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A Dirty Dozen with ROBERT RANSON – May 2019


According to a recent press release: “Robert Ranson’s broad sweep of styles is evident at the outset, from the island groove and wistful melody that surges so sweetly to the islands. Blending blues, jazz, rock, reggae, afro-cuban and country all enter into his musical mix, echoes of Steely Dan, Pablo Cruise and Eric Clapton are also evident throughout.” We get Robert to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets the band put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

The first single released off my new album, Still Dreaming, is a tune called “Lonely Eyes.”  “Lonely Eyes” is a jazz composition with strong Afro-Cuban influences. One notable feature of the song is the classical guitar part played by John McNiel.  The lyrics tell the story of a young woman running off to Jamaica to get away from a failing relationship.  She arrives in Montego Bay then rides down the coast to Negril.  Once there, the magic of Jamaica sweeps her cares away.  She goes to Rick’s Cafe to watch the sunset then dances the night away. The music for “Lonely Eyes” started at an Aimless Drifters (one of my former bands) band practice when our bass player, Gene Brown, started playing this groove that sounded kind of cool.  When we started playing along it became evident that what he was playing was in two different keys (Am & Bm) shifting back and forth between these keys every few measures.  Because of this constant key shift, I never gave the groove much more consideration.  When I came up with the lyrics for “Lonely Eyes,” I started singing along with this groove and started building a chord structure and added sections for the verses that remained in one of the two keys.  The result was a jazzy, Afro-Cuban groove and unless you were playing along you’d never know the key changes almost 20 times.”  Another interesting feature of the song is that the lyrics start with the chorus instead of the verse, which defies conventional songwriting.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I have played music since early childhood.  I think I was born with it in my blood.  That said, I remember when I was about 10 years old, my mother took me to a fashion show where my oldest sister was a runway model.  Bill Deal and the Rhondels were performing at the event and after the show I went up to look at the drum set on stage.  The bands drummer, Ammon Tharp, saw me and came up and handed me his drumsticks and told me I was welcome to play, which I did.  He told me I played well and I should stick with it.  I was excited and inspired by the experience and Ammon’s encouragement.  When I was 12, I became intrigued with guitar and by the late 70’s abandoned drums to pursue this new passion.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

The album and band that has had the greatest impact on my musical taste and has been a part of my life for the last 45 years is The Captain and Me by the Doobie Brothers with Toulouse Street coming in a close second.  I went to New York in November and had front row seats at the Beacon Theater to see the Doobie Brothers perform both of these albums, which was a true bucket list kind of experience.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Toto, Bob Marley, and Doobie Brothers

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Without a doubt Dean Berry would be the one person I would pick to collaborate with.  Dean played all but one guitar part on my new album.  He is a highly regarded and successful musician/singer/songwriter that has been at the forefront of the Richmond music scene for decades.  I have collaborated with Dean for many years and there is something special about the chemistry when we work together.  Things just flow.  We have been great friends for a long time and there is a comfort and familiarity that seems to facilitate creativity.  In the process of songwriting, I have occasionally hit roadblocks that I can’t seem to work past on my own.  When I get together with Dean these barriers have always disappeared.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

Many of my songs have been heavily influenced by my love of Jamaica.  Having gone there 30 times over the course of my life, I consider Jamaica my second home.  The beauty of Jamaica, the people, the music, the food, the sounds and smells have all created lasting memories and impressions recounted in the lyrics and musical compositions of many of my songs. I can’t recall a comparison of my music that made me cringe.  The most common comparison is that my music sounds like Steely Dan, which is the ultimate compliment for me.

7. When the band are all hanging out together, who cooks; who gets the drinks in; and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Every year we go to Jamaica and stay at the Golden Clouds Villa.  We rent a bass amp, drum kit and a PA system from a music shop in Kingston.  We bring everything else we need.   There is a staff of 8 people attending to your every need.  Drinks, food, beach towels, whatever you want or need the staff waits on you hand and foot.  The general agenda is to party all day and play music all night.  It is incredibly fun and keeps us coming back year after year.

8. When was the last time you were star struck and who was it?

Meeting Amos Lee was cool.  I’m a big fan and he seemed to be a nice guy.  The pic of us meeting him is one of feature pics on my Facebook page.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

Being a musician is a great creative outlet for me.  I also enjoy the challenge of bettering myself as a musician/singer/songwriter. Music is a hobby for me.  I have been a business owner for many years and have been very successful at what I do.  The primary company I own is Progressive Design, which is an engineering and construction company.  Like my music, this job has been a great creative outlet for me and has offered a litany of challenges to allow me to develop my skills and grow.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

The one question I would like to be asked: Why at the age of 60 did you decide rekindle your music career? The answer: You’re never too old to Chase Your Dreams and that’s why I’m Still Dreaming. I can’t say there is a particular question I’m tired of answering, but I can say that most interviewers do tend to ask the same questions.I did feel that this interview did ask some interesting and different kind of questions, which made the process a little more enjoyable.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over”, even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I think it was a mistake to record the album Chase Your Dreams in a home recording studio.  While the album was a respectable piece of work it failed to meet the professional standard that was achieved by Still Dreaming.  Twenty years slipped by between the two efforts and I regret that this material “sat on the shelf” all this time.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

This is a really tough question because I can think of many records that I would have loved to have been a part of recording.If I had to pick one I think it would have to be Asia by Steely Dan.This album is Steely Dan’s best work and a true masterpiece. I have performed a number of the songs on the album and have a deep appreciation for the composition of every track on the album.




Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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