James "Bat" Robinson

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From all accounts, this man is one of the most versatile and intriguing musicians to come out of the blues genre. The factors behind his obscurity and paltry number of sides under his own name might have…
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From all accounts, this man is one of the most versatile and intriguing musicians to come out of the blues genre. The factors behind his obscurity and paltry number of sides under his own name might have something to do with how common his name was, as well as his own professional decision to drop "The Bat" from his stagename, removing an identifying characteristic that prior to the second World War had at least kept him seperate from everyone else in the music business named James Robinson. There are indeed so many players with this name that it is even possible to find one with the same birthday as James "The Bat" Robinson -- New Orleans jazz trombonist Jim Robinson was also born on Christmas Day. A blues and jazz fanatic could celebrate this "Robinson-mas" by paying tribute to a musiican who created authentic country blues, then went on to take part in the urban Chicago blues scene and even show up on a few anthologies of early rock & roll alongside guitarist Lonnie Mack.

This epic recording career began in the early '30s. The Rosetta Stone of the James "The Bat" Robinson experience is the 1931 session that produced three classic titles, "You Left Me Alone", "Bat's Own Blues" and "A Humming Blues", sometimes just known as "Humming Blues". Under either name, this is a track unlike any other, featuring Robinson both singing and humming as well as playing piano, plus some banjo from Ed Hudson that puts the whole thing in a genre netherworld. These tracks also represent a thick lava pit for blues scholars who, like the sabre tooth tigers of old, might get mired and eventually devoured by confusing details. There were also somewhat similar recordings released under the name of Bat "The Hummingbird" Robinson, including "Bat's Blues", presenting a contrasting stigma of ownership from the previously mentioned "Bat's Own Blues". While everything points in the direction of these tracks also being the work of James Robinson, the strange Bat "The Hummingbird" Robinson pseudonynm was also used by the well-known boogie woogie pianist Cow Cow Davenport, most likely to allow him to wander onto pastures previously restricted as per recording contracts.

This period of Robinson's career was marked by novel instrumental versatility that put him in the one-man band league. The later work of artists such as Doctor Ross The Harmonica Boss and Driftin' Slim is somewhat similar to these '30s recordings. Robinson also recorded on guitar and harmonica, so was quite capable of jumping in just about anywhere in a blues combo, much like traditional Appalachian musicians who learn to play the whole family of acoustic stringed instruments. Following the second World War, however, Robinson began to work almost solely as a piano player, and always as simply James Robinson. He was associated with artists such as Lonnie Johnson and Tiny Bradshaw. The former leader conducted some 1951 sessions that are absolute gems, featuring wailing from Red Prysock on tenor sax and the slick bass and guitar combination of brothers Clarence and Lonnie Mack.