DIARY - 4 DECEMBER 2012 - CHARLIE ROBISON
ROBISON EMBRYONIC MUSIC
- These three CD reviews were written when Charlie Robison and his multi-instrumentalist
wife Emily of the Dixie Chicks were still married.
We then detail the history of the Keith Gattis song El Cerrito Place -
originally a hit for Charlie - but now a smash for Tennessee superstar
And, as a bonus, we add part of a Nashville Skyline column by Texas born,
Nashville writer and author Chet Flippo about the history of El Cerrito
GOOD TIMES (DUALTONE)
CHARLIE SCRATCHES PUSSY WILLOW ROSE
a girl here in Laredo, her name's Pussy Willow Rose/ she's got that ring
around the collar/ got that ring stuck through her nose/ she works there
at the Dallas Cowboys but she got no in-between/ like all them other boys
in dresses they ain't every Cowboys dream." New Year's Day - Charlie
and the Texas hill country heat for Charlie and Bruce Robison and singing
let's not forget the dry humour that permeates their music and cracks
formulaic chart chaff.
The Bandera bred brothers Robison survive on song strength and ensure
their marital and breeding stock continue the lineage.
Charlie lives with Dixie Chick wife Emily and son Gus in the Texas
hill country near San Antonio, next to his father's ranch that has
been in the family since the 1840's.
They have a combined 2,000-acres of cattle, quarter horses raised
on round bale hay.
"I definitely couldn't do one without the other," Robison
revealed of his dual careers.
"They're very symbiotic for me. I really get a lot of inspiration
to ranch from music and to do music from ranching."
Bruce and wife Kelly Willis returned from an Australian tour they weaved
their dingo tales into One In A Million that he wrote with Charlie.
Bruce wrote You're Not The Best (But You're The Best That I Can Do)
and Charlie cut it on his 1998 album Life Of The Party.
Let's remember embryonic tune Sunset Boulevard, updated for Charlie
& Bruce Robison-Jack Ingram Unleashed Live album in 2000 with
oral praise of Monica Lewinsky.
Charlie sets a cracking pace on fifth album Good Times (Dualtone-Shock)
with border town divorce ditty New Year's Day following his hedonistic
title track entrée.
Sequencing is everything.
He follows Keith Gattis lost love song El Cerrito Place, with co-producer
Lloyd Maines daughter Natalie's harmonising, and another Gattis tune Big
Then there's Waylon Payne's Benedictine brewed ballad The Bottom.
Payne - son of Willie Nelson's long time guitarist Jody and late singer
Sammi Smith - played Jerry Lee Lewis in the Johnny Cash movie Walk
unbutton that top button/ wipe her hands on that ol' blouse/ she's always
lookin' finger lickin' good around the house." - Love Means Never
Having To Say You're Hungry - Charlie Robison.
we're back to humour in Love Means Never Having To Say You're Hungry.
seems Emily's home cooking was equally enticing in the boudoir as
Robison spans three generations with Photograph about Gus and
grand paternal tune Something In The Water.
"It's meant to leave yourself with the thought that for your
grandkids, you're going to be just a photograph some day," Robison,
then 40 revealed.
"It's a tribute song, but it's also a song make you ponder mortality
a little bit."
You can savour lines about the divorce of his dad and mum - mine host
at the Purple Cow cowboy bar.
and Daddy burned hot like a flame/But it all turned to ashes with no one
Charlie's bittersweet love song Always and death nostalgia bluegrass
finale Magnolia sandwich Terry Allen's riveting Flatland Boogie
- the original version was produced by Maines who plays dobro, steel and
lap steel guitar.
Robison admits reading reviews.
"People give me a perspective with reviews that I haven't thought
of," Robison says.
"I feel I've written a whole lot more from first person. On other
records I veiled the things I've written about myself and put it in the
third person. It's more transparent of where I am in my life and who I
am. When your life changes so much - you get married, you settle down
and have a kid, you change the way you think of things even though you
don't realise it. That kind of creeps in there."
Robison's era at Sony boutique label Lucky Dog included tours with kindred
spirit - thrice wed Georgian gaucho Travis Tritt.
"He's looked at as one of the cooler (artists) and a great guy."
Charlie said of the singer who also released his 11th album My Honky
Tonk History (Sony) in 2004.
