What do you think of when you think of Sweden? Viking ships? Ingmar Bergman? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? The blues?
The blues? What in the hell am I talking about?
I’m talking about Robert Lighthouse – nee Ivan R. Palinic, the Swedish blues guitarist who at the tender age of fourteen heard an Alan Lomax field recording of Muddy Waters – boom – Road to Damascus. Farewell, Nazareth, hail, Dr. Ross, John Lee Hooker, and Jimi Hendrix.
I chatted with Robert in bright sunshine on our dock yesterday before his gig at the Singer/Songwriter’s Soapbox at Chico Feo, the best free music you’ll find in anywhere in what once was called Tri-County Area.
Prompted by my questions, Robert related a CliffNote summary his life: moving to the States at eighteen, playing for tips on DC street corners, getting discovered by Charlie Sayles, the one-eyed harp master (who also got his start in music playing for tips on street corners).
Robert toured Belgium and Holland with Charlie’s band and ended up landing a record deal of his own. His critically acclaimed first album, Drive-Thru Love, available on Smithsonian Folk Ways Recordings, includes both covers and originals. In addition to his second record, Deep Down in the Mud, Robert also appears on the Folkways compilation 1996 album, The Blues You Would Just Hate to Lose, Vol. II. He has shared a stage with Dr. John and opened for Taj Mahal and Johnny Winter, whom Robert describes as a man of few words but many bong hits.
The pianist/blues impresario Gary Erwin (aka Shrimp City Slim) recruited Robert to appear at blues festivals in Camden, Greenwood, and Charleston, and somehow, Robert and my brother Fleming met, and, the rest, as they say, is history.
If you ever get the chance, check him out.
Here’s a clip of his version of the Charlie Patton tune “Rattlesnake Blues.”
And him warming up at Chico Feo last night (8 March 2021)
 That be Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley Counties. The Soapbox runs on Mondays from 6 to 10. Be there are be square.
 How cool to share a label with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger Leadbelly, and Dave Van Ronk. I made the mistake of clicking on their website and see a Lord Lavender calypso record I can’t live without.
 Robert tells me that his surname, which is Croatian, means fire-starter, as in arsonist, so he anglicized it to “Lighthouse” in the sense of setting a house on fire, not in the sense of guiding sailors safely to shore.