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mercredi 6 février 2013

FENTON ROBINSON/ Early Recordings



FENTON ROBINSON/ Early Recordings



photo © Emmanuel Choisnel
            Malgré son immense réputation auprès des fans de blues du monde entier, Fenton Robinson est rarement cité parmi les bluesmen majeurs. Alors que son œuvre, presque toujours excellente voire remarquable, en fait un des plus accomplis des chanteurs/guitaristes du blues "moderne".

            Né le 23 septembre 1935 à Minter City, dans le Mississippi, au sein d'une famille de métayers miséreux, essentiellement élevé par sa mère, il doit quitter l'école très jeune pour aider aux travaux des champs. C'est un voisin, le guitariste Sammy Hampton, qui lui apprend les rudiments de la guitare. Mais ce n'est qu'après avoir déménagé à Memphis en 1951 que Fenton découvre les guitares des grands innovateurs de la Côte Ouest comme T-Bone Walker ou Oscar Moore, les arrangements des big bands de jazz et les voix des blues shouters tels Eddie Vinson ou Joe Williams. Ce seront toujours ces influences sophistiquées et urbaines qui domineront sa musique.

            Il décide alors de devenir musicien professionnel, forme un groupe avec Charles McGowan et parfait son éducation musicale auprès de différents musiciens chevronnés de la ville. Une démarche extrêmement inhabituelle pour un bluesman du Mississippi qui, plus tard, l'amènera à apprendre à lire et à écrire la musique et arranger l'orchestration.

            Memphis se révélant peu lucratif, Fenton gagne tenter sa chance à Little Rock en 1953, en faisant sa base de rayonnement jusqu'en 1961. Il joue dans les clubs de jazz et de blues, anime une émission de radio sur KXLR, présentant tous les talents de la capitale de l'Arkansas: Larry Davis (alors bassiste), Sammy Lawhorn, Sunny Blair, Ernest Lane... Il joue aussi souvent à Saint Louis, notamment en 1954-55 au Blue Flame Club où il rencontre Ike Turner et ses Kings of Rhythm. Quand Fenton retourne à Little Rock, il est suivi de quelques musiciens des Kings of Rhythm, tel le saxophoniste-ténor Little Cameron avec lequel il enregistrera.

            Remarqué par Lester Bihari, Fenton enregistre enfin en 1957 pour Meteor Tennessee woman, ce qui l'amène à signer pour le label de Don Robey, Duke qui saura lui faire graver une série de séances remarquables dans ses studios de Houston: As the years go passing by (une composition originale de Peppermint Harris cédée à Robey qui deviendra le standard que l'on sait), une version supérieure de Tennessee woman, Mississippi steamboat ou l'instrumental The Freeze (qui influencera tant Albert Collins). Fenton accompagne aussi plusieurs chanteurs comme Larry Davis sur le classique Texas flood.

            Mais dans le Sud, Robinson ne réussit pas à vivre, comme il le souhaite tant, de sa musique, et doit travailler en usine le jour (notamment chez Coca Cola). Il gagne donc Chicago. Presque immédiatement, la réputation de ses disques Duke, son jeu de guitare jazzy, fluide, virtuose, expressif, son chant poignant qui ajoute au phrasé distingué des blues shouters la ferveur du Gospel lui permet d'assembler un groupe (Bobby King, Jack Myers, Earl Robinson) qui devient l'orchestre-maison du club Theresa's. Il enregistre pour plusieurs petits labels de Chicago (USA, Palos). En 1967, le magnifique Somebody loan me a dime commence à flirter avec les Hit Parades locaux mais l'hiver précoce et très dur paralyse la ville durant plusieurs semaines, empêchant l'ascension du titre.

            Cependant, Somebody n'est pas perdu pour tout le monde, notamment pas pour le chanteur de rock Boz Scaggs qui l'enregistre en 1969 sur Atlantic, s'en approprie la composition et en fait un énorme succès commercial! Malgré ses efforts, Fenton - qui n'a guère les moyens financiers de lutter - ne récupérera jamais les droits qu'il aurait dû percevoir. Robinson continue donc une petite carrière, grave encore quelques 45 t pour le minuscule label Giant puis, dans la foulée du succès de Boz Scaggs, un album entier à Nashville sous l'égide de John Richbourn qui ne trouve rien de mieux que de le priver de sa guitare et l'entourer d'un des groupes de rock les plus rigides du moment.

