Interview: Robby Robinson
Maestro Robby Robinson (from FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS) has just released an Easter Trilogy that depicts the heart, soul, and spirit of Easter. The long time music director/ producer/ keyboardist talks to Louder Than The Music about how he teamed up with two young geniuses…virtuoso violin-vocalist ANDREA HAMMOND and YouTube superstar SARA NIEMIETZ in a trio of masterpieces.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
RR: Music has been my life! My Mom was a music teacher and started exposing me to music when I was still a toddler. I started formal piano lessons at 7, formal saxophone lessons at 8. Then the pop music bug hit me and I started playing in “rock and roll” bands when I was 14….I’m still playing in a band! I have been super-blessed to wear many diverse musical hats in my life, playing blues with Albert King, jazz with Eddie Harris, Latin music with Willie Bobo, and a plethora of stars from across the musical galaxy….Tom Jones, Beach Boys, Liza Minelli, Four Tops, Commodores. I absolutely LOVE symphonic music… as a conductor, it has been amazing to wield the baton with the London, BBC, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, National symphony orchestras. And of course I have been the keyboardist, Hammond Organist, and Music Director for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons since 1978.
Tell us about your Easter Trilogy singles and what the inspiration behind them was?
RR: I have been involved in Christian music for over 30 years. Easter is such an inspiring time, composers through the centuries have given us profound and glorious music for the Easter season. We’ve put a powerful and unique stamp on two classic hymns with GO TO DARK GETHSEMANE and WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS. The brilliant violinist-vocalist ANDREA HAMMOND brought her world-class musical talents to our poignant renditions. Andrea and I have been making music together at Trinity Lutheran Church-Simi Valley, CA for many years. In that context we have been blessed to cover a wide variety of styles, from “Bach to Bo Diddley”….yet always giving glory to God no matter the style. To cap off the Easter Trilogy I wrote a song with another frequent collaborator, the extraordinary SARA NIEMIETZ. We wrote an upbeat, gospel-tinged song based on the ancient Paschal greeting, “HE IS RISEN INDEED”. Both of these young ladies are musical geniuses…I am so blessed!
Do you have any plans to release more music in the near future?
RR: Yes-Yes-Yes….my new record label “ROBBY’S RECORDS” was conceived as the outlet for so much music that has been laying in the coffers from years of writing and recording as well as new music that I’m constantly composing. I came to California in 1976 to pursue a career as an artist. I had the double-edged blessing however of being hired by so many other artists as a keyboardist, arranger, producer that I never really had time to develop my own music artistry. But NOW IS THE TIME…I’m very excited to start releasing music to the world!
What message would you like people to take from your music?
RR: Music is such a powerful medium. Martin Luther put it this way “Music…is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us”. Music touches so many places in hearts and minds. I love to share God’s love through my music, whether that is in a literal sense or in ways that connect the whole range of emotions.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
RR: I love ALL styles of music. Duke Ellington put it this way: “There are two kinds of music: good music and the “other” kind!” As I mentioned earlier, I love to wear whatever musical hat inspires me at the moment. I have been influenced by so many different genres, so many different composers and artists. A short list of major influences would definitely include JIMMY SMITH, BACH, BEETHOVEN, MOZART, TCHAIKOVSKY, VANILLA FUDGE, FLOYD CRAMER, KEITH EMERSON, THE BEATLES, THE VENTURES, CHICK COREA, ANDRAE CROUCH, FELIX CAVALIERE. How’s that for diversity! But in reality there are so many. My own music blends all of these varied influences into my own tapestry of musical expression.
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
RR: I am fascinated with the art of songwriting! From Mozart to McCartney, Cole Porter to Brian Wilson. Certain composers and songwriters throughout history have had the divine ability to touch millions of hearts of all ages and eras. Beethoven had it, Bill Joel has it, Bob Gaudio certainly has it. If we are dreaming here, I would love to make music with Johann Sebastian Bach.
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
RR: I have been so blessed…I get to wake up every morning and make music 24/7, and to do it on major world stages, with so many genius talents is icing on the cake. Making music is definitely what I love to do, what I feel called to do. My life has been a living illustration of the motto: “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”.
What is your favorite album of all time?
RR: That is a hard one for me…I’ll give you a few answers. My parents gave me my first album, “LITTLE DEUCE COUPE” by The Beach Boys. I’ve had many of The Beach Boys autograph that album for me, including Brian. I have to mention Jimmy Smith: “THE ORGAN GRINDER’S SWING” which turned my world upside down. Other pivotal albums for me have been Vanilla Fudge: “THE BEAT GOES ON”, John Coltrane: “MY FAVORITE THINGS”, Emerson Lake & Palmer debut album, Beethoven Symphonies numbers 3, 5, 6, & 9. In reality there are so many records that have influenced and inspired me it would take all day to list them.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
RR: Toss up between AVE VERUM CORPUS by Mozart and Beethoven’s 9th symphony. But then it might be THROUGH IT ALL by Andrea Crouch or THE SERMON by Jimmy Smith. Sorry there I go again….this question too hard!