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Richmond, Virginia, United States | INDIE | AFTRA

Richmond, Virginia, United States | INDIE | AFTRA
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Reviews: Robbin Thompson ~ One Step Ahead of the Blues
Posted on Saturday, April 03 @ 12:31:05 EST
Topic: Reviews

Artist: Robbin Thompson

CD: One Step Ahead of the Blues

Home: Virginia

Style: Blues/Folk

Quote: "Overall, Robbin Thompson is an artist with skill in several areas who knows how to assemble a talented support lineup. And while he brings variety to his offerings, it's in the blues where he really shines."

By Les Reynolds

If most of Robbin Thompson's tunes on his latest release sounded like the first cut, he'd have a blockbuster on his hands. As it is, One Step Ahead of the Blues is a good solid effort from the veteran Virginia-based artist. He's got a nice variety of styles and sounds throughout the 10 tunes -- from blues to folk to jazz to a little bit of world and even a tinge of bluegrass in the mix. Perhaps this was done to make the CD title the most appropriate.

However, it's the bluesy, rumbling, mid-tempo initial track entitled "It's Hit the Fan" that really sets the tone and could be called Robbin's signature sound. With this tune, he brings the blues into the modern day and handles it quite well. Many times, an artist will try to modernize the blues and the lyrics, or perhaps the musical arrangements, will simply fall far short. Not this one.

Co-engineer and stringed intrument wizard Velpo that's-his-real-name Robertson provides a buzzing, swooping and wicked electric slide guitar as well as a grumbling bass to anchor the tune. He's joined by drummer Jody Boyd and a solid bank of support vocalists in Darrell Adams, Steve Bassett, Page Wilson and keyboardist Butch Taylor (of the Dave Matthews Band).

Lyrically, well, Robbin welcomes you to Bluesville with these words:

...She's got her hands on her hips
And she's tappin a hole in the floor
Just staring out the window
Man, you better look for the door

Oh, run as fast as you can
Don't look back
Save yourself man
There's nothin' you can do to make her understand
It's hit the fan...

...The jig is up, case closed
Goose is cooked
That's all she wrote
The party's over
The last dance
Out of the skillet
Into the pan
Ain't no time to make a stand
It's hit the fan

Robbin, lead singer of Bruce Springsteen's pre-E Street days band called Steel Mill, was heavily influenced by The Boss, and sometimes his vocals hint of the famous rocker. (Actually, Robbin more accurately sounds like Springsteen meets the late Rick Danko, bassist for The Band.) He even covers Springsteen's "Train Song" on the last cut -- a tune that sounds as if it belongs more on a bluegrass festival stage than anyplace else with its dobro (skillfully played by Velpo) and Chris Fuller's well-played mandolin chops.

While mentioning names, Robbin has a Really Big Name on his roster -- longtime Eagles bassist/vocalist Timothy B. Schmit. He's sung on all 10 of Robbin's releases since the mid-70s and lends his support vocal skills on this one as well.

The aforementioned variety of sounds is by far the most evident on the title track, which, (ironically?) is a fusion of jazz, blues and world-pop, and also on cut number four (immediately following) called "Orange Moon." That tune, it turns out, even with its Latin flavor, has a distinctive Southeast Asian ingredient as well. The mandolin-sounding instrument is the liu qin (pronounced loo keen) and the gut-string guitar fill-ins are done with the zhong ruan (zong ran). Both are played by a woman named Wu Qiang (woo chang). In fact, some of the production of this CD was done in Shanghai at 3-u Studios by Iu Xiao Xing, who won an Oscar for his work on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

While most of the tunes were written or co-written by Robbin, there are two more covers in the list: Lennon and McCartney's "You Can't Do That" and an interesting, funky and well-done rendition of "Get Together." (You know: "C'mon people, now, smile on yer brother. Everybody get together, gotta love one another right now..." That one.) On "Get Together," the percussion (done by whom?), Velpo's crisp classical sounding acoustic lead guitar and fine support vocals from Darrell Adams, Brooke Fauver and Susan Greenbaum make this a joy to listen to.

Overall, Robbin Thompson is an artist with skill in several areas who knows how to assemble a talented support lineup. And while he brings variety to his offerings, it's in the blues where he really shines.



Former Springsteen Bandmate Rocks the Triangle -- Tuesday, September 10 2002

Last night at the Six-String Café in Cary, one of the East Coast’s most enduring music legends proved that, after 30 years in the business, his enthusiastic fans still show up—no matter where he plays.