2001 CD REVIEW
STEP RIGHT UP (LUCKY DOG)
CHARLIE PLAYS BINGO WITH FRED NEGRO DINGO
you asked me to meet you at the movies/ Meryl Streep in a part with an
accent/ it sounds like a favourite of mine/ but I came to an elderly woman/
her child had been taken away/she said, by a pack of wild dingoes."
- One In A Million - Charlie & Bruce Robison.
Charlie Robison is the master of pert parody - he created a cyber snow
storm when he called West Virginia born traditionalist Brad Paisley a
Now, on his third album Step Right Up he has ignited a delicious
debate with his Azaria Chamberlain movie spoof One In A Million.
Robison sets up his tale with the male character, stopping for few Cervezas
with mates, and then being robbed en route to a date at the Evil Angels
movie starring Streep.
It's there that Robison's role model, through the miracles of literary
licence, emulates part of the movie's plot and tracks down the dingoes
and rescues the baby.
But the hero hasn't made it to his date's love nest so he sets off on
foot next morning when his car won't start.
Guess what - this time he is kidnapped by aliens in a spaceship who have
heard of his tracking skills.
Their babies have also been stolen by dingoes so Charlie's chappie hunts
the pack and rescues the alien babies.
But there is still no solace for the jilted date - the Good Samaritan
gets drunk on space beer and never fronts.
Hey, this is what makes country music such a wondrous genre in the hands
of the right artists.
BRUCE ROBISON AND KELLY WILLIS
that trail of the dingoes/ they put up a terrible fight/ but I finally
retrieved her baby/ and we drank to the end of her plight." - One
In A Million - Charlie & Bruce Robison.
then 36 and singing spouse of Dixie Chick multi-instrumentalist Emily,
hasn't played gigs down under.
But wife Emily, Charlie's brother Bruce - co-writer of One In A Million
- and his singing spouse Kelly Willis have been.
So we have several sources for this salacious satire - Charlie may or
may not have seen Evil Angels that featured Nu Country TV creator
and DJ-actor Peter Hosking as assistant to the coroner at the first inquest.
But here is some concrete evidence that Bruce, Kelly and Emily are up
to speed on the voracious appetite of our dingoes.
Bruce and Kelly performed live to air and Internet at Nu Country's Beer
Can Hill studio in Northcote on their Australian tour in January, 2000.
That was five months before it was barbecued on June 26 - the fatal first
day of its 28th broadcast.
The duo took home a pair of Nu Country tee shirts with singing satirist
Fred Negro's world famous dingo mascot after being told the story that
inspired Evil Angels.
And, of course, Emily (banjo and dobro player here) learned about the
exploits of the dingoes on her trips with the Dixie Chicks.
One In A Million is not the first or last song about the Aussie
dingo but it's by far the funniest - equally importantly it's delivered
with a rollicking Tex-Mex lacing.
Satire and reality driven narratives have long been Charlie's strong suit
- he reprised Sunset Boulevard on second album Life Of The Party
and Desperate Times here.
The Bandera born brothers also co-wrote intro song, Right Man For The
Job, and Bruce penned Tonight but the major writer here is
Charlie with six solo tunes.
Ironically, the first single from this disc was a cover of the NRBQ tune
I Want You Bad - maybe a good radio lure in the U.S.
But Charlie excels when he cuts loose on his originals - The Preacher,
John O'Reilly, Rain and Desperate Times.
The Wedding Song - performed with Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines
(daughter of his former producer Lloyd) - is a radio friendly, duet oasis
in the mainstream.
OF THE PARTY
they call me the life of the party/ they call her the belle of the ball/
well we start before everybody/ and I promise we'll outlast them all."
- Life Of The Party - Charlie Robison.
Life Of The Party - a parody of the double entendres in country
- was the title of his previous disc but saved for Step Right Up
- also title of an album by his little mate Todd Snider.
But, like this disc, there was no song with that title on Todd's album.
Charlie desked this gem with Dixie Chicks co-producer Blake Chancey
and promoted from Lucky Dog to the Sony mother ship after Life Of
The Party sold 100,000 plus units - a major figure for an alternate
roots country act.
So how will Charlie fare here?
