BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Bob Gersztyn
Last week, in Part One of his interview with Bob Gersztyn, Terry Robb talked about his influences and career. This week, in Part Two, he discusses his latest release Muddyvishnu and his friend John Fahey.
Bob Gersztyn for BluesWax: Why did you title your new album “Muddyvishnu”?
Terry Robb: It was a joke out of a combination of Muddy Waters and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was a joke I had a long time ago, because I have a variety of influences. It’s a Muddy Waters’ blues with a Mahavishnu intensity to it. It’s not really that, but I thought that it was a pretty good description in a comical sort of way. The music is so intense, I had to put something funny on there.
BW: “Muddyvishnu” is the title song as well, and it’s a full-throttle, pull-out-all-the-stops guitar attack. Talk a little about it and how you decided what to put on it.
TR: It is, yeah. I wrote a bunch of songs and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to put together a fusion-type of rhythm section, I wanted to put together guys that played more like Booker T & The MG’s, and play what I played on top of that. I’m very happy with that. The rhythm section is [Paul] Delay’s old rhythm section, and Adam Scramstad plays guitar, Jeff Minnick [drums], and Dave Kahl [bass], and those guys. You know when it snowed a couple of years ago at Christmas time?
BluesWax: Yeah, it was like being back in Michigan.
TR: I got trapped in my apartment for a week and I wrote all the songs. It was great because I’m always going somewhere, and I couldn’t go anywhere, and so that’s what I did. Then I went inside the studio and started recording them. I kind of figured, this is the way that it is and nature is taking its course.
BluesWax: When you put the album together you even included some covers, how did you decide what to put on it?
TR: I included “Idle Moments” because I really like Grant Green a lot and I just really liked that song, and I started during the Guitar Summit, me, Doug Smith, and Mark Hanson. I brought that song as an acoustic guitar piece for the band at Summit, so I just kind of started playing it with my band at the time, so I thought that it would be a great thing to put on there. Then there is the cartoonist John Callahan’s song. I produced his record, and it was one of my favorite records that I ever produced, so I wanted to do one of his songs, so he was very sick at the time and he passed away. I recorded a tune, put it on a laptop, went to his apartment, and had him sing the lyrics. [I] had him do it in his own apartment, while he was lying in bed. I joked with him that I was doing an Alan Lomax field recording with him. Then the other song was written by Jeff Minnick, the drummer. Oh yeah, and then there is the Tommy Johnson song, “Lonesome Home,” which I turned into something different altogether different, but those are the covers, the rest are all originals.
BW: I really like “Lonesome Home.”
TR: Thanks, that’s one of my favorites.
BW: Really, it’s my favorite. Everytime that I heard it, while I was playing your album yesterday, while I had it going non-stop in my office while I was working, every time that “Lonesome Home” came on, I would stop, and finally about the third time I went, “What is that song?”
TR: I like the solo, because it never really resolves, so there’s always this tension. I think that the central point, instead of the tonic, instead of going back to the tonic, I’ll go back to the 9th, or go back to the 6th. So there is always this tension, it sounds like you’re drowning. I really like the way that it turned out.
BW: The guitar phrasing towards the end of “Lonesome Home” sounds Hendrixian in its intensity.
TR: I play very off time in my soloing because I listen to a lot of Indian music and Arabic music, as well as American music and all kinds of stuff, so a lot of that in the soloing there in the phrasing isn’t quite your normal R&B sort of guitar playing, but thank you very much. That’s my favorite piece on the record, too.
BW: The final cut on the album, which you wrote, is performed on lap slide guitar and is the song that sounds the most influenced by John Fahey’s style.
TR: Absolutely! Sure, it’s Fahey by way of Charlie Patton. Yeah, that’s something John would do. I mean I always like to put some kind of Fahey on all my records because he was such a good friend of mine, and such a great influence on me, and also on everybody and I like to keep his music alive. Like on the last record [Resting Place, Yellow Dog Records 2005], that I did in Memphis, I recorded “Joe Kirby Blues,” which is one of his tunes. I did record a Fahey song on the record, and it’s an acoustic solo song, but I really didn’t have room for it, so I didn’t, and it’s called “Sun Is Gonna Shine On My Back Door Someday,” and it just really didn’t fit in at the end. It’s off, Blind Joe Death. It just didn’t fit in with the rest of the record, so I didn’t put it on and I decided to do something in his vein.
BW: You said that you used a John Fahey painting for your album cover that you borrowed from Tim Knight.
TR: Absolutely! Which is a nice painting, too. Like I told you, I was on the road with John towards the end, and he was doing all those paintings, and I never thought to get one from him. Funny, I just thought that I’d see him again.
