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Robby Robinson Talks Litchfield, Inspiration, and Jam ‘N Java Ahead of His Show at The Wildey October 19 in Edwardsville, Illinois

Robby Robinson photo via RobbyRobinsonmusic.com.

WHO: Robby Robinson/Sara Niemietz

WHEN: Thursday, October 19 at 7:30

WHERE: The Wildey Theatre

252 N. Main St. Edwardsville, IL

Tickets: Available online HERE

 

–by Randy Thompson

Earlier this month, I had the honor of interviewing singer-songwriter, composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and professional conductor, and Hammond organ maestro, Robby Robinson. He is a musical hero of mine in that Robby started off his career and his life, in Litchfield, Illinois, only 55 miles north of St Louis. I also grew up in the Litchfield area and had heard of his legacy for many years. Robby is known as the band leader for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons for many years. He also has a label called Robby’s Records, which is blowing up YouTube and is notable for getting one million views in record breaking time. Robby keeps his hands in many projects, and we are fortunate that some of those are coming to the St Louis area and Central Illinois very soon. Please enjoy this article and you can pick up more information regarding Robby’s most recent upcoming tour and other activities, including the Jam’ N Java show online every Monday evening. Contact information for Robby can be found at the end of this interview.

 

 

RANDY THOMPSON, (RT) – Good morning, Robby. Can you say something about your connection to Litchfield, Illinois?

 

ROBBY ROBINSON, (RR) – Good morning.

I love Litchfield, my wife and I both are from there, and our children were born in Litchfield. It will definitely always be our home base.

 

 

RT – You’ve been Frankie’s musical director since 1978. What does this role involve?

 

RR – Well, one role that I play is the band leader.  I put together and coordinate the band for Frankie.

 

I write the arrangements for the songs, teach new songs, and rehearse with the band. I conduct the symphonies when we do play with the orchestras, and I write the music for them as well.

 

I lead and conduct the band and play the keyboards as well.

 

My role is the bandstand, whatever goes on in the bandstand. It’s really up to Frankie.  He is very hands on. Frankie Valli is the most tenacious human being I’ve ever known.  And at the young age of 89 years old, he’s still invested in the game, with everything that goes on in his musical career. I am his right-hand man.  Whether we’re doing concerts or live tv shows, it’s my job to translate whatever ideas he might have as the band leader.

 

RT – It sounds like a great partnership.

 

RR – It is! After 45 years, that is very rare in our business. I can’t think of any other people where the music director has been with the musician for 45 years.  It’s a big blessing to me, I’m very thankful.  Who knows? Maybe we’ll go on for another 45 years.

 

RT – You are involved with the Hammond organization, what got you started with Hammond organs?

 

RR – Well, I started piano lessons when I was a very young child. I later was studying piano in college when I started playing in rock and roll bands in Litchfield.

 

I started in a local band there, and then, since I could play piano, I went and bought this Thomas organ, and we were playing regularly at the Dierduff’s Roller Rink on Friday nights.  They would have a dance with a band, and I would bring out the organ. And then, I migrated to the Spinnet organ, which was one of the compact organs of the 60s that bands were using.  Later on, I heard about the Box Cut metal organ that was the next phase of combo organs, and I got that in 1968.  At about that time, I started listen to Hammond organ music, particularly Jimmy Smith, the godfather of Hammond organ jazz.  After I heard him, I had to have a Hammond organ!  So from there, I went to Ye Olde Music Shoppe in Marissa IL. and met a guy named Bob Hiles. He’s now a legend in the music business.  He’s in the Hall of Fame.  So I bought a Hammond organ and 2 Leslie speakers from him, and I still have that organ to this day.  It’s amazing! I’ve never looked back. Once I started playing Hammond, I’ve played no other organs, other than pipe organs. I do have a love for playing pipe organs. They are a different animal.  And now I have 14 Hammond organs and I represent Hammond for the company as an artist. As a matter of fact, one of the fun things I do in music is play the Hammond organ.  I’m very blessed, we call this community of Hammond artists The Ham Fam and there is a great comradery. All of the Hammond organ players from around the world have this passion for the instrument.

 

RT – I did see you online playing a pipe organ, where was that?

 

RR – That was at the Royal Albert Hall, and that is the largest pipe organ in Europe. And that was an amazing experience, to play that majestic organ. I’ve done some recordings on pipe organs, as well on some of my Robbys Records Music.

 

RT – Is there anything coming up with a Frankie Valli tour?

