Blues Bytes


June 2006

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Fenton Robinson
Somebody Loan Me A Dime

Fenton Robinson

In 1974, Alligator Records issued their fifth release, Somebody Loan Me A Dime, by Chicago guitarist Fenton Robinson. Dubbed “The Mellow Blues Genius” by his numerous adoring fans in Japan, Robinson seemed to be an odd fit with Alligator’s motto --- 'Genuine Houserocking Music.' His jazz-tinged guitar style owed more to T-Bone Walker than to the Chicago/Mississippi Delta-based guitar that had been prominently featured on the four earlier Alligator releases by Hound Dog Taylor, Big Walter Horton, and Son Seals, and his rich vocals were also a marked contrast.

Robinson, born in Leflore County, Mississippi in 1935, got his recording start in the late ’50s for Memphis-based Meteor Records, but subsequently ended up at Duke Records in Houston. He was sometimes teamed with Larry Davis, who had been a regular musical partner in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Robinson was based. In fact, Robinson played lead guitar on Davis’ original version of “Texas Flood.”

Robinson recorded four singles of his own for Duke, including the standard “As The Years Go Passing By.” He also cut a couple of singles for U.S.A. Records in Chicago and in 1967, recorded the stunning track that would become his trademark tune (and the title of his first Alligator album) for the tiny Palos label, also in Chicago.

Sadly, the first version of “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” suffered from poor distribution, caused in part by a severe snowstorm. It did become a local smash though, and was a steady seller, eventually catching the ear of a young Boz Scaggs, who recorded it himself and watched it become a blues-rock classic. Unfortunately, through a publishing mix-up, Scaggs was listed as the song’s composer, and Robinson only got his composer‘s credit (and the ensuing royalties) after a lengthy legal battle. After a frustrating 1970 album for a Nashville label (where the producer made the inexcusable mistake of taking the guitar out of Robinson’s hands and putting it into the hands of session guitarists), Robinson hooked up with Alligator.

Somebody Loan Me A Dime consists of 11 tracks, most of which Robinson had recorded earlier. However, behind the stellar production of Bruce Iglauer and strong, sympathetic support from Mighty Joe Young on rhythm guitar, Bill Heid on keyboards, Cornelius Boyson on bass, and Tony Gooden on drums, as well as a tight four-piece horn section, these versions are the definitive ones. Probably the biggest difference is the fact that, following his move to Chicago in the early ’60s, Robinson’s guitar style became more influenced by jazz guitarists (notably Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell), which really gave him a broader scope to work from.

The title track, this version especially, should be in every blues fan’s collection. Robinson’s cover of Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart To You” swings smooth and easy, complimented perfectly by the horn section. “Going To Chicago” features some introspective piano fills by Heid and some of Robinson’s best guitar, and his “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is a minor-key masterpiece, nearly on a level with “Somebody Loan Me A Dime.”

In closing the album, Robinson pays tribute to Larry Davis with a wonderful, spur-of-the-moment cover of “Texas Flood.”

In 1975, Robinson was involved in an auto accident that left a pedestrian dead. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and incarcerated at Joliet Penitentiary until Iglauer led a letter-writing campaign that helped spring Robinson from prison after serving nine months of his three-year sentence. Robinson recorded two more albums for Alligator, 1977’s I Hear Some Blues Downstairs and 1984’s Nightflight (which was originally issued in Europe as Blues In Progress). A later European release, Special Road, was reissued in the U.S. in the mid ’90s by Evidence.

Fenton Robinson died in Rockford, Illinois on November, 1997, due to complications from brain cancer. Like so many blues musicians, he never received the recognition he deserved. Maybe his subtle, melodic guitar and rich, classy vocals weren’t what the “rock & blooze” crowds were looking for, but they missed out on a great talent if that was the case.

Somebody Loan Me A Dime is certainly the quintessential Fenton Robinson album, not to mention one of the high points of 1970s blues recordings.

--- Graham Clarke


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