TBT – ‘The Duke Meets the Earl’ is a Showcase, Not a Showdown



Editor’s note: This week’s Throwback Thursday looks at a stunning album by two kings of guitar swing, jazz, and blues, Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl. The article first appeared at Chicagoblues.com on July 16, 2015.

The names Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl immediately bring recollections of unbelievable excursions into blues, jazz, and swing for many. Both are strong personalities, determined and driven to create and perform the best music they can possible perform. Some know these two icons from their work in the seminal blues band Roomful of Blues, co-founded by Robillard in 1967. In 1980 Robillard left the band and Ronnie Earl assumed guitar duties in his stead. Roomful of Blues became a paragon of blues throughout the New England area, and as time went on, they conquered the world with their inspiring, elegant music that blended jump blues, rock, jazz, soul, swing, and more together, flawlessly.

Robillard went on to be a member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds for a time when he replaced the departing Jimmie Vaughan, and subsequently worked and recorded with many noted artists including Joe Lewis Walker, Snooky Pryor, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Witherspoon. He is especially adept at swing and jump oriented blues, and is known for honoring the T-Bone Walker style and legacy.

Earl received a personal introduction to Chicago’s blues scene from none other than Koko Taylor. He spent time playing in New Orleans, Louisiana and Austin, Texas with The Fabulous Thunderbirds prior to joining Roomful of Blues in 1979. He would later found and work with The Broadcasters. He also worked as an Associate Professor of Guitar at the respected Berklee College of Music.

The Duke Meets the Earl would seem to be fertile ground for a showdown between these two blues giants. Instead, they thrive together playing off and drawing inspiration from one another. Everyone speaks of the weaving that Keith Richards and Ron Wood conjure up together, producing a rich, textural full sonic palette. What Robillard and Earl build here is equally rich and full, but ultimately more complex, emotive, and infinitely more satisfying.  With numbers like “A Soul That’s Been Abused” and “My Tears” that are 13, and even 15 minutes long respectively, there is plenty of room to thrive, and both men make the most of it. Another notable performance is T-Bone Walker’s “Two Bones and a Pick,” which, as performed here, leaves even the most able and accomplished players utterly dumbfounded with its astonishingly fluid play, and breathless display of technique.

This album is a timeless classic, and should be mandatory listening for anyone aspiring to be a guitarist of merit. It is without doubt one of the finest blues records ever recorded and well worth the price of admission, and then some.

The Duke Meets the Earl – Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl

Label:  Stony Plain Music

Running Time:  72 Minutes

Duke Robillard

Ronnie Earl