Rest in Peace, Robert Lowery

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Robert Lowery’s boots no longer walk the streets of Santa Cruz. Robert Lowery’s fingers no longer pluck and slide on a resonator guitar. Robert Lowery’s voice no longer tells us the stories we need to hear. Robert Lowery’s ears no longer hear the sky songs. Robert Lowery’s eyes no longer watch us as we absorb his lesson. But Robert Lowery’s spirit is still with us, and for this, we are grateful.

Robert Lowery represents a critical thread in the fabric of our musical history and heritage. As I am still sad for myself for having been born too late to have met Mississippi John Hurt in person or seen him play live, I am sad for everyone today who will miss the same experience with Robert Lowery.

I am fortunate. I did meet him in person. I did hear him play live. When he was presented a lifetime achievement award from Santa Clara University, I played with him. Just a few weeks before Robert passed, I was able to play for him, an honor I am all the more grateful for now. With me on stage that night was Virgil Thrasher.

Virgil and Robert occupied a very special world together. This was more than music. They embodied and enacted a story of nobility, humanity, artistry—one that transcended time and place. If history is behaving itself, it is right now dipping its quill into the black ink of time, to write the names Robert Lowery and Virgil Thrasher alongside Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; alongside Hammie Nixon and Sleepy John Estes; alongside Carey Bell and Louisiana Red; alongside Little Walter and Muddy Waters.

That night but a few weeks ago, when Robert Lowery came to see Virgil and I perform, I asked Robert how he was doing. He said, “not very well.” Honest, straightforward, raw. Just like his music. When he left that night, I spoke from the microphone, and told the small crowd that they had a legend in their midst. The room applauded as he left the building.

“Country bluesman Robert Lowery died today at 85-years-old. His music touched many in Santa Cruz and throughout the blues world. He could tap into the core of Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy, and Lightnin’ Hopkins with great authenticity. He was a real treasure. Here is a poster of his last appearance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, his very favorite event. RIP, Robert.” —Virgil Thrasher

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