25 Sep Interview to DUKE ROBILLARD
INTERVIEW TO DUKE ROBILLARD BY MONTE ADKISON, “THE BLUES STALKER”
MONTE ADKISON’S BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
MONTE ADKISON’S BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
Monte Adkison, aka “the Blues Stalker,” has been listening to the blues since her teenager days . Along with many other young perople who grew up in the southern United States in the early 60’s, she listened to powerful Nashville, Tennessee WLAC radio deejay “John R’s” popular blues radio show after midnight every night.
As a high school social science teacher in Florida during thirty years, Monte was the recipient of a scholarship in 1995 from the Florida Humanities Council to study blues music at the University of Tampa where she met the late Tampa Bay harmonica, Rock Bottom, and the late “Diamond Teeth” Mary McClain. Amazed that “Diamond Teeth” Mary had been written up in European blues magazines but not in American, she vowed to change that.
Taking a summer pilgrimage to the Delta to study at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, she spent time researching Mary in the Blues Archives and met David Nelson, then editor of Living Blues which is based there on the Ole Miss campus. She asked David if he knew Mary and he said he had seen her perform at the W.C. Handy Awards in Memphis in ’92. When asked if indeed his magazine was true “Living Blues”, if she wrote about Mary performing on her 95th birthday, would he publish it? The answer was yes and Living Blues did and then went on to write an article on Monte’s Blues in the Schools program in a ’97 issue.
Monte began writing a regular column for the Suncoast Blues Society newsletter, the Twelve Bar Rag under the moniker “The Blues Stalker.” She is still writing about talented blues artists who are under appreciated and often ignored by the mainstream press. She also covers other aspects of the blues music industry besides the musicians themselves. Her photographs can be viewed on the Suncoast Blues Society website as well as photographs of the popular annual Tampa Bay Blues Festival.
Monte’s commitment to keeping the blues alive is evident in her articles and photos, and was present in her classroom in Ocala, Florida where every inch of her walls were covered with snapshots and autographed posters of blues musicians that she has met. As she puts it, “It’s my way of sneaking the heritage in -when you’re bored with the lessons and look up on the walls and see Kenny Neal, Eddie Kirkland, or Sista Monica- you might just give a listen later in live and fall in love with the music just like I have. It is another small way of keeping the blues alive”. You can visit her personal website site too.
I am really satisfied and proud to have at “La Hora del Blues” staff, directly from USA, the valuable support, help and collaboration of this great blues expert and lover, known as “The Blues Stalker”. I am sure you will enjoy this page with all her interesting and juicy interviews and photographs, so I can only encourage you to visit it regularly.
Welcome aboard! Monte….
Duke Delivers! (Again)
by Monte Adkison aka the “Blues Stalker”
Michael John “Duke” Robillard was born October 4, 1948 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Duke excels at many roles—guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, bandleader, sideman, producer, label owner, and educator. He co-founded the legendary jump blues band Roomful of Blues with pianist Al Copley in 1967 and played with them until 1979. In 1981, he formed the Duke Robillard Band which became Duke Robillard and the Pleasure Kings, touring in the 80’s and recording for Rounder Records. In 1990-1992 he replaced Jimmie Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and was a master of blues rock, rockabilly, jazz, jump blues, gutbucket Chicago blues and swing and was not afraid to experiment with an eclectic mix of genres. He toured with Tom Waits and in 2013 he was the guitarist for Bob Dylan on tour.
Duke has an extensive discography- 37 as a leader or co-leader, 3 with Roomful of Blues, 2 with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, 3 with J. Geils and 3 with Herb Ellis. In addition, he is credited as a sideman or guest artist on dozens of other recordings with such notable artists as Al Basile, Joe Beard, Gerry Beaudoin, Eddy Clearwater, Al Copley, Ronnie Earl, Sax Gordon, Scott Hamilton, Jerry Portnoy, Jay McShann, Jimmy Witherspoon, Snooky Prior, Pinetop Perkins, Arlan Roth, Curtis Salgado, John Hammond, Mark Hummel, Savoy Brown, Ruth Brown, Kid Ramos, Bruce Katz, Rosco Gordon, Debbie Davies, Jimmy Thackery, Joe Louis Walker, and Billy Boy Arnold and too many others to list.
He has been nominated for Grammy Awards and was chosen “Best Blues Guitarist” for the Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards) in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004. “They Called it Rhythm and Blues” released in 2022 was nominated at the 44th annual BMA awards in May 2023 for “Best Traditional Blues Album” as well as being nominated for “Best Traditional Blues Male”.
Duke recently released “Six Strings of Steel” on M.C. Records in June and by July was already charting in the top 25 of the major blues charts, including #4 on Living Blues. An ambitious tour is currently underway to promote the new release from New England to California and new dates are constantly being added. Do not miss this master artist if you get a chance to see him perform live!
Blues Stalker: Duke, this is your second recording for M.C, Records. Correct?
