Under The Influence: Rich Robinson

Rich Robinson in a green jacket looking at the camera.
Rich Robinson: blues to the core.

‘‘I grew up in a musical household. My dad had a big record collection, it covered a broad spectrum of music – there was Mose Allison, early acoustic Bob Dylan, Sly Stone, Joe Cocker, Muddy Waters, and listening through it, I was drawn to country blues. As a guitar player, I have always been attracted to open tunings and different time signatures and that is what I just naturally go to and naturally write. To me the chords that come from open tunings are huge and the resonant frequencies and the harmonics are captured beautifully in country blues. When you tune a guitar differently, the strings vibrate differently and the whole thing sounds different. When you then throw chugging rhythms over it, you get a symphony coming off of the guitar. There are so many things that you can hear with the way that those guys are playing. That’s what attracted me to the blues as a kid, and still does.”

Furry Lewis

Falling Down Blues

From: Furry Lewis In His Prime 1927-1928

(Yazoo, 1975)

Every time The Black Crowes went to Japan on tour, we went crate-digging and there were bootleg stores full of unbelievable stuff, and that’s how I first came across Furry Lewis. What drew me to Falling Down Blues is its gentle nature, but because it’s a blues song there is this heavier undertone to the pastoral setting. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and it sounds like the south in August to me, the gentle breeze, the smells… There is this fluidity in the way he plays and this beautiful tonality to his guitar and his voice and that first line: ‘I got the blues so bad it hurts my feet to walk.’ I must have listened to this song a thousand times.

Mississippi Fred McDowell

Shake ’Em On Down

From: Live In New York

(Oblivion Records, 1972)

Listening to Keith Richards talk about people like Mississippi Fred McDowell was a stepping stone for us to delve deeper and deeper into the blues. The Black Crowes used to cover this song early on, and we recorded a live version. It’s such a powerful song and Mississippi Fred McDowell is one of those dudes that I’ve always resonated with as
a guitar player – the way that he plays, his big booming voice that is really strong and biting in that low register of his. I mean, it’s so intense. There’s some amazing footage on YouTube of him playing John Henry and the sound he gets from this guitar, which looks kind of like a Gibson ES-330, but isn’t, is mind-blowing.

Muddy Waters

Canary Bird

From: The Real Folk Blues

(Chess, 1966)

I first heard this in the late 1980s in the period leading up to The Black Crowes’ first album Shake Your Money Maker. We were getting more and more into blues, or actually me and my brother Chris [Robinson, singer in The Black Crowes] were getting back into blues after discovering it through my dad’s record collection.

There was a record by Muddy Waters we had called The Real Folk Blues that compiled songs he had recorded in the 1940s and 50s, and the slide guitar on this one – the biting nature of how it’s played, but also the fluidity of it at the same time, man! It’s unbelievable! Although it’s in a different context with a band and electric guitar, the fluidity is the same thing that Furry Lewis had, but with this bite, and I remember the pointed nature of this song just reaching me on a really deep level. It’s such a cool song. Obviously there are a number of Muddy Waters songs that people are drawn to, like Mannish Boy, but for me it was the sound of Canary Bird that appealed. It just sounds unlike anything else and it’s so concise. It has true dynamics, no one is over-playing, and there is true discipline to that – it takes more discipline to play the right amount than to over-play.

Lightnin’ Hopkins

Black Cadillac

From: The Complete Prestige Bluesville Recordings

(Prestige, 1991)

I love Lightnin’ Hopkins’ whole thing – the way he plays, the way he sings, and on this song in particular the sonics of the whole recording. I am really into the feeling I get from the sonics of a record and I’ve always felt that way, and this is the perfect example of what I like. It’s a rock’n’roll song and it sounds so fucking cool. It sounds like you are in the room with Lightning Hopkins recording it in 1962 and I can really hear that room. It gives me a feeling of excitement and I really want to be in that room. Whatever’s going on in there, I want to experience it, that’s where I want to be.

The Rolling Stones

Ventilator Blues

From: Exile On Main St

(Rolling Stones Records, 1972)

Coming from the south and listening to a British band playing American music, but doing it so well and authentically, and bringing it to this other level that is not modern but classic was amazing. The Stones were putting this song into a band setting but having all the guitar parts sound so authentic and sound so cool. They were bringing the
blues into a modern rock band setting for the time. Listening to Exile On Main St growing up was a huge influence on me and also on Chris. Keith Richards and Mick Taylor really influenced my playing and they also led a path back to the blues.

The Georgia Sea Island Singers

Sink ’Em Low

From: Join The Band

(Mississippi/Change Records, 2011)

I was in Glasgow last year record shopping and pulled out this record by The Georgia Sea Island Singers, and it’s a whole album recorded in 1959 and 1960 by these singers who I had four songs by on an Alan Lomax compilation. Bessie Jones is one of the singers and she sings a song called Sink ’Em Low. She tells a story and the song is about how roads used to be made and you’ve got to sink ’em low before you raise ’em high. It’s literally one of the most intense, amazing, beautiful and also horrific songs, and the feeling that comes from her voice… it puts you right there. When these songs were written, they were written from people’s life experiences and people’s emotional reactions to these experiences, whether it is absolute joy or absolute sadness.

Charley Patton

Shake It And Break It

From: Founder Of The Delta Blues 1929-1934
(Yazoo, 1971)

It was through Canned Heat’s version of Shake It And Break It that I got into this song, and after discovering it, I bought everything I could get by Charley Patton. The Canned Heat version is literally one of the coolest versions, and hearing the Charley Patton version and the Canned Heat one back-to-back allowed me to see how bands could and would interpret what Charley Patton was doing, and how they were bringing his songs into the 1960s and 1970s.

Jimmy Reed

I Ain’t Got You

From: Found Love

Vee Jay Records, 1960

Jimmy Reed was one of the ways I got into the blues, he’s so accessible. The moment I heard this I was into it and from a band standpoint, I Ain’t Got You was a song that I always wanted to cover. The sound of that song, and the sound of Jimmy Reed in particular, is just one of those things that really moves me. His voice and the way that he sang his songs, it was just such a cool thing.

The Llama Blues EP is out now on Eagle Rock.