Singing the blues is not always about torturous misery and love gone bad – at least not in the very competent hands of Duke Robillard. Robillard’s interpretation of the blues is upbeat, driver friendly and technically impressive. Although I have never met him, Duke himself seems like an all round good guy – the kind of guy who would gladly help push your car out of the ditch and then get you a coffee while you’re waiting for the tow truck; of course, I am totally fabricating this personality from my own imagination, but once you’ve listened to a few Robillard tunes, see if you don’t feel the same way.
Duke Robillard has played with many of the really big names (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Pinetop Perkins to name a few) and has been selected ‘Best Blues Guitarist’ four times out of five years by the Blues Music Awards. The great BB King has named Duke ‘one of the great players’ yet none of this seems to have gone to his head as he continues to follow his own intuitive compass, recording what he likes best at any given time. He also tours extensively (over 200 dates in a year) and since he also turns his talent to both jazz and swing, he’s often in demand as a session player.
Duke has recorded more than twenty albums, each with a markedly different flavor but a personal favorite of mine (and the ideal record for a good whirlwind tour of the blues) is definitely the 2002 Living with the Blues. From the thumping, opening track If Walls Could Talk (originally by Little Milton), this is one of those extremely rare CDs that do not tempt the listener to skip any song at any time – even on an mp3 player when we are at our least tolerant!
Buy me a dog is a swinging shuffle chocked with playful, bluesy allusions and penned by Robillard himself. The liner notes give cred to Duke’s own dog, Lucy Mae, for helping him through some really “ruff” days. (Awww! And I refer you to my opening paragraph once more …)
Good Time Charlie which was first recorded by the legendary Bobby Bland is a sort of Mustang Sally kind of crowd pleaser. Bleating saxophones still manage to sound sexy as they follow Duke’s every move. This would be amazing to hear live.
I Live the Life I Love is a slow moving drawl of a track and there are no prizes for guessing that Muddy Waters was the original artist to record. Duke’s cover is different enough to make it his own – you’ll be hooked into this one after just one listen.
Favorite Enunciation: Don’t talk about me ‘cuz I could be high.
Use What you Got is a frisky, rollicking blues tune that deals with that age old debate on whether size matters. I will leave that with you, dear readers, but Duke has got some pretty convincing (and encouraging!) thoughts to share …
Some hot guitar solos abound on this one, making it a really feel-good song, so if you need an excuse for a chicken wings and beer party (do people need excuses?) then this is it!
Duke may be on tour near you! Check it out:
Duke Robillard Tour Dates
Duke has a new swing record A Swingin’ Session with Duke Robillard to be released soon. Watch this space!