Duke Robillard: Yes, my first cd for MC Records was Duke and his Dames of Rhythm.
B.S.: In the past four decades of making albums, you chose “Six Strings of Steel” to showcase all of your major influences in your musical journey. How difficult was it to select the songs that you decided to cover? Could you share some of what went into those decisions?
D.R.: Actually, it was not all of my earliest influences. The process was determined by many factors. Mostly, what makes a good listening experience. There are several other things that I would characterize as stream of consciousness ideas that I’m not sure I could put into words. It seems folks think I have a knack for putting material together in a good way.
B.S.: Your band mates have been with you a long time, Mark Teixera, Bruce Bears, Marty Ballou and Doug James but you have added a new vocalist, Chris Cote. How did these relationships evolve?
D.R.: Over the last 10 or 15 years I’ve developed problems with my voice that specialists blame on acid reflux. They have prescribed medications that may or may not be helping. I have good days and bad and it seems to me that acid reflux doesn’t play into it much but who knows?
I had Chris Cote help by singing a song on my Ear Worms record and he killed it in one take. When we recorded “Blues Bash” he sang more tunes and we eventually started doing live shows with Chris as our featured vocalist. I occasionally still do a few shows where I sing but mostly, I sing just a few tunes and Chris does the bulk of the vocals. He’s an extremely powerful and consistent singer so it makes sense and he always goes over great.
B.S.: You also added Katie Shore from “Asleep at the Wheel” on fiddle. Is this your first recording using a fiddle in the mix?
D.R.: I have used a fiddle before on a tune on Blues Bash. I fact it was a tune Chris sang called “Living with the Animals”. Marnie Hall was the violinist on that one. I met Katie Shore through my old friend Johnny Nicholas who is a great roots musician in Texas. Katie is a very talented musician and also a great singer and we hope to work more together in the future.
B.S.: For the gearheads out there I have to ask, what is your favorite ax?
D.R.: Favorite ax? I would have to say whichever one is working best for whatever I am doing at the moment. Because I play such a variety of musical styles, I feel it’s necessary to use a variety of guitars. Special mention must go James Murphy guitars who has built me 3 incredible archtop guitars which I have used on many of my albums. But I love vintage guitars and have owned and played hundreds of them over my career. I also love new affordable Asian made guitars that are designed after vintage American budget guitars. Let’s just say I love guitars. I play many Epiphones and Squire guitars also.
B.S.: You have played with a veritable “Who’s Who” of legendary artists. Is there anyone still alive that you have not shared the stage or studio with that is in your bucket list? My dream duo would be you and Larry Carlton.
D.R.: I’m sure Larry would be great fun to play with. There are so many great guitarists out there that are amazing but it’s tough to keep up on all of them. All the guys I admire most are not with us anymore unfortunately. I’m sure there are many guitarists out there I would love to play with but at the moment I can’t think of any.
B.S.: Often in the blues world, so many artists are afraid to experiment with their signature sound for fear of losing their fan base, yet you seem to be always pushing the limits of the genre and creating refreshing new styles and grooves for fans to enjoy. How important do you think this is to help keep the music dynamic and not stagnant for the next generation of blues fans?
D.R.: I think you have to keep the music interesting for yourself first. If you satisfy yourself, you will make others interested in what you’re doing I believe. We all have different thoughts about this stuff and it’s all valid. The feeling in the music is the first thing, no matter what your goal is. My purpose for playing music has never been geared to monetary success. I’ve been blessed with a pretty consistent career since just about the beginning. And I am very appreciative of that.
B.S.: I personally love the old school vintage stuff. I was thrilled to hear the Fats Domino cover. I remember digging that song as a 10 years old kid when it came out in 1959. It brought back a flood of memories. Thanks for choosing that. Have you ever worked with a “Blues in the Schools” program or a youth workshop? Also, do you teach guitar classes online?
D.R.: I have done many workshops and taught classes and private lessons though never for the actual Blues in Schools organization. I also teach guitar for an online company called Sonic Junction. I have several year’s worth of lessons there and they are quite popular. I recommend guitarists interested in blues and swing to check them out!
B.S.: “Six Strings of Steel is available on compact disc and digital format. Is it also available on vinyl? How can fans obtain the new disc?
D.R.: “Six Strings of Steel” is available at Amazon and at my website dukerobillard.com. There will also be a special vinyl edition around Christmas on M.C. Records.
B.S.: I have been a fan of yours for a long time but just recently came across your excellent photography on your website. Such talent! Are you still engaged in that and what kind of equipment do you use?
D.R.: I did photography from 1990 to about 2000 but lost interest when digital took over the industry. I love film and used cameras from the 1920’s through the 60s. Using vintage camera gear made it fun and interesting for me. I am still involved in photography a bit but moved to painting abstract images in the 2000s. I don’t have as much time as I’d like for art these days. Music keeps me quite busy still at my age.
B.S.: Duke, wishing you all the best on your new release and new label. Keep making great music and thank you for keeping the music fresh and alive!