West Coast vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Robert Lucas forged a path for himself in the blues world after the release of his much-hailed 1990 self-produced debut cassette, Across the River. Based in Long Beach, CA, as a solo artist Lucas recorded for the Audioquest label out of San Clemente. He was also a member of the legendary boogie blues band Canned Heat, singing and playing bottleneck guitar and harmonica with the group off and on starting in 1994.
Lucas was born into a middle-class family in Long Beach and was 14 or 15 when he started getting seriously into blues-rock. He had started to play guitar then, inspired by Jimi Hendrix, but gave up on it, concluding his hands were too small. He started playing harmonica instead, listening to recordings by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers before going back to source material, including the recordings of Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson, George "Harmonica" Smith, Snooky Pryor, and James Cotton. Lucas began playing the National Steel guitar at 17 when a co-worker at the Long Beach Arena sold him the instrument. Lucas hooked up with guitarist Bernie Pearl and began taking lessons from him. After joining Pearl's band as a harmonica player, he got to play behind the likes of Big Joe Turner, George Smith, Pee Wee Creighton, Lowell Fulson, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Percy Mayfield, and other West Coast bluesmen. He carefully honed his singing and playing, with Pearl's band and on his own, for several years before forming Luke & the Locomotives in 1986.
Lucas' career as a national touring act was launched when his Across the River tape got a rave review in a Los Angeles newspaper. As a result, one of the Audioquest warehouse workers came to see him at a Los Angeles sushi bar. The employee called the company president, who came to hear Lucas that same night. Lucas was a multi-talented harmonica player, guitarist, singer, and songwriter who could do it all: on one recording for Audioquest, Usin' Man Blues, he played solo, and on another, Luke and the Locomotives, he performed with his band. The sound on all of his albums is raw and gritty, with just a few originals on each album. Classic blues fare like Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and John Lee Hooker's "Meet Me in the Bottom" were given new life with Lucas' talented hands and vocal chops.
Lucas paid homage to traditional blues but also carefully crafted his own singing and slide guitar style. These talents are on ample display on his Audioquest albums, including Luke and the Locomotives, Usin' Man Blues, Built for Comfort, Layaway, and Completely Blue, all released during the '90s, as well as latter-day Canned Heat albums on the Ruf and Fuel 2000 labels. Robert Lucas died of a drug overdose in Long Beach on November 23, 2008. ~ Richard Skelly