an interview with Duke Robillard
He’s worked with Bob Dylan and Arlen Roth, with Tom Waits and Ronnie Earl. And that’s just a few.
An interview with the East Coast bluesman who has been quietly dominating the scene for decades.
BY BRIAN D. HOLLAND
Often regarded as one of the most comprehensive and proficient blues guitarists today,
Duke Robillard views genre boundaries as
nothing more than commercial necessity.
With a playing style that provides him with
the ability to, in his words, “touch all the
bases,” Duke has had a passion for delving
deeply into blues roots and its subgenres
ever since his formative years as a founding member of the New England-based
Roomful of Blues. He realized early on that a
correlation existed between most pre-1980s
American music – from blues, jazz and R&B
to bluegrass, rock n’ roll and country – and
has enjoyed running the gamut of possibilities in blending these styles and techniques.
Duke’s calling card has always been an
energetic mixture of jump, swing and blues
that stirs up dance floors, along with an
amorously obsessive connection to the
music of Texas bluesman T-Bone Walker.
Though he often evokes styles of great
players of the past, and frequently flows at
intervals along a historic musical timeline,
it’s executed in a uniquely fashionable manner. No matter what type of music he’s
playing at any given time, the phrasing within his solo work is incredibly diverse and
tasteful, with chordal arrangements moving
in fluidly invigorating rhythms.
Though Duke has long been recognized
for his work with Roomful of Blues and for
his stint with The Fabulous Thunderbirds,
these highlights were mere stepping
stones in the five-decade career of Michael
John Robillard. The Woonsocket, Rhode
Island-born guitarist, vocalist, songwriter,
bandleader, studio musician, and producer
gained long-due recognition in the beginning of the new millennium. He won the
W.C. Handy award for “Best Blues Guitarist”
in both 2000 and 2001, earned a Grammy
nomination for “Best Traditional Blues
Album” in 2006 for Guitar Groove-A-Rama,
and was nominated for the W.C. Handy
“Best Instrumentalist” award in the field of
guitar in 2006. In 2007, however, he won an
award that’s closest to his heart, the Pell
Award for Artistic Excellence, given in his
home state of Rhode Island. As if this recognition wasn’t enough, B.B. King labeled
him “one of the great players.”
Duke Robillard has released about twenty
solo albums since the mid ‘80s, all interesting and special in their own right. The latest
release from the guitar virtuoso is a dual CD
set entitled Duke Robillard’s World Full of
Blues. It’s the ideal display of his progression
as a mature performer and brilliant musician.
It’s also an appropriate title, mainly because
of Duke’s all-encompassing technique and
vast knowledge of music in relation to the
blues. The CD set is two hours of material,
both lyrical and instrumental, and 23 superb
interpretations of compositions by the likes
of T-Bone Walker, Bob Dylan, Booker T.
Jones, Bo Diddley, Tom Waits, Jimmy Reed,
and of course Duke Robillard. For the love
of the instrument and especially for fellow
enthusiasts, the guitar used in each recording is cited in the jacket liner notes.