Robert J.
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Robert J.

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"Maximum Ink cover story in Max InK"

Robert J
Madison's Robert J on the cover of Maximum Ink in June 2008 CD: The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs
Record Label: Popbomb Records
by Kristen Winiarski
June 2008

A man who simply goes by “Robert J” fronts the band The Rowdy Prairie Dogs who jam on the Potawatomi Stage at Summerfest on its concluding day, Sunday, July 6 at noon. I had the opportunity to talk with this man who has been through so much just in the last year: dealing with a heart attack, forming a new band, and now, preparing to play Summerfest next month. When asked about the festival, Robert J said, “I’ve played there [Summerfest] about 6 or 7 times, mostly with the Moon Gypsies, I played with a band called Howlin’ at the Moon…I’m always excited to play Summerfest; it’s a big party.”

Robert J got started in the music industry at a young age, playing the guitar when he was just two years old. He is a guitarist and singer, but most of all a songwriter. When asked how he got started in the music industry, it was obvious it was a long effort, “Ohhhhh okay, actually I graduated from college and I had been playing in bands in Detroit. And I jumped in the band van and moved to Colorado in a van. I had been playing a little bit, but that was pretty much when I decided okay, I’m just going to go be a musician for a while.” When he jumped into this van, he was also jumping into the band Happy Trails, merely one of about 20 bands that Robert J has been a part of.

The most recent band before starting the Prairie Dogs was The Moon Gypsies. Robert J talked about the transition between bands, “I’d been in the Moon Gypsies for the last 9 years in Madison and we were kind of folding up because well, [I was] doing other musical projects and Chris [Wagoner] and Mary [Gaines] from the Moon Gypsies have a band called the Stellanovas which is kind of a jazzy little trio and I myself wanted to pursue songwriting again more than anything. I was the main songwriter in almost every band I’d ever been in, including the Moon Gypsies, but I kind of just wanted to try some other things and so I put two records out last year and one was called ‘The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs’ and I always thought that’d be a cool name for a band and then I kind of went into that country-bluesy, country-rock kind of sound.”

The name for this Americana band actually turns out to be approved thievery from one of Robert J’s closest friends. Robert says, “I came up with the name, actually a good friend of mine from Sun Valley, Idaho, who I’d written songs with, Jefferson Keys…That has been his fictitious name for a band for years and last time I talked to him I said, ‘You know Jefferson, I got a whole crop of country songs here and I want to know if I can steal that,’ and he said, ‘By all means cause I’m never going to get to it.’ So I stole it from one of my best friends. I wish I could say I came up with that one myself but I didn’t.” Self-formed or not, Robert hopes the band name will inspire people to pick it up and give it a try, if out of nothing more than just curiosity and because it’s a pretty sweet name.

This band adds to all the others that Robert J has been a part of that have helped to make him the artist he is today. In addition to his influences that include Elvis, The Beatles, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, he also says that, “I was in bands all the way along and every person I played with showed me something or gave me a key to unlock one door.”

Another key to his success has been The Sunday Night Jams. The way it began was not a typical one, as Robert J says, “It all started because a friend of ours who was a potter, wanted to have a party and display and sell his pottery but he wanted it to be fun so he hired us to do a jam and provide music. From that, the owner of Morgan’s, Mike Rogers, heard it and said, ‘Let’s do this every Sunday!’ and I said, ‘Let’s!’ and it became a jam and it was a fun one.” After playing these jams every Sunday for about 7 years, the whole party moved to the Anchor Inn and ran about another 3 years. All together, Robert J played 518 Sundays in a row! What other musician can say they know they have a gig every week for a year and a half? Robert J reflects on it, “It was a jam session every week I would hire different musicians as the house band and me and a friend, Chris Bank, started it...and it was a wonderful time! Every Sunday night there were 200 people there for years and years and it was a great night because a lot of musicians had off, a lot of people that we worked with, the bartenders and waitresses would come out that night. It was a great scene. We did a lot of jamming throughout the years…We had a lot of people come in and jam with us. It was a blast. It started in 83 and it went into 92.”

With a career spanning a few decades, Robert J has been through many of the changes throughout the history of music such as how the industry has changed and how bands disperse their material, I was curious as to what he thought of it. He seemed to agree that most of the changes were beneficial, with the exception of the radio industry. He said, “Everything’s changed. I mean, radio alone, when I started the jocks could put on some of what they wanted to play, then it got more like a music director decides what’s being played. Then it got to where all the radio stations were being bought up by just a few companies and they would hire consultants to tell what all the stations play and so it’s kind of..”

