Band Bios for Waukesha Rotary BluesFest

Friday, August 12, 2022
The Duke Robillard Band - 8:30 pm

Whether it’s a song, a style, an idiom or an image, Duke Robillard will render it with mastery, power, nuance and an unerring grasp of its essence.


Born Michael John Robillard on October 4, 1948, in Woonsocket, R.I., Duke has carved out one of blues’ most illustrious legacies, while also trodding some lofty related territories as a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, bandleader, studio sideman, producer, label operator and educator. After showing an early affinity for music and guitar, he founded Roomful Of Blues with pianist Al Copley in Westerly, R.I., in 1967. By adding horns, Roomful announced itself emphatically as the prototypical jump blues band, and became a New England legend and a fixture beyond, as did Duke himself. His unsurpassed mastery of the guitar style of T-Bone Walker (later crystallized memorably in his 2004 release “Blue Mood”) was deservedly heralded, but his breadth was also head-turning from swing, standards and ballads to rockers, gutbucket Chicago blues and rockabilly.

By the time Duke left Roomful after a dozen years, he was firmly established in the upper echelon of contemporary blues guitarists. Duke went from Roomful to a stint with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon and then to the first iteration of the Legendary Blues Band, composed primarily of then-recent Muddy Waters sidemen.

The Duke Robillard Band debuted in 1981, re-emerging as The Pleasure Kings with their eponymous 1984 album on Rounder. It and its sequel, “Too Hot To Handle,” burnished Duke’s songwriting portfolio; the 1987 jazz outing “Swing” (with saxophonist Scott Hamilton) underscored his versatility and remains a highlight.

Continuing his solo career, Duke replaced Jimmie Vaughan with The Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1990. He cut his own much-awaited straight blues album “Duke’s Blues” in 1993 for Canadian imprint Stony Plain, leading eventually to a rewarding, continuing and prolific alliance, along with releases during the ensuing years on Point Blank/Virgin and Shanachie, as well as instructional videos. He also launched his own labels with Jesse Finkelstein, Blue Duchess/Shining Stone.

Duke’s prolificacy has included producing albums by Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker, Rosco Gordon, Jimmy Witherspoon and Jay McShann, Zuzu Bollin, Billy Price and Otis Clay, Sunny Crownover, Bryan Lee and Al Basile as well as recording two collaborations with Herb Ellis, a pairing with his successor in Roomful, Ronnie Earl, a seat in the New Guitar Summit with J. Geils and Gerry Beaudoin, additional studio credits with Bob Dylan (the well-regarded 1997 “Time Out Of Mind”), Ruth Brown, Johnny Adams, Pinetop Perkins, Snooky Pryor, Al Copley, Todd Sharpville and Tony Z, and touring with Tom Waits in 2006.


Duke’s resume is decorated with Grammy nominations, Handy Awards and Blues Music Awards, and other honors for his artistry, recordings and productions within the United States and internationally. Duke remains based in Rhode Island and a whirlwind as a musician, producer, gardener and photographer. But wait, there’s more, he’s now creating fine art abstract paintings too! At this point for Duke, versatility and mastery should come as anything but a surprise; it just means more richness in a superlative career for us to celebrate.

Saturday, August 13, 2022
Sue Foley - 8:30 pm

Sue Foley has been playing guitar since she was 13 years old. Like so many other musicians, it was the music of the early Rolling Stones that inducted her into the world of the blues. As she started working with other bands, she made her way to the Mark Hummel group and began touring Canada and northern America. When Austin blues nightclub and label owner, Clifford Antone saw her at the annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis, he knew he’d met an all-timer.

 

Before long, Foley was living in Austin and, in 1992, recorded her debut album “Young Girl Blues”. They say some things are meant to be, and surely it was this connection with Antone and Austin that set the stage for much of the blues woman’s life.

 

In 2001, Foley won the prestigious Juno Award (Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) and also holds the record for the most Maple Blues Awards in Canada and has earned three Trophees de Blues de France. She has also garnered several nominations at the Blues Music Awards from The Blues Foundation.

