Groundbreaking blues guitarist and vocalist Fenton Robinson is known for blues classics like "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," "Tennessee Woman" and "I Hear Some Blues Downstairs,". He was inspired to play guitar by the records of T-Bone Walker. He combined Walker's swinging, jazzy style with the country blues of Mississippi and contemporary soul influences, plus a use of extensive chordal knowledge rare in the blues world. He delivered his songs in a rich, sophisticated tenor voice capable of soaring falsetto climaxes.
Robinson was born in LeFlore County, MS on Sept. 23, 1935. He began performing as a teenager in Memphis, and made his rceording debut there at the age of 22 with his original song "Tennessee Woman," which became an often-covered blues standard. The success of this single won him a contract with R & B giant Duke Records. For Duke, Fenton recorded a series of singles that won airplay across rthe south, including the seminal version of "As The Years Go Passing By" (later a hit for Albert King), "You've Got To Pass This Way Again" and "Mississippi Steamboat." As a guitarist, he backed Larry Davis on the original version of "Texas Flood," later a hit for Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Moving to Chicago in the 1960s, he played with Junior Wells, Otis Rush and others while establishing a strong local following in the south and west side blues clubs, and put out one excellent 45 after another on various independent labels before scoring a major national blues hit with the original version of "Loan Me A Dime," released in 1967. Signing with Nashville-based Seventy-Seven Records, he scored R & B radio hits with "The Getaway" and "The Sky Is Crying," both of which appeared on the "Monday Morning Boogie & Blues" album on that label. Meanwhile, Boz Scaggs, accompanied by Duane Allman, recorded a version of "Somebody Loan Me A Dime" on Scaggs' debut album that became a standard cut on FM rock stations.
Robinson joined forces with the then-tiny Alligator label in 1975 and self-produced "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," featuring a new version of Robinson's classic, plus five other originals, showcasing Robinson as one of the most varied and prolific of Chicago blues composers. The album was hailed by Living Blues magazine for its "absolutely haunting power." Robinson began to tour nationwide, both on his own and as a member of harp player Charlie Musselwhite's band. He cut his second Alligator album in 1977, "I Hear Some Blues Downstairs," featuring four original tunes and a remake of "As The Years Go Passing By," one of his southern radio hits. Down Beat magazine said "the album affirms Robinson's place in the front rank of progressive bluesmen."
Robinson's fortunes as a touring artist never reached the same level as his critical acclaim. His introspective, jazzy style and melodic approach didn't find favor with the party audiences, though he was well received by blues festival crowds and international audiences.
He found his place as a blues educator, teaching young students in the Springfield, Illinois "Blues In The Schools" program and moving to Springfield. Later, he lived in Little Rock and Indianapolis before moving to Rockford. He continued to perform sporadically, including an appearance at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival, until he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. He died in Rockford, IL on November 25, 1997 of complications from brain cancer. He was only 62. It's truly sad that he passed without enjoying the successful career he deserved.
May his soul rest in peace.
Note: This biography was originally an obituary which appeared on this site at the time of Fenton's death. It was modified in Feb., 2001 to fit the biography page.