His picking and playing find a natural setting in which to inhabit the minds and stories of characters far more likely to be found in the Appalachian foothills than the concrete jungle of his home city, Chicago.— SPIN
"One of the most observant and wry songwriters of the past two decades."— Rolling Stone
Capable of telling haunting stories that reach into old weird Americana with a sense of life live simply yet richly.— Austin Chronicle
Robbie's new self-released album, 16, a reinterpretation of Bob Dylan's Street Legal can be found here.
New album Wild! Wild! Wild!, a collaboration with rock-and-roll royalty Linda Gail Lewis, is out now.
"The best duo of our time." —Jerry Lee Lewis
Robbie Fulks, the record’s producer, is “one of the most observant and wry songwriters of the past two decades” (Rolling Stone). Ground-zero Louisiana-born rocker Linda Gail Lewis is the younger sister and frequent performing partner of Jerry Lee Lewis, whose piano innovations she carries forward. Her present-at-the-creation cred buoys the record while Robbie—who sings, plays, leads the band, writes most of the songs, and arranges the others—provides an anchoring sensibility, one that savors old sounds but sidesteps nostalgia. Their two talents have fashioned a record that’s urgent, honest, and fun. Remember fun?
“Round Too Long,” “Boogie-Woogie Country Girl,” and the title track all crackle with the unmistakable Lewis pumping piano; here is a fresh blast of the rowdy religious fire that devastated polite America 60 years ago, delivered with genetic precision and power. “It Came From the South”—co-written by NRBQ’s classic-era guitarist Al Anderson and played by its current one, Scott Ligon—recounts the origin story of rock-and-roll with pithy phrases and a neat beat. “Memphis Never Falls From Style” grooves with three of Chicago’s finest jazz elders, notably Eric Schneider, who cut his teeth in the road bands of Count Basie and Earl Hines, and whose sensational clarinet solo is one of the album’s highlights. “On The Jericho Road,” a gospel not-quite-standard that Linda and Jerry Lee sang together as children, is a Sunday song that skips along with Saturday-night joie de vivre. “Hardluck, Louisiana” recounts Linda’s childhood and is the most elegiac and reflectively intense performance—both vocal and piano—of her career.
Robbie sings lead on “Foolmaker,” which is saturated with Stax soul. It benefits mightily from two Chicago singers, Joan Collaso and Yvonne Gage, whom he learned of not through their decades of high-visibility work with people like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Madonna, but by sitting home idly watching Empire. Two more Robbie originals, “That’s Why They Call It Temptation” and “I Just Lived A Country Song,” are the kind of weapons-grade country now found only in the shadows of Music Row. The classic “Your Red Wagon” is presented as a B3-fueled dash through a Naugahyde supper club. “Who Cares,” the Don Gibson hit, poses the question, "What can’t the great Merle Haggard sideman and Telecaster master Redd Volkaert do on a 1959 Gibson L5?" The answer: Stop playing. (The fadeout was strictly necessary.)
The crisp, unmanipulated sound of Wild! Wild! Wild! owes a lot to Alex Hall, who engineered (for instance, setting up mics and moving baffles as the group worked through arrangement issues) as well as drummed (...then hitting “record,” running across two rooms, and counting off). Alex is known for his similarly sharpening influence on records by J.D. McPherson, The Flat Five, Pokey LaFarge, and The Cactus Blossoms.
Linda Gail Lewis’s recording career spans almost 50 years, loosely bookended by the present record and 1969’s Together, her duet album with Jerry Lee—with her acclaimed summit with Van Morrison, 2000’s You Win Again, in the middle. Robbie has made 13 solo records since 1996. His last one, 2016’s Upland Stories, demonstrated expanding ambitions and strengths, and was honored with two Grammy nominations, one for Folk Album and another for American Roots Song (“Alabama At Night”).
Nominated for two 2017 Grammy Awards: Best Folk Album (Upland Stories) and Best American Roots Song ("Alabama at Night")!
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. Upland Stories (2016) continued this tradition with the additional of drums and several electric instruments. Both albums were recorded by Steve Albini.
Robbie Fulks's newest album is a collaborative album with Memphis rock-n-roll legend Linda Gail Lewis. Wild! Wild! Wild! will be available on August 10th, 2018.
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.”
Official Website: Robbie Fulks Online