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Interview With...
Cleveland Fats
@ The Blues Saloon, June 13, 1998
What follows is a short conversation I had with Cleveland Fats between sets at his show at the Blues Saloon, June 13, 1998.

Ray: How did you get hooked up with Robert Lockwood.

Fats: I started playing with Robert when I was 18, prior to that I was working with a guy named Otis Trotter. A disc jockey took me to meet Robert. I had listened to Robert's music all in the 60's playing with Sonnyboy and Little Walter but I had no idea he was even alive. He wasn't recording on his own and he kind of surfaced at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. And everybody seen that he was still alive but he had taken off time, gotten married and raised a family. This disc jockey took me and introduced me to him. I hooked up with him and he started teaching me how to play behind him. I played with him from about 1973 'til 1992.

Ray: How is he to play with?

Fats: Robert is the nicest man in the world. Robert is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet in your life. He's one hell of a man.

Ray: What's his relationship with Robert Johnson.

Fats: Robert Lockwood's mother, who I met, was only 14 years older than him. He was born in 1915. Robert Johnson was not all that much older then Lockwood. Lockwood's mother was about 28 years old. Robert Johnson used to travel you know. Whenever he'd get up around where they lived, which is up around Helena where they had the King Biscuit Blues Festival, Lockwood's mother was like Robert Johnson's girl friend. And he would spend time with her and that's how Lockwood knew him. He was 14 and maybe Robert Johnson was 19 or 20. Robert's mother was a little older than Robert Johnson and that's the connection there.

Ray: So Lockwood was born in 1915? That was quite a year, the same as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Brownie McGhee, Johnny Shines, Billie Holiday and Honeyboy Edwards among others.

Fats: Yeah, right now Robert's 83.

Ray: How did you decide to leave Robert back in '92?

Fats: I decided to leave because I just wanted to try to see what I could do on my own. I just wanted to do my own thing and try to perpetuate myself. Robert never needed another guitar player and I was just fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work with him. I had to think about the future and get myself something going.

Ray: How did you learn guitar in the first place?

Fats: I started getting lessons when I was 8 years old. I didn't know what kind of music (to learn) so I kind of took general lessons. Then when I was about 12 I (saw) BB King on TV, that was like one of the first times he was ever on national TV. And I said that's the kind of music I want to play. I lived around Kent, Ohio and I went into the town and asked the (guy at the) local record store do you have any blues. He goes 'yeah.' Well I want BB King. He goes 'well I'm out of BB King but I got Albert King.' Albert King who's he? I was only about 12 or 13 (at the time so did't know too much). 'Let me show you the record,' he says. He brings (out) "Years Gone By," and there's a picture of Albert King on the front playing his...ah...

Ray: Flying V?

Fats: Yup and I go, I don't know him, can he play blues? And the guy goes 'oh, CAN he play blues.' I said well he sure looks like he could. So I took it home and just sat and listened to it and learned it on my own. Then I got BB King and from then on (I found my records at) the Kent community store (which) was a coop type thing, that was back in the hippie days you know. They had orange crates full of old blues albums. I'd go and buy everything I could get, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bobby Bland. Then I met Otis Trotter and the Clarks (his harmonica player's family). In the town where I lived they had two black communities and I started hanging out with them. They were older guys and their kids played. So I played with them and they turned me on to Junior Parker and Little Milton. That's how I got interested. I don't really know how to play any other kind of music but the blues on guitar.

Ray: Where did you pick up that nice slide technique?

Fats: Just started fooling around with that. My dad made me one out of copper. I was listening to Muddy Waters, Elmore James and I go boy I'd like to try to play like that. So my dad made me a slide and that's how I learned, I taught myself.

Ray: That's sure a nice sound you have on the guitar. Any special equipment you use?

Fats: Thank you. I just got that amp, it's a brand-new reissue of a 1967 Vibro Lux reverb Fender. I just bought it, and that guitar is a 1967 Epiphone Casino. A place that Robert and I used to work (at) out in Eastlake (east of Cleveland), the guy that (ran) the club, his name was Big Bob, he was a biker. He had that guitar and he goes 'man I like the way you play. I have a kid at home that can play all the heavy metal songs he ever heard, note for note.' He goes 'he's pretty good, that's why I'm giving you the guitar. [laughs] He goes 'I know that if I give it to you it will get taken care of and it will go somewhere.' And he did, he gave it to me for one penny. He was a real good friend of Robert's and mine. That was about 1987 and I put it on the back cover of the CD.

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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
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