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Andy Robinson Bio

I grew up in San Diego during the 1960s.  Inspired by the Beatles, Kinks and Rolling Stones, my friends and I formed a  band, and I chose to play drums. 
My parents couldn't have known what to expect when they brought my first drum kit home, but no matter what kind of horrible noises my bandmates and I (or my younger brother and his bandmates) made out there in the garage, Hy and Kay were always 100% supportive, and we will always love them for it.

As my playing improved, I played in a series of bands, each one a little more “psychedelic” than the next.  By the early ‘70s, when most local bands were playing Top 40 music or blues based hard rock, I was playing drums for Horsefeathers, a popular progressive rock quintet.  Experimenting with odd time signatures and unique sounds was par for the course with this group, so no one blinked an eye when I asked local luthier, Sam Radding, to build me a dulcimer.  Eventually a friend told me about the African M'bira, or "kalimba".   I saw Taj Mahal play one, and decided I had to have one of those, too.

Horsefeathers opened shows for the Kinks, Foghat, Mike Bloomfield and other touring acts.  Encouraged by our success on the local scene, we moved to Los Angeles in 1976, in pursuit of a record deal.

We arrived in LA right as punk and new wave music were kicking in, and no one in the music business was interested in progressive rock.  Discouraged, we soon broke up, although three of us remained in LA and made marks for ourselves.  Lead vocalist Mick Garris moved into film and TV work, and today is a producer/director ("Quicksilver Highway," Stephen King’s "The Stand"). Guitarist Mark Wittenberg became director of Artist Relations for Fender Musical Instruments.  I continued to seek my niche in the music world while managing the percussion department for Studio Instrument Rentals, in Hollywood, where I consulted with such recording artists as Supertramp, America and Earth, Wind and Fire.


Horsefeathers:  Bill Manning, Andy Robinson, Mark Wittenberg, Mick Garris, Bill Birney

HORSEFEATHERS

Bill Manning, Andy Robinson, Mark Wittenberg,
 Mick Garris, Bill Birney


While Horsefeathers was winding down, I formed a wonderful but short-lived little "splinter group" called The Earthlings, with Horsefeathers composer/keyboardist Bill Birney and our friend, Richard Matthew. Richard and I both played kalimba in The Earthlings. The group was a significant departure for me, being my first foray into instrumental music, although I wouldn't decide to seriously pursue that direction for several years. We recorded some charming 4-track demos, and you can hear them here:  http://www.myspace.com/earthlingsaz.


Elton Duck

ELTON DUCK
Michael Steel, Mike Condello, Mike McFadden, Andy Robinson

By 1980, I was drumming for a new wave-pop band called Elton Duck.  After playing the challenging music of Horsefeathers, I found this return to bashing out singable and energetic pop tunes pretty refreshing.  The band included bassist Michael Steel, who later rose to stardom as one of the Bangles.  We played in every imaginable LA dive, and plastered our hard-to-ignore name on posters all over town.  Elton Duck opened for the Knack, the Motels and Phil Seymour, and toured with the Tubes. Clive Davis himself signed us to Arista Records.  But when Arista ended up leaving our debut album on the shelf*, the Duck disbanded, and I redefined my musical focus, determined to step out from behind the drums and sing my own songs.

While writing for A&M Records’ publicity department and for Synapse, a cutting-edge synthesizer magazine, I formed Invisible Zoo, probably the only synth-rock band ever to have a lead singer who played dulcimer and kalimba!  I liked the idea that synthesizers could create such a variety of sounds, many of them very unique, but we always had way too much equipment onstage – multiple keyboards, sequencers, drum machines, tape machines and a ton of gizmos and electronic devices. One night, someone backstage tripped on a cord and accidentally unplugged some of our stuff.  He plugged the cord back in right away, but our programming was scrambled, and our electronic rhythm section forced us to do a spontaneous medley of our set list, at top speed!
* The Elton Duck CD was finally released in a Limited Edition run in 2012! It is available as a thank-you gift for making a donation of $15 to the Mike Condello Scholarship Fund, which benefits college-bound students at Mike's alma mater, North High School, in Phoenix, AZ. Details here: http://www.foundation4education.org/support-for-students/scholarships

Invisible Zoo circa 1983

INVISIBLE ZOO circa 1983
Despite the challenging equipment situation, Invisible Zoo was signed to an indie label, and our song, “Nobody’s Girl,” received regular airplay on LA’s then-cutting edge radio station, KROQ.

Personnel changes left the Zoo more electric guitar-oriented (and a lot louder) than what I’d originally envisioned.

After one particularly ear-splitting rehearsal, I couldn't take it any more and I quit, determined to find a more satisying setting for my songs.