Robbin Thompson emerged from a Richmond band called Mercy Flight to join Bruce Springsteen in Steel Mill, a popular early-Seventies touring group in the days before the E-Street Band. Robbin sang lead, with the Boss on guitar and vocals. In 1976, Thompson launched a solo career with the release of his first album. By the early 1980s, the Robbin Thompson Band was playing gigs throughout the country—especially in the Southeast. Along the way, Thompson won the American Song Festival twice, and became one of Virginia’s favorite musical sons.

Following a mood-setting performance from opener Bill West, Thompson took the stage. Perched on a comfortable stool—trim and bespectacled, wearing a loose shirt, worn jeans, and a pair of old sneakers—Robbin worked his familiar magic on a throng of loyal followers and a few casual listeners. And the man brought the house down.

Playing a straight set with no break, Thompson’s performance featured selections spanning the full range of his career. Absent were the full backing harmonies of Thompson’s recordings (which, due in large measure to the participation of Timothy B. Schmit, sound very much like the Eagles). And watching Robbin “belt it out” in such a bare-bones format—acoustic guitar and lead vocal only—was something to behold. Whether strumming a driving groove or picking the blues, his intricate guitar work rolled smoothly under a familiar sound—the distinctive, soaring, bluesy wail of Robbin Thompson’s voice.

His releases over the years have been diversely flavored with rock, blues, and country influences; and these were certainly evidenced in last night’s performance. The show included selections from Robbin Thompson (1976), and more than half the cuts from the seminal “RTB” recording, Two B’s Please (1980). Others included tunes from I Don’t Need a Reason to Ride (1991) and Out on the Chesapeake (1998). To top it all off, the audience received a special treat as Robbin unveiled several new and exciting cuts from his forthcoming album, One Step Ahead of the Blues.

Between numbers Robbin told stories and conversed with the audience, joking that people who remembered his first concerts didn’t look that old. When one of his popular Richmond theater productions was mentioned, Robbin quipped, “Well, that was recent. What, twelve years ago?”

The highlights of the evening were of course the famous tracks from Two B’s Please—“Sweet Virginia Breeze” (unofficial state song of the commonwealth), “Candy Apple Red,” and “Brite Eyes” (which spent nine weeks on the national Billboard charts in 1980). After the audience demanded an encore, Robbin got back on-stage and cut loose with an absolutely soulful rendition of “Let it All Out.” Throughout the night—as Robbin’s foot busily kept time on a rung of the barstool—a scan of the crowd revealed appreciative fans tapping their own feet, drumming on thighs and tabletops, and singing along with the headliner.

When it was over, as Robbin sat at the bar to talk with fans and sign autographs, the line of people waiting to speak with him stretched all the way to the front door of the café.

It was a satisfying night for Robbin Thompson fans. For his part, Robbin was thrilled with the reception, after not having played the Raleigh area in years. “You came out!” he yelled appreciatively, as fans whooped and hollered. The night ended with a warm invitation for Thompson to return to Raleigh, and left fans with the certain realization that Robbin Thompson—after more than thirty years in the business—sounds better than ever.

Today, Robbin (who has released eight albums) serves as vice president and composer for Richmond’s In Your Ear Music and Recording—one of the industry’s leading providers of music for film, television, and theater. His cover of Springsteen’s “Guilty” (from 1985’s Better Late than Never) was featured on the 1997 tribute album, One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen. “Guilty” is a rocking relic from the Steel Mill days. In the wake of the “9-11” tragedy, Robbin’s original composition, “Wouldn’t Wanna Be You,” appeared on the Capitol Records compilation United We Stand.

Mark Anderson Moore
Raleigh, NC
September 8, 2002



``One Step Ahead of the Blues''

(Out There)

With this latest since his lauded ``Out on the Chesapeake,'' Richmonder Robbin Thompson proves that for sheer songcraft, musical maturity and acoustic excitement, one need not go out of state.

The Richmond-recorded disc was helmed by Thompson and longtime guitarist Velpo Robertson, creating a crisp, clear work literally bristling with sonic punch. Thompson's acoustic guitar snaps and twangs out of the speakers, while Robertson and backing musicians, including Steve Bassett and Timothy B. Schmit, embellish each tune with added musical muscle.

