Rick Robbins interview The Berkshire Eagle (Weekend) June 15th 2007
By Dave Madeloni Special to the Eagle GREAT BARRINGTON
A musical path leads back home When Rick Robbins performs at the Guthrie Center tomorrow night, expect him to help make everyone who comes feel at home. “It’s like playing in my living room, mainly because I used to live there,” explained the berkshire-based singer-songwriter in an interview. “ I love that building and what It has become.
” It turns out that Robbins and that building share some history. Arlo Guthrie, who founded “The Church” back in 1991, be-friended Robbins at the Stockbridge School in the early ‘60s where the librarian was a woman named Alice Brock, who became the protagonist of Arlo’s anti-war anthem, “Alice’s Restaurant.
” Robbins and Guthrie connect
It was Alice and Arlo who turned Robbins onto the musical path Robbins has taken over the next 40 some odd years. “ It was at Stockbridge School that I heard a whole new world of music that I’d never been exposed to before and it changed my life,” recalled Robbins. “The recordings I was listening to were mostly part of Alice and Ray Brock’s record collection. I was hearing for the first time the songs of Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and his best friend Cisco Houston.” “The early folk music of the new generation like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Eric Von Schmidt, and many others was in the air at the school and I was taken by it all.”
A few years later, Guthrie helped Robbins find his muse. “ In 1965, he and I hit the road.” “ I remember we were looking for Woody and Cisco’s footprints out there in America. We found some footprints, and heard a lot of stories, but best of all we were out there playing the songs that Woody and Cisco and all those guys like Leadbelly left behind. “
The music was real and worth learning and handing down. I fell in love with playing guitar, folk music, and the blues. I never stopped singing and playing.”
It took 30 years, however, for Robbins to finally get around to recording. “ Rory Block heard some songs I was recording and asked me if I would mind if she put some guitar parts on and some vocal harmonies,” he said. “ That was the beginning of my recording adventures.
” Block Produced his first two CDs and introduced him to John Sebastian, Garth Hudson, Eric Weissberg, and Larry Campbell who all became guest players on his CDs. Jack Elliott and Arlo both did a song with Robbins on his first album, “Walkin’ Down the Line.”
“ It was and honor to have them on my recordings,” Robbins said, adding that for the last 10 years he’s been traveling and playing music with Elliott on what has become known as the annual New England Mud Season Tour.
Earlier this year, Robbins released another CD, “ Time & Gravity,” which carries on the traditions of his friends and mentors. The record was truly a labor of love for Robbins who got support from some of the regions finest players. ‘Time & Gravity’ was a real pleasure for all involved,” Robbins said. “ My friend, producer and musician, Rick Tiven and I did all the work at Robby Baier’s Substation Studio in the little village of Housatonic. Everything worked out, and there wasn’t a bad moment.” " Everyone that worked on the project, Steve and Carol Ide, David and Kathy Jo Grover, Rob Putnam, Jeff Stevens, Rick and Robby were at their best, Just great! It was all very spontaneous and a lot of fun. I’m very proud to have had the best of the Berkshires musicians on this recording
.” Robbins is honored to have the opportunity to perform songs from his new record in a place he once called home, a shrine dedicated to preserving the spirit of Woody Guthrie. “ I think Arlo has really done a great service to the community by creating a place where all are welcome to come and be creative, in keeping with his parents, Marjorie and Woody’s beliefs and philosophy,” added Robbins. “ I am glad I have had the good fortune of becoming friends with the Guthrie family “ Woody Guthrie has been a great force in my life and has contributed to my love of people and the music that brings them together. Music should always be about collaboration, not competition.”
From: Berkshire Living Magazine
July 2007 Issue SCENEAROUND MAKING TRACKS RICK ROBBINS
The songs on Rick Robbins's
aptly titled Time & Gravity sound like they've been around forever, but in fact
this latest collection of Robbins's music - his third solo CD - features all
original material. It's not surprising, however, that Robbins's music has the
quality of great old American folk music; the long time Berkshirite, who now
lives in Housatonic, Massachusetts, has a deep and profound connection to folk
tradition, going at least as far back as 1962, when he arrived at the Stockbridge
School in Interlaken, Massachusetts, and was introduced to the music of Ramblin'
Jack Elliott, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cisco Houston, and that
of his new best friend's father, Woody Guthrie. Soon after, Robbins hit the
road with Arlo Guthrie (before the two got arrested for littering on a fabled
Thanksgiving, but that's a longer story for another time) before settling down
to build houses in the 1970s. He picked up his guitar again a little over ten
years ago when he began making his own recordings and touring with his childhood
idol, Jack Elliott. You can hear all this gritty experience in Robbins's voice,
between the grooves, and in the lyrics of the songs on Time & Gravity , recorded
with an all-star cast of Berkshire talent, including multi-instrumentalists
Rick Tiven and Steve Ide, guitarist David Grover, Keyboardist Rob Putnan, trumpeter
Jeff Stevens, and vocalists Carol Ide and Kathy Jo Grover. Catch Robbins performing
live at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on Augest 5 - Seth
Reviewed in Sing Out ! March 2002 Vol. 46 #1
ROBBINS with RORY BLOCK Don't Deny My Name Seeds of Man
Despite the fact that he only began recording about four years ago, Rick Robbins is an accomplished and veteran
folksinger whose roots go back to the days when he, and his equally-young buddy Arlo Guthrie, were first picking up
songs from the likes of Ramblin' Jack Elliott in the early-1960s. Decades later, Elliott remaines a pervasive influence
on Robbins. At least half of these dozen songs are from Elliott's repertoire and most of the rest are in that mold.
