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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 29, 1999: 

Robert Lockwood Jr., The Complete Trix Recordings (32 Blues)

Like most professions, the entertainment industry is unkind to performers of advanced age. Right when these seasoned veterans reach the top of their game, they’re usually unceremoniously put out to pasture. This seems more prevalent among Hollywood directors (don’t you know that “old” means “uninsurable”?), but it’s just as true for our great recording artists as well.

Of all the various genres that comprise popular American music, the blues gains strength through age (and more particularly, life experience, both good and bad). And as our last connections to an untamed era bail out or die out along with the 20th century (and who can blame them?), there are only a few living links left to tell the story. John Lee Hooker comes to mind, as do Pops Staples and Rufus Thomas, but the snappiest octogenarian around is none other than Robert Lockwood Jr., guitar slinger and blues journeyman without living peer.

The Complete Trix Recordings documents 25 Robert Lockwood Jr. performances on two CDs — the ’70s albums Contrasts and …Does 12 in their entirety. These two song collections find Robert Lockwood Jr. taking a pointed tour through his personal musical history and adding a few new gems to the repertoire.

Lockwood has always been known for his irascible nature, which he earned from living in the long shadows of blues archetypes Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson. Lockwood learned the blues at the feet and by the side of these two acknowledged masters, but he forged his own style, which encompassed much more than just the blues (throw in some jazz and Tin Pan Alley, along with a healthy dose of jump blues — witness the Lockwood compositions “Annie’s Boogie,” “Majors, Minors & Ninths,” and “Howdy Dowdy” from Contrasts and “Down Home Cooking” and “Half Steppin’” from …Does 12).

That’s not to say he ever tried to hide his blues origins. At the end of a strenuous “Walkin’ Blues” (one of four Robert Johnson tunes reinterpreted on this collection), Lockwood lets out with “Whew! Goddamn, Robert was a hard-workin’ man!” Lockwood has also shared his knowledge with a few deserving young acolytes (the late Lonnie Pitchford for one), but outlived most of his contemporaries (Johnny Shines most notably) and followers. Lockwood’s got a right to be angry — no smart-ass white boys (which most music writers are, let’s face it) can tell him about his life and influences because he lived it and they only read about it.

Robert Lockwood Jr. turns 84 this Saturday, March 27th. Let’s hope he’s got plenty more years left in him to keep stinging us with his own blend of the blues. Go out and buy The Complete Trix Recordings, and also pick up his most recent recording, I Got To Find Me A Woman (on Verve) while you’re at it, because his kind isn’t likely to come our way again. Lockwood continues to prove that the blues is a never-ending struggle against bad luck and timing. How can one convincingly play the blues when they’re fat and rich? (Ask B.B. King sometime.) With widespread popularity, today’s bluesmen turn out to be technicians instead of musicians. Let Robert Lockwood Jr. show you where the soul and truth of the real blues live, and give you a swift kick in the ass and attitude at the same time.

— David D. Duncan

Tom Paxton, The Best Of Tom Paxton (Rhino)

Tom Paxton has an uncanny gift for crafting simple, timeless songs, as documented on this 26-song set of material from Paxton’s 1964-71 Electra albums.

During the ’60s, Paxton’s combination of astute political commentary, wickedly dry humor, and gentle romanticism established him as a formidable peer of Dylan, Phil Ochs, and other stars of the folk movement. His romantic side is best displayed by the beautiful “The Last Thing On My Mind,” while his anti-war tunes like “The Willing Conscript,” “My Son, John,” and “Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation” stand as some of the best of the era. His humor shows on “Forest Lawn” and “Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues,” and he even displays his early talents at children’s songs on “Goin’ To The Zoo.”

The fact that many of Paxton’s songs have become classics in the American folk canon testifies to his greatness. This CD is a terrific introduction for those unacquainted with his work, and a nice “best of” collection for those in dire need of replacing that worn vinyl.

— Gene Hyde

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