 

RR – Our next tour is coming up in October. On the East Coast, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Next week, we are going to Las Vegas to start a residency at the Las Vegas WestGate. Theres been a lot of misunderstanding about this, but we are going to go there and do eighteen shows over the next year, six three-day weekends, spread out over a year period, so we’re not going to live there in Vegas for a year. Its’ going to be fun to go back to the WestGate.  It’s the old Las Vegas Hilton and that’s where Elvis used to play.  There’s a lot of history there. We used to play there in the 80s with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Four Tops. We would play 28 shows in two weeks.

 

I have great memories of that hotel. They still have the same stage, and they have the marks where Elvis stood. There’s a lot of neat history and they play up the history. It’s a great venue, and it’ll be great to be there.

Robby Robinson. Photo by The Journal-News.

 

RT – What was it like for you to come back to the Stiefel Theater in St Louis recently with Frankie Valli?

 

RR – I always love playing anywhere near home base, because we had about a hundred people that I knew at the  meet and greet after the show, which was a lot of fun. I got to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen. There are a lot of  blessings that I have, running around the world. People will come to shows from the Litchfield area, who I know, and it’s always fun to see them.

 

RT – It seems like the fan base in the Mid West is important to you.

 

RR – It’s old friends and family members all over, it’s very important. It’s one of the great aspects of touring around the country and the world, that I get to do, is to see the world but then I get to run into old friends that have migrated to new areas.

 

RT – You stay busy and it sounds like you enjoy it.  I’ve followed you on line regularly. Would you like to talk about your show, Jam N’ Java?

 

RR – Jam’ N Java started at my church where we meet on Monday nights, with my brother Rex, and some other musicians. We have a jam session every Monday night. It had a Coffee house vibe and that went on for a few years. It was fun  We musicians always need to play. Once the pandemic hit, we had to shut that down and people couldn’t congregate. So after some inspiration and motivation from other people, I decided to do a Monday night podcast and turn my Monday night jam session into a Monday night internet show.  And so, that started during the pandemic and it’s grown through the years.

 

I enjoy it. So, everything I do about my faith is important to me, but it’s not a strictly Christian show, I do all kinds of music. I love doing Christian music and Hammond solos. We meander around and go where the spirit leads, and I interview some music stars from around the world, friends of mine. One of the things I’ve developed after years of being in the music business, is quite an array of talented musical artists, musicians, singers, and so some weeks, I might interview someone like Tony Orlando or Kim O’Leary.

I also have a passion for baseball so there’s another side of me.  I’ve had Daryl Strawberry on the show and a bunch of other baseball people. I’m a Dodgers fan because I was on the Little League Dodgers in Litchfield for many years. Also on the team with me was my friend for life, Bob Plummer.  We’re both rabid Dodger fans.  Now he took fandom to the ‘nth degree because he is one of the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers. ‘

RT – Have you ever played the organ at Dodgers Stadium?

 

RR – I’ve played the organ but never during the game. Dieter Ruehle is the organist of the stadium and he’s a friend of mine. He invited me before the game for the pre game stuff and I also played the organ at Yankee Stadium, too. It was a lot of fun! Hammond organs are in many of the ballparks. Dodger stadium does not have one.

 

 

RT – You have a new release coming out on Jam’ N Java?

 

RR – Yeah, this release came out last Monday (early Sept), it’s called “Knock 3 Times”, It was a big hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn.  Tony Orlando is a really good friend of mine and the songwriter, L Russell Brown is also. So that was a song that Sara and I thought  was a good one to rework, and we brought in my friend, Richie Garcia, a great percussionist.  He’s the one who got me the job with Frankie Valli years ago.  Frankie was looking for a guy, Richie is the one who recommended me for the job, and here we are 45 years later.  And here’s the other connection, Richie played with Tony Orlando for many, many years.  And Tony calls Richie the greatest percussionist he ever had.  So he knew Tony’s music really well and  he was the perfect person to bring in. Both Tony and the songwriter really love our version.

 

RT – Can you tell me more about your partnership with Sara Niemietz?

 

RR – Sara Niemietz is a genius, who, beyond just her vocal abilities, is a great stage performer, a great singer and a great songwriter.  She can record and produce her own vocals, and she has her own studio.  She also does amazing video editing. She’s just an amazing talent. We met when she was a young teenager at church. It’s neat to see her grown up into the amazing artist she is.  We started doing songs together during the pandemic. She would be in her studio, and I’d be in mine, and we’d be able to send things back and forth and found that with just the two of us we could make a whole record.  We could write a song, and make a record in just a few days.

 

We have a great musical rapport and now we’ve done a bunch of collaborations, and we’ll do wonderful things in the future.

 

 

 

RT – You have another young performer in the fold, Andrea Hammond?

