Fenton was a singular songwriter. He composed a dozen blues classics, but none better known than “Somebody Loan Me A Dime,” originally recorded as a 45 in the late 1960s, and re-recorded as the title cut of his first Alligator release. His expressive and exquisitely crafted guitar style, compelling voice and songwriting skills put Fenton in a league of his own. Robinson went on to release two more albums on Alligator, 1978’s I Hear Some Blues Downstairs and 1984’s Nightflight , both acclaimed by blues critics and fans around the world.
Fenton was born on September 23, 1935 in Greenwood, Mississippi. Inspired by the blues he heard on the radio (especially T-Bone Walker), he moved to Memphis at age 16 and concentrated on playing music. He broke onto the Southern blues scene while still in his early twenties. His first single, Tennessee Woman, was recorded for the Memphis-based Meteor label. This young, upstart guitarist carved out a strong, devoted following from among the most demanding of blues audiences. He went on to record for Duke Records in Houston (and played lead guitar on Larry Davis’ original version of Texas Flood) before moving to Chicago in 1962. In Chicago he recorded for singles for U.S.A., Giant and Palos Records (where he first recorded the famous Somebody Loan Me A Dime in 1967). Night after night, Fenton proved himself in club after club, eventually winning a regular gig at the legendary Peppers Lounge.
The man’s reputation didn’t just rest on one great song, though. His classic recordings have inspired countless cover versions. Albert King, Elvin Bishop, Eric Burdon, Maggie Bell and Charlie Musselwhite have recorded Fenton’s early hits. But even greater recognition came in 1969, when Boz Scaggs, along with Duane Allman, recorded the classic blues/rock version of Somebody Loan Me A Dime , and introduced Fenton to a whole new legion of fans.
But by the late 1980s, discouraged that his subtle, melodic style and low-key stage presence weren’t appropriate for the raucous blues bar audiences, Fenton moved to Springfield, Illinois. There he immersed himself in blues education, working in the Springfield school systems, teaching youngsters the roots of the blues as well as instrumental techniques. He performed occasionally but found greater satisfaction in his role as a teacher. In the last years of his life, Fenton married and lived in Rockford, Illinois. He continued to play, including making a featured performance at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival in front of over 100,000 people. When Fenton Robinson passed away on November 25, 1997, the blues world lost one of its truly exceptional artists.