This is out
only as a Sony import - airplay is limited to community radio and the
If One In A Million was a single it would ignite a sales storm
in the same way Lee Roy Parnell's former AFL Seven Network footy theme,
If The House Is Rockin', could have done.
But record companies are cautious - because Australian mainstream radio
is too scared to embrace.
Many community radio country music hosts are not smart enough to get it
- swift smacks with the stupid stick en route from the womb to tomb left
them with charisma by-passes.
Lateral thinkers - roots country fans - will find this a creative conduit
and good value.
I thank the maker for sending me the mirthful majority of disc jockeys
at Nu Country who ducked and dodged the stupid stick.
As singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman and many other sages have
long said "some people get it - some never will."
LIFE OF THE PARTY (LUCKY DOG)
CHARLIE CHICK HAPPY - NOT GAY
I wish I had my picture in the Rolling Stone today/ I wish that the Enquirer
would spread a rumour I was gay/ I wish I had some buddies, some movie
stars and such/ cause I probably wouldn't worry about the two of us so
much." - Sunset Boulevard - Charlie Robison
Bandera bard Charlie Robison first recorded Sunset Boulevard he
was one of a vast galaxy of unsung heroic Texan singer-songwriters
riding the roots country range.
The sixth generation Texan played with brother Bruce in Two Hoots
& A Holler, Chaparral and the prophetically named Millionaire
Now, it's a decade down the lost highway, and Charlie is acting
out the sentiments of his whimsical tune from the Austin American
Robison, now 37, has appeared in cult movies Blood Trail, Cement
and played a detective in NBC's House Of Frankenstein.
And, after releasing his second album Life Of The Party a
year ago on Sony's alternate country label Lucky Dog he surrendered
his last shred of privacy by wedding Dixie Chick banjo ace Emily
Bruce's singing spouse Kelly Willis sang at the wedding and so did
Emily's sister Martie and divorcee Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines
- daughter of Charlie's prolific producer Lloyd.
like Lyle Lovett, has suffice natural talent to be a genuine star before
betrothal but exposure and sales are catalysed by cranking the tabloid
TV tools - especially here in the unlucky radio country.
The first three tracks - Bruce's Poor Man's Son, Charlie's Sunset
Boulevard and honky tonk nirvana nursery rhyme Bar Lights were
reprised from earlier releases.
That satiric streak is the poetic putty that makes this disc, belatedly
released here to dovetail with the Dixie Chicks 5th album Fly (also
Sony), a genuine gem.
Charlie delved into home town dramas on debut solo disc Bandera with Desperate
Times but Bruce's tawdry tune You're Not The Best (but you're the
best that I can do) wasn't inspired by Emily or Kelly.
But My Hometown, Arms Of Love, hilarious Shakespearean Loving
County and Damon Bramblett's tune Writing For The Mail have
a Lone Star grain of truth embedded in their amorous aquifer.
Charlie is a master storyteller whose eclectic music is borne from the
long hours of highway hopping - Molly's Blues with Nashville burning
down - and time travel for his civil war vignette Indianola.
There are salient signposts from the best work of Dylan, John Prine and
Robert Earl Keen but check this out as your first spring cleansing of
CERRITO PLACE - NOW AND THEN
I wound up the desert just after daylight/ there's a Joshua tree grows
that little place you always liked/ these pioneer people they ain't got
much to say/ if they might have seen you they ain't giving you away/ now
it's been two days." - El Cerrito Place - Keith Gattis.
single El Cerrito Place took its name from a street in the Hollywood
Hills in southern California but a pair of Texans wrote it.
Star State native Keith Gattis wrote the haunting ballad - it was
a hit for Charlie in 2004 and also recorded by Gattis.
"I've loved that song for a while," Kenny says.
"There is a certain longing in this song that in a lot of ways
I really relate to. It's about wanting something that's obviously
not there, this searching that we all have for love and lust, and
someone that's not in your life anymore. It talks about all of the
measures that we go through to feel loved and to get that certain
thing back that's just driving you crazy. El Cerrito Place has that
certain insanity about it that I think is very relatable. There's
searching and longing that all of us have inside. I've felt every
bit of emotion that the character in that song deals with."
wasn't surprised to see Kenny's version on his 13th album Welcome
to the Fishbowl.
