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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tad Robinson: Soul Under Fire

Admittedly (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way) Indiana soul blues man Tad Robinson has played gigs at some dangerous, rough and tumble places in Gary IN and on the west side of Chicago. But nothing could have prepared Robinson for the excitement (if you will) of playing the Middle East in a war zone. And that's exactly what happened when Tad and his band visited Israel this past January during the latest Palestinian/Israeli Gaza Strip dust up. They had to play their show in a bomb shelter. "The local authorities would only let us go on after the club owner moved the show to an underground bunker/parking garage. We were definitely in range of Hamas missiles. At first we were worried about a low turnout," Robinson recalls from his home in the Indianapolis area. "But the people had been cooped up in their apartments for almost a week so they were willing to venture out. And a missile did hit outside on the street as we were finishing up. It was sad there was a war but overall things went pretty good." Tad Robinson plays the finale of the Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's on Feb. 28 in support of his recent release, A New Point of View (Severn). The disc (though not this appearance) features the guitar of Alex Schultz who is long known as the preeminent West coast jump blues player for his work with William Clarke and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. "Alex played with William Clarke on the "Must Be Jelly" recording which was blues record of the year that year. He had a choice between Clarke and Rod Piazza and chose Rod with Clarke's blessing. Alex replaced Junior Watson in the Mighty Flyers and everyone said that couldn't be done. But he did it and helped the guitar chair in that band become hallowed ground for all who came afterward, namely Rick Holmstrom (Mavis Staples)." But on A New Point of View, Schultz had to dig deep into his soul bag. "Alex and I have been lifelong friends. We grew up in New York digging the sounds of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. When he plays with me he gets to take on a different soulful role." Tad has been nominated in the Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year category for the 2009 Blues Music Awards (formerly the Handy Awards). He also plays harmonica and his oh-so-soulful singing voice has been described as having both "sandpaper and honey" qualities. The band he will bring on Saturday are some mates from Indy, Kevin Anker (keys) and Paul Holdman (guitar), plus phenomenal players from Chicago (well-versed in Tad's music) in bassist Harlan Terson (Dave Spector) and Marty Binder (Albert Collins & the Icebreakers, Ken Saydak) on drums. Tad has been busy establishing himself as a premier soul singer alongside the biggies: Curtis Salgado, Robert Cray, Doyle Bramhall, Darrell Nulisch, and Lou Pride. Robinson knows well how important it is to create your own niche. The niche that he has fashioned allows him to look farther afield for gigs when the music business is slow, like in January, hence the trip to Israel. During a time when gigs have been slowing down for some blues musicians, Robinson has a full slate of shows going into the summer including plans to head to Russia and Belgium in April, an enviable schedule he attributes to the aforementioned niche building. "European folks like the soul blues vibe. We have a pretty active touring circuit over there." Here's hoping the next trip overseas will be less eventful. "During the week we were there we got to see and hear how the average Joe on the street and Israeli intellectuals viewed this conflict," Robinson observes. "After a week the public attitude had changed considerably. It was an interesting peek into a different high stakes political environment."