Duke Robillard – 2014

After founding Roomful of Blues, he launched a solo career and became recognized as one of the all-time great blues guitarists

By the end of the 1960s, Michael Robillard, of Woonsocket, had already earned a reputation as one of the finest blues guitarists in Rhode Island after stints with the short-lived original lineup of Roomful of Blues, Ken Lyon’s Tombstone Blues Band, and The Black Cat Blues Band – during whose run he acquired his world-renowned nickname of “Duke.” In 1970, he was introduced to the horn-driven energy of the “jump blues” via Buddy Johnson’s classic LP “Rock ’n Roll” and he reformed Roomful with a three-piece horn section.

Under his leadership, the band practically single-handedly revived the genre and gained national attention with two albums for Island Records. Never one to rest on his laurels, Duke left the band to pursue a solo career with his stellar Rhode Island rhythm section, The Pleasure Kings – Thom Enright and Tommy DeQuattro. During this period, the jazzier side of his far-flung influences (especially the Texas masters Charlie Christian and Herb Ellis) began emerging more strongly and he released his first jazz project, “Swing,” in 1987 to critical acclaim.

Leading up to his induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2014, he has not only maintained his status as one of the world’s finest blues guitarists, he has become known worldwide as one of our greatest jazz players as well. Along the way, he has recorded and/or toured as a collaborator or sideman with some of the greatest artists in music including Herb Ellis, Jimmy Witherspoon, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Dr. John and Ruth Brown.

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