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Abu Talib, 70, bluesman who recorded as Freddy Robinson

Associated Press / October 11, 2009

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LANCASTER, Calif. - Bluesman Abu Talib, who recorded and toured with Ray Charles and Little Walter under his given name, Freddy Robinson, has died. He was 70.

His daughter, Linda Chaplin, said Mr. Talib died of cancer Thursday at a hospital in Lancaster, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.

Mr. Talib was born Fred Robinson in Memphis and changed his name to Abu Talib in the 1970s when he converted to Islam.

Chaplin said her father first heard the blues when her grandfather, Otis Robinson, took him to a “juke joint.’’ He was too young to go in, but he’d watch the musicians through a window.

He was inspired to play and improvised an instrument out of bailing wire attached to the wall of a barn when he was 9, she said.

His former manager, Vernell Jennings, said he saved his money and ordered his second guitar from the Sears catalog at age 13.

“He had that guitar his whole life and still played it. It was called Bessie,’’ Jennings said.

Mr. Talib could play well by ear, and he was always in demand at clubs, Chaplin said. When he moved to Chicago, he had to go to school to learn how to read music.

He played with Ray Charles, Howlin’ Wolf, and pianist Monk Higgins and recorded and wrote several songs including “Black Fox,’’ “At the Drive-In,’’ “Bluesology,’’ and the blues instrumental “After Hours.’’

Chaplin said one of her father’s favorite songs, “Sister Sharp Eye,’’ was based on a person he knew from childhood, a friend of his aunt’s who used to run a gambling house and tell people that she had eyes in the back of her head to spot cheaters.

Jennings said Mr. Talib would tell funny stories between songs and have the audience in stitches.

“He had a song called ‘Double Ugly’ about his best friend who married an ugly girl, about how they had to hide all the mirrors. He had a great sense of humor,’’ Jennings said.

He had seven children with his first wife, Mary, who died, and a daughter with wife Zakiyyah Talib.