Originally created 05/17/02

Guitarist says playing blues properly is about exploring

Guitarist Duke Robillard has never been upset about having the blues.

Mr. Robillard, who performs Saturday at the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, has happily lived his life under the long shadow of the blues. He said that he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a guitar player, thanks to Chuck Berry singles.

"Yeah, it was always the flip-sides," Mr. Robillard said during a recent telephone interview. "Chuck Berry put these great blues tunes on the B-sides of his records."

Mr. Robillard specializes in jump blues, a style that incorporates the 12-bar structure of classic blues with the improvisational style of jazz.

"It was blues, played by jazz musicians," he explained. "It has everything. It has those guitars, improvisation and those great, great horns. To this day, it still moves me."

Living with the Blues

Mr. Robillard started his first band, Roomful of Blues, in 1967. Since then he has worked as a sideman with artists such as Bob Dylan and John Hammond and has played with his own groups. Mr. Robillard said the line between Dylan folk-rock and Howlin' Wolf is shorter than a lot of people realize: It all stems from that inexplicable visceral charge that comes from hearing an electric guitar played well.

"The sound of Link Wray and Chuck Berry and Duane Eddy and Hank Williams and Chet Atkins has always triggered something with me. I've spent 35 years exploring what they've done and what I can do within the framework of the blues. I've never run out of possibilities. There are millions of ways to interpret it, each one remarkable and hypnotic."

Mr. Robillard said that to play the blues, you have to be ready to explore. He explained that audiences and record sales are nice, but that the real pleasure of the blues is in the journey.

"I've really never had any interest in becoming hugely famous," he said. "I just wanted to play this music properly. I grew up in a remote area of Rhode Island and never thought about leaving there. In fact, I still live there. So it's amazing the places I've gone with the blues, literally and figuratively."


WHAT: The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

WHEN: Saturday, gates open at noon

PERFORMERS: Crosstie Walkers, 12:15-1 p.m.; Bob Margolin, 1:20-2:20 p.m.; Bill Sheffield, 2:40-3:40 p.m.; Steve Forbert, 4-5:15 p.m.; Duke Robillard, 5:35-6:50 p.m.; Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell (backed by Bob Margolin), 7:10-9:10 p.m.

WHERE: Festival grounds off U.S. Highway 78, one mile north of Interstate 20, Exit 172 in Thomson

ADMISSION: $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. Call (804) 278-4TIX or visit www.tixonline.com

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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