Duke Robillard and his ax: Hunting down rare hybrid beasts.
Duke Robillard and his ax: Hunting down rare hybrid beasts.
Eric England

Duke Robillard

Rhode Island-born Duke Robillard was just 19 when he co-founded Roomful of Blues in 1967. The succeeding 33 years have seen Robillard wander far from that original blue Room, but no matter where he roams, the versatile guitarist with the elegant licks always finds a welcome place to lay his ax. After walking out of the Roomful in 1979, Robillard logged stints with Robert Gordon, the Legendary Blues Band and the Fabulous Thunderbirds (as Jimmie Vaughan's replacement). All the while, Robillard was fronting his own Pleasure Kings, releasing seven albums for Rounder, and gracing recording sessions for everyone from Ruth Brown to Bob Dylan with his vintage Epiphone Archtop epiphanies.

Robillard's on a roll this year. He took home the W.C. Handy Award for best blues guitarist and released Explorer, his second CD for Shanachie, in June. A creativity by no means limited to music spills forth from the man: The booklet for last year's New Blues for Modern Man showcases his budding interest in art photography; later that year, his painting skills were revealed on the cover of Conversations in Swing Guitar, a blues-and-jazz guitar master class between Robillard and the legendary Herb Ellis.

He has expanded his job description musically, too, but make no bones about it: What this man does best is play guitar, usually in front of a huge horn section. Robillard stalks game in a territory where blues, jazz, swing and rockabilly roam and crossbreed; he almost always brings home a rare new hybrid to hang on the walls of his trophy room. It's just such big-game hunting that has prompted no less an authority than B.B. King to call Robillard "one of the great players."


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