BW: How did you first meet John?
TR: I used to go see John all the time when I was a kid. I first heard him in 1968, or something like that. And then I’d go see him when he’d come to Portland [Oregon], and he was great, and I became a big fan and I really liked what he did. He was mixing the blues with all those classical themes in a really unique way, and plus the music just really touched you. Anyway, a friend of gave him a demo tape I had, and John really liked the fact that I did the song called “One Way Gal,” an old country-blues song, and he sent me a Christmas card saying that he’d like to meet me, that he was going to be playing in Portland at Louie LaBamba’s, I think. It was the big club back then everyone played there, now there’s nothing there. It’s where the Saturday Market is now and the guy who owned that place started Key Largo, which was a big club for a while. So I went to the gig and saw him and went backstage and we spent a long time backstage trading Charlie Patton songs. Well, do you know this part? Yeah. Well, do you know this? Oh, no, I haven’t heard that. We got on really well and we just became friends, and then one day he just asked me, when he got signed in a deal with Rounder Records, and he wanted me to produce his record, and I said okay, even though I never produced a record before, but he kind of showed me the ropes, and I knew that he knew that I really knew his music really well and I understood what he wanted to do and he wanted to go into kind of a new direction at the time. And I used to always say, man why don’t we do a record like Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes and Yellow Princess. Finally he said, look I’ve already done all that. I always change, I always move on. Finally a light bulb went on, and I go, oh yeah, okay. He was like Miles [Davis], that was why he was so great, he was always evolving, always changing.
BW: What would be the most interesting John Fahey story that you can remember?
TR: [Chuckles] There are so many that are funny, because he would have these great concepts, but he was very spontaneous at the same time. I liked the fact that he would always challenge me, he would call up and say hey you’re doing a record, this is the idea for it, see what you can come up with, I’ll come up in two weeks, and that sort of stuff. One time he suggested that we, he really liked Booker T and the MG’s too, and he wanted me to do an entire album of theirs called Hip Hugger for two acoustic guitars and he wanted me to arrange it, and I started to work on that, but it got scrapped because he had to do something else. Oh yeah, one time he reached in his pocket, pulled out a cheeseburger, took a bite out of it, and put it back in. John was funny. He would do stuff like that.
BW: You pretty much cover every style of guitar playing on the album, too, from a variety of electric ones, to acoustic and slide.
TR: I always play things in my own style, but I like all kinds of music, and people want to hear me play guitar so I gave them a guitar record, there’s very little vocals on it. I don’t like to sing too much, because I don’t have that great a voice, and a little of my singing goes a long way. What I mean is that nobody is going to come see me because they want to hear me sing. I kind of break it up when I do a show with my band, not only do I sing, but I have great singers in my band, like Albert Reda. Then I’ll do some acoustic stuff in a set, because I like to break it up a little.
BW: Other than “Lonesome Home,” what would your favorite cut be off the album.
TR: I like that song “Ju Ju,” because I wrote that piece as an acoustic piece, and the first part of it is all in acoustic, back in the ’80s and played it for John [Fahey]. John really, really liked that song. I like “Idle Moments,” too. The interesting thing about “Ju Ju” is that I played Fahey two new songs one day, and he really liked that song, he said that’s a great song. And then the other song that I wrote, he felt was the worst piece of shit he ever heard in his life, and he would not let me forget that. All day long he would say, “I can’t believe you wrote such a shitty song. I can’t believe you wrote such a stupid song.” He just would not leave it alone. “That other song was great, but I can’t believe that you wrote that song,” because he expected more out of people. He would push you that way. It was great. A lot of people would get really upset, but I just thought, this is John’s way of saying “Come on, you can do better than that.” But he liked that “Ju Ju” song, so I always kept doing it. I had that basic track left over from the ’90s, and I just re-recorded the guitar parts on top of it, with bass player and drummer in ’92.
BW: So you recorded it back in 1992?
TR: Yeah, I re-cut all the guitar parts to the original bass and drums.
BW: I noticed that you had a different backing rhythm section on that cut.
TR: Yeah, and Bobby Torres on percussion.
BW: When will the album be officially released?
TR: The album will be officially released on April 17. It’s on my own label, PsycheDelia Records, and the other artists that we have on our label are Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins, who released their album on PsycheDelia, called Sista. We’re just kind of getting the label up and running again, so I’m taking it one step at a time and getting distribution together and get it out there. Then I’m going to work the record and try to get reviews and get it heard. If there’s interest, I’ll put a band together and go out and promote it.
For more information about Terry Robb and his music go to his site.
Bob Gersztyn is a Oregon-based writer and photograph. He is a contributing editor at BluesWax.
About the Author: