Robbie Fulks was born in York, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a half-dozen small towns in southeast Pennsylvania, the North Carolina Piedmont, and the Blue Ridge area of Virginia. He learned guitar from his dad, banjo from Earl Scruggs and John Hartford records, and fiddle (long since laid down in disgrace) on his own. He attended Columbia College in New York City in 1980 and dropped out in 1982 to focus on the Greenwich Village songwriter scene and other ill-advised pursuits.
In the mid-1980s he moved to Chicago and joined Greg Cahill’s Special Consensus Bluegrass Band, with whom he made one record (Hole in My Heart, Turquoise, 1989) and toured constantly. Since then he has gone on to create a multifarious career in music. He was a staff instructor in guitar and ensemble at Old Town School of Folk Music from 1984 to 1996. He worked on Nashville’s Music Row as a staff songwriter for Songwriters Ink (Joe Diffie, Tim McGraw, Ty Herndon) from 1993 to 1998. He has released 10 solo records on the Bloodshot, Geffen, Boondoggle (self), and Yep Roc labels, including the influential early alt-country records Country Love Songs (1996) and South Mouth (1997), and the widely acclaimed Georgia Hard (2005).
Radio: multiple appearances on WSM’s “Grand Ole Opry”; PRI’s “Whadd’ya Know”; NPR’s “Fresh Air,” “Mountain Stage,” and “World Cafe”; and the syndicated “Acoustic Cafe” and “Laura Ingraham Show.” TV: PBS’s Austin City Limits; NBC’s Today, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Last Call with Carson Daly, and 30 Rock. TV/film use of his music includes True Blood, My Name Is Earl, Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, Very Bad Things, and Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and he has voiced or sung campaigns for Budweiser, McDonald's, Nickelodeon, and Applebee's. From 2004 to 2008, he hosted an hourlong performance/interview program for XM satellite radio, “Robbie’s Secret Country.” His compositions have been covered by Sam Bush, Kelly Hogan, Sally Timms, Rosie Flores, John Cowan, and Old 97's.
Robbie’s writing on music and life have appeared in GQ, Blender, Chicago Reader, DaCapo Press’s Best Music Writing anthologies for 2001 and 2004, Amplified: Fiction from Leading Alt-Country, Indie Rock, Blues and Folk Musicians, and A Guitar and A Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters. As an instrumentalist, he has accompanied the Irish fiddle master Liz Carroll, the distinguished jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman, and the New Orleans pianist Dr. John. As a producer his credits include Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck (Sugar Hill, 2004) and Big Thinkin’ by Dallas Wayne (Hightone, 2000). Theatrical credits include Woody Guthrie’s American Song and Harry Chapin’s Cottonpatch Gospel. He served twice as judge for the Winfield National Flatpicking Guitar competition. He tours yearlong with various configurations and plays a weekly residency at the Hideout in Chicago.
His 11th record, Gone Away Backward, returned him to his bluegrass days and extends the boundaries of that tradition with old-time rambles and sparely orchestrated, acoustic reflections on love, the country life, the slings of time, and the struggles of common people. His latest album Upland Stories (2016) continues this tradition with the additional of drums and several electric instruments. Both albums were recorded by Steve Albini.
WHAT EGGHEADS SAY ABOUT ROBBIE FULKS...
New York Times: “Mr. Fulks is more than a songwriter. He's a gifted guitarist, a soulful singer with an expressive honky-tonk tenor, and he's a natural performer. But what really sets him apart is his songwriting.”
Journal of Country Music: “Walking to the beat of a different drum, singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks has carved a path between punk iconoclasm and country traditionalism, the Sundowners and Steve Albini, Bloodshot and Geffen, Chicago and Nashville.”
SPIN: “The most underappreciated singer-songwriter in America.”
Chicago Tribune: “Robbie Fulks is hotter than a Gatling gun! A masterly, multifaceted songwriter who can belt out hip-shaking honky tonk, honeydew pop and chilling little ballads with an unrivaled skill and spirit. So good, he's scary.”
New Yorker: “An alternative-country hero, wedding pedal-steel-sweet tunes and perfect, elegant lyrics with the best of them.”
Chicago Reader: “I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to say Robbie Fulks is the best country artist in Chicago—what bothers me is that the title seems so inadequate.”
Seattle Stranger: “If Robbie Fulks were the prime ambassador of country music, we'd all be country-music fans. His songwriting and guitar picking have their roots in country but stretch their curlicue branches toward bluegrass, rock 'n' roll, jazz, experimental, and more. And his wit, both in lyrics and stage banter, is unmatched by almost any live musician working today.”
Tim O’Brien: “Soul bluegrass for the modern day hillbilly. No polite cabin worship or protooled pretending here, Robbie’s songs tell true workingman's stories with all the punch of the Stanley Brothers or George Jones.”
Bill Frisell: “Robbie always gets me going. Inspires me. His writing, singing, and awesome guitar playing. All the stuff is in there. Happy, sad, mad, light, dark, old, new. The whole deal. It's real.”
Rhett Miller: "There may be flashier songwriters than Robbie Fulks, but there are none better.”
Michael McKean: "My favorite songwriters can break your heart and/or make me laugh: Noel Coward, Loudon Wainwright, Randy Newman, very few others. Robbie Fulks has joined that august company. He sits a mean guitar, too, and sings like he learned from the C&W greats and made it his own, which is exactly what he did."
Tina Fey: “Robbie Fulks is an alt-country genius.”
- Andrew Bird & Nora O'Connor cover Robbie's "I'll Trade You Money For Wine," and Hiss Golden Messenger covers "Where I Fell" on While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records
- Live performance of "Dirty-Mouthed Flo" on the DVD Bloodied But Unbowed: Bloodshot Records' Life In The Trenches
- "Dirty-Mouthed Flo" performed live on the DIGITAL ONLY RELEASE Bloodied But Unbowed: The Soundtrack
- "Tears at the Grand Ol' Opry" on Hard-Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson
- "Cigarette State" on For a Life of Sin
- "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)" on Hell-Bent
- "Wedding of the Bugs" (studio version) on Straight Outta Boone County
- "Call of the Wrecking Ball" on Poor Little Knitter on the Road: A Tribute to the Knitters
- "Across the Alley from the Alamo" on Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills
- "Bloodshot's Turning 5" on Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records
- "Browns Ferry Blues" on Old Town School Songbook: Volume One
- "Godfrey" on The Bottle Let Me Down