“More Monopolized?” I suggested.

“Oh exactly, and so that’s changed, you know there’s more bands than ever, that’s changed. Things like American Idol and Karaoke and Internet and so many other things to compete with the entertainment of music. A lot of people want to go out and be the star of the show; they do karaoke or whatever and I don’t mind karaoke but now it’s kind of like a big democracy of music in a way, almost anybody can put out a record because the technology capabilities are affordable to everybody and almost anyone can be a star by going to karaoke, being the front man for that song, and I’m not knocking any of these things… except for the radio one, that has been terrible I think, the way that several companies own, have total control over what’s available. There’s like four tenths of one percent of all the music in the world is getting played on commercial radio and I long for the old days when the jocks had a little bit more control and played a wider spectrum of songs. But then the internet is a wonderful thing that kinda counteracts that… all the sudden we sold records in Brazil and Israel and Europe and all over the place and that would have never happened I don’t think if it wasn’t for the capabilities of Internet and that type of thing.”

Despite the issues with the radio industry, Robert J has not gone unacknowledged for his achievements. He was deeply touched by the MAMA’s, (Madison Area Music Awards), “That was a wonderful surprise, you know, I was nominated for 7 awards and I looked at the categories and I saw who I was up against and I could easily lose every one of these going into it. One of the first awards given away was the Male Vocalist of the Year and I won that and I went, ‘Alright! I got one! I’ll be happy at that.’ And then I started winning for The Rowdy Prairie Dogs and then I got called up for best Americana song, best pop song, best country song...and I went ‘Oh, man..’. Then the last two awards were, I think, for pop song, and then for rock album of the year. After winning pop song with ‘A Beautiful Blur’, I walked off stage; I was just blown away. And the people on the side of the stage are saying, ‘Don’t go anywhere Robert, you’ve got another one.’ And then it just really hit me, after I accepted that award and I walked off stage, I was in tears. I was just overwhelmed with being appreciated by your peers in the music industry and other fans as well who voted. I felt very blessed and very lucky and overwhelmed. {Laughs} It was awesome. I didn’t expect it at all. I thought I could win a couple but to win 6 is incredible. And the Moon Gypsies won a W.A.M.I. which is a Wisconsin Area Music Industry Award for best acoustic folk band of the year. It’s been a pretty cool year.”

Robert J has come a long way from the gandy dancer, which he told me is “a guy who spikes and picks and fixes rails and does all the common labor on a railroad.” For the future he says, “I’ve got most of the next record written for The Rowdy Prairie Dogs and since my heart attack, I’ve written about 24 songs. Most of which are starting to be finished and I usually don’t write that many that fast but when you’re kind of scared to the bone and you kinda see your life flashing in front of your face there for a second, it kinda opened up my whole creative process and [has] given me a lot to write about, feelings and kind of a rebirth of passion for what I do. Like I said in an earlier article, when I was having a heart attack at the ER all I could think about was my wife, kids, and the songs that I hadn’t finished writing yet. That’s what my life is and that’s what I’m going to work towards doing for the rest of my life. I plan on being around a long time.”

Check out www.robertj.com to order “The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs” and other CD’s of Robert’s or venture out on the last day of Summerfest at noon and check out their show!
- Maximum Ink


"Madison Magazine"

Madison Magazine Article by Katie Vaughn – January 2008

Rocking On

Nothing, it seems, can stop Robert J. Conaway from making music. For a year, the Madison musical fixture- known to fans simply as “Robert J.” –had been writing, recording and producing songs for two CDs. He planned to release them in November and follow up with a celebratory party the next month.
Plans changed slightly when Robert J. had a heart attack while racking leaves this past fall. He received emergency surgery and doctor’s orders to take it easy. While he had to postpone his release bash, the musician is healing and his two new CDs hit stores November 20 as scheduled.
A Beautiful Blur is a collection of solid and catchy rock tunes. Robert J. wrote all the songs, but the title track is particularly personal to him. “ It’s basically my definition of life and the lives of my friends,” he says.
The second disc, The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs,
combines Robert J.’s rock sensibilities with country and Americana styles. “It’s still irreverent with a little bit of twang,” he says.
Robert J. says he looks forward to promoting the CDs, returning to the stage for live performances and drawing on his recent experiences in making new music.
“I will continue to create,” he says. “And I will be a little more fearless."
- Madison Magazine


