Loan Me A Dime (1969)

Boz Scaggs

Written by Fenton Robinson
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Fenton RobinsonIn 1967 Fenton Robinson packed the explosives powder into his Blues bomb, “Somebody Loan Me A Dime.” Fenton was up from Memphis and living in Chicago when he released what is today a late standard of Electric Blues.

It shuffles and hesitates, portraying a man who is being slowly ground into fine dust by the absence of his baby.

Robinson is a hell of a guitar player, exhibiting all the attributes of both the classic field pickers and the big-city sound. His phrasing with the guitar is untouchable. His sharp dagger-like electric jabs race through your heart.

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” is short, bitter and crowded with self-recrimination and regret. The lyrics keep in line with the pithy, staccato guitar stabs – economical, piercing, wretched. From the start, everyone’s in deep trouble:

Somebody loan me a dime
I need to call my old time used to be
Somebody loan me a dime mmm
I need to call my old time that used to be

Little girl’s been gone so long
You know it’s worrying me
Hey it’s worrying worrying me

Now disappeared from the American scene, the 10-cent phone call from a booth on a dark, rainswept street was a staple of movies and music, cheap detective novels and confessional magazine covers for 75 years. And when you’re a total broke-ass, well, even the awful phone call is out of reach and prompts the meditation about loss that Fenton embarks on.

Fenton Robinson’s original “Somebody Loan Me A Dime”

After a rambling career, half on the road, in one band then another, Boz Scaggs fell in with Steve Miller, working his first two albums. Scaggs played guitar and sang backing vocals on “Gangster Of Love.”

“Loan Me A Dime,” an extensive reconstruction of Fenton Robinson’s composition, is the star of Scaggs’ outstanding second album. (His first was a limited-run, obscure work that hardly sold.) For the self-titled second outing, Boz was able to call in the heaviest hitters in Rock, Blues and Country at the time, namely the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and, sitting in – Duane Allman.

It’s a brilliant album, although it suffers from a burdensome eclecticism, a diagnosis that kept it from finding traction with any particular audience.

It has two slow Blues rockers – “Another Day (Another Letter),” and “Look What I Got.” Scaggs admirably covers the Jimmie Rogers standard “Waiting For A Train,” and wrote his own country standout for the album – “Now You’re Gone (And I Don’t Worry Anymore”). Great vehicles with plenty of imaginative fins and flourishes.

“Loan Me A Dime,” though, is one mighty V-16.

The Boz Scaggs, Duane Allman, Muscle Shoals version: “Loan Me A Dime”

It glides from the on ramp to the freeway at a leisurely, bluesy pace, picking up where Fenton Robinson’s version left off. Scaggs and Allman – the whole band, in fact – pay allegiance to the origins.

A distant organ and a softly sympathetic, after-hours piano work well against the slow marching drums.

The band plays this time-honored kind of lead-in as if they were playing on the day the world ended.

They can take their time, though. “Loan Me A Dime” runs 13 minutes.

Entering at 1:25 of the song, Duane Allman’s thoughtful lead in this glacially moving section is awe-inspiring. He plays off Robinson plus all the Blues-masters you can fit in an airliner, then beats the tar out of them, bending and sliding on his notes, erupting with sounds that built his legend. It is some of Skydog’s most subtle playing, moving fluidly from Blues to Jazz, a little Rock-N-Roll, with much of it simply original invention.

He’s given a full minute for setting off the early fireworks before Scaggs makes his vocal entry, at 2:25. When Scaggs comes in, his emotion is freighted with anguish.

His voice is much larger than Fenton Robinson’s, like a man singing for the big screen. Whether he is more soulful is a matter of taste. Fenton’s audience in his mind must have been small – a bunch of his commiserating buddies late at night drinking, maybe his own mother who avoids saying, “I told you so,” which makes the miseries all the worse.

Scaggs is barrel-chested and full of round tones. He’s singing to the world. He’s as convincing as Robinson when he sings the lynchpin verse:

Boz scaggs main

Boz Scaggs

I know she’s a good girl
But at that time I just didn’t understand
I know she’s a good girl
But at that time I just didn’t understand
Oh no I didn’t

It’s an aha moment for the listener in both renditions. The singer/narrator thought his girl was “bad,” cheating. Too late. The bird has flown from the flurry of unjustified accusations. And now the singer wanders and wonders.

