Charlie Robison steps right up – March 2001
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Charlie Robison steps right up  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 2001

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The Robison family now has two cattle ranches. There's one family ranch. Robison and wife Emily, one of the Dixie Chicks, own the other. There are about 100 head of cattle between the two, lots of horses and Spanish goats.

"I've been up feeding cattle and building fences all morning," says Robison

Robison's ancestors settled in the Bandera area in the 1840's. "I've got a heritage that I'm tied to that I can't leave. That's the reason I'm not in Nashville. I've got a lot of great friends in Nashville. There are a lot of great people there, but I'm not so much like them. I fit in here a whole lot better. They've got a thing called planes now."

Robison says his future is "just in Texas. It's the only place we'll ever live."

The love of the music came from family and Dean Martin.

"My parents and grandparents were big fans. My great great uncles played the fiddle and stuff. My family worked real hard on the ranch, and they didn't make much money. It was hard way to go."

"I remember being four or five, and the Dean Martin Hour came on TV. I remember him walking down the stairs with a cig and martini and all these beautiful women. It was like three sheets to the wind. He didn't know his lines. I knew he was millionaire. I'd rather make money like that than digging (post) holes."

Robison got the musical bug for real at 15 when he played the drums thanks to a purchase by his grandmother. He did not have much choice in picking the instrument for the band he joined. Brother Bruce already locked up the bass part, and the other instruments were taken.

"We'd play a Johnny Bush song. We'd play a Grand Funk song. We knew we had to play country songs, but then we'd start playing these other things. We were just finding what we liked at that point. There were not any boundaries as far as what we were doing. We played Black Sabbath songs."

Robison put in a stint at Southwest Texas State, the university that produced President Lyndon B. Johnson, but like he said in his song "My Hometown," spent most of his time in the local beer halls rather than the study halls and classrooms.

He went there on a football and baseball scholarship. "I really wanted to play music, but I figured that it would be great to have the college experience. I always wanted to get out of Bandera. I thought college would be this great place with liberal minds like you'd see on 'The Paper Chase.' It was kind of like high school with a lot more beer. I was a little disillusioned."

He continued playing music in college.

After three years there, Robison was off to Austin to try his musical luck. "That was all I wanted to do. I went in Antone's (club) and said I wasn't going to leave until I made it."

He joined such bands as Two Hoots and a Holler, Chaparral and Charlie Robison and Millionaire Playboys with whom he recorded a six-song cassette.

Of his experience with the bands, Robison says, "It was kind of retro. It was wider Foster & Lloyd, Steve Earle-y kind of stuff. It was the late '80's when the new breed of country was starting to happen. I was just starting to find myself a songwriter."

He struck out on his own as a solo artist in 1995 , releasing "Bandera" that year.

"Bandera" featured such songs as "Barlight," which reappeared on "Life of the Party" and "Desperate Times," making a redux on "Step Right Up," plus brother Bruce's "Red Letter Day."

"I was getting into the real coffeehouse singer songwriter kind of thing two or three years before recording that record."

"In those days, I got one (a day job) every now and then. Yeah, we were making a living," Robison says.

"My goal was to be Guy Clark. That was who I wanted to be or Townes or John Prine. I never wanted to be a megastar. I wanted to be one of those people who supported themselves well, but were well respected as well."

Next stop was Nashville for a few minutes with Warner Brothers. Robison recorded an entire album for the label, but the suits wanted Robison to include a few more radio friendly songs.

"They felt they had almost a whole record cut. They gave it to promotions, and they said didn't feel had enough commercial stuff. I wanted to go in a completely opposite way. I think there's enough commercial stuff."

Warner also wanted him to move to Nashville. "I wouldn't do that," he says. "I've always wanted to do it on my own."

Robison bagged Warner.

"I was real pissed off," he says. "I had pretty much moved up there, did all this major label stuff. I completely let this career that I had started with Bandera lapse. I was mad not so much because I lost the deal with Warner, but I let this other part slide. I had to start all over again."

Robison hooked up with record company exec Blake Chancey in 1996. "I was very shell shocked. I was not going to record with a major label. If that's how it works, I didn't even want to deal with it. I was going to record for Sugar Hill or Rounder. Blake came around and said they were going to start Lucky Dog."

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