“The Greatest Guitar Player In Mississippi”

It must have been 1979. I was the guitar tech at a guitar shop owned by a retired Jazz guitar player named Skeets McWilliams. He was not that well known, but he was endorsed by the USA Epiphone Guitar Company, so it was not unusual for big-time players to drop by and visit. I got to hear some fabulous jams. One day, I was working in the back of the store and heard Skeets jamming with one of his friends. I had no idea who he was. I knew most the local players, black and white, but I did not know this fellow. His technical skills were beyond impeccable, his phrasing was fresh and fun to hear. I later found out that Jesse Robinson had taken lessons with Skeets years before, then moved to Chicago. He had just moved back to Jackson, Mississippi and was connecting with some old friends.

 

Jesse ended up bringing a Gretsch hollow body guitar in to me. I made some adjustments, cleaned it up and made some upgrades. Jesse and I became friends and started hanging out. A few years later, he and I were part of the house band at the Subway Lounge, subject of the movie, “Last of the Mississippi Jukes.” From 1990 to today, Jesse and I have been gigging partners and good friends.

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Jesse Robinson and Sherman Lee at the Subway Lounge. Jackson, MS

A few years ago, Jesse and I rode to Pickens, MS, and hung out with BB King and his band. Since 1970, BB would come back to Mississippi for the “Annual Medgar Evers Homecoming” for a few weeks every summer. He had toured around the world, played on TV shows, and is one of the World’s most influential guitarists, but he loved his people. He would still play in small clubs, festivals in cow pastures, and the old clubs he had always known. Jesse and I were standing about 50 feet from the stage and BB pointed him out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to recognize the GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER IN MISSISSIPPI, Mr. Jesse Robinson.”Another time, about a year before BB passed, Jesse and I were sitting at my son’s blues club, Frank Jones Corner. Neither one of us were playing that night, so Jesse said, “I think BB is playing down at the fair. Let’s drive down there.” Sure enough, when we got to the fairgrounds, there was BB’s bus. Jesse drove around back and we got out. As we were walking up, some of BB’s band came up and started talking to Jesse. They told BB that Jesse was there, and he got off the bus. Everybody stood around talking for a while, then as BB started to get back on the bus, Jesse said, “So BB, you know you got too many Lucille’s and you can’t play but one at a time. When you gonna give one to me?” Imagine that, Jesse was asking BB  King for one of his famous Lucille’s. BB had one foot on the bus and said, “Now come on, Jesse. You know I love you, but I can’t part with none of my girls.”  “Well, I’m going to keep on after you till you do,” Jesse told BB. When the show started, we walked in to watch. At this point, age had started to set in and BB’s show lacked the fire I had seen in 1978 at the Elk’s Club on Lynch Street. Once again, Jesse and I were out front about 50 feet from the stage and BB said, “I’d like to recognize the GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER IN MISSISSIPPI, Mr. Jesse Robinson.”

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Jesse Robinson with BB King

It’s OK with me if this story is not believed. Honestly, I feel like a liar even telling it. For people who know Jesse, it’s easy to believe. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Jesse, you can still hear the kind of playing BB loved to hear. The BB King Band is going back on tour – as they should. As good as their show is, they have decided to put some Tchula, Mississippi fire into the show. The next time the BB King band goes out, they are taking the GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER IN MISSISSIPPI with them, Mr. Jesse Robinson.

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