"When that song first came out as a single, he called me and
was like, 'Man, I can't stop watching that video and can't stop
playing that song,'" Charlie revealed.
to sing it with him at some of his shows, too. So I had the feeling he
was going to end up doing that song someday and sure enough, he did.
It's hard to take a song that there's a definitive recording of and make
it your own, and I think he did a good job with it. You've gotta stay
true to it but then again you've gotta put your own twist on it at the
While Charlie's version features background vocals by Dixie Chicks Natalie
Maines, Kenny recruited friend and former touring partner Grace Potter
to sing backup on his interpretation.
"She has a way of singing the harmony that makes you feel that person's
pain even more," says the country superstar of the Nocturnals singer
who first collaborated with him on the award-winning Matraca Berg-Deana
Carter penned tune You and Tequila.
Potter & The Nocturnals are performing at the 2013 Byron Bay Blues
El Cerrito Place is the third single from Welcome to the Fishbowl,
following Come Over and the CMA-nominated duet with Tim McGraw
- Feel Like a Rock Star.
AT BILLY BOB'S
since recorded a live album and DVD the legendary Billy Bob's Texas in
He said he has been talking about a Billy Bob's record for about a decade
and finally set a date.
He recorded new crowd favourites El Cerrito Place and New Year's
Day that were on albums after his last 2003 Live CD recorded at Gruene
Hall - the oldest dance hall in Texas.
He also included older material that was not on the other live records
and a couple of new songs destined for a studio album.
"A lot of times, for people who have never been to a show or have
been to a live show and like the way we do stuff live, it's just a whole
different feel," he said.
"It's a good way to feel like you're out listening to something live.
I've always loved other people's live records."
FLIPPO DETAILS GATTIS-ROBISON SONG HISTORY
born Nashville writer and author Chet Flippo wrote a detailed history
of El Cerrito Place.
Here is an edited version of his Nashville Skyline column.
El Cerrito Place started life with its songwriter, Keith Gattis, a young
Texan from Georgetown and then Austin, who moved to Nashville in the 1990s
and signed with RCA Records.
RCA released his self-titled album in 1996.
Reviewers compared him to a young George Jones.
His second album in 2005 for the Texas-based Smith Music Group, Big
City Blues, drew considerable favourable attention, but no one in
Nashville - or Texas for that matter - knew just what to do with Gattis.
It was an old story: too good for Austin, too un-commercial for Nashville.
Gattis put it on Big City Blues with a delicate piano and Hammond
B3 organ accompaniment.
At almost six minutes (5:58) long it was a deeply personal song of an
Charlie Robison, a Houston native raised in Bandera, Texas, recorded El
Cerrito Place before Gattis did.
His version has a classic Central Texas vocal and warm production with
unmistakable Dixie Chicks aura and background vocal sound, produced by
Maines is the father of Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines, and Robison
was then married to Chick Emily Erwin. Robison again makes it a song of
deep personal angst.
Charlie put it on his 2004 Dualtone album Good Times at 5:41, again
with piano and B3 and issued it as a single as well. It had no success.
Radio wasn't ready for a long song that some DJs called "navel-gazing."
Charlie had been on Sony's Lucky Dog imprint label along with such "hip"
acts as Jack Ingram, BR5-49, Deryl Dodd and the Derailers.
It was a doomed record label.
Charlie did another album for Sony's Columbia Records before leaving for
the indie Dualtone label.
said they might have seen you/ where the ocean meets the land so I've
been out all night lookin'/ for your footprint in the sand, did you hear
the ocean singin'/ baby did you sing along, while you danced over the
water to that ol' forgotten song, were you even here at all." -
El Cerrito Place - Keith Gattis.
comes with a recording of El Cerrito Place at 5:51, again with
piano and B3, on his new album Welcome to the Fishbowl.
Robison spread a more laid-back Central Texas ranch vibe on this quintessentially
Southern California song, Chesney's is a busier Nashville production.
His choice of a songwriter's favourite on his new album - on the heels
of his selection of another such composition, You and Tequila,
written by singer-songwriters Matraca Berg and Deana Carter - signalled
that he's increasingly to be taken seriously as a songwriter's friend.
Not just the Music Row songwriting factory songwriters, I mean.