 

Foley’s album “The Ice Queen” released in 2018 represented a full circle journey, with her return to the roots of her career in Austin and her reconnection with many old friends. Joining Sue Foley as special guests on the album were a trio of legendary Texas guitarslingers, Jimmie Vaughan, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Charlie Sexton, as well as a host of other Lone Star State all-stars.

 

At the heart of it all has always been the guitar, though. It’s the sound of Sue Foley’s soul that comes out of the six strings, and it’s no accident that her new album “Pinky’s Blues”, released in 2021, is named after her pink paisley Fender Telecaster electric guitar that has been such a major part of Foley’s life for all these years. Everything about the musician’s new album seems to point its wondrous aim at destiny. Sue Foley and producer Mike Flanigin decided to make the album in the middle of the COVID lockdown in 2020. “Mike, drummer Chris Layton and I had just finished making Mike’s album ‘West Texas Blues’ and we needed another challenge to keep us busy,” Foley says. “And because we’d been hanging out together, we were comfortable in each other’s presence, and this would be a very low-key closed session. I brought in Jon Penner to play bass. He was my first bass player and had been on all my early Antone’s records. So just the four of us along with engineer Chris Bell went into the studio and recorded the entire album in three days. What you’re hearing is live, off the floor, in the moment. The music was played totally spontaneously and mainly improvised.”

 

Being that spontaneous, Sue Foley still had an overall idea for how she wanted the music to be. “We just wanted to make something representative of the Texas blues that we had been schooled on in Austin. So, we picked great songs and I wrote a few of my own to round things out. Everything on it is a labor of love.”

 

Part of that is the total devotion Sue Foley has to the guitar, and in particular to the one she calls Pinky that has been with her for decades and continues to play on this album. Foley feels it’s almost a living extension of who she is and helps guide her through the rambunctiously deep renditions of everything she performs. It was while playing Pinky and reaching out via livestreaming to connect with other people and players that much of “Pinky’s Blues” came to life. “During the COVID lockdown, Mike Flanigin and I had started a livestream show called ‘Texas Blues Party’, and all we were doing was live-streaming from Mike’s house, just the two of us along with a drum machine and playing and talking about the history of Texas blues, and many of our heroes,” Foley says.

 

Sue Foley’s life has been an exploration of the blues and so much more. Leaving Canada as a young player, she knew she had to go where the music thrived. All her years in Austin, and including those when she left to learn new approaches to life, have all come together on “Pinky’s Blues”. “The fact that I have ended up back in Austin just seems right,” Foley says. “My home is Canada and I definitely identify as a Canadian. But I had a yearning for this music and I can’t even put my finger on why or how. It got in my soul when I was a teenager. I guess I was open and I got imprinted by the sound and the force of blues music. I saw my first blues show at 15 and I swear I’ve never been the same. I was lucky because I was able to play with so many legends before they passed away. That direct transmission, as we know, is what it’s all about. I have the kind of experience and education that you can’t even get anymore. In a way it’s a big responsibility to carry the message of these giants.”

 

“But even more important, it’s about finding your own voice within this framework. In blues, that takes time. The beauty of blues, and something I’ve always loved about it, is that you get better as you get older. I’ve always been a fan of older musicians. There’s something about the message, the life experience, the whole package. If you can keep a good perspective on life, a sense of humor, and a love for what you’re doing, you have much more to give. This is when it all really happens,” Foley says. It’s something so deep and so pure there are no words to truly describe it, though Foley tries: “I’ve been on the road for over 30 years. I’ve made over a dozen albums of my own. I’ve had great successes and great failures. And all of this just makes my life richer and more colorful. It’s funny I keep coming back to the same 30 or 40 albums as my place of inspiration. I keep studying the same artists, over and over again. Freddie King, Muddy Waters, Memphis Minnie, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, etc., etc., you never really get there. You’re just always going. But it’s a great trip and I never get tired of playing a slow blues. That’s the ultimate,” as Sue Foley clearly explains, with “Pinky” right by her side.