JIM DRAKE’S ENTERTAINMENT BLOG: Terry Robb’s blues still sound good after 29 years

Seeing Hood River “trending” nationally on Facebook the other day, and what it was trending for, made me so disheartened and mad, I actually used the word “jerk-wad” in a post. (Actually, it was “irresponsible jerk-wad,” but you get the idea.) I mean, instead of running around hating people, why not pursue a meaningful hobby, like playing music. Or anything, really, besides hating people. I’m making time to be at the vigil for Venerable Kozen Sampson (Friday, 6 p.m.), and look foward to being part of a crowd that far and away could overcome one person’s unrespectful actions by sheer presence alone.

On a lighter note, I had a great time talking to one of the masters of blues guitar the other day, which is somewhat of a trend for me lately, because of the stellar performance by Mary Flower, another master of blues guitar, at the Instrumental show last weekend (subliminal message: an art show that you need to see).

I was talking to one Mr. Terry Robb, who has been playing his blues guitar at least since 1987, and probably well before that. In fact, during the talk I had a copy of his cassette from that time period in front of me. When I told him, he knew exactly what I had.

“‘Nice Try!’ Wow, I wish I had a copy of that, that was a cool record, or cassette, as it were!” Robb said.

“I really don’t have a copy of it, I mean I’ve got the master tapes somewhere in storage. That’s really cool, that had guitarist John Fahey on it, you know ...”

I told him that I was aware of that, and we’ll talk about that later. But I just want to say that unlike a digital download, having a tape usually means that you’ve got something in the way of liner notes, that to me has a wealth of information that shows just how connected the relationships are when it comes to music. Not only an accomplished guitar player back then, Robb was connecting with folks like Curtis Salgado and and folk musician Steve Einhorn, which would develop into more music down the road.

“I didn’t know Curtis well back then, but I asked him to come sing a few songs. He attended my record release party and we had such a good time that we started playing together and eventually made a record of our own. But that’s how our relationship started, with making ‘Nice Try.’

“I remember that the record didn’t really sell a lot but that recording actually did a lot for me, in a sense that Curtis and I got together with the music, and Steve and I worked together a lot because he’d come in and sing backup all the time,” Robb said.

Now, the other person listed in the liner notes, as I mentioned, was guitarist John Fahey. To me, Fahey has always seemed like he’s had this mysterious aura about him. I’ve got several recordings, including a Christmas record he did with Robb. I finally got to ask Robb what was it like to work with him.

“Well, John was somebody I listened to when I was young, in high school and stuff like that, and I was a big fan. He was influenced by all the stuff I was influenced by, old blues and early 20th century classical music, and old timey music and all that, and I think he was the first guy to play solo steel string guitar without singing, so he started a whole fingerstyle movement, really,” Robb said.

“Anyway, I had recorded this demo tape, I was in my early 20s, and there was a song called ‘One Way Gal,’ and a friend of mine gave John that demo, and he really liked it.

“He sent me a Christmas card, and we got to be friends from then on. And when John signed with Rounder Records, he asked me to produce his records. So that’s how that happened, and I had never produced anyone before.”

The aura of mystery became a bit clearer.

“I was pretty young, he was cool and he showed me a lot, and he was a really good friend, he and his wife.

“He was really his own guy, he would do some wild things and stuff, and that would add to his mythology, and he was pretty aware of what he was doing. He actually had his degree in mythology from UCLA. A friend of mine said he studied mythology and created it, too. There’s a pretty good documentary and book about him that came out a few years ago, and it’s really good.”

Robb is making a trip out to the Gorge this weekend for a gig at the Lyle Hotel on Saturday, March 12, and we can expect a fairly diverse set, as Robb promises to explore his back catalog. His main guitar is a “beat up” 1947 Martin 018.

“Well, it’s all solo acoustic stuff, definitely some blues in my style. I tend to take the original songs and do my own thing with it, because I listen to all kinds of music. It’s instrumentals, some vocals, and some slide style guitar, and we’ll be revisiting songs from my past catalog. A few years ago, I actually did a record of hymns and spirituals, so I’ll do some stuff off of that.”

Robb is working on a new album right now with help from longtime friend and The Dalles resident drummer Jeff Minnick.

“I just signed with NIA Sounds, and it’s a record label, and I’m right in the middle of recording a new CD. It’s a Portland company, but I’m excited because they are an international company and they do all sorts of things,” Robb said.

“Jeff plays drums on the new upcoming record, too, and in fact, it was Jeff who told me about the Lyle Hotel. It’s great that he does that radio show in The Dalles, and he’s a really great drummer, too. We’ve been friends a long time and we go way back.”

Robb is an active long-time member of the Oregon Blues Association, but keeps his sense of humor in the forefront.

“Yes, they have the Muddy Awards, and the acoustic award is named after me, and I’ve won it so many times, they’ve retired my number.”

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