"Wide Spectrum of Musical Perfection"

February, 2003

The songs brought back memories of the free flowing folk rock of Jesse Colin Young and sweet harmonies of Crosby and Nash. But then you get to the third cut, All the Kings Men and visions of the bluesy rock from Little Feat pop up. After just a few spins, the CD went quickly to the top of my stack. Prepare your ears for a wide spectrum of musical perfection.

~ Jim Clark - Lee County Courier, Tupelo, MS


"Madison's Soulman"

Robert J. - Madison's Soul Man

In the early 1980s I had my only real regular money-making musical gig at the old Boars Head restaurant (later to become Mountain Jacks) next to West Towne Mall. Five nights a week I played solo acoustic music for a largely indifferent dinner crowd and a largely attentive crowd of loyal bar patrons. As time went on and the word got out, I rotated these weekly stints with an increasing number of acoustic performers. One of these was a young gent who had recently transplanted himself from Colorado named Robert Conaway, who went by the catchier Robert J. Soon we were introduced to the likes of sax man Chris Bank, singer/songwriter David Cox, and others who would come to sit in with Conaway. There was something different about this Robert J. He already had a long history of gigging, touring and playing music. And he had songs.  LOTSof songs. He also had incredible initiative. It wasnt long before he had a topnotch band together (The Robert J. Project) that included my brother Roly Tvedt on drums. He started the legendary Sunday Jams at Morgans on the east side (now Wonders Pub) and his recordings started getting airplay. He performed relentlessly and occasionally our gigging paths would cross at such events as the Z-104 Beat of the City concerts at the Coliseum. In 1984 he played at my wedding reception in one of his more unusual incarnations, B.O.B., two guys named Bob (Conaway and Bob Irons) who used samplers and drum machines. He was as tenacious as he was willing to try new configurations and styles. Ive known Robert J. for a long time and I was honored when he wrote me about his new business venture and latest career move, and offered this exclusive interview. He is perhaps the most persistent and dedicated musician I have known over the years. He continues to gig endlessly, mostly with the Moon Gypsies, and has developed a songwriting regimen. He has bent with the winds of change but has never buckled, and for that alone is deserving of our admiration. Then there are the songs... New Beginnings Its a chance to remember/Been a long time gone/ Time fades away/Like the stars at dawn/ The moments have vanished/But we captured this song/ The suns on the rise/But the moon still holds on. - from Rewind Not many musicians have had the opportunitiesthat Robert J. Conaway has been afforded over the years. The list of artists hes been associated with is a staggering collection of Madison-area greats, many celebrated and some nearly forgotten. From the early days of Smart Studios to his current work in his home studio, Conaway has been a student of the process of music to the fullest degree. Hes also been a student of life, as we all are. Marriage, kids, divorce, love and loss  all of these things can erode the stamina of even the most determined. But as any songwriter knows, life and its heartbreaks and trials are a good portion of what makes great songs. Grand beauty is often the reflection of the deepest pain and great things are usually the product of even greater struggle. Above all that is the pact that artists make: To live life to its fullest and live to tell about it. Conaway has lived and then some, and his newest endeavor will provide him the opportunity to tell about it. This month he will release the first of a series of recordings on PopBomb Records, a new venture he has begun with a business partner. Rewind is a seventeen-song retrospective of Robert J.s recorded works from the years 19861998 that begins with his band Boys Town, and also includes solo works that were released in various formats. The liner notes furnish some background on the nature of the tracks as well as acknowledging the many musicians who made contributions. Theres no better way for me to move into the future than to clean up my past, Conaway states. The new company, which also has web presence at www.popbomb.com, was conceived when a long time fan (a silent partner) of Conaways Conaway says. I told him if you want a great guitarist go to Paul Black or Mel Ford; if you want a singer there are a million great singers out there. There are a lot of good songwriters, too, but what I do best and the part I care about the most is the songwriting. Conaways backer, and now partner, has had some successful business ventures in completely unrelated fields and is launching his own new company, but says none of that really excites him the way Conaways music does. Im fortunate, Conaway says (a statement he repeats many times during the interview), Its a great opportunity for me to get busy. To that end, PopBomb will focus on publishing efforts and getting Conaways songs recorded by some bigname artists. His current band, the ever-popular Moon Gypsies, will continue to record and perform, although more selectively. Conaway has around thirty songs that he has never recorded properly, some that were not even demo-ed. He also has about twenty new songs on the drawing board. He takes me to a closet where he keeps three cardboard boxes full of scribbled notes, lyrics and pieces of songs, and six more boxes of old cassettes. Clearly Conaway has enough fodder to produce many more albums worth of songs. Although hed prefer to move forward, mining the old stockpile for that missing piece to an uncompleted song is always a possibility. A Long and Winding Road Robert John Conaway was born in Minneapolis. His father worked for the Canadian National Railroad and the family moved frequently. From Minneapolis they went to Seattle, back to Minneapolis, Chicago, Buffalo, back to Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto and Detroit. He was a star quarterback in high school while living in Toronto. Conaway attended college in Detroit and afterward jumped into a van and moved to Colorado with his band Happy Trails. He narrowly avoided being drafted during the Viet Nam war while in Detroit, but his brother was not so lucky. A song on Rewind, James Virgil (Fallen Leaves) addresses the post-traumatic stress disorder that afflicted his brother, which led to hallucinations, divorce and his eventual alcohol-related death in 1994. It was a tough time for Conaway but it got even worse when his mother passed away one year and two days later (Conaways father died in 1987). He still wells up when he talks about this emotional period in his life. A few years after his mother died, Conaways marriage unraveled. He has since remarried and had two more children; a daughter, Adelaide and a son, Jacy Ray with his wife Jill. The family resides in the town of Windsor. Conaway has a step-daughter, Amanda, and a daughter from his first marriage, Kristina. When I ask Conaway to name all the bands hes been in he laughs and says, You dont have enough tape, man! which is almost true. His first group was The Transitional Sound, which had two drummers and was formed in Toronto during his high school days, circa 1967. They covered tunes by the likes of Sam and Dave. After that was Cottonwood in Detroit in 1972. Happy Trails was next and had some success in the Detroit area before heading to Colorado. Happy Trails then morphed into Northern Dancer around 1976. Living in Crested Butte, Colorado, he played in Papa Jay and then High Altitude Cooking and then the Crows. At this time he released his first single, Molly Be Damned, a song about a conflict over a nearby molybdenum mine. It was a split single and the flip side was a song by Tracy Wickland, The Mountain Song, which was picked up and recorded by John Denver for his Autograph album. Conaways girlfriend at the time had a sister in Madison and they visited the area in 1980. Then, deciding he wanted to move to L.A., he left Colorado for about a year. In 1982 he and his girlfriend had enough of the West Coast and moved to Madison. His first gig was at Bittersweet, a restaurant on State Street (now Fridas). Soon to follow were the Robert J. Project, the Touch, the aforementioned B.O.B., Boys Town, Howlin at the Moon, and finally the Moon Gypsies. Ever since [Madison band] Common Faces started I had been after (violinist) Chris Wagoner and (bassist/vocalist) Mary Gaines, Conaway says of the Moon Gypsies. It came time and we were working together and we knew that Common Faces was going to split up after about six months. So we phazed it in. I knew I could write songs for Mary all day. Shortly after arriving in Madison in 1982, Conaway met Chris Bank, a bassist and saxophonist living in the city. The two became fast friends doing duet work and whatever. It was Bank and Conaway who started the Sunday Jams at Morgans, which ran for 518 consecutive Sundays ten years - the last couple years being held at the Anchor Inn a few doors down. Most people remember Conaway best for those heady Sunday nights at Morgans. Many of the players at these jams would end up on his recordings and in Boys Town itself. Some of my best musical memories were in that place, Conaway says of Morgans. Rewind Rewind is an amalgamation of American folk-rock songs with a good measure of soul and blues mixed in. Most of the songs on Rewind have saxophone and horn sections, harmonica, and slide guitar, Conaway says. I didnt want it to get too spread out so I left it at that for this project. A new song, Rewind, was written but didnt make the final cut. The lyrics, however are printed on the sleeve. Robert J. in his home studio with his prized metal Rickenbacker lap steel.

Boys Town, which was co-produced by Butch Vig and features his drumming on three of the four tracks. The fourth features drumming by Clyde Stubblefield. Boys Town was recorded at Smart Studios on eight-track but the mixes here are clean and full. Two live Boys Town tracks from the Beat of the City concert held at the Field House on the UW campus are flawless performances. Shes an Angel is especially catchy, delivered with fire and passion. China Wall establishes a solid groove and boasts a blazing saxophone. Neither of these tracks have been previously released. Two songs from 1991s Dixie Highway, which was a cassetteonly release, include the drumming of Ken Keppler, some nifty dobro from Tom Dehlinger, the piano of John Chimes, Westside Andy on harmonica, and backup vocals by Lynnea Godfriaux, Beverly Jean and Shari Davis. One of these, A Million Miles Away, won the Billboard songwriting contest and was later re-recorded by the Moon Gypsies and sung by Mary Gaines. These tracks reflect Conaways admiration for his hero, Little Feats Lowell George, while the songs from 1994s No Brakes, No Choice, No Exit exhibit some Bruce Springsteen influences, especially in the vocal delivery of the title track. Searchin for the One was recorded with the Crashers Mauro Magellan on drums, John Wartenweiler on bass and Gary Hendrickson on guitar. Magellan helped out on the Rewind project by painting the cover, a photo of Conaway when he was three. The songs are presented chronologically and by the time the No Brakes...tracks cue up the consistency in the quality of the songwriting becomes apparent. That continues through the selections from 1998s Family Tree, the acoustic blues of We Knew Love finishing things off nicely. The style and instrumentation of the songs on Rewind make for a cohesive collection and although the recordings span over a decade and were recorded in different studios on different formats, there is little variation in the quality of the finished product. The process of putting Rewind together was not without its difficulties and one problem in particular was nearly fatal to the entire project. After time, analog tape can become unusable. We got over to Randy Greens [Recording] studio to see what was on the [Dixie Highway] master tapes, Conaway explains, and the tape actually stopped the reel-to-reel machine (makes a grinding noise). I just got this sick feeling and thought There goes that project! Green calmed him down saying that there were ways to fix this kind of thing. Conaway checked on the Internet for information and called Smart Studios who suggested he talk to Buzz Kemper at Audio for the Arts recording studio in Madison. Kemper worked for WHA-TV for a number of years and had restored over two-hundred tapes for them. The baking machine over there is like nothing! Conaway exclaims. You could put a half of a pizza in there! Who ever thought up the idea of baking them? Baking them is exactly what Kemper did and the tapes were saved. Once a damaged tape is baked, it has a life of anywhere between fortyeight hours and a month so Conaway scrambled and got it all converted to digital format in his home studio. The tape itself eventually became the subject of a photo shoot with John Urban for current pictures to include with Rewind. Conaway unraveled all the tape from the reel and one of the resulting photos is what graces the cover of this issue of Ricks Cafe and the inside sleeve of Rewind. The next project in the series will be an album of Conaways country material from the Dixie Highway era and a few more recent cuts. That album will be entitled Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs. A third recording in the series might be blues and pop material; AAA radio fare. Im not sure if they will end up being whole albums, Conaway says. The first thing Im going to do is make good demos of the best three or four country and pop tunes and put them out there to see what the feedback on them is. I can always fall back to the independent releases. But my goal here is to get into the songwriting game, and the opportunity to be writing and recording and pitching is something Ive got to do. Im willing to go down to Nashville and shake hands and kiss babies and do what we have to do. Weve got a few contacts but its going to be hard. Its not easy for someone outside of that area to make headway. I have confidence though, and Im anxious to do the work. This career move is all being precipitated by the PopBomb arrangement, which allows Conaway to work on retainer as a songwriter, taking pressure off him to earn enough money from gigging to pay the bills. From the outset I have pointed out that at my age now, Im very unlikely to be the next big thing. But I could write a song that somebody else could do that could be the next big thing. There are so many songs being used today for so many different things. I just read a Taxi[independent music agency] article in Professional Songwritermagazine. Michael Lasko, the founder of Taxi, listened to an hour of TV with his back