He’s played with blues greats in Chicago and collaborated with some of the big names in Nashville. He also began producing and recording other artists in his home studio, where both of his albums were recorded. With his latest release, “Have Axe – Will Groove,” Mark Robinson has established himself as one of the go to musicians in all of Nashville. Voted “Best Roots/Americana Guitar Player” in The Alternate Root Magazine’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards AND named to List of “Top 20 Roots Guitar Players” by the same magazine, Mark is a force to be reckoned with! He was kind enough to take the time to talk with VTB about his latest album, his gear, his influences and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.
What can you tell us about your latest album, “Have Axe – Will Groove”?
Recording “Have Axe — Will Groove” was about finding my voice as an artist. I think the songs are strong and fit together well, and they all say something about my life — whether they’re inspired by things that happened to me or that I was reflecting on, or by the music and the experiences that have guided me along the way playing blues and country and other styles. And while I’m not the most technical player in a city full of technical players, I’ve found a style on guitar that’s all my own and lets me share something positive with people.
I feel like I have become a better songwriter since my first album came out in 2010. Performing live a lot has made me a stronger singer and guitar player. “Have- Axe” was a fun project because I recorded with musicians that I perform with live, so it was really comfortable for all of us. Everyone involved in the project really contributed a lot—the musicians, engineers, my photographer and graphic artist. I have a great team of people that helped me put this together.
What gear was used during the recording?
I recorded basic tracks to an Alesis hard drive and bounced the tracks into Protools. I have a decent microphone and preamp collection to work with. We cut guitar, bass, drums and scratch vocals live and went back and did overdubs over the live tracks.
Guitars–I played my Reverend Jetstream 290 for a lot of the CD, I also used my G&L Tele, and custom made Ron Volbrecht Strat, a Larrivee acoustic OM-09 and my Galveston electric resonator guitar.
Amps- 1980s Fender Concert, 1960s Ampeg Reverberocket, 1970s Fender Princeton Reverb, Burriss Royal Bluesman.
Pedals—Ibanez Tube Screamer, Proco Ratt, Boss Tremelo, Ibanez Analog Delay.
Slides–Rocky Mountain Slide Company—Mark Robinson signature slides
Who were some of the guitarists you were listening to when you first started playing?
I started playing in the early 70’s, so I was listening to rock and roll, and some blues and jazz then. The Allman Brothers were a big influence on me—Duane Allman and Dickie Betts. The album “Layla” with Duane Allman and Eric Clapton playing together was a favorite of mine. The Butterfield Blues Band was also big for me too. I was a big fan of The Band—Robbie Robertson’s playing knocked me out. I listened to lots of rock & roll—Jimi Hendrix, James Gang, Deep Purple, Santana, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. I was also listening to jazz—not just guitarists– Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins. And old blues like Sonny Boy Williamson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis. I listened to a lot of different kinds of music, and I still do.
What was it like being named to the Top 20 Roots Guitar Players list?
Man, that was really exciting for me. I was surprised to be nominated for it. I didn’t think my profile was high enough for anything like that. Then the readers of the Alternate Root voted on the players they thought were the best. Somehow I came out at the top of the list! I was up against Derek Trucks, Kenny Vaughan, Richard Thompson, Will Kimbrough, Buddy Miller, Colin Linden, Bill Kirchen, Pete Andrson, Devon Allman, Jr. Brown, Sergio Webb. I was really surprised to do so well in that list of amazing guitarists. I was honored to be on the list, and I was shocked when I got the most reader’s votes.
You’ve worked with and shared stages with some of the biggest names in Country and Blues, can you share a few of your favorites?
I really enjoyed playing with a number of the Chicago Blues artists that I got to work with in Chicago during the 80s. I loved being on stage with Lonnie Brooks—he was a great performer and a lot of fun to play with, and a great singer and songwriter as well as an amazing guitarist. I probably learned more from Jimmy Johnson than anybody. Jimmy’s singing and guitar playing were really influencial for me. He has a unique singing voice and real personality in his guitar style. Over the years I’ve played with some great songwriters who were artists—Bill Wilson, Tom Roznowski, Bob Cheevers. I learned a lot about songs and playing for the song from those guys. In Nashville I have gotten to play and record with some great artists—Tommy Womack, Dave Olney, Davis Raines, Randy Handley and Mike Cullison, among others – amazing songwriters, singers and performers. I’ve tried to learn from everybody I’ve played with.
I’ve noticed you play a lot of Reverend guitars, I’ve always loved those myself- what is it that you dig about them?
Guitar legend and Nashville resident Reeves Gabrels let me play his signature Reverend Guitar and I really liked the way it played and sounded. Reeves introduced me to Ken Haas from Reverend at the NAMM show a couple of years ago. Ken came to hear me play with Tommy Womack and decided to give me an artist endorsement—which is GREAT! I played a lot of the Reverend models at the NAMM show and I knew that I wanted a guitar with P-90 pickups on it. So I got the Reverend Jetstream 290 with two P-90 pickups. The Reverends play great, and sound great. Their electronics are really fantastic. The pickups are different sounding than anything else, really cool sounding. In addition to volume and tone controls, the Reverend has a bass roll-off knob. The combination of these controls yields a ton of different sounds (and reminds me of the name of your blog!). I also have a Reverend Manta Ray HB—a semi-hollow body guitar with Humbuckers in it. It’s a totally different sound than the Jetstream, but really sweet sounding too.
I like the Reverend Guitars because they don’t sound like anything else—they have their own sonic signature and I like that sound a lot. The Jetstream has been my go-to guitar since I got it.
What was your first guitar?
My very first guitar was a Gibson Melody Maker. It was spray painted metallic blue and the strings were about a half an inch off the fretboard. My dad helped me set it up so it would play. I still have it, I still play it. It was a “student model” for Gibson, but it’s a well made, great sounding guitar.
What’s in the future for Mark Robinson?
I plan to continue to write, record and perform my own music, as well as playing guitar for other artists and producing/engineering projects for other artists. I’m really lucky that I get to work with the best players, singers and songwriters in the world. Nashville is a great place to be a musician.
I’m interested in branching out into acoustic blues, some jump blues and even some more jam band material. I have a lot of ideas for songs and albums that I want to pursue in the future.
FIND MARK ONLINE:
Official Site: http://markrobinsonguitar.com