You and Tequila added another whole dimension to Chesney's body
of work and elevated his status as song stylist.
Grace Potter was his singing partner from the rock world, who added the
spark to Chesney's recording of You and Tequila and made it one
of the best performances in recent memory.
As if to underscore that point, Chesney takes the unusual step of including
on Welcome to the Fishbowl a live performance of Tequila that
he and Potter recorded at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Now, Potter is back and admirably fills out Kenny's rendition of El
Cerrito Place as this song continues on its journey.
Interestingly just as Robison covered two Gattis songs on an album Cerrito
and Big City Blues so does Chesney record two Gattis compositions
here: Cerrito and I'm a Small Town.
has also been recently and admirably re-recorded by another East Tennessean,
Chelle Rose, whose five-minute-plus stark acoustic demo turns the song
into a gothic tale.
GATTIS - BIG CITY BLUES
dippin' in the Perdenales River/ country girl sure could make me shiver/
right now that's just what I could use/ to wash away these big city blues."
- Big City Blues - Keith Gattis.
is a classic example of the singer-songwriter whom the Nashville music
establishment just doesn't know quite how to handle.
When he came to Nashville in the mid 1990s, he knocked around and spent
a lot of time hanging with another Nashville expatriate, Dwight Yoakam,
and frequently worked on the road as Yoakam's lead guitarist.
Robison made a video for Cerrito, which he himself brought up to
CMT. I thought then - and still think - it's one of the most powerful
music videos ever made.
Totally captivating - like a mesmerising film noir.
Ordinarily, I do not want to watch a music video for the first time with
the subject of the video watching it with me.
It felt completely comfortable on this occasion. My praise was genuine.
CMT played that video. A lot. And deservedly so.
But both young Texans Gattis and Robison sort of struck out in Nashville.
There was just no room at the time for songs written straight from the
BUDDY AND KENNY
Nelson once sang about his own failed fortunes in Nashville, "Sad
songs and waltzes aren't selling this year."
The same thing happened to young Texan Buddy Holly when he tried to blast
out of West Texas and came to Nashville and kind of fizzled out before
figuring out who he was.
Decca Records in Nashville didn't understand him.
Once he left town and started making records that sounded the way he felt
musically, he became an international star and a rock 'n' roll icon.
Of course, that doesn't happen every day, but there have been worthy Texans
by legions that Nashville has chewed up and spit out. Not maliciously
or out of spite.
They simply didn't fit the system.
What they had in most cases was, as both Strother Martin and Paul Newman
said in the movie Cool Hand Luke, a "failure to communicate."
Willie had to flee Nashville and head back to Texas to find fulfilment
and stardom when he pursued the music he truly loved and felt.
Hell, Chesney is a native Tennessean, and he got thoroughly beaten down
when he first came to Nashville to make it.
Had it not been for a rock 'n' roll record label head who believed in
him, Chesney might today well be a farmer back in his native East Tennessee.
But Phil Walden, who launched the Allman Brothers and many other great
artists on his Capricorn Records label, saw Chesney and liked what he
saw and heard, and he believed in him.
He signed him to Capricorn's fledgling Nashville country label.
Chesney recorded one Capricorn album, In My Wildest Dreams in 1994.
When Capricorn's country division and Chesney's album failed to catch
on, Walden shut the label and moved back to Atlanta.
He still believed in Chesney, though, and shopped him to every Nashville
record label. And back then, there were still a lot of them. None wanted
Walden kept trying, though, and finally persuaded Joe Galante of RCA and
BNA Records to take a chance on Kenny.
Many years later that gamble paid off handsomely.
El Cerrito Place is the glue that connects Gattis, Robison and
Chesney and Nashville and Texas and Southern California.
It's one song that in its different iterations links past and present.
It truly shows the power of a single song. Reading the lyrics, it does
not seem especially captivating.
Although the introduction of El Cerrito Place as a real place does serve
to give the song added meaning.
Obviously, the actual El Cerrito Place, in the Hollywood Hills, remains
seared in Gattis' memory:
"And all them pretty people up on El Cerrito Place/ They all got
somethin' in their pockets, all got somethin' on their face/ They roll
down to La Brea where it meets the boulevard/ Singin' hallelujah while
they dance over the stars/ They all think they're goin' far."
/ back to diary