May 23, 2024

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Interview with Robert Hill: That people would be successful based on their talent alone

Interview with Blues guitarist Robert Hill. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Robert Hill: – I grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas. North Little Rock was separated from Little Rock, the state capitol, by the Arkansas River. As the story goes, when someone from Little Rock had something they wanted to get rid of, say, a car, a dog, ex-wife or husband, they would drive it over the bridge into NLR, and dump it.

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As a result of people depositing, particularly dogs, the town gained the nickname of “Dogtown”, which became a sort of badge of honor for the NLR folks. We were keeping my aunt’s piano at our house growing up and no one was playing it. My Mother asked me if I’d be interested in taking piano lessons. I was 12, and into playing baseball at the time, so I really had no opinion about it.

I think Mothers know their children, and she had a suspicion I might take to it. So, I took piano lessons for about 3 years. Unfortunately, my teacher would never let me play what I was into at the time, which was Beatles, Stones, The Who, and I ended up quitting. But the best thing my teacher did do, was give me a music book of New Orleans Jazz & Blues just as I was quitting. I was completely taken with it, and that was the beginning of my love for blues, in particular. My older brother was also getting into the guitar, and inspired me to pick that up, later in my teens. It was in my early 20’s that I thought I might be able to actually make a little money playing.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound? What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

RH: – I started out listening to the older country blues artists, and took a particular interest in slide guitar. But when I heard Elmore James playing an electrified acoustic on Dust My Broom, that was it for me. The intensity of his voice and slide together was deep and explosive. So my first decent guitar was an electrified acoustic I got for a hundred bucks, which I still have, and my son is playing now. This led to my first electric guitar, a ’74 strat, which in turn led me to more modern electric slide players like, Duane Allman, Ry Cooder and Lowell George.

They all played a big part in helping me find my own style and sound, which is somewhere in the middle of those guys, but with a country blues/roots twist to it. I’ve always done a lot of demo recording at home, starting off with a reel to reel, and then on to 4 track cassette, and eventually a home studio setup with Protools. Consistently recording ideas/demos has helped me immensely in working on melody, song structure, and keeping my chops up. I’ve always been more interested in working up original material, so these tools helped me build ideas.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

RH: – Well I think intellect can obviously help in writing/arranging/producing, but if none of it is soulful, then it falls flat. Having technical knowledge is necessary, and will make things go much more smoothly, but you have to be able to tap into your soul side and not be afraid to bare it, or it doesn’t sound genuine and honest.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

RH: – Well, that’s kind of what it’s all about, isn’t it? If you don’t want to connect with people, and have that live experience together, then maybe you should stick with being a studio musician, or perhaps just writing or producing, which is certainly fine.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

RH: – A good song is a good song- no matter what genre. We do a fair number of old, obscure blues songs which no one has heard, but they always get a good crowd reaction.

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JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

RH: – That people would be successful based on their talent alone.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

RH: – Recently, I’ve been rediscovering old jazz and blues performers that I used to listen to like, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, and blues performers, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie Johnson and early Ray Charles.

Interview by Simon Sarg

Note: https://jazzbluesnews.com/2023/03/19/useu-jazz-blues-association-festivals/ You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/useujba/

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