release date: August 17, 2010

Guitar star Duke Robillard spotlights his songwriting on new Stony Plain CD

Duke Robillard's passport has been renewed once again, stamped, and now re-validated, now listing his profession as "songwriter" in addition to his previous occupations as guitarist, singer and producer.

His new Stony Plain CD, Passport to the Blues, features a dozen songs, all but one written by Robillard - the single exception, "Make It Rain," was written by Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. It's his first album of original self-penned songs since 2003's Exalted Lover.


The new CD is the latest installment in Duke Robillard's long and amazingly fruitful relationship with Stony Plain Records, the long-established Edmonton, Alberta based-independent roots music label.

Following the success of Grammy-nominated Stomp! The Blues Tonight Robillard has delivered a tough collection of songs that's a stone return to Duke's grittiest roots - dirty, house-rockin', shack-shakin', finger-bustin', down-in-the-bottom git-tar blues.

This time, the spotlight's shifted a little bit toward the songs themselves, and Robillard - while staying within the accepted parameters of the idiom - cheerfully offers up songs like "Text Me," "The High Cost of Lovin'" and "Fatal Heart Attack." The opening song, "Workin' Hard for my Uncle," parallels The Beatles' "Taxman" - Duke's uncle, of course, is Sam, and he wants most of the songwriter's income.

Here's Robillard's own take on the material: "I was looking for a way to reflect more mature subject matter and I somehow fell upon some ideas that seem to represent the interests of people of my own age. Some are humorous, some are dark and some are happy but they all truly come from my real life."

Robillard's regular compatriots support both the guitarist and the spirit of the songs: Doug James on tenor and baritone saxes, Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixiera on drums.

One of the most versatile and accomplished guitarists playing today, Robillard has always been fascinated by the roots of American popular music - and he's tackled everything from blues to the classic American songbook to jazz guitar duets, rock-influenced trios, small and big band swing recordings.  Along the way, he's earned no less than four Guitarist of the Year awards from the Blues Foundation, and was this year chosen Traditional Male Blues Artist.

An album of Duke's own material is long overdue. He's proud of  a catalog of more than 120 songs, many of which have been covered by his previous bands, Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, as well as Johnny Adams and many other artists.  He also wrote with the late Doc Pomus - "we wrote three or four songs together; I wish we had written more," says Duke today. One of those tunes - "The High Cost of Lovin'" - is on the new CD.

Now a collection of his own songs is yet another innovative move forward for a man who has long deserved the applause and the awards that have come his way.


Any biographical summary of Duke Robillard has to cover a lot of ground. In no particular order:

• 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 also 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.

• 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;"  the Houston Post called him "one of God's guitarists."

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.

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.


A glance at Duke Robillard's discography over the last 15 years since he signed with Stony Plain in 1993 would suggest that this is a man who lives in the recording studio.

It's a fact that he has learned to make excellent-sounding recordings in his Rhode Island studio - and make them both fast and economically, without sacrificing a fraction of musical quality.

This allows him to spend most of his time on tour - he's a veteran "road dog" who has played as many as 300 live shows a year, rivaling the legendary tour schedules of Buddy Guy and B.B. King in his younger days. Robillard travels literally from Montreal to Moscow, from Brazil to Barcelona, and from London, England to London, Ontario.

Now, with this CD - his 16th for the Edmonton-based label - Robillard has demonstrated yet again the freshness of his approach to the roots of American music. And added his own songs to the basic repertoire of the blues.