DUKE ROBILLARD HAS BEEN PERFORMING
the blues in all its permutations for more than
40 years. Robillard began his career as a
cofounder of Roomful of Blues in 1967, playing
classics and originals, as well as backing
legends such as Big Joe Turner and Eddie
“Cleanhead” Vincent. Throughout the intervening
years he has worked with Robert
Gordon, the Legendary Blues Band (with
Muddy Waters alumni), Duke Robillard & the
Pleasure Kings, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds,
and recorded with a diverse group of
artists that includes Herb Ellis, J. Geils, John
Hammond, Ronnie Earl, Pinetop Perkins, Tom
Waits, Kim Wilson, and Jimmy Witherspoon.
More recently, his tasty guitar work has graced
Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and Ruth Brown’s
Robillard has also been the recipient of
numerous awards over the years, not least of
all the Blues Music Award for “Best Blues
Guitarist” in 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004. Additional
honors include three Canadian Maple
Blues Awards for “Best International Blues
Artist,” and two awards from the French Blues
The guitarist’s latest release, Stomp! The
Blues Tonight [Stony Plain], is a rousing, horndriven
tribute to his R&B heroes, drawing
mostly on material from the ’40s and ’50s,
some of which he has played since his days
with Roomful of Blues. The album includes
several vocal performances by Sunny Crownover,
an artist Robillard was so enamored with
that he assembled a band to back her live and
on the recently released Introducing . . . Sunny
and Her Joy Boys [Stony Plain], on which he
plays swing acoustic guitar.
Stomp! is a departure from your more recent
Well, it is and it isn’t. I did another record
back in 1990 with a similar purpose, which is
to pay tribute to the blues and R&B heroes that
inspired and influenced me in the beginning.
It’s kind of part two of that, but I’m more developed
in my career at this point, and as far as I’m
concerned it is the best blues-oriented record
I’ve ever made. The album pays tribute to artists
like Wynonie Harris, Roy Milton, T-Bone Walker,
Lowell Fulsom, and Johnny Watson.
Horns are front and center on a lot of the tracks.
Who was responsible for the arrangements?
The horn players and I collaborated on them.
Everybody had ideas, and we tried out different
things until we got what was best for the
songs. I’m really used to the sound of horns,
and I love playing rhythm guitar along with
them. Rhythm guitar is a bit of a lost art in
some respects, but to me playing rhythm is as
important as playing solos. In fact, when I’m
recording swing tunes, I’ll often layer a
Freddie Green-style acoustic rhythm part underneath
the electric part. Sometimes it’s way in
the background, underneath the bass and the
hi-hat, but it’s an important part of the sound.
Do you have a preferred acoustic for that
I’ll typically use an archtop. You don’t hear
enough of that sound today and I really love it.
I’ve got several archtop acoustics, but my Gretsch
Synchromatic and some Epiphone Broadways
and Triumphs are among my favorites.
Stomp! Has sort of an old-school sound. Did you
do record everything live?
With the exception of vocals, in most cases
the whole thing was cut live. I usually go back
and redo the vocals to get them right. As far
as sounding old school, as a producer I really
insist on things sounding natural. I’ve listened
carefully to how records sound my entire life,
and I work hard to get sounds similar to those
on my favorites.
Are you playing a walking bass line with your
thumb on “Hands Off”?
I believe I’m using a pick on that, but yeah,
it’s a repeated riff. I stuck with the part played
on the original recording of that song even
though it kind of interferes a bit with the bass,
because it works for every change. I find that
line to be fairly hypnotic, and as simple as the
part is, it can be a challenge to play it all the
way through the song without varying it. I think
I played an Epiphone Casino on that track.
What did you use to get that really growl-y tone
on your solo on the title track?
I used a ’49 Epiphone Deluxe Zephyr Regent
fitted with P-90s instead of the original pickups.
The amp was probably a Fender Princeton
Reverb, but it could also have been a 1950sera
Vega. I’m not positive which.
Are you playing a Tele on “Three Hours Past
It sounds like one, but I’m actually playing a
Stratocaster. I would normally use a Tele to get
that tone, but for some reason the Strat I was playing
that day just happened to make that sound.
Do you have any favorite pedals?
There are a few pedals that I use in the studio,
but the one I use most live is a DigiTech
Bad Monkey overdrive. Instead of having a single
tone control it has separate controls for
bass and treble, and they let me fatten up the
tone, which is important because so often you
lose a lot of low end with distortion pedals. I
also use a Radial Tonebone Trimode distortion
pedal, which has two different distortion sections
that you can switch between.
You aren’t known for using a whammy bar, but it
sounds like you are using one near the end of your
solo on “Frankie and Johnny.”
There’s no whammy bar. I’m playing a Gibson
ES-350 on that song, and anything I’m
doing that sounds like a whammy is just the
way I’m sliding my fingers around.
What guitars do you use on tour?
My main guitar right now is a reissue Epiphone
Sheraton John Lee Hooker model, but
I have a bevy of guitars, and I choose different
ones each time I go out. If it is going to be a
long tour, I’ll bring four or five instruments,
usually a couple of archtops and some Fender
or Fender-style guitars.
How about amplifiers?
For amplifiers I use either a Fender Deluxe
Reverb or my Louis Electric “Duke” model,
which is based on an early tweed Fender.
Louis Electric amps are made in New Jersey
by a guy named Louis Rosano, who does
things like hand winding his own power transformers,
and his amps are amazing sounding.
Mine has a 12" Eminence The Tonker combined
with a 10" Fane AXA. I used to think
that so-called boutique amplifiers were nonsense,
but the Duke has a fat, sweet, warm
yet bright tone that you just can’t get out of
most modern amps.