Living in soul heaven 

Tad Robinson mixes blues with Memphis soul

Tad Robinson mixes blues with Memphis soul
Here are some facts about Indiana bluesman Tad Robinson, whose fourth solo album drops next week:
Tad Robinson
• Chicago blues legend Otis Clay says of him, “When Tad Robinson dies, he’s going to soul heaven ... a place reserved for a very few people.” • His singing and harmonica playing are well-regarded in Europe, where he quite frequently tours and plays before big audiences. • He looks a bit like Bruce Willis but is infinitely more talented and soulful as a singer than ol’ Bruno. • Robinson says about the blues: “The blues is such a powerful universal statement of the human condition that it transcends borders, color, religion and all the other baggage that too often divides us. The feeling and soul of the blues cuts through even when language is not shared as a common denominator.” His new album is called Did You Ever Wonder? and features five originals from Robinson and collaborator John Bean alongside six covers, including the Cornelius Brothers’ “Too Late To Turn Back Now,” which features a cameo from Otis Clay. Robinson recorded bare-bones demo versions of the 11 songs on the album and began shopping it around to major blues labels. The Maryland-based blues label Severn Records bit on the project. “I heard maybes almost everywhere,” he says. “I heard many variations of the word maybe. Severn was excited about the album. They not only liked the album, they wanted to invest in horns and percussion. We decided that we would go with their enthusiasm.” Sessions were held to augment the demos. Willie Henderson, known for his work arranging horn charts for Tyrone Davis and the Chi-Lites, among others, was brought in to add crunchy horn sounds to the songs. Kevin McKendree, Delbert McClinton’s longtime keyboardist, added organ, piano and Fender Rhodes to the songs. The formerly spare album now sounded full and lush. “The songs really took on a new life with all of the additions,” Robinson says. “The horn arrangements took things in more of a Memphis soul direction.” Of course, that’s a time-honored sound that’s long been one of Robinson’s favorites. “Memphis soul is where my heart’s always been. I’ve always sung out of that bag.” But don’t call him a soul singer — or, for that matter, a blues singer. “I’m a singer,” he says. “Categories are for record companies and for record bins in music stores. All musicians know that. What I do now is what I’m comfortable with. This album is a hybrid. There’s some blues on there, there’s some country soul and there’s some of what I would call modern Chicago blues with a nod to Albert King.” While such genre-shifting might confuse record buyers and blues DJs, Robinson says it makes for a much better product. “It’s an eclectic record and it stretches me different ways as a singer,” he says. “The band was really stellar in bringing to life the material we brought into the session.” So far, he’s gotten a good reception from blues DJs nationwide and dance DJs in North Carolina, of all places. And Borders Books and Music has selected the album to be displayed in nationwide listening stations in April and May. “I’m assuming that’s going to be in the blues section,” Robinson says. At the age of 47, Robinson has been earning his living through his voice for quite a long time now. It’s something that’s become more of a challenge in recent years, as clubs nationwide have shut their doors and lucrative local gigs get harder to find. “It’s harder to reach audiences because, a lot of times, they don’t give you a chance in the first place,” he says. “They pre-judge you based on labels. You’re a blues singer and a Fabulous Thunderbirds imitator or something.” But he’s doing quite well with a steady Monday night gig at Daddy Jack’s with the group SoulBus and a certain amount of corporate and session work. In addition to the Friday night show at the Slippery Noodle, he’ll be holding a CD release show on Thursday night at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. In April, he’ll be playing in Germany and Austria. “Our shows there are more like concerts,” he says. “The audience is there out of respect to the blues. They’re much less likely than American audiences to interrupt you between songs and ask to hear the new Britney Spears hit.” He laughs. “And that’s good, because I can’t do that.”
WHO: Tad Robinson, with Alex Schultz and Paul Holdman WHEN: Thursday, March 11, 9:30 p.m. WHERE: The Slippery Noodle Inn, 372 S. Meridian St., 631-6974

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