In a career spanning 50 years, guitarist Freddy Robinson, played with Ray Charles, Bobby Blue Bland, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and dozens of lesser-known artists in blues and R&B. Thanks to an early exposure to jazz, he graduated from the ranks of ear players to more sophisticated musical company, but he retained an affection for his past and a pride in his early work.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, but raised in Arkansas, Robinson had heard many locally famous bluesmen before he reached his teens, and was inspired by the guitar-playing of Joe Willie Wilkins to take up the instrument himself. In 1956, he moved to Chicago and began working with the harmonica players Birmingham Jones and Little Willie Anderson. In 1958, he was hired by Little Walter, a position that put him in the orbit of seasoned guitarists such as Luther Tucker and Robert Junior Lockwood. While on tour with Walter, he saw a jazz band playing from music charts, and was inspired to develop his own playing at the Chicago School of Music.
He was briefly employed by Howlin' Wolf, who distrusted what he thought were jazz leanings, but had the chance to leave a firm blues stamp on a few of Wolf's recordings, though it would be years before the guitar-playing on “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man” and “Wang Dang Doodle,” was acknowledged as his work.
Throughout the mid-60s, he played with the Chicago-based soul singer Jerry Butler, and later with Syl Johnson. While cutting some singles in his own right, he had met the keyboards player and arranger Monk Higgins, who recommended him to Ray Charles, whereupon Robinson relocated to Los Angeles. He remained with Charles for less than a year and had a minor hit with the instrumental “Black Fox,” which also became a favorite with guitarists at the time.