Zoo Live at The Palace, 1982

INVISIBLE ZOO Live at the Palace
I began pouring my energies into acoustic music, and in the late eighties, a handful of other artists and I created LA’s “nu-folk” scene.  By producing our own shows and lobbying the media to raise public awareness of local acoustic musicians (this was before MTV's "Unplugged"), our efforts earned us front-page coverage in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times. At the time, I had a  folk-pop group called Different World.

Different World released an album on the Vanguard label in 1990. Our self-titled CD (I remember we were disappointed it wasn't coming out on vinyl!) was produced by Earle Mankey (Concrete Blonde, Sparks, Beach Boys).  A song from the CD, “Dinosaur Tracks,” was used in the soundtrack for the New Line Cinema film, Roadside Prophets, starring X’s John Doe and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz, with cameos by Arlo Guthrie and Timothy Leary.

Different World toured California, had some fun, and met with critical acclaim, but eventually some of the members decided they needed to  concentrate on actually making a little money, so we broke up.

With Jeff Gregory

Pre-DIFFERENT WORLD group
 with Betsy Gerson and Jeff Gregory


Different World

DIFFERENT WORLD

Betsy Gerson, Michael O'Leary, Andy Robinson, Russell Battelene
Unfazed, I decided I wanted a more portable band, and put together an acoustic trio called The Questionaires.  We moved into the coffee house scene, and found a lot of like-minded fans.  We played some folk festivals, and for the first time I actually began hanging around with other dulcimer players.
Questionaires:  Andy Robinson with Mike Condello and Laura Kass

THE QUESTIONAIRES
Mike Condello, Andy Robinson, Laura Kass
In 1994, I helped to found Southern California Dulcimer Heritage, a non-profit organization intended to expose more people to dulcimer music by holding annual folk festivals.  I edited the group's newsletter.  At the time I was performing solo gigs, teaching dulcimer workshops at various festivals and giving private lessons through McCabes Guitar Shop, in Santa Monica.

I did one solo show at a record store called Hyperdisc, in Santa Monica, where I invited several friends to sit in on various songs.  Everyone had such a good time that before I knew it, I had a band again, and a new CD, produced by my brother (this was the first time Doug and I worked together on a project).  The Andy Robinson Band CD came out great, and performing live with the group was an incredible experience - we had a chemistry onstage that was impossible to deny, and, for a folk band, we rocked.  But as time went by, our lives offstage became overly complicated, and it became difficult to continue. I slowly began to close the book on my LA adventures.


In 2000, I returned home to San Diego, where I began working for Taylor Guitars.  A year later I married Dagmar, the love of my life, at Lumahai Beach, on the spectacular island of Kauai.


I'd begun working on the demos for my first solo album, Exotic America, just before leaving LA. This was my first self-produced album so I was teaching myself to use the necessary digital technology, and planning on capturing some musical ideas I’d wanted to try for many years. I wrote new songs, experimented with some new instruments, and put a fresh spin on a few favorite things I'd written during other times in my life. It was especially freeing not to write lyrics, and to use instruments other than the human voice to carry melody lines (although I did sing, a bit).  I also got to work with a fantastic variety of musicians, including Dennis Caplinger, Pat Kirtley, Paul Blyfuss, Larry Clark, Tripp Sprague, Suzie Reed, Scott Colby, Bill Birney, and my own talented brother, Doug Robinson, who produced the album. I released Exotic America in 2004, and it was chosen by San Diego Union Tribune's music critic George Varga as one of the Top Ten Debut albums of the year!

On New Year's Eve 2011, I released my second instrumental album, Music Bucket. I think Music Bucket carries on in the "tradition" of Exotic America while still allowing me to push my musical boundaries a bit. I guess you can call it a solo album - no one was telling me what to do! This album also features great performances by talented musicians such as Mike Keneally, Carlos Olmeda, Jamie White, Bill Birney, Chuck and Nicki Elledge, and my brother, Doug Robinson. Dennis Caplinger and Tripp Sprague also contributed again. I am so grateful to have access to this sort of talent pool to bring my music to life! You can hear clips from both Music Bucket and Exotic America here:

 http://www.facebook.com/pages/Andy-Robinson/138891899549305?id=138891899549305&sk=app_155326481208883

This just in - "The Open Door" (from Music Bucket) was nominated for Best New Age Song in the 2012 Independent Music Awards. You can hear the song, watch my Q&A video, and read all about it, here: http://www.independentmusicawards.com/ima/andy-robinson/

And you can help me win by voting for "The Open Door," here: http://www.independentmusicawards.com/ima/vox-pop/

What's next? I'm gearing up to release my third album of instrumental music in the summer of 2013. I'm happy to say that music still surprises and excites me. I imagine it always will, and I look forward to sharing it with you as long as I can.

If you've read this far, I owe you a beer! Feel free to hit me up for one, should our paths cross in person.

In the meantime, I wish you happiness, good health, freedom from distress, and peace!

Andy

 


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