to it and counted the musical cues. He realized that if he multiplied by four for the four major networks and multiplied that by twenty-four hours, then accounted for sixty-four channels of cable TV, there are 126,000 music cues per day. So, they have to find that music somewhere and Taxi is very good at placing songs. Thats where it all starts. Now that I have it all on digital Im going to be like a machine; just kicking it out to every possible angle. There are more opportunities for songwriters now but there are also more songwriters than there has ever been. Songwriting is what I love to do most; its what I spend my private time doing. The Art of Craft Conaway has always had a good work ethic as the profiles on him over the years have illustrated. His prime time is the morning hours and each day he sits down to either work on a specific tune or to test the muse to see what comes out. Its my most productive time if I can take the morning and my cup of coffee and my acoustic guitar and work while my whole system is fresh, Conaway says. Im not burdened by the daily stuff we all have to think about in order to live. Thats when Im clearest and things are coming and going and I do my best writing. That morning routine was disrupted by the births of Adelaide and Jacy Ray. Despite that, Conaway has always had songs in progress. Some for as long as eight years, with one piece or one lyric missing. Its a testament to the craft in the songwriting methodology that Conaway employs. Where some songwriters may say Enough! Conaway has the temperance to let things set, waiting for that final spurt of inspiration to raise the composition above the bar that is his standard of quality. As Conaway so aptly points out, In the old days we used to say, Nothings final til its on vinyl. You write and re-write and hone the craft. The medium is short; a song is three or four minutes and so every word counts. Its a short time to say your whole story. Thats what I like about the craft. It starts out as nothing, and then its pieces and parts. Then you have to mold it, and shape it, and apply the craft, and sing it a thousand times, and cry, and look into your gut and figure out what youre really trying to say. And you have to look into your heart. Every so often when Im singing and writing a song and I get that tear in my eye, then I know Im on to something. The Road Goes Ever On Being in the music business for most of his life, Conaway has more than a few stories to tell. Hes reluctant to share these out loud but later emails me a few teasers. Once, the Sunday Jams were interrupted by a bomb scare and the building had to be evacuated. Conaway took his acoustic guitar and the jamming continued curbside. Then there were those Valentines Day gigs they played in Aspen in the late 70s. Not so special you may say, except that everyone, including the band, was naked. Hes had fist fights onstage and enough car-trouble stories to fill the trunk of an old sedan. Perhaps the most amusing tale, however, is the one surrounding a stint of gigs in Florida. As Conaway tells it; while Boys Town was playing a club down in the Florida Keys, we had some interesting guests come in to see us. Night after night, a very well-dressed old man, usually with two very well dressed, beautiful women at his side, and two of his younger very large, well-dressed body guards kept showing up at our gig. We had come to learn that the guy was the head of the Cuban Mafia down there and he happened to take a liking for our music. Every night, one of the body guards would come up and lift my microphone up (sometimes while I was singing), put a$100 bill under it and say, Play the song the Boss likes! And of course, we did. The song was Rickie Lee Jones, Easy Money. On our last night, he came in with his entourage, bought drinks for the whole bar and had his body guard to tell us that the Boss wanted to have a drink with us. After our set, we went to a back bar and sat with just The BOSS and drank a bottle of Dom Perignon together. It was quite uncomfortable in that he didnt speak any English and we didnt speak any Spanish. He would look at us and go, MMMMMM, Music! Good!  And we would toast and nod our heads, and go, MMMMMMM, Thank you! There is no indication that Robert J. Conaway will ever stop writing songs. And although hes planning to perform a bit less for the immediate future, you can count on him always having the bug to get in front of an audience; because the reward of being able to write a good story is being able to tell it. The CD release party for Rewindwill happen on at the Harmony Bar in Madison on Sunday, December 12th beginning at 7:30. The Moon Gypsies plus extra guests will be on hand including as many of the fiftyeight musicians who played on Rewind as can be rounded up. Although the show is scheduled to go until 11:30 you can bet that the jamming will carry on long after that. Its been a good ride so far, Conaway says reflectively. Im glad I have this chance to move on now to the future. Ive been extremely blessed.

