By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 2001
ast time out, Charlie Robison's major label debut was entitled "Life of the Party."
Only there was no song by that name among the 12.
Fast forward a few years to "Step Right Up," the Texan's follow-up album. Closing track - you got it - "Life of the Party," about a husband and wife who seem to know their way around the good times quite well.
And showing that he isn't afraid to push the envelope, Robison manages lyrical twists and turns. Just when the listener thinks a scatological reference will rhyme with words like "Duck" as in drinking Cold Duck, Robison keeps it clean and humorous ("she took me round back and we sucked the rest of that bottle").
Don't ex-pect this song to be riding the top of the charts even if the label is making a push behind the album.
"It was one of those things where people al-ways called me that," says Robison in a telephone interview from his ranch in Comfort, Texas about "life of the party."
"I called (the album) that after the nicknames I had. It's on all the t-shirts, records. It's everywhere. It's seems kind of ridiculous that there's not a song called that. I'll start a tradition. Maybe for the next album, I'll have a song called 'Step Right Up.' So, retroactively, I'll write a title song for the last album."
Robison says his label did not have much of an issue with the song's lyrics.
"They pretty much know me by now. They know it's better just not to argue," Robison says. "I've pretty much said, 'this is who you signed.' I'm not going to media school. I'm not going to talk about the Opry or anything like that. I'm going to talk about stuff that matters to me."
"That's why everything has gone so well," he says. "People feel left out by the country (today). People are censoring what they are say. Talk like people talk. You tell a dirty joke or talk about stupid stuff or what you heard on then news today. Everything people talk about is not heartache. It's about different stuff."
The stakes may be high for Robison, one of two brothers (Bruce) on the Sony/Lucky Dog label. That's because Charlie Robison's debut managed to hang around long enough to accumulate sales of more than 100,000.
In this day and age of megasellers, that may not sound like a whole lot. But consider that Robison had nothing even approaching a hit single.
"Life of the Party" proved to be an ultraslow burner. The disc received positive reviews, but aside from Ameri-cana radio, received little airplay.
Except 18 months after its fall 1998 release, Robison managed to stick around the lower depths of the singles charts with"Barlight," a catchy drinking song.
"I was feeling great. I thought success for that record would be about 40,000 units. It would get me on the road. When I go on the road, it would be in stores."
"It feels very good because it wasn't a publicity driven machine as much as it was a lot of word of mouth. A lot of people playing it for people. That's the only way it can be explained."
"When you don't have the tour support, sometimes it's hard to build in certain markets. I was happy the whole time. Every week, the Sound-scan would come back with like a 10-percent gain. I felt like I was doing something right."
"When you get to a position of strength, it doesn't last that long. But right now things are going very well. I feel like I'm in a good place. It was a long time coming. I had to go through a lot of crap, but it was worth it to get here."
Some in the industry have wondered whether Robison may be the singer who puts Americana music - that neither here nor there blend of country, folk, bluegrass, blues and other genres that doesn't have a ready-made home on radio - on the map big time.
"I don't really take much stock in that. Any time you're a poster boy for anything, that definitely has a shelf life. I've never liked to be alt.-country or no depression or anything like that because the minute that movement dies, and they always do, you go down with it. There's good music and there's bad music. and hopefully people will consider my ' music good. Some of it's country. Some of it's not country. It is what it is."
"I'm certainly going to let anything make me dress different or act different," he says.
Robison, 36, grew up in the small town of Bandera, Texas, population about 790, just a bit northwest of San Antonio. His family - Robison is a sixth generation Texan - owned a ranch there, eking out a living.
"It was cool. You kind of got the best of both worlds. It was an unbelievable ranching community. I grew up on all the working on all the ranches. Cowboying and hauling hay and then working on the pipeline. Then at night, we'd put on our Okies and play gigs at 14 or 15 years old. Bandera, unlike most places, was a very big entertainment center. People would come from all over Europe to these dude ranches. You weren't just around from a small town. From the time I was eight years old, I was around a lot of Europeans, a lot of people from New York. You got a different feel from most people in Texas."