Robbins dedicates the album to him.
As indicated in the billing, producer Rory Block collaborates on most of the album. Even though most of these
songs are not in the blues vein for which she's known, her superb guitar playing enhances ten of the songs and her
vocal harmonies grace eleven. The two blend seamlessly, never getting in each other's way, or in the way of the song.
Other musicians who tastefully contribute to some of the songs include legends like John Sebastian on harmonica and
Garth Hudson on accordion as well as Steve Ide and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell.
All of these songs are time-tested classics that Robbins delivers with just the right combination of song-familiarity
and interpertive freshness. While I like them all, some favorites include "Bob Dylan's Dream." Dylan's lament for old
friends and the simpler times that beautifully cops the traditional melody of "Lord Franklin," Blind Willie McTell's
"Broke Down Engine," which allows Block the opportunity to play some of her blues licks, and "The South Coast,"
the masterful ballad about the guy who wins his wife in a card game. It features haunting accordion work from
Folk trivia note: Robbins was Arlo's real life accomplice in the Thanksgiving 1965 garbage dumping incident
immortalized in "Alice's Restaurant." - MR
: KPSU (Folkdj-l)1100 W 9th St. The Dalles, OR 97058
Green Man review: http://www.greenmanreview.com
Rick Robbins With Rory Block- Don't Deny My Name- Seeds Of Man Records (R68927)(2001) www.rick-robbins.com
So I returned her father's
And I kept the greater prize
And now we ride along together
Beneath the blue Brazillian skies.
Rick Robbins describes his second album *Don't Deny My Name*, as a mix of modern, classic, and traditional folk songs. His major influence is Rambling Jack Elliot, you can hear it especially on Lillian Bos Ross' "South Coast;" Robbins' style is rootsy and the songs he sings are often about cowboys and gamblers. Most songs are "covers," the rest are traditional. The album was produced by Rory Block, who also sings rather pretty back-up vocals on the CD.
Rick is good at what he does...you might also think of Dave Alvin or Tom Russell...and several ballads stand out. "Bandit of Brazil" is the paperback fiction whose memorable verse is quoted above. "Roving Gambler"and "I Ride An Old Paint" are old songs which will be warmly remembered by most listeners, as well the great classic, "Bob Dylan's Dream." There are also a couple blues and country tunes, covers of Blind Willie McTell Roy Acuff, Kris Kristofferson, and another Dylan ("Billy"). *Don't Deny My Name* sports an overwhelming feel of cowboys old and new; though the album comes from Massachusetts, this is the music that the good old boys with half a brain and education like back home in Texas.
Most of the music you hear behind the vocals is acoustic guitar, played by Rick and Rory. You can also sometimes hear mando and pedal steel by Dylan affliliate Larry Campbell and accordion by The Band's Garth Hudson. In addition, the legendary John Sebastian plays harmonica and Steve Ide plays more guitar on a few tracks. Though distinctive, nothing in the arrangements is flashy or detracts from the vocals; maybe you could call them "mellow." This is true as well for Rory's mostly light harmony vocals, though on "Broke Down Engine" and "Freight Train Blues" she lets go a bit more.
The Beat Berkshire artists' new folk albums
Rick Robbin's "Don't Deny My Name" is a deceptively modest recording in more than ways then one. You have to read the fine print to learn that the album by the Housatonic folksinger features guest appearances by The Band's Garth Hudson, John Sebastian(that's two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers), and Bob Dylan string wizard Larry Campbell. Country blues folksinger.
Rory Block's name and picture
are on the cover, and Robbins gives Block- who produced the album, as she
did his previous one "Walkin Down The Line" top billing (the album is credited
to "Rick Robbins with Rory Block").
the album is also a kind of tribute to Robbins's longtime friend, mentor and duet partner, Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Several songs on the album are associated with Eliott, and Robbins gives the Woody Guthrie acolyte credit on several tunes ("from the singing of Ramblin' Jack Elliott") making explicit the often implict-and typically unstated-folk process.
