Moves from gritty Chicago blues to progressive new originals to jazzy shuffles. Junior Wells guests. "Passion and prowess...smooth, knowing vocals and slinky guitar...a soaring reintroduction"--GUITAR
Fenton Robinson, Guitar and Vocals
Larry Burton, Guitar
Leo Davis, Keyboards
Aron Burton, Bass
Roy Robertson, Drums
Junior Wells, Harmonica#
Horns arranged by*
Paul Howard, Trumpet
Sonny Covington, Trumpet
Leon Randall, Tenor Sax
Jimmy Martin, Baritone Sax
Produced by Fenton Robinson and Dick Shurman
Recorded and mixed at Chicago Trax Studios, Chicago, IL, February and March, 1984.
Engineered by Al Ursini, assisted by Tom Matthews and Joe Totorici
Production assistance by Kees van Wijngaargden
Licensed from Black Magic Records, Gouda, Netherlands, and originally titled Blues In Progress
Mastered for CD by Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital, Southborough, MA
CD reissue coordinated by David Forte
Cover design by McCamant A&D, Inc.
Front cover photo by Hanno Holzheuser
Back cover photo by D. Shigley
The following notes are from the original LP released in 1984.
It's Blue Monday jam night at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago's famed South Side blues club. As usual, the audience is peppered with blues musicians; they're waiting to show off their chops in one of the nights of friendly musical "head cutting" that make Chicago's blues scene world famous. The M.C. intones this week's litany of stars - "We got a whole lot of celebrities in the house tonight ...we got Lefty Dizz, we got Big Voice Odom, we got Magic Slim, we got Junior Wells, we got Buddy Guy..." After each name is called, the bluesmen in the crowd offer a bit of polite applause for their competition. Then, as though to cap off the list, the M.C. announces, "We got Fenton Robinson."
The Checkerboard throng bursts into the first really excited applause of the night, and it's coming as much from the musicians as from the fans. This is a rare opportunity for them to hear, and perhaps jam with, the reclusive man they consider a giant of the blues.
In the crowd, besides the musicians, neighborhood regulars, and a few students and young professionals who come here often, there is also a handful of European and Japanese blues fanatics. For them, Fenton Robinson is, in a very real sense, a legend. The Europeans may have seen him on one of his rare tours there, perhaps headlining the blues night at the Northsea Jazz Festival in Holland. The Japanese know him from the covers of their blues fanzines, which hail him as "The Mellow Blues Genius." They probably own his records, too. In Japan, Fenton's albums outsell those of "name" bluesmen.
It's unusual to see Fenton out for a Blue Monday jam. He doesn't often leave his apartment to hang out or sit in at the blues clubs. If you see Fenton in a blues bar, it's almost always because he's there to work. He's soft spoken, serious (with a streak of dry humor), introspective, well read, a strict teetotaler, and deeply and quietly religious.
Fenton's live performances are much like his personality. He's not a showman. He doesn't jump around on stage, play one handed, fall to his knees, or dip into any of the standard bag of tricks. He just stands there, plays his guitar, and sings. But with Fenton, that's enough. He takes his guitar and voice into musical territory where bluesmen rarely venture, mixing jazzy runs and chords with the grittiest down home licks and funky rhythm twists, playing and singing around the beat, dropping suddenly into unexpected bass lines or soaring into the upper register.
Fenton's honed his music in Mississippi, Memphis, Little Rock, Houston, Louisiana, California, Indianapolis, and of course Chicago. He's paid his dues on the bandstand, playing the Deep South chitlin circuit in the late '50s and '60s, and South and West Side Chicago bars in the 70's. Now when he plays in Chicago, it's usually at one of the (slightly) fancier North Side clubs.
He's created a legacy of a dozen classic 45's, five previous albums (two available only in Japan!) and thousands of live performances. Some of his original songs have become blues standards; Tennessee Woman, cut back in 1959 for Houston's Duke label when Fenton was only 24; I Hear Some Blues Downstairs, the title tune of his Grammy-nominated Alligator LP; You Don't Know What Love Is and the great Somebody Loan Me A Dime. He's a wonderful interpreter of other people's songs, too. His recording of As the Years Go Passing By made the song a perennial favorite, and his guitar solo on the original version of Texas Flood (written and sung by his old partner Larry Davis) inspired Stevie Ray Vaughan to cut the song on his recent hit album of the same name.
During his years of recording, Fenton's music has never stopped growing. He was originally inspired by the great Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, but his later records incorporate both the down home feel of Lightnin' Hopkins and the fleet runs and rich chords of Kenny Burrel and Wes Montgomery. Fenton is one of the few bluesmen to spend a lot of time in formal musical study, and he's even taught music, as an artist-in-residence in the Springfield, Illinois schools.
For this album, his third on Alligator, Fenton has written five new songs, and reworked two of his earliest tunes, Crazy, Crazy Lovin' and Schoolboy. He moves from gritty Chicago blues like Can't Hold Out Much Longer (with special guest Junior Wells on harp), to progressive new originals like I Lost My True Love, to swinging, jazzy shuffles like Nightflight.
The album was cut with some of Chicago's top blues players, hand picked by Fenton. It was co-produced with longtime blues fan and journalist Dick Shurman, who has spent years listening to Fenton's live performances. It captures the music of a bluesman's bluesman, a musician whose reserved personality and musical subtlety may keep him from ever becoming a major star, but who, to the crowd at the Checkerboard Lounge and to the international blues community, is truly a giant.
Special thanks to Paul Howard, Fred Johnson, Andrew Gerking, Pam Hall, Mindy Giles and Bill Wokersin.