Alligator CD
            Fenton tourne ensuite avec Charlie Musselwhite durant quelques années. Jusqu'à ce que Bruce Iglauer lui permette enfin en 1974 d'enregistrer le merveilleux Somebody loan me a dime (Alligator). Magnifiquement produit, entouré de grands musiciens de blues, Fenton est au sommet de son art et cet album est certainement un des grands chefs d'œuvre indispensables du Chicago blues de cette période. Plusieurs titres de cette sublime séance sont encore inédits et on peut espérer que Alligator va en sortir un jour l'intégrale?
            Avec un tel disque et un label comme Alligator, l'avenir de Fenton semblait enfin prometteur. Malheureusement, impliqué dans un accident de voiture mortel, Robinson est condamné à la prison et incarcéré en 1975. A sa sortie, il enregistre un nouveau très bon album pour Alligator I hear some blues downstairs. Mais le caractère ombrageux et la personnalité de Fenton le brouillent avec beaucoup de monde. Il retourne vivre à Little Rock, cette fois pour trouver une scène du blues agonisante, gagne Springfield (Ill) où il obtient une résidence d'artiste dans un college... Il ne joue plus en public que sporadiquement, disparaît pratiquement de la scène américaine. Heureusement, sa réputation en Europe et au Japon lui permettent d'y effectuer des tournées et d'enregistrer encore quelques albums pour le label néerlandais Black Magic (Blues in progress/ Nighflight; Special road).

            C'est hélas un homme amer, désabusé, sûr de ses talents dont il vivote à peine qui meurt d'une attaque le 30 novembre 1997 à Rockford dans l'Illinois.

            Sa très belle œuvre enregistrée, elle, n'a cessé de grandir avec le temps.

            Si tous ses albums sont relativement disponibles en CD, ses premiers 45t sont difficiles ou impossibles à trouver. Nous les avons donc rassemblés ici grâce à la générosité de Hartmut Münnich et Paul De Bruycker.

                                                           Gérard HERZHAFT



Although rarely credited as a major figure of the Chicago blues, Fenton Robinson has nevertheless a strong and well deserved reputation as a wonderful smooth singer and subtle and expressive guitarist among blues buffs all over the world.

Born September 23, 1935 in Minter City (Ms), the young Fenton had a very hard childhood, having to quit school at an early age to help his farming mother. A neighbor guitarist, Sammy Hampton, opened up his mind to music, jazz and blues. It was anyway not before Fenton had moved to Memphis in the early 1950's that he was confronted to "real" musicians, live or on records, T-Bone Walker, Oscar Moore, the sound of the big bands, the blues shouters like Joe Williams (from Count Basie's) and Eddie Vinson who, all of them, would stay as his main musical influences. All his life Fenton would want to be a professionnal, classy musician, taking lessons, learning how to read and write music and arrangements. With a friend, the guitarist Charles McGowan, Fenton embarked himself on a musical career with great expectations and ambitions. Relocated in Little Rock (Arkansas) in 1953, Fenton knew and played with all the local musicians (Larry Davis, Sammy Lawhorn, Sunny Blair), hosted a local radio programme and had gigs all around Little Rock up to Saint Louis where he knew and played with Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. Tenor saxman and singer Little Cameron, one of Ike's alumni, even went into Fenton's band whose whom he would record a handful of sides.

            At last, Fenton recorded in 1957, first for Lester Bihari's Meteor label (Tennessee woman), then for Don Robey's Duke label. Well produced, with gound sound and arrangements, the tracks that Fenton waxed for Duke in 1959-60 stand up very well the tests of time. As the years go passing by (an original composition by Peppermint Harris who sold it to Robey), a new superior version of Tennessee woman, Mississippi steamboat or The freeze (which would greatly influence Albert Collins) are some of the best Duke titles.

            But despite all that buzz, Fenton had still to work on a day-job (in a Coca Cola plant) for bread and butter. Once again, with great hopes, he went to try his luck in Chicago where he would take more music lessons with Reggie Boyd.

            Quickly, his mellow, jazzy, floating and inventive guitar playing as well as his classy singing (plus the reputation of his Duke 45's) earned him a secure job as leader of the house band (with Bobby King, Jack Myers...) at Theresa's. He also managed to record for several small Chicago labels: USA, Giant, Palos... In 1967, his stunning composition Somebody loan me a dime, for Palos, started to climb the local charts but was unfortunately cut off by an early and severe Chicago winter which froze litteraly all activities in the Windy city.

            Anyway, rising rock star Boz Scaggs heard the song, copyrighted the tune and recorded it for his Atlantic album in 1969, a national smash hit that should have earned some needed money to Fenton but instead left him embittered and poorer, the expanses of lawyers and such going nowhere!

            Trying to emulate Boz's music, Nashville producer John Richbourn signed Fenton and made him recording a poor rock-oriented album in which Fenton didn't even had the right to play his guitar! Fenton went for a while on the road with Charlie Musselwhite.

            At last in 1974, Fenton recorded a major album under the wise production of Bruce Iglauer. Somebody loan me a dime (Alligator) is certainly a masterpiece of the "modern" Chicago blues idiom in which Fenton appears at the peak of his considerable talents. Several tracks from this legendary sessions are still unissued. Maybe one day, Bruce and Alligator would give us the "complete" recording session?

            With such an album and a dedicated producer like Iglauer, the future of Fenton Robinson seemed at last promising. But bad luck struck him once again. Involved in a fatal car accident, Fenton had to go to jail for several months in 1975.

            He recorded another good album for Alligator albeit less stunning than the previous one (I hear some blues downstairs) but seemed not to be able to cash on anything. His brood temper, his versatility discouraged many to take care of his career. Fenton quit Chicago to return to Little Rock, just to find a dying blues scene, relocated to Springfield, Illinois, where he chiefly lived upon musical lectures in schools and even day jobs. He dropped off the US blues scene almost completely but, fortunately, his great reputation in Japan and Europe gave him the opportunty to tour overseas and record a handful of (very good) albums for the Dutch Black Magic label.

