Blues Calendar Blues: Jimmie Lee Robinson

It appears the first Sunday of the month is right here in our faces: It’s the first day of the month. As June 1, it’s also the first day of hurricane season. And as many of you may recall, hurricane season is right there in the top five things I dislike about Miami.

Now, though, hurricane season has kicked off with a report from the AP that the annual forecasts are “of little use.” Like I couldn’t have told them that.

Anyway, lets move on to the matter at hand: The monthly Blues Calendar Blues, this month featuring guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson. Some notes from the calendar, then I’ve got some other bio items:
Immigrants coming to Chicago often ended up on Maxwell Street. By the time Jimmie Lee Robinson (1931-2002) go there, it had seen waves of arrivals from Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Bohemia, and Russia, with a flood of Jews from Russia and eastern Europe late in the nineteenth century. Then, after World War I, the Great Migration brought large numbers of black men and women to Maxwell Street from the South. In the forties, when Robinson was a teenager busking for tips, many still called Maxwell Street “Jewtown.”

Born in Chicago, Jimmie Lee Robinson rarely left the great city. The exceptions were rare visits to New York City to make recordings and a small number of tours that took him across the country and to Europe. Why would a bluesman leave Chicago? After playing guitar with Memphis Minnie, Marion Walter Jacobs (aka Little Walter), Magic Sam, and many others, Robinson retired from music in the late sixties to run a candy shop; later he drove a cab. He was lured back into music in the late eighties by Scott Dirks of the Ice Cream Men. In 1994, at the age of 63, Jimmie Lee Robinson recorded his first full-length album as leader,
Lonely Traveller. He died eight years later.
What the calendar notes don’t say is that Robinson was as passionate about saving the Maxwell Street district as he was about the blues. Beginning in 1998, he joined the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition, which was attempting to save what buildings were left of the old marketplace. He wrote “The Maxwell Street Tear Down Blues,” which he first performed at a protest rally at Maxwell and Halsted Streets on April 4, 1998.

Robinson also gave more than just his music for the cause and took on two lengthy protest fasts; one in 1998 that lasted 62 days and another in 2000 for 81 days, which resulted in massive media exposure, including a story in the New York Times. He only ended the second fast on requests from his friends who thought he would otherwise die, having already lost a total of 40 pounds over the time period. On July 6, 2002, Robinson took his own life following a long bout with stomach cancer.

Today’s music comes from Chicago Jump, released in February 2004 on Random Chance Records.

Last Night.mp3
Confessing the Blues.mp3
Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby.mp3



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