Unlike many of his Chicago blues contemporaries, Jimmie Lee Robinson wasn't a Mississippi Delta emigre. The guitarist was born and raised right in the Windy City -- not far from Maxwell Street, the fabled open-air market on the near West side where the blues veritably teemed during the 1940s and '50s.
Robinson learned his lessons well. He formed a partnership with guitarist Freddy King in 1952 for four years (they met outside the local welfare office), later doing sideman work with Elmore James and Little Walter and cutting sessions on guitar and bass behind Little Walter, Eddie Taylor, Shakey Jake, and St. Louis Jimmy Oden. Robinson cut three singles for the tiny Bandera label circa 1959-1960; the haunting "All My Life" packed enough power to be heard over in England, where John Mayall faithfully covered it. Another Bandera standout, "Lonely Traveller," was revived as the title track for Robinson's 1994 Delmark comeback album.
Robinson when he hit the continent as part of Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau's 1965 American Folk Blues Festival alongside John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Big Mama Thornton. After that, his mother died, and times grew tough. Robinson worked as a cabbie and security guard for the Board of Education for a quarter century or so until the members of the Ice Cream Men -- a young local band with an overriding passion for '50s blues -- convinced Robinson that he was much too young to be retired. His comeback was documented by his first full-length record, Lonely Traveller, being released on Delmark in 1994. In the mid-'90s he released Guns, Gangs and Drugs on his own Amina label. The beginning of 1998 found Robinson back in the studio working on a set of mostly original songs that became his second album, Remember Me, which was released in 2000 on the APO label. At the end of 1998, Robinson began what ended up to be a 91-day fast to protest the tearing down of the historic Maxwell Street area. He was a member of Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition and wrote their theme song, "The Maxwell Street Tear Down Blues," but decided a more direct action needed to be taken. The fast brought attention to the cause, including a front-page story in The New York Times, but ultimately the area was almost completely demolished so that the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus could expand. In 1999, Robinson recorded All My Life which was released in 2001. On July 6, 2002, he took his own life following a long bout with stomach cancer.