Besides his instrumental prowess, Thompson's voice never sounded better and his songs are solid, packed with melodies that recall a rich mix of country, blues and rock, many times in the same tune. The title cut is a gentle blues shuffle, and the Beatles' ``You Can't Do That'' sports a gritty Ry Cooder Delta feel. His October exchange trip to China yielded the cross-cultural sway of ``Orange Moon,'' complete with indigenous instruments and Thompson's Chinese refrain. But whatever the language or genre, Thompson's got the goods to help anyone stay one step ahead of the blues.

- Eric Feber, The Pilot

- mark moore


CDs: Now hear this
Robbin Thompson “One Step Ahead of the Blues”
April 2, 2003

(Out There Records) ****

The warm polish of Robbin Thompson’s newest release is obvious
immediately, its depths resolve only with repeated listening. While there
is a continuum between this release and 1998’s “Out on the
Chesapeake,” the new CD has a clarity of sound and purpose that has
the potential to reach beyond the singer’s long-established Virginia

(It also can’t hurt that it features the first commercial release of a Steel Mill-era Bruce Springsteen song.)

The record evolved over two years in Thompson’s In Your Ear studios. “I went in with five songs,” Thompson said.
“Originally ‘Chesapeake Moon’ was going to be both the opening piece and the name of the album.” That song, a
blue-eyed soul chantey that the young Springsteen might have written if he had been a sailor rather than a
motorhead, was displaced by “Hit the Fan,” a strong, electric-guitar-driven song that essentially pushed its way to the

The next two songs, the acoustic ballad “A Little Taste” and the muted-trumpet tinged title track are intelligently
crafted adult popular songs.

“Orange Moon” opens broader sonic vistas. “I wrote it very quickly,” Thompson says. “Which is usually the way the
songs that mean the most to me get written.” The basic tracks were recorded during the singer’s 2002 China visit; the
integration of traditional instruments was a happy accident. “I had randomly picked the engineer who turned out to
have won an Oscar for the music of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’,” Thompson says. “He knew all the best Chinese

The next two songs form the album’s schizophrenic centerpiece. “Wouldn’t Wanna Be You” is a flag-waving,
ass-kicking anthem written in anger after 9/11. It is closely followed by a muscular version of “Come Together” the
classic hippie plea for brotherhood. “These were the only two songs that needed to be together,” Thompson says.
The contradictory themes revolve around the same two words: “right now.”

“Chesapeake Moon” follows, along with a the bluegrass miniature “County Song” and the seldom-covered, cheerfully
threatening Beatles tune “You Can’t Do That.”

The CD ends with Springsteen’s “Train Song,” with deceptively straightforward lyrics that end with a sting in the tail. “I
always liked the song’s ‘Twilight Zone’ twist,” says Thompson. “It had to be dead last.” Thompson said his arrangement
was similar in spirit to the never-released original, albeit with bluegrass instrumentation rather than guitar and piano.

The overall feel of the album is relaxed and unified. The cover art, from area painter Jay Bohannon, echoes the
golden-hour mood of the music. The production is first-rate, as is the musicianship of the players. Thompson is
especially proud of the playing of lead guitarist and longtime collaborator Velpo Robertson. “We’re lucky to have him
in Richmond; he could make the ‘A’ list anywhere.”

It’s traditional to take local talent for granted, even when their work compares favorably to nationally recognized
artists and blows away programmed corporate “country music.”

It’s been a long time coming, but “One Step Ahead of the Blues” is a strong step forward for Thompson. — Peter

"richmnond times-dispatch"

One Step Ahead of the Blues
New Thompson CD worth celebrating


At this point, it's a bit silly to refer to Robbin Thompson as a local musician.

Oh, sure, he's a Richmond resident and vice president and co-founder of In Your Ear studios on Church Hill.

But Thompson's storied career - the early days with Bruce Springsteen and Steel Mill, the'80s surge with pal Steve Bassett, inclusion last year on a national compilation of America-themed songs - makes Thompson more of a local legend than anything else.

Tomorrow, he will christen his new album, "One Step Ahead of the Blues," at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen with a CD release party and a little help from musicians Velpo Robertson and Dave Matthews Band alumnus Butch Taylor, plus Page Wilson, Susan Greenbaum and a host of others.

Indeed, this is an album worth celebrating.

Thompson's first since 1998's "Out on the Chesapeake" and 10th of his career finds him adroitly exploiting his flair for blues and pop, and this time a hint of Asian instrumentation also creeps in. No surprise, since some of the album was recorded in China.