While Block's harmonies and signature guitar licks certainly color the music, as do Sebastian's mouth harp, Hudson's accordion and Campbell's pedal steel guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Robbins needn't deny his own name on this effort, as good as any traditional folk-style album that has come out in years. Robbins's gruff, weathered-beaten vocals are from the Elliott/Guthrie (Woody and Arlo) school, and as much as they are well-suited to songs by Kris Kristofferson ("Sunday Morning Coming Down") and a couple of well chosen Bob Dylan obscurities (Bob Dylan's Dream,*Billy").
Linen The magazine of folk and world music April/May issue 1999
Move over Tom Russell! You'd better hope your draw is quick and your aim is true 'cause the western ballad music business ain't big enough for both you and Rick Robbins. One of ya is gonna have to gittyup and mosey on, or settle this once and for all out in front of the saloon.
Seriously, Rick Robbins' first release features several western ballads that illuminate this batch of eclectic songs. His splendid renditions of "Diamond Joe", "Buffalo Skinnners" and Guy Clark's "Desperados Waiting For A Train" are his best combinations of vocals and material. Ramblin' Jack Elliott embellishes "Desperados Waiting For A Train", covering some of the verses and blending with the harmonies.
His cover of Woody Guthrie's "East Texas Red", about a brutal railroad brakeman getting his karmic reward, is another of the story-songs performed quite well.
Robbins' version of Jimmy Webb's relatively unknown and unsung "The Highway Man" is yet another ballad highlight, albeit not necessarily sporting an entirely western motif.
The sorrowful and indicting "Tramp On The Street" provides a nice change of pace with Rory Block and Robbins sharing vocals on this quiet but biting theme of brotherhood, or lack thereof.
"Hobo's Lullaby", performed by many others including Woody Guthrie and Utah Phillips, features some soft and sentimental mandolin and fiddle licks but Robbins' vocals on this cut are just a tad strong, lacking the touch of wistfulness needed to fulfill the song's poignancy.
For being an unknown, Robbins' offerings are a pleasant surprise. Definitely consider this release if you're a sucker for ballads, especially those with a western bent.
Robbins is ably assisted by Rory Block, who also produced the release, on guitar and vocals, John Sebastian on harmonica, Eric Weissburg on mandolin and dobro and Larry Campbell on mandolin and fiddle. Arlo Guthrie lends vocals and guitar on "Low & Lonely".
(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Nov. 21, 1997) -- There aren't many relative unknowns who could hold their own on an album's worth of songs alongside the likes of Rory Block, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, John Sebastian, Eric Weissberg and Larry Campbell. But the Berkshires' own Rick Robbins pulls off the seemingly impossible feat on his new CD, his long-overdue, first full-length recording, "Walkin' Down the Line."
What allows singer/guitarist Robbins to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with veteran vocalists and instrumentalists like Block, Elliott and Weissberg is his obviously deep and abiding commitment to the material.
About half of the songs on the CD are traditional folk tunes and half are modern songs by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Guy Clark and Bob Dylan. Robbins' gritty voice delivers chestnuts like "Handsome Molly" and "Yankee Clipper" with the authority of lifelong familiarity. He credits his longstanding friendship with Arlo Guthrie, clinched when the two met as students at the Stockbridge School in Interlaken in 1962, as a major influence on his appreciation of singers like Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry.
The recording of the CD represents a return to public performance for Robbins, who put music aside in favor of carpentry work and architectural design more than 20 years ago. Robbins is planning to tour behind his CD -- a booking agent is currently putting together a series of shows for him -- and he has been talking with record labels about distributing his new album. He is already making plans for a follow-up recording.
On "Walkin' Down the Line,"
Robbins' vocals and guitar are accompanied by those of Rory Block on most
tracks, with occasional mandolin, dobro and fiddle supplied by Weissberg
and Campell and harmonica by John Sebastian. Elliott duets with Robbins
on Clark's "Desperados Waiting For a Train," and Guthrie -- with whom Robbins
performed in the early- to mid-'60s -- contributes guitar and vocals to
"Low and Lonely." The CD was produced by Block and recorded at various
studios, including Derek Studios in Dalton.Seth Rogovoy email@example.com
music news, interviews, reviews, et al.
doing the annual task of entering all song titles into data base.This forces
me to listen to some 400 CDs received and placed on the shelf....marked....LISTEN
TO THIS....OK Gang....I've GOT ONE !!! WOW !!!
Rick Robbins - WALKIN' DOWN THE LINE- self released ' 97
Combine Cisco Houston / David Mallett / Arlo Guthrie into one singer....
Combine Doc Watson / Dick Rosmini / Pete Seeger into one picker....
You got Rick Robbins !! Back up Vocals by Rory Block and you got one dynamite recording !
My vote for one of the best of the decade. Sorry I didn't find it sooner !! DAMN !!
Needless to say I got no financial interest in this recording ! Wish I had !