And Here’s to YOU, Mr. Robison
In 1998, I was playing my first gigs as a professional guitarist with folk-rock troubadour, Jimmy LaFave. One of our ever-revolving cast of drummers asked me if I could play country music. “Yeah, I think so.” He told me to expect a call from Charlie Robison as he had some gigs coming up that he was in need of a guitarist. This was early March. April arrived and no word. Finally, on April 8th I got a call to see if I could do a 3-hour set in Denton on April 9th. I told him that I didn’t know his music. He said we could listen to it on the way. We didn’t. I did the gig cold with a Stratocaster and a Fender Bassman and he asked me if I wanted the gig midway through the first set. Little did I know the adventures that lie ahead. In one decade of touring I played right around 1800 gigs with Charlie. We played Austin City Limits TV show twice along with numerous other TV shows. I got to see myself with the ticker running as I played with him on the Don Imus show at 5 a.m. in an industrial park in New Jersey. That was strange. We played for the troops in Iraq during the war. We had numerous stars hang out with us, like, Jewel, Kenny Loggins and Leif Garrett. We had a sold-out show at the Cotton Bowl and routinely performed for crowds of over 10,000 fans throughout Texas. Sadly, he passed away on September 10th of this year.
As a person Charlie was one of a kind. More of a legend than a person, really. 6’5” with electric blue eyes, a razor-sharp wit, Hollywood looks, and, a devil-may-care attitude that made him extremely fun, and, sometimes bordering on dangerous. He said some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. Often these were very off-color and on-mic. His songwriting was superb. The stories within his songs capture some of the best that Texas has had to offer over the past century, in my humble opinion. Check out My Hometown, Desperate Times and Loving County to hear what I mean.
As a performer, Charlie was incredible. He definitely had the “it” factor. I’ve never seen such devoted, rabid and possessed fans. It made my job so easy. Just play the songs, listen closely and keep an eye on Charlie. I learned to be very attuned to his movements and wild improvisations. He might transition mid-song from a honky-tonk rave-up to Stranglehold by Ted Nugent. I learned to read him, anticipate these moves and communicate to the band where we were going. There was a jazz element to this that I always loved. Crowds loved it, too.
On a gig in Nashville opening for the Dixie Chicks I found a stray puppy that I later named Cisco, because that was the only name that the dog seemed to like. That dog became a close companion for 15 years and the resident toe-licker in my classes as I later transitioned to teaching ukulele.
We spent so many hours, miles and shows together between 1998 and 2008. Countless laughs, meals and songs. Thank you for the chance to play with a real Texas legend, and, live to tell about it.
R.I.P. Charlie Fitzgerald Robison (9/1/1964 - 9/10/1964)
Once More with Feeling,