That’s the whole of the lyrics until we get to the variation of the last verse that sings:

Somebody better loan me that dime
To ease my worried worried mind…oh
Now I cry…I just cry
Just like a baby all night long.
You know I cry I just cry
Just like a baby all night long
Somebody better loan me that dime
I need my baby
I need my baby here at home

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section lays down a film of viscous sound that Boz slips across, contemplating every word and phrase like a jeweler looking through his loop at a gem.

Boz album coverIt’s a big backing group. Barry Beckett plays keyboards. Roger Hawkins is superb on the drums, helping the band shift through many gears. Jimmy Johnson and Scaggs are wise enough to keep their guitars low key in order to give Allman clear sailing. David Hood turns in a heavy, sparse, intuitive bass line, one that “walks” in the first part of the song, but eventually grows assertive and nagging as the song picks up tempo.

That tempo uptick takes a while. After the first vocal segment, Allman ventures toward Rock-N-Roll but hangs onto the Blues plow with all his might. The horn section trades powerful lines with him.

So far, we’ve been in the Mississippi Delta, rumbled over to Alabam’, waved at Memphis and at the break, stopped on the west side of Chicago at an after hours club.

Then Boz returns with more mournful singing. One of the stunning aspects of the song is how, as Scaggs sings, one set of instruments – the horns most often – might be emotionally supportive – sympathetic, but Allman’s guitar is almost always admonishing and sometimes mocking. The organ lends an air of mystical despair. The drums sound like they’d be better off at a death march, neither mocking nor uplifting. Like death and hurt emotions, the drums’ mood is a fact of life in the song.

Duane Allman

Skydog: Duane Allman

Right before the 7:50 mark, Boz Scaggs utters a sound, a word, that’s a cross between “help,” “ow” and “yeah.” Then the song takes off.

What follows is among the greatest Rock jams of the era. It grows up and out of the Blues and takes us on a journey through American music up to that point.

It leaves Chicago and heads to Detroit for some funky, smokey soul riffs. It slaps Eric Clapton up and says, without reverence, “This is how the Blues are played, mate.”

Try as they might, the other guitarists on the track cannot answer, though they come out for the bell and keep punching as well as they can, they have to go to their corners to allow this Mohammed Ali of the guitar to school them on the finer – make that finest – points of the art.

The next transition is so smooth that without realizing it, the listener is then in another city – New Orleans and its funked-up, Caribbean-dappled Jazz, the real Jazz of the streets and parties and waking up drunk in an old cemetery with someone you’d rather forget.

Holy Moses! So that’s the water that was parted…the great mouth of the mighty river of America.

But even that’s not enough. As “Loan Me A Dime” accelerates toward the end of its run, it takes a turn into another city. A really huge city.

L.A.? The music’s too muscular. You could very likely think it’s the madness of the Jersey Turnpike at 4 in the twisted morning on a Saturday going into Sunday, burned and wasted with the big, big, spired city pulsing in the distance. It is pure urban steroidal music.

The torsion is unbearable, feeling almost physical at times and not merely imagined. Best of all, the masterpiece ends on a fadeout. (Somebody loan us that session tape so we can hear what happened after the controls were turned down!!)

The band rocks and rocks and rocks. There really is no better closing to any Rock song in the annals. Now wipe the sweat from your face.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and friends:


  • The album that “Loan Me Dime” is on, entitled Boz Scaggs, was produced by Rolling Stone Magazine founder, Jann Wenner. He’s now a long way from home.
  • Shortly before recording “Loan Me A Dime,” the lead guitar piece that truly brought Duane Allman worldwide attention – Eric Clapton took notice – was a Wilson Pickett cover. The song? “Hey Jude.”
  • A legal battle broke out between Boz Scaggs’ people and Fenton Robinson over songwriting credit. It seems Scaggs himself did not want to fight the fight. Eventually Fenton was given his share of the (meager) earnings from the song’s limited commercial success.