Blues Full Circle, from two-time Grammy nominee and multi Blues Music Award winning guitarist Duke Robillard was a 2017 Grammy Nominee for Traditional Blues Album. His last CD, The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard, won Acoustic Album of the Year honors at the 37th Blues Music Awards.
Produced by Robillard and recorded at Lakewest Recording and Duke’s Mood Room, Blues Full Circleshowcases his killer guitar tones in a small combo setting, which brings out the power and urgency of the songs. Besides Duke (guitars, vocals) the “all-star combo” includes Bruce Bears (piano, Hammond organ); Brad Hallen (acoustic and electric bass); and Mark Teixeira (drums).
Special guests on this album include the legendary Jimmie Vaughan, who double-teams with Duke on the appropriately-titled guitar instrumental extravaganza, “Shufflin’ and Scufflin’.” Sugar Ray & the Bluetones lead singer Sugar Ray Norcia adds his trademark pleading vocals to the jumping “Last Night;” and the multi-talented Kelley Hunt sings and plays piano on the rollicking boogie, “The Mood Room.” Other guests include Sax Gordon Beadle (tenor and baritone sax on “Last Night”) and Doug James (baritone sax on “Shufflin’ and Scufflin’”).
“This album really does represent a full circle of blues for me,” says Robillard. “Eight of the tunes are new compositions and three tunes here represent songs I wrote as much as 30 to 45 years ago when I was leader and front man for the original Roomful of Blues in the 1970s. We hope you enjoy our back to the basics approach to the music here. Just straightforward small band, old school blues.”
The new album’s title is also a great metaphor for Robillard’s full-time return to active performing and recording after a stint on the musician’s disabled list – if you will – following some necessary surgery and rehabilitation.
“The original session for this album yielded seven of the tunes here in a short afternoon session,” explains Robillard. “That was about a month or two before my rotator cuff simply gave out and became disconnected on a gig.
“Everyone was in great form on that session and it seemed as if the stars were aligned in a way that meant great music. I had a particularly special sound, and standing close to my amp brought a sustain I had rarely gotten before. That day and that sound brought out something that rarely happens in the studio environment. It can be hard to replicate the feeling of live performance at times in the studio, but that day I experienced something that gave me an extra lift and made it easy to give a fun and emotional blues performance. Although I am always comfortable now in the studio, this was a very special day for all of us.
“Unfortunately, soon after, I was unable to play guitar at all for close to a year,” adds Robillard. “The months and months of physical therapy after surgery was a depressing time, but these things sometimes are clouds with silver linings, and I put myself into an art frame of mind as I dove back into photography and painting.” Evidence of Duke’s painting resurgence can be viewed on the cover art of Blues Full Circle. During the interim, Duke also had an exhibition of his photography at the Van Vassem in Tiverton Rhode Island.
“About a year later I felt ready to record again,” Duke continues. “The break in some ways did me good, as my voice got a needed rest. We did another easy-going afternoon session, this time in the Mood Room, my home studio. We cut four more tracks that we were really happy with and this album was born.”
Robillard also explains the genesis of how several of his special guests made their appearances on Blues Full Circle. “There was a tune, ‘Last Night,’ which we originally cut for my Lowdown and Tore Up album that I loved, but had trouble singing, so I invited Sugar Ray Norcia to guest on it and it was a perfect match. Then I remembered Kelley Hunt had written a song, ‘The Mood Room,’ about her experience in my studio, so I invited her to guest on her song with us. Bam! Another winner. Finally, when we thought we were finished, we were asked to do a few song sessions with Jimmie Vaughan for a Texas/Rhode Island connection project and I was offered to use the instrumental Jimmie and I had come up with on the spot on this, our new album. It turned out to be a perfect ending to the Blues Full Circle project. It’s great when everything just falls into place and in this case it did.”