In 1993, a songwriter banging around the Chicago club scene with a twangy voice and dangerous sense of humor caught our attention. We started making records with him, and as part of the first-generation Bloodshot roster, Robbie Fulks helped us define “Alternative Country.” In 2013, after two decades of playing music everywhere from the taverns of southern Illinois to the honky-tonks of northern Norway, from Austin City Limits’s soundstage to the historic Grand Ole Opry, he reunited with us for the highly acclaimed Gone Away Backward. He will release the anticipated follow up, Upland Stories, on April 1st, 2016.
Robbie plays by nobody's rules--except the ones he hears in his head. He is prodigiously talented, with the soul of a country singer and the mind of a vaudevillian. Besides, his scorn for the music industry makes ours look positively prosaic. But don't let that make you lose sight of THE SONGS.
Widely regarded by those who monitor such things as one of the most gifted songwriters to ever ply the trade, he can sing the kids ditty "Eggs" and Haggard's "Sing a Sad Song" back to back and mean 'em both. While it is true he started off a honky tonk smartass, it quickly became evident that Robbie was a monster talent and some of his early Bloodshot albums have been rightly elevated to the status of "classic" and serve as their own Greatest Hits collections. Seriously.
It is a damning condemnation of our world's musical taste that he has not been elevated to the ranks of the multi-faceted giants of songwriting like Nick Lowe, Dave Alvin and Harlan Howard. He damn well should be. Robbie's cross-genre antics (like us, he has trouble navigating this world of hyphens) would have had him revered in times gone by; such artists used to be coveted, now they confuse. We take it personally that he's not more famous and consider it evidence of our world's moral and aesthetic decline.
Lost in the deserved accolades for being a fabulously unique, clever, and heartfelt writer is the fact that he's also one of the best guitarists around. The chameleon-like tall guy can whip it out in honky-tonk, country, bluegrass, power pop, or whatever strikes his ample whimsy at the time.
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 solo records on the Bloodshot, Geffen, Boondoggle (self), and Yep Roc labels.
Radio loves him too: there's been 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, 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, McDonalds, Nickelodeon, and Applebees. 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 97s.
Robbie’s writing on music and life have appeared in GQ, Blender, the 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.
Impressive, eh? But it wouldn't mean nothing if he couldn't consistently and inventively whip a room into an appreciative froth no matter what he plays, how he plays it and who he plays it with.
If he comes to your town, you need to experience one of the most talented PERFORMERS out there.
- 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