A Swingin' Session with Duke Robillard
and special guests Scott Hamilton, Bruce Katz, Doug James & Carl Querfurth

A dozen CDs, and as many different approaches to American music. The common links: Heart, soul, stunning playing and - most importantly - integrity

Actually, the new Duke Robillard CD, A Swingin' Session with Duke Robillard, is the 14th CD the virtuoso guitarist has recorded for Stony Plain - and that’s not counting half a dozen other CDs he’s produced for other great artists, and a live in-concert DVD.

But the new recording is, as always, a different outing than his others. Duke Robillard does not stand still; his musical curiosity continues to take him to many different areas of the American musical palette.

Duke is a superb technician, in total command of his instrument, and he’s prepared and willing to tackle different American musical genres - blues, jazz, small and big band swing, original material, and songs from the golden age of the great American songbook. The heart, soul and integrity of the small band swing era, shines through every note.

And this music isn’t limited to recordings - Robillard has always brought his music to audiences all over the world. Like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, he keeps up a performance schedule that has included as many as 300 dates in a single year, from Moscow to Montreal, from Boston to Barcelona, and from London, England to London, Ontario.


Bob Porter, Producer of some of jazz finest classic recordings, acclaimed writer and broadcaster, insists that there must be something in the water up in Rhode Island, from where Robillard hails. In the notes he wrote for the new CD, he cites an “honor roll” of musicians from the smallest state in the Union - many of whom are on this record - and points out that Duke was always a prime mover. He formed Roomful of Blues in 1967, Duke Robillard and the Pleasure Kings in 1980 and finally, the Duke Robillard Band, which has been on the road for more than twenty years.

Writes Porter: “In an era when the media tends to put everyone in a little well-partitioned boxes, Duke is an anomaly: a musician who not only works both sides of the street but takes great joy in doing so. Duke has stated that his favorites are ‘blues-oriented jazz musicians’. If we think of him in the same way, it will help to understand why he does what he does.”

Robillard has always insisted that there is a very thin line indeed between what was originally called jazz and what we call the blues Ben Webster, Lester Young, Jack Teagarden, Johnny Hodges, and Count Basie were all rooted in blues ... Charlie Parker was a great blues player, and so was Louis Armstrong.


Any biographical summary of Duke Robillard has to cover a lot of ground.

• His legendary playing skills as one of the most versatile guitarists on the planet. He’s also a smooth, intimate and engaging singer.

• That he’s a session player who’s recorded with Bob Dylan, Maria Muldaur, Dr. John, John Hammond, and sorely-missed legends such as Jay McShann, Ruth Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, Rosco Gordon and Long John Baldry. Oh, yes, and he’s also toured with Tom Waits.

• Duke has recorded duet albums with Herb Ellis, Ronnie Earl, and - as a member of New Guitar Summit - with Jay Geils and Gerry Beaudoin.

• The W.C. Handy Awards have named Robillard “Best Blues Guitarist” no less than four times, B.B. King says “Duke’s one of the great players,” and the Houston Post called him “one of God’s guitarists.”

• He won Canada’s Maple Blues Award for Best International Musician three years in a row.

Robillard had his first band in high school, and was fascinated from the beginning by the ways in which jazz, swing, and the blues were linked. In 1967, still a teenager, he formed Roomful of Blues, and the band was tight enough and tough enough to accompany two of his heroes, Big Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson on record and in live appearances.

Always ahead of his time, Duke’s first band pre-dated the renewed interest in jump blues by more than a decade - and almost 20 years later, in 1986, when he recorded with jazz sax master Scott Hamilton, he recorded a collection of classic big band tunes from the ’30s and ’40s, thus skillfully pre-dating the neo-Swing craze of the mid ’90s.

Roomful of Blues - which still continues, 40 years on - gave Duke his first exposure to a wide public, and when he left after a dozen years, he played briefly with rockabilly king Robert Gordon, then cut two albums with the Legendary Blues Band (a sterling group of former members of Muddy Waters’ bands). He led his own group until 1990, then replaced Jimmie Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds, before fronting his own band once again.

In 1993, as he was about to sign a world-wide recording deal with Virgin/Pointblank, he met Holger Petersen, head of the Canadian independent roots music label Stony Plain Records, at a folk festival in Winnipeg. In conversation, he mentioned he wanted to record a complete album of blues, without the R&B and jazz influences of his work to date.

Petersen was interested, Virgin gave the go-ahead, and the resulting album, Duke's Blues, earned rave reviews. It was so successful in fact, that Virgin licensed the record from Stony Plain and released it around the world (except in Canada, where it continues in the Canadian company’s catalogue). Later, with the Virgin contract over, Robillard signed a world-wide exclusive contract with Stony Plain, which continues to this day.


A Swingin' Session with Duke Robillard is, indeed, just that. There are classics like "Deed I Do," "The Song is Ended," "Them That Got" and "When Your Lover Has Gone." Rhode Islanders Scott Hamilton and Doug James, along with half a dozen musicians who have played (or still play) with Robillard help power bluesy fare such as "They Raided the Joint" and "Swingin’ with Lucy Mae." Bruce Katz’ organ playing is superb throughout, and horn contributions from Carl Querforth (of Roomful) and Gordon "Sax" Beadle are pushed along by a rhythm section that effortlessly lifts the band.

Constantly inventive, there is no grandstanding. It all seems so easily put together; great music made to sound simple as well as subtle.

This is music for a late night party, a couple more whiskeys than you should have drunk, a forbidden cigarette, and a turn on the dance floor with an attractive partner.

For Robillard, a master of many kinds of jazz and blues and American roots music, this new CD is a modern day gem that looks back at the past, grins, and says “Let’s swing this one. And let’s dance.”