Review - Duke Robillard
Seeing the Cites-Duke
The LInda, May 29
Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Benny Goodman, the Chicago clarinet whiz and bandleader who was largely responsible for the birth of swing in 1935 and the subsequent marriage of jazz and American popular music for decade thereafter. In the 1940s, swing influenced the sound of the blues’ first electric lead guitarist, T-Bone Walker. Of all the six-string slingers performing today, nobody has preserved T-Bone’s legacy more faithfully than Roomful of Blues alumnus Duke Robillard, who played a polished passel of jumping tunes at the Linda on the eve of Goodman’s centenary.
Robillard’s jazz-inflected show was a welcome changeup from the usual Chicago-style blues (T-Bone Walker was from Kansas City, where swing held sway rather than the Delta sound), and featured the flashy fretwork that the 60-year old Rhode Island native has been known for since 1967, when he co-founded Roomful of Blues with pianist John Copley. Even though Robillard seemed a somewhat unschooled guitarist in that his fingering technique was very limited, he never ran dry of ideas, and his timing was killer. His gravelly, gritty baritone singing recalled that of Louis Armstrong, but, like Satchmo, he lacked range and his voice had little resonance.
mattered little, though. Sporting a 1950s style two-tone bowling shirt
and black slacks, Robillard led his quite tight band, consisting of Doug
James on sax, Bruce Bears on keyboards, Mark Tiexeira on drums, and Brad
Hallen on bass, onstage and launched into his 90-minute set. He opened
with “Swinging With Lucy Mae,” a spiffy midtempo 12-bar-blues shuffle.
6th and 9th chords swirled around, the baritone sax and the guitar
grunted out punchy riffs in unison over the keyboard’s Hammond B-3 sound
before Duke Robillard quoted Duke Ellington in his solo, and when I
closed my eyes I was in a 1950s bar, stealing glances at a woman in a
slinky dress sitting at the other end, smoking a cigarette and wishing
I’d offer to buy her a drink.
Further down the setlist, Robillard introduced what he called his theme song, a ditty typical of the evening’s less than weighty lyrical fare entitled “I May Be Ugly, But I Know How to Cook.” On “The Memphis Grind,” an instrumental bracketed with twangy bass-string riffs reminiscent of Link Wray, Bears took a dazzling, mercurial keyboard solo full of fast runs and funky rhythms. The band closed with “Going to California,” a spooky minor-key tune that ended campily with another quote, this time the slow chords of the James Bond theme.
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