"I was on a cultural exchange for Henrico County, and before I left I wrote a song for a foundation called Smile Train," Thompson said in a recent interview. Smile Train is an organization that fixes cleft palates.

"When I went over, I called some friends and they hooked me up with a woman in China who had worked at Smile Train. I thought it would be great to record something there, so she found me a studio. She randomly picked it, and it wound up being the place owned by the engineer who did the music for 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.'"

One song recorded there, "Orange Moon," features longtime Thompson bud and Eagles member Timothy B. Schmidt on background vocals and musician Wu Qiang, who plays the zhong ruan (a stringed instrument).

Schmidt also lends his falsetto to the backdrop of the album's closing track, "Train Song," a never-recorded Springsteen tune that Thompson coats with a passionate rasp and a bluegrass-styled groove (think mandolins, steel guitar and fiddles).

Another standout is the achingly romantic "Chesapeake Moon," which combines Thompson's love of the sea with his fondness for big, bluesy growls in the middle of his tunes. It's still amazing to hear the guttural sounds that often emanate from Thompson's slender body.

His meaty cover of The Youngbloods' "Get Together" also warrants repeated listenings, and its chugging percussion and snappy acoustic guitar are obviously burning to explode onstage.

And let's not forget "Wouldn't Want to Be You," his quiet threat to our enemies, written immediately after 9/11 and included on "United We Stand," a Capitol Records compilation released in 2001 featuring songs from Al Green, Joe Cocker and The Beach Boys.

Yes, Thompson's music is smooth and accessible, earning him as many critics who find his tunes toothless as fans who bask in his breezy offerings.

But so what if the guy creates radio-friendly material that still goes mostly ignored at radio stations? Thompson is a versatile musician and gutsy singer with an overwhelming knowledge of his business.'Nuff said.

Contact Melissa Ruggieri at (804) 649-6120 or

- melissa ruggieri


1. robbin thompson-nemperor-1976
2. robbin thompson/steve bassett together-1978
3. 2B'S PLEASE-1980




Robbin Thompson has been a Richmond resident since 1969. He is the Vice President and co-founder of In Your Ear Music and Recording Corp. a company that composes and produces music for commercials and films.

His musical career spans over 40 years and still counting.

He was the lead singer in the Bruce Springsteen band Steel Mill, won the American Song Festival twice, won the Independent Music Awards-2007, and so far has recorded twelve albums. Thompson, along with friend Steve Bassett, authored the song "Sweet Virginia Breeze," which is considered by many to be the unofficial state song of Virginia. He has also written and recorded songs with Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit (who also sings harmonies on many of Robbin's recordings).

Check out the Brucebase for some cool gig information and photos of Robbin with Steel Mill.

Thompson has shared the stage with many recording artists, including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few.

His film scoring credits include the title song to the cult classic GLEAMING THE CUBE . . . and Robbin was the co-writer and vocalist on the song "I WON'T QUIT" in the film THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS starring CUBA GOODING JR. and BEYONCE.

Due to Robbin's involvement with Bruce Springsteen, he is proud to have a song on the EMI/CAPITOL release entitled ONE STEP UP/TWO STEPS BACK - The Songs of Bruce Springsteen. This two-cd set includes artists such as David Bowie, John Hiatt, Ritchie Havens, Ben E. King, The Smithereens, The Bodeans and others.

OUT ON THE CHESAPEAKE was released in October of 1998. It features songs that Thompson wrote while sailing his boat on the Chesapeake Bay. The cover art of this cd is an original painting by artist JOHN BARBER, done especially for this release.

UNITED WE STAND, another Capitol Records release to aid the victims of 9/11, includes Thompson's song, WOULDN'T WANNA BE YOU as the single for the album. Artists included on the release were John Lennon, The Beach Boys, Woody Guthrie, and others.

ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE BLUES includes performances by EAGLES bassist Timothy B. Schmit and Dave Matthews Band keyboardist Butch Taylor. It also includes a previously unreleased Springsteen song called TRAIN SONG.

THE VINYL YEARS is a compilation cd of songs previously on LPs from 1976 to 1985.

His latest album is JUST A BLUR IN THE REARVIEW (2007).

After many years of touring. Thompson now reserves much of his spare time for his family and his second love, sailing the Chesapeake Bay. His concert schedule is limited mostly to concerts he knows "will be enjoyable."