Duke Robillard (Photo: Pat Quinn)

Legendary guitarist and RI native Duke Robillard is not one to slow down. He’s been celebrated for his skills and has played with many of the all-time greats over the course of his 50+ year career, recording around 100 albums as leader and sideman.

Robillard’s talents were recognized when he won the coveted W.C. Handy Award for “Best Blues Guitarist” in 2000 and 2001. He’s been nominated twice for Grammy Awards, in both the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” and “Best Traditional Blues Album” categories.

So no surprise, after releasing the bluesy Swingin’ Again in 2021, he’s back with a new album this year. They Called It Rhythm & Blues is being released Friday, March 18 with a pair of album release shows to follow.

I spoke with Robillard recently and learned more about his new album and the upcoming CD Release party at the Narrows Center on March 25 at 8PM. Click here for tickets.

“The project was conceived with the idea of doing a real authentic early rhythm and blues album, basically the jump blues style of the late 1940s and 50s,” explained Robillard. “Most of the material on the album is in that style. I decided to have some guests on it, we have an incredible lineup from John Hammond to Kim Wilson, Sue Foley, Sugar Ray Norcia, and Michelle Wilson plus quite a few horn players. It’s my core band with all of those people added to it.”

Like Robillard, many of those guests, including several from New England, are known worldwide. “A few of them are from this area, like Sugar Ray and Michelle Wilson, but really all of them play all over the world,” Robillard noted.

Robillard reflected a bit on an extensive career, which began in the late 1960’s when he co-founded Roomful of Blues with Al Copley.

“I’ve been lucky enough that I got to play with many of my idols when they were alive. People like Big Joe Turner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Muddy Waters. I’ve got a list of about fifty people that I’ve just kind of added onto as the years go by that I’ve had the pleasure to either produce or play with on a recording or backup at a live performance,” said Robillard.

“A lot of these guys were still alive when I was in my youth, and I got to back them up, and produce quite a few of them too. Besides the blues people, there have been artists like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan that I’ve toured with and played on records with,” added Robillard.

No doubt, Robillard’s first love is the blues, and he’s optimistic about the future of the genre in popular music.

“It’s been kind of a rough time because of the pandemic,” he acknowledged. “There are a lot of great younger players, people continuing to play a traditional style of blues or writing their own material, some it being more modern. I think (blues) is doing pretty well. There are enough people out there playing to uphold the traditional and the contemporary side, I think that music’s pretty healthy.”

The Narrows show will feature Robillard’s band with Chris Cote on vocals. “We’re also gonna have Sugar Ray Norcia do some tunes and Michelle Wilson will be there to do a feature spot. We’ll be playing quite a lot of music from the new album,” Robillard shared.

Robillard’s core band includes some of the finest musicians around with Mark Texiera on drums, Marty Ballou on bass, Bruce Bears on piano and organ, and Doug James on tenor sax.

“We’re really excited about the show because we haven’t had that much of a chance to get out and play this winter,” he noted. “We also have a new video that was released with Sue Foley, available on YouTube, and we have two more videos coming in the next month.”

For more on Duke Robillard, click here.

For more on the March 25 show at the Narrows Center, click here.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.