I’m going to make this little article a bit personal. Why not? I am an unabashed Robin Batteau fan. From the first time I heard his playing and singing, I became a fan. I will never forget an evening at the Nameless Coffeehouse in Harvard Square and being present with his music. Fast forward a couple of decades and I found myself on the board of NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) and got to enjoy sitting next to Robin at events – swapping jokes off-mike. It’s been a real joy and privilege to get to present Buskin and Batteau (and the amazing Marshal Rosenberg) in concert at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA. This week’s show on Friday, September 20 is no exception.
You can learn more about Robin and his fascinating career on his website.
Watch the genius of this song, “Boy with the Violin.”
Or this beautiful song “Guinevere.”
Robin reminisced and gave us a few fun facts to share here.
First record you ever purchased:
Joan Baez, for my mom for her birthday.
What was the first concert you attended?
Joan Baez, with my dad at the original Club 47 when it was a sandwich shop on Mount Auburn Street when she was 16 and I was 11.
First time you performed on stage:
Fourth grade, Shady Hill School, some bit of Aeschylus. (We were studying ancient Greece.) I wrote a chiton, was the second lead, had some cool lines and then they killed me and I played the rest of the playlet as a corpse.
My first folky performance was accompanying Johnny Compton on the violin at the Sword and the Stone on Charles Street down the block from the Turk’s Head in Boston in 1967. In December when Johnny was on vacation from Prep School (Barlow), and my brother David who had accompanied Johnny on cello to win the audition couldn’t make it because his prep school (Choate) vacation schedule wouldn’t let him, I was already at Harvard…so local… I was a sub. Johnny and I wound up making to very cool albums for Columbia Records together, Appaloosa and Compton and Batteau in California.
Favorite recording studio experience:
Producing Mason Daring and Jeanie Stahl’s first album, I think, 1976. We were laughing so much that we got confused about what was funny, so you had to put up a hand to indicate you’d made a joke. As always, I insisted it be a co-production with the artists. No, I’m not raising my hand. Wonderful time. Wonderful sidemen including Bill Staines and Kenny White. Hands down.
Most or least missed part of the way records used to be made:
I don’t miss tape hiss or tape rewind. I do miss the clouds of cigarette smoke, roadhouse perfume and playing “strip jingle’ where every time you made a mistake, you had to take off one article of clothing. Singers would arrive for a session dressed for winter in Alaska in August in New York. Good times.
Chevy, Coke, McDonald’s were great fun, but “We Deliver” for the Post Office which David Buskin wrote and I sang was our first jingle collaboration and pretty darn cool. Our “I Feel Like Chicken Tonight” pissed people off for a bunch of years which was also fun…and a psycho track for Skittles I did with Kenny also set many a hair on fire.
Inspirational musicians / songwriters:
The Everly Brothers, Beatles, Tom Rush, Baez, Belafonte, Jobim, Tom Lehrer, Kingston Trio, Bo Diddley, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift
Most memorable shows:
Carnegie, Fillmore East, Troubadour, Newport were cool. But again in 1985, on tour with Tom Rush and David, we were playing the Cellar Door in DC and in the middle of the show that night, suddenly it felt like I wasn’t playing my violin. It was playing by itself …it was like scratching heaven.
Favorite instruments (year, model, type of wood, or any other descriptions!)
My little brown 1949 000 Martin made the year I was born, which my wife, Wendy, bought me as a birthday present. Inspired by Mimi Farina’s guitar which took my breath away when I played on her album in 1985 and my red housebrand (Carlo Robelli) Sam Ash acoustic electric guitar which everyone (David and Marshal) hates but I love, not the least because it cost $99 with the case…and my reconstructed 1898 Scarampella violin which my parents gave me for my 13th birthday. It’s what I play onstage today.
Craziest road trip story (keep it clean! lol):
At the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1985, David and I somehow led about 30 festival-goers into the hotel room, naked, in the middle of the night, all chanting “It’s okay with Tom!” which was our usual “out line” when we got in trouble because our boss was Tom Rush, with who were accompanying and opening for on tour.