Bluesman Jimmie Lee Robinson Dead at 71
Blues legend Jimmie Lee Robinson, known to fans as The Lonely Traveller, died July 6 in Chicago following his battle with cancer. He was 71. Robinson, a Chicago native and lifelong resident whose legal and Muslim name was JL Latif Aliomar, began playing guitar in Chicago's famed open-air market on Maxwell Street in 1942 along with the likes of Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Nighthawk. In 1952 he and Freddie King teamed for a four-year performance partnership, and King later credited Robinson as being one of his earliest and most-influential guitar teachers. Robinson went on to play guitar and bass with Little Walter, Shakey Jake, Howlin' Wolf, Eddie Taylor, Elmore James, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Reed and Magic Sam to name but a few. He made his bandleader recording debut with Bandera Records in the late 1950s, recording such hits as "Lonely Traveller" and "All My Life," which was a successful cover for John Mayall in the '60s and again in the '80s. In 1965 Robinson was part of the American Folk Blues Festival that toured Europe to rave reviews and featured other legends like John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Big Mama Thornton. Robinson's music career slowed in the 1970s, and he went to work at various jobs including for the Chicago Board of Education and as a carpenter, cab driver and storeowner. He slowly began to perform again after a group of dedicated fans and musicians calling themselves The Ice Cream Men urged Robinson to join their shows in the late 1980s. Delmark Records revived Robinson's recording career in 1994 with the record Lonely Traveller, and Robinson again began to perform regularly, taking gigs worldwide. He then recorded two self-produced albums for his Amina Records label, Guns, Gangs and Drugs (1996) and Maxwell Street Blues (1998), and he added guitar work and two solo performances to The Lost American Bluesmen release on the Midnight Creeper label in 1998 before signing with APO Records later that year. For APO, Robinson recorded Remember Me (1998) and All My Life (2001). Both releases met with extensive acclaim, and All My Life hit the Living Blues radio charts, providing Robinson the recognition he long deserved. He was also recognized with the 2001 Blues Trust Lifetime Achievement Award from Boston-based Blues Trust Productions. Robinson was APO Records' chief ambassador, and well beyond being a roster musician he was a family member. He will forever be the label's Godfather. In addition to his recording career, Robinson was a dedicated activist and committed steward for blues preservation. His chief cause was the preservation of the Maxwell Street Market on Chicago's south side. That area, where Robinson got his start, has been razed in favor of modern buildings and parking lots in recent years. Robinson once fasted for 81 straight days in protest of the destruction. His efforts were documented extensively, including by the Discovery Channel, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. Robinson was also very conscious of his health. While many bluesmen could tell you where to find the best ribs or booze, Robinson was more apt to explain the virtues of vegetarianism and the importance of exercise. His discipline was unflappable, making his contraction of cancer a tragic irony. Fans and friends will remember Robinson as a truly unique bluesman, a man of unmatched dedication, sincerity and philosophy.