide of Robert Johnson to the jump and swing of Louis Jordan's music, as well as the complexity and technique of bebop, Lockwood somehow manages to distill all these influences down into one unique and confident voice. The Complete Trix Recordings captures Robert Lockwood Jr. during the '70s at the peak of his creative powers.
Now in his eighties, Lockwood learned his first blues licks from the much-mythologized Robert Johnson, who actually lived with Lockwood's mother for a spell. As a young man he made his way up to Chicago. He backed musicians and singers such as Little Walter and pianist Sunnyland Slim. The majority of his career up until the '70s, however, was spent as a sideman. The recordings gathered here present Lockwood in the role of bandleader.
As a writer, Lockwood's talents are formidable. And while his lyrics are adequate, his instrumental pieces sound the most inspired, leaving one to wonder if, given his druthers, Lockwood might have preferred a career which had revolved around purely instrumental music without the headache of having to come up with words to match the power and intensity of his riffs and melodies. One might even go as far as to wonder whether Lockwood might have been happier being classified not as a bluesman but as a jazz musician.
Some of Lockwood's best compositions on The Complete Trix Recordings are "Annie's Boogie", a peppy jump blues, and "Majors, Minors, and Ninths", a track that catches Lockwood playing adeptly over complex chord progressions, changes that would be difficult to improvise on without a knowledge of jazz harmony. The most smoking track on the whole collection is "Half Steppin", a Thelonious Monk/Duke Ellington-inspired tune which Lockwood, on his signature electric twelve-string, and saxophonist Maurice Reedus simply tear up. All three songs are instrumentals. The only instrumental that sounds more inspired by the music of Motown rather than Charlie Parker or Louis Jordan is "Howdy Dowdy", a soulful and groovy tune that would have fit nicely on one of the Cannonball Adderly recordings of the '60s, a time when Cannonball was exploring his roots and moving away from more complex music.
The funny thing is that most of the hype generated about Lockwood has revolved around his connection to Robert Johnson and the influence that the blues-great had on him, which seems, if anything, irrelevant when you listen to this collection of songs on which Lockwood apparently had free reign. The truth is when he does the Mississippi Delta/Robert Johnson thing, he sounds almost bored. But when he performs the more swing/jump/blues/bebop oriented material, he and his bandmates come to life. It's as if Lockwood has continued to do the Robert Johnson schtick simply because it is expected of him, but that his heart lies closer to the rhythm and harmony of other genres of blues and jazz.
All that said, it must be noted that there are some great straight-ahead, soulful and melodic blues gathered here, tunes that Lockwood wrote or covered. "Mr. Down Child" and "Hold Everything" are feel-good blues tunes written by Lockwood. "Just A Little Bit" and "Red Top" are two covers he serves up with plenty of relish.
Overall, The Complete Trix Recordings is a solid collection made by an artist who has assimilated many blues and jazz styles, and somehow made them his own.