~ Rick Tvedt - Rick's Cafe


Discography

Boys Town - 1986
I'm Yours(single) - 1986
It's You(single) - 1987
Hey Amanda(single) - 1989
Dixie Highway - 1992
No Brakes, No Choice, Co Exit - 1994
We Knew Love - 1996
Family Tree - 1998
The Moon Gypsies - 1999
Slip(The Moon Gypsies) - 2002
I Ride A Hog(The Moon Gypsies) - 2003
Rewind (Anthology) - 2004
A Beautiful Blur - 2008d
The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs - 2008

Photos

Bio

Robert J. Conaway grew up literally "riding the rails," following the career of his father, an executive with the Canadian National Railroad. He didn't live in all the cities but experienced life in a few.....like Duluth, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, Buffalo, Vancouver, Toronto, and Detroit. During college, he worked as a "gandy dancer" on the railroad while finishing up his education at night school, and on the weekends he played in bands. When Robert graduated, he quit his railroad job, jumped in the "band van" and migrated to Colorado with a band called Happy Trails, living the spirit of a wanderer.

Like the mighty Mississippi River, Robert J.'s music flows from the many different genres that pepper the river's banks. From the spiritual origins of blues music, to its successor rock and roll, Robert J.'s music encompasses elements of blues, rock, R&B/soul, and heartfelt, floor-stomping country. Such a mix of genres gives his music its own unique flavor and has allowed him to share the stage with artists of all genres.

Since those early days, Robert J. has played thousands of shows with countless bands. He has written hundreds of songs. He's lived at least several lives, and throughout it all, Robert J. has always tried to make sense of life through song. His lyrics are direct, edgy reenactments of life itself, mirroring the will of a survivor.

2007 was a milestone year for Robert J. He recorded two new CDs, "A Beautiful Blur" and "The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs," while continuing to develop acts for indie label PopBomb Records. He also played shows, solo, with label-mate Lucas Cates and with his roots rocking Americana band, The Moon Gypsies. In his spare time Robert J. placed some songs in a movie, wrote some more songs, helped to raise his young family, and.....had a heart attack while raking leaves in his backyard! When Robert J. heard the ER doctor say the six words that threatened to shake his foundation: "You are having a heart attack," all he could think about was his wife, his kids and the songs that he hadn't finished writing, displaying the soul of a songwriter.

Since that November day in 2007, Robert J. has gone through cardiac rehab, lost 24 pounds, written over 20 newly inspired songs, formed his new band, "The Rowdy Prairie Dogs," and has a new found respect for such basic principles as faith, commitment, family, health, humility, fear, hope, and compassion. Through that life-altering event, Robert J.'s transformation has begun.

In 2008 we are witness to a life transformation of a musician's heart and soul, a rededication of an already dedicated man. The soul of a songwriter, the heart of a musician, the spirit of a wanderer, the will of a survivor--all embodied in one man. Robert J's music tells the story, the story of triumph over adversity and the will of the human spirit. That spirit shines through his music and leaves a legacy of the man, the spirit, the wanderer, and the survivor.

Influences
Mostly, I've been influenced by the musicians I have played with over the years. After that, pretty much the basics...Elvis, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan The Beatles, CSN&Y,Little Feat, Springsteen and most everything in between and beyond.
Bios
"Anxious road songs, weary heart songs, monochrome self-portraits of mavericks trapped in a continuum of mental turmoil and unease." - Tom Laskin, The Isthmus, Madison, WI Mar. 2002

Biography #1.Robert J. has had a guitar in his hand since the age of 2. His early attempts at trying to be the next BIG "Singing Cowboy" sensation were layed to rest when his parents wouldn't buy him a horse. Instead, he entered kindergarten and pursued an education. His love for music, especially rock and roll continued to grow and grow. He saw the Beatles at Comisky Park in 1965. He saw the Grateful Dead open for Jefferson Airplane in 1967 (or was it '68). After graduating from college, he jumped in the band van and migrated from Detroit to the mountains of Colorado. The band's name was "Happy Trails"! Basically, Robert has been jumping in the band van and following the "Happy Trail" ever since.

BIOGRAPHY #2. Robert J. has lived all over North America; from Northern Minnesota to Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle, L.A., and Colorado. He has called Madison, Wisconsin his home for the last 24 years. Robert has put out 4 recordings since 1986 and an anthology disc called "Rewind" was released on PopBomb Records in late 2004. Robert has received many songwriting awards and in 1999 won 1st place honors in the Billboard Songwriting Contest for his R&B song "A Million Miles Away". In 2003, Robert was given the Male Vocalist of the year award from the Wisconsin Area Music Industry(WAMI's) Robert has played shows with many acts including Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Taj Mahal, The Subdudes, Buckwheat Zydeco, Delbert McClinton, Ellis Paul and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.