Lawhorn was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. His parents soon separated with
his mother re-marrying, leaving the young Lawhorn cared for by his
grandparents. Nailing some baling twine to the side of their home he made
his own diddley bow. Frequently visiting his mother and stepfather in
Chicago, they bought him a ukulele to play, followed in turn by an acoustic
and finally electric guitar. By the age of fifteen, Lawhorn was proficient
enough to accompany Driftin' Slim on stage, and with further guidance from
Sonny Boy Williamson II, began
playing with him on the King Biscuit Time radio program.
Lawhorn was conscripted in 1953 and served in the United States Navy where,
on a tour of duty in Korea, he was injured by enemy fire during aerial
reconnaissance. He continued in service and was discharged in 1958, when he
moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There he undertook recording sessions with The
'5' Royales, Eddie Boyd,
Roy Brown and
Willie Cobbs. An argument arose with the latter over the writing credits
for the song 'You Don't Love Me.' Finding work on his own in Chicago in
1958, Lawhorn soon relocated, despite having a guitar stolen at one of his
early club performances.
By the early 1960s, Lawhorn had found regular work as a club sideman to
Otis Rush and Elmore James, which led
to him sitting in with Muddy Waters band on
a couple of occasions. By October 1964, Lawhorn was invited to join Waters
band on a full time basis. Over the next decade, he subsequently played on a
number of Waters' albums including Live At Mister Kelly's, The London Muddy
Waters Sessions, The Woodstock Album, and Folk Singer.
Lawhorn's guitar work also featured when Waters' band supplied backing to
John Lee Hooker,
Big Mama Thornton and
Otis Spann. Lawhorn's use of the tremolo arm
on his guitar, and his overall playing expertise, saw him later credited by
Waters as the best guitarist he ever had in his band. However, Lawhorn's
career started to be hampered by his drinking. Variously passing out on
stage over his amplifier, off stage whilst sitting in clubs, or missing
shows altogether, it saw Waters lose patience and fire Lawhorn in 1973. He
was replaced by Bob Margolin.
Lawson simply returned to playing in Chicago clubs, and remained in the
recording industry with appearances on Junior Wells' On Tap, plus James
Cotton's Take Me Back (1987). He also supplied his guitar skills to recorded
work by Koko Taylor,
Little Mack Simmons, and L. C.
Robinson. His work in several Chicago haunts saw him play alongside his
childhood idols in T-Bone Walker and
Lightnin' Hopkins. Assistance proffered
by Lawhorn to up and coming musicians of the time, saw John Primer become a
A combination of alcoholism and arthritis started to cause Lawhorn's health
to fail. The latter was contributed to when he was bizarrely thrown from a
third floor window by a burglar, which resulted in Lawhorn breaking both his
feet and ankles.
Lawhorn died in April 1990, at the age of 54, although his demise was
described on his death certificate as by natural causes.
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