By Steve Sharp
One of the blues world's jazziest artists, guitarist/singer Fenton Robinson, died in Rockford, Ill. on November 25, 1997. Robinson succumbed to a reoccurrence of brain cancer and a stroke after just having just turned 62 on Sept. 23.
For fans of Robinson, the 1990s were a disappointing time - no new records and no regular gigs, even in Chicago. Some of Robinson's last shows in that city took place at Kingston Mines in the late 80s and at the now-defunct River West club on Elston.
His friends and critics alike have speculated that Robinson's sweet voice, and jazzy, Texas-styled guitar phrasings and chordal progressions may have been too slick for the Windy City crowd. However, solid blues always kept Robinson firmly tethered while he explored his jazz interests.
Robinson was born in Minter City, Miss. He recorded for Duke and Meteor and in the mid-1950s and later moved to Chicago. He counted among his friends Otis Rush and Junior Wells. Robinson performed frequently at the renowned Theresa's Lounge with Wells in the 1970s and Wells tipped his cap to Robinson by making a cameo appearance on Robinson's 1988 Black Magic release "Blues In Progress."
"Somebody Loan Me A Dime" was Robinson's debut for Bruce Iglauer's Alligator label in 1974. It is considered a classic of modern blues. Robinson went on two record other great records for Alligator, including "I Hear Some Blues Downstairs." Black Magic, based in the Netherlands, initially released "Blues in Progress," which later became more readily available in the U.S. on Alligator re-issue. Robinson made his last record, "Special Road," for Black Magic (now available on Evidence) in 1989.
Although Robinson might not have been appreciated as a big draw on Chicago's noisy North Side, he certainly had the respect of his fellow blues musicians.
On one evening in 1991 at Buddy Guy's Legends - one of his final Chicago performances - Robinson played two of his usual, mellow sets, including great songs such as "Slow Walking" and "I Hear Some Blues Downstairs."
Throughout the show he received accompaniment from the late keyboardist, Professor Eddie Lusk. Then, at the end of the evening's last set, the stars began emerging from the crowd to jam with Robinson. At the conclusion of the night, gathered onstage around Robinson were Larry McCray, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells - all following the lead of his controlled, dignified playing.