As announced in Rolling Stone, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and longtime Bloodshot Records artist Robbie Fulks and Memphis rock-n-roll royalty Linda Gail Lewis (Jerry Lee's little sister!) recorded a collaborative album Wild! Wild! Wild! which will be released on August 10th, 2018. Recorded at Chicago's Reliable Recorders by Alex Hall (JD McPherson, Pokey LaFarge, The Cactus Blossoms) and produced by Robbie Fulks, the album features a band of whos-whos of American roots music legends, stalwarts, and peers. We talked to Robbie and Linda about how the project came together and their time in the studio to give you a little more color on this wildly fun record.
How did you meet?
Robbie Fulks: We met while working for the same promoter in Sweden about ten years ago. I was too nervous to bug her, but after she invited me to sing and play on a record she was making, I became like a permanent insect on her windshield. I sat in on her stage show once, appeared on another of her records, and all the while we were talking about doing something more involved and complete. This album is it.
Linda Gail Lewis: I had been a fan of Robbie’s ever since a musician friend of mine introduced me to his albums. When I found out that my Swedish agent was booking a tour for Robbie, I was hoping I could catch one of his gigs. Luckily I did and, boy, was I blown away. I was honored and a bit intimidated when he was game enough to join me onstage. We clicked onstage as well as off, and became fast friends.
How did Wild! Wild! Wild! officially get going?
LGL: While playing on an album that my daughter Annie and I were recording, Robbie said he’d like to bring me to Chicago. He wanted to give me the opportunity to record in a good studio with great musicians and an excellent acoustic piano.
When Robbie sent me the first songs, my husband and I listened to them, and we loved what we heard. I was so happy I cried; I’ve never had songs like these. It was a joy to learn and record these great songs.
The record took a year-and-a-half to complete. Was the initial high easy to sustain? What kept the flame going?
LGL: I love singing with Robbie. It reminds of singing with my brother, Jerry Lee. The duets we did were so much fun.
And the songs Robbie wrote are out of this world. My husband was a promotion man for Stax and Chess, and he felt like he was back at Stax when he heard “Foolmaker.” Robbie is a soul singer. That was a surprise.
RF: It’s a great opportunity to get to write for other people, especially people I admire, people with interesting life stories. Linda’s story is beyond interesting. As the first line of “Round Too Long” goes: “I’m the sister of a hellraiser, the daughter of an old tomcat/I was playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk before you bragged about that.” I could never sing that song myself, obviously. Hanging out socially with Elvis and the first-generation white rock-and-rollers, married and divorced three times as a teenager, working with Jerry’s insane entourage, performing such physically demanding music for so many decades — what a survivor she is. And what a joyful outlook she survived with.
I’ve loved Linda’s artistry since I was young. Her singing on “When You Wore A Tulip (And I Wore A Big Red Rose),” from back in 1970, still thrills me every time. The first time I sang with her, I was amazed at her intuitiveness. It was as though we were singing something we’d sung a thousand times. On Wild! Wild! Wild! we had three or four passes at everything, but nothing was previously rehearsed and each take blazed off into uncharted waters. I think people can hear that we come from a similar musical place in taste and culture, and that we love working together.
What experiences are likely to stay with you from making the record?
LGL: I’ll never forget rockin’ with Alex [Hall], Scott [Ligon], and Casey [McDonough] on “Round Too Long.” Robbie made me admit how wild I was at a young age, when I sing the truthful lyrics he wrote about me. Or sitting at the Sun Records-style upright piano at Alex’s studio, singing and playing “Memphis Never Falls from Style”—Robbie on the banjo, and those kick-ass Dixieland horns all playing live on the floor. When we let Al Bell [legendary record producer and co-founder of Stax Records] hear it, he fell in love with the song.
[Editors' note: Alex, Scott, and Casey are all members of Chicago weirdo roots/jazz pop vocal supergroup The Flat Five, whose debut album we released last year. Scott and Casey are also members of NRBQ. Alex is in nearly every coveted band in Chicago.]
RF: Like a number of musicians I work with, Linda has given me lessons beyond music—how to live more happily and think more sharply. But just in terms of music, a few moments on this record remind me that the note-to-feeling ratio is often very lopsided. As much as I dig her hardcore boogie-woogie chops and her splashy glissandi, it’s her simple playing on the intro of “Foolmaker” and the entirety of “Hardluck, Louisiana” that stopped my breath when they happened. In just a few notes you can hear straight into her soul—who she is, where she’s from, what mood she’s in. And more: the American South at midcentury, Christian faith, triumph over adversity...and many, many years of piano playing!
Wild! Wild! Wild! will be released on digital, CD, and vinyl LP on August 10th, 2018. It can be pre-ordered here. Robbie & Linda will hit the road playing shows together in support of the album this summer and fall.