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Local guitarist brings in heavy hitters for new album

by Ryan Snyder

Sam Robinson (www.myspace.com/ samrobinsonmusc) will tell you right away that one of his primary ambitions as a musician is to be as technically sound as he can be. It’s a desire that stems from not only his love of playing the guitar, but his adoration of many of those from whom he draws his influence. A self-professed blues purist, Robinson says he spent several years studying the work of master bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy, which made a profound impact on his personal playing style. “I used to think I was a good guitar player a couple of years ago because I could play a few Hendrix licks,” Robinson said. “But really, that’s some of the easiest stuff to learn. Then there are guys like Jimmy Herring who will really blow your mind and I want to achieve that level of technical understanding.” Still, simply hammering out the same blues licks that have been performed ad nauseam didn’t provide the level of satisfaction that Robinson sought and thus, he turned his attention to the Southern fusion styles that were cultivated by artists like Herring (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Widespread Panic) and Derek Trucks (Allman Brothers Band), both of whom are equally renowned for their technical brilliance and soulful styles. While it’s difficult, if not wholly improbable, to train oneself to the same level of mastery, Robinson did arguably the next closest thing in preparation for his forthcoming album: He invited several of their similarly skillful peers to record material for him at Ovation Sound. Bassist Oteil Burbridge (www.oteil.net), a veteran of Aquarium Rescue Unit and the current bassist for the Allman Brothers Band, was brought in back in September to provide his masterful bass stroke on the as-of-yet untitled album. In addition, Burbridge’s brother Kofi (www.kofiburbridge.com), who also performs in the Derek Trucks Band, sat in the studio in only a few weeks before to provide both flute and organ work. After meeting him through a friend of a friend, Robinson initially invited him in simply for the possibility of a solo on one of the album’s tracks. At the time, Oteil was finishing up a series of dates with the Allmans at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo. and Robinson paid to have him flown in order to lay down his tracks. Burbridge suggested that since the money was already being dropped on his plane ticket that he just spend the entire day playing, rather than simply doing one solo. As a result, all but two of the album’s songs feature his bass work. Andrew Lazare, who Robinson played with in Carolina Clearwater, performed the rest of the material. “I’m just 25 and I practice a lot, but these guys have been doing that for decades.” Robinson said. “They are award-winning musicians, so I was nervous as hell and just trying not to screw up in front of them.” Robinson didn’t actually get to interact musically with Oteil, since he had already recorded most of his guitar tracks before the bassist ever arrived. He was able to work directly with Kofi and because of the freedom that the elder Burbridge brother was afforded, he was left with plenty of material upon which to expand. Still, he says that just watching both work in the studio made a lasting impact on how Robinson will approach working in the studio. “It was more like I was in awe of him while I stood in the control room. [Oteil] is fast, on the money and extremely knowledgeable,” Robinson added. “The main thing that I took away from that experience is that I need to go home and study.” Equally noteworthy is the fact that Robinson never actually wrote any material for Oteil to follow. He simply showed him what was recorded up until that point and let the veteran go to work. “I’m not going to tell Oteil what to play, so I just told him to do what he wants to do,” Robinson added. “Oteil can take everything that he’s hearing and come up with something that’s not only brilliant, but completely within the context of the piece.” The guest spots on the album don’t end there, however. Noted drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Artimus Pyle unexpectedly dropped into the studio the same day that Kofi was working and provided work for one track. Acclaimed gospel drummer Calvin Napper filled in the majority of the rest. In addition, Pyle will be appearing as a guest drummer for Robinson at the album’s release party at the Greene Street club on Friday, January. Despite the big names to be found all over the album’s liner notes, Robinson only maintains humble expectations for his work. “I would consider it a success if I get the money I invested in it back and I get the respect of the people I worked with,” he stated.

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