 

RR – Yes, Andrea is an amazing singer and violinist.  She and I have worked together in my praise team at church. We’ve collaborated on a number of things.  Collaboration as a musician is an enjoyable experience. Sometimes, you have chemistry and sometimes you don’t. Two creative musical minds can come together and you can come up with more than the sum of the two minds. It’s really worked out well and I’m excited by the new music.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m always really busy and there is always too much music and too little time. I love getting up in the morning every day and rolling down to my studio or get ready to go on tour, whatever it is. The old tired phase is, ‘You never work a day in your life if you love what you do’, and that’s true for me. I love what I do.  I get up every morning and play music all day.  It’s what I’m here for, I think.

 

RT – I understand that your music has hit the Christian music charts very successfully. Can you tell me more about that?

 

RR – Yes, I have always been doing that. For the last 30 plus years, I’ve been a music director at different churchs, and music director at national youth gatherings with 30,000 teenagers in the audience. Thats a lot of recordings through the years. So I love serving God with the gifts he’s given me.  It’s definitely one of the things I love to do, and he’s the guy who’s blessed me with the talent, and I feel it’s only right that I use that talent to serve him. And it’s obviously not the only kind of music I do, candidly, I feel like I’m just getting started.

 

 

 

RT – You have a big tour coming up…the ‘Get Your Kicks on Route 66 Tour’  How did that come about?

 

RR – That was inspired by the Litchfield Route 66 Museum and Welcome Center. I had done a couple of my Jam’ N Java shows from there, and so I was thinking that one of the shows, we should do something about Route 66. So Sara and I got together and did our version of the song “Route 66”.  It’s the old song that Nat King Cole made famous. The original song was recorded in 1946 and it’s been recorded by everybody, from Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, to Manhattan Transfer. I wanted to do my own version and arrangement.  Sara and I recorded it and that’s making some noise out there

 

RT – You have Vinnie Martell and Travis Cloer on the tour as well.

 

RR – They are so talented.  Vince Martell was one of the founding members of the band Vanilla Fudge. In 1968 I went to hear that band in Lebanon,Il. at McHenry College.  They were my musical guides in many respects. It was such a great musicians’ band, they’re one of my favorites.  And later, we became friends. Vinnie was available for that week, so I asked him to come with us on the tour. Vinnie is a rock guitar legend.  Travis Cloer played Frankie Valle in Jersey Boys.  He’s played it longer than anybody. He’s done 2,200 shows.  We’ll be doing some Frankie Valli songs in the show and no one else could do the songs except ‘Frankie Valle’ himself.  Sara and I have reworked the song, “I write the Songs” by Bruce Johnston and he said, “it now sounds like Aretha Franklin and Vanilla Fudge did a great version of my song”.

 

A last note is that on our latest release, “Knock 3 Times”, in the middle of the song, we threw in some of the song, “Up on the Roof” by Carole King. When I played it for the songwriter, Larry Brown, he said it blew his mind because when he and his writing partner wrote the song they said, “lets write a song like Up ‘On The Roof'”.  And when he heard us do that, it was amazing to him that we would pick up on it.  To me, I could feel that song in it.

You know everybody is influenced by a lot of things. My influences are very diverse, and included Mozart, Bach, jazz, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Smith, Rock N Roll from Chuck Berry to the Beatles, R&B. Every artist comes to become an amalgamation of all those influences, and artists have been doing that for centuries.

 

Sara and I were talking about a Miles of Possibility conference. Instead of doing one solo show, we should try to put together a tour. And so, we put these other shows together at the Arcade Theater in St. Charles on October 17th.  And on Oct 18 we’re doing Bloomington, the Miles Of Possibility Route 66 conference which is headed by Sherryl Eichar Jett.  She’s a Route 66 historian – the ‘Route 66 chick’.  Sherrie and I have known each other since high school when I was in local bands like the Far Crys.  The tour then goes to the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Il. on October 19th.

 

If you ask me to define what music is, I could never do it. But it’s fascinating that this amazing gift from God allows us to play.

A wave forms, goes through the air and goes from eardrum to eardrum. And it can influence people in so many ways, from inspiring armies, to making sad people feel happy, to calming the savage beast, and all of the other things that music can do. I’m on a mission to just explore music as much as I can.  Every musician in history has always been searching to grow, get better, and learn more about music. But nobody’s going to learn it all because it is too vast of an art form. Music is one of the few things that the Bible tells us that we are going to be doing in heaven. I am just happy to be a part of it all.

 

Robby Robinsons music can be found on Robby’s Records,  Hypeddit, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, Apple Music, I-tunes, and Deezer.

You can find Jam’ N Java at https://facebook.com/jamnjava.

One thought on “Robby Robinson Talks Litchfield, Inspiration, and Jam ‘N Java Ahead of His Show at The Wildey October 19 in Edwardsville, Illinois

  • Great interview! Good read!

    Reply

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