            But this is a very bitter, suspicious, disillusionned man, still aware of his considerable musical talents largely unrecognized outside some limited circles, that died after an attack on november 30, 1997.

            His mostly first rate recorded legacy speaks for his greatness.

            If his albums are all still available on CDs, his first sides on 45's are quite hard to obtain. With some help from Hartmut Münnich and Paul de Bruycker I have thus collected his complete early works on this .mp3 comp.

                                                                       Gérard HERZHAFT












FENTON ROBINSON  Complete Recordings

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; Charles Mc Gowan, g; pno; Robert Williams, t-sax; Larry Davis, bs; J.W. Hughes, dms. Memphis, Tn. mars 1957

01. Tennessee woman

02. Crying out loud

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; David Dean, t-sax; James Booker, pno; Larry Davis, bs; Nat Kendricks, dms. Houston, Tx. 17-26 mai 1958

03. Crazy crazy lovin'

04. Mississippi steamboat

05. The freeze

06. Double freeze (vcl: Peppermint Harris)

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; James Booker, pno; Texas Johnny Brown, g; David Dean, t-sax; Hamp Simmons, bs; Nat Kendricks, dms. Houston, tx. 1959

07. As the years go passing by

08. Tennessee woman

09. You've got to pass this way again

10. Schoolboy

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; Hop Wilson, st-g; Elmore Nixon, pno; Pete Douglas, bs; Ivory Lee Semien, dms. Houston, Tx. 27 octobre 1960

11. You don't move me anymore

12. My woman done quit me

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; Detroit Jr, pno; Burgess Gardner, t-sax; Eddie Silvers, a-sax; Bob Anderson, bs; Billy Davenport, dms. Chicago, Ill. 1966

13. Say you're leaving

14. Directly from my heart

15. You're cracking me up

16. I put my baby in high society

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; Kenneth Sands, tpt; Bobby Forte, t-sax; Alberto Gianquinto, pno; Leo Lauchie, bs; Sonny Freeman, dms. Chicago, Ill. mai 1967

17. I believe

18. Somebody loan me a dime

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; tpt; Little Cameron, t-sax; Wayne Bennett, g; pno; James Green, bs; dms. Chicago, Ill. janvier 1968

19. Farmer's son

20. Let me rock you to sleep

21. Keep on grooving me baby

Fenton Robinson, vcl/g; horns; John Logan, og; Mighty Joe Young, g; James Green, bs; Bill Warren, dms. Chicago, lll. 1969

22. 7/11 blues

23. There goes my baby

24. Fen-ton a soul




18 commentaires:

  1. Another excellent post! Thanks Marc

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  2. I can't wait to listen to this. Thanks!

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  3. Lovely stuff Gerard and thank you very much for your continuing efforts to publish the Blues! It is very much appreciated by me.

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  4. Thanks Gerard for all of your great collections here. You always offer outstanding music that would be impossible for most people to hear if it wasn't for your efforts.

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    1. Thanks, Gyro. This is the purpose of this blog. Those great artists really deserve to be better known.

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  5. This is great! Haven't heard Freeze/Double Freeze since listing the 78 in a group auction c.1969! Keep up the good work.

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  6. Merci Gérard !
    Encore un superbe travail de sélection absolument délectable.
    Pourvu que cela dure longtemps !

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  7. Thanks for your precious gifts & infos!
    By the way, happy new year 2013 to you
    Serge Zéni

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    1. Merci à tous pour votre soutien et vos appréciations. Thanks to everybody for appreciations and support!

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  8. Excellent cet article j'ignorais que Boz Scaggs lui avait détourné les droits de son oeuvre il baisse dans mon estime :o( Un peu triste qu'il n'ait jamais eu la pleine reconnaissance de son talent ! "Loan me a dime" est clairement fabuleux. Merci encore pour le partage autour de cet artiste superbe

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  9. Many thanks, M Herzhaft! This one complements my P-vine compilation and the other few scattered singles available.

    A great, essential work, yours!

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  10. Excellent, thanks very much for providing these classic early recordings. That "High Society" is one hell of a track - big fat rasping sad sax and Fenton's fluid guitar.

    Bob Mac

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  11. This collection is a dream come true. It is much appreciated.

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  12. I reckon Old Slow Hand stole his entire Seventies+ Schtick from Fenton via Duane Alman

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  13. Thank you very much. This is a very nice blog.

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  14. This Fenton Robinson collection is one that I have dreamed about for many years. It is REALLY appreciated. Thank you.

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  15. Thank you, gerard, great job! Do you plan to provide some early Larry Davis as well? Fenton was on some of his tracks!
    Best regards,
    B-flat

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    1. Thanks, B-flat, for your comments. Larry Davis'early recordings are much sought after collector's items. Unfortunately I still miss too many tracks by now to be able to do a convincing .mp3 collection. Maybe later if some good souls provide me with good copies....

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