Robbie Dupree interview, February, 2004
By Georg Forchhammer.
Georg Forchhammer has teamed up with Robbie Dupree to talk about the earlier days and the future of his career in the west coast music world. Over the years Robbie has been active as an artists, producer etc. and has brought us many classic west coast music hits from the 80´s to now.
-You have always had your own musical style, both as songwriter and composer. Which artists inspired you to start writing your own music?
At a very early age I was introduced to r&b music through the Acapella artists of the time. As the music evolved I followed artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke and many more. My first songs were inspired by these classic artists and to this day they remain my heroes.
-In 1978 you moved to Los Angeles, where you recorded your first 2 albums. Was the music life different over there from what you were used to in New York and Woodstock?
My move to LA was due to the fact that I wanted to work with Rick Chudacoff and Peter Bunetta. We met and became friends in Woodstock, New York, 1973. I loved their band “Crackin” and it was my dream to work with them. The music scene in Woodstock was very cool at that time. Great musicians were living here and I had the honor of working with many of them. I just wanted a change of pace and the chance to make a record with Rick and Peter, for that matter most of the music for my first album was played and sung by members of “Crackin”
After having released your self-titled debut album in 1980 that produced 2 top 10 singles, ”Steal Away” and “Hot Rod Hearts”, and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, what expectations did you have for your future musical carrier?
To be honest about those days, I was so happy to get a record deal much less a couple of big hit records, that I felt like I had just won a race. I had been in the business for years by that time and I had a very guarded attitude about the future. No expectations….just joy.
After your 2 first great album in ’80 and ’81, your carrier kind of stopped. Your record company, Elektra, dropped you because you didn’t want to record music their way. So you chose to ‘sit out’ your contract. How would you describe the period from then and up to ’89 and your comeback album, “Carried Away”?
First, Elektra records dropped me in what was a big change at the label. They moved away from Pop Music, into New Wave and Hard Rock. For many years the direction of the music business was away from singer songwriters, always looking for the next new fad.
I was not alone in the turmoil of changing times. The careers of many of my peers were put on hold or at least slowed down.
I sat out my management contract in order that when it was time to begin again, I would have a fresh start. In fact, I was playing live and writing for the years before I finally recorded Carried Away for Pony Canyon Records in Japan.
-When you finally released your album, “Carried Away”, in ’89, we met some new sides of you, both as singer, songwriter and now also producer. You had developed a whole new great sound, which I would describe as sometimes being ‘dark’, tending towards melancholy. How would you describe your change of style compared to the 2 earlier albums?
As I said earlier, I had been a musician for years before my first success. By industry standards I was already considered old at 32 years of age. When the Elektra days were done my work was not geared towards hit singles or radio but rather, writing songs that reflect where I was in my life. I always wrote songs about love but they were more youthful concepts. My music matured and so did the message that love and life are not as uncomplicated when you grow up. I began listening to artists like Joni Mitchell, Blue Nile, and others who dealt with life and a sophisticated language of song writing.
–How did your fans respond to the “new” Robbie?
The road back to finding my fan base was difficult. Radio still played my Hits but new songs were given little attention. Fans from Japan, France, and Scandinavia kept me going. When the WEB came to be commonplace, my website opened the door to a new world. Fans responded favorably to the new music but it is a hard road without a major record company to promote my music. At this point I feel like old and new fans find me every day. The support they give to my live shows and new projects is quite wonderful.
-As mentioned before, you had your debut as producer on “Carried Away”. What made you want to sit behind the buttons?
Producing was a logical step. It really began with a song I recorded in 87, “This Is Life”…. I wanted to shape my records to be a more personal vision. I had acquired experience in the years between 82-87 and I felt most comfortable in the role.
-A few years later, you produced Bill LaBounty’s comeback album “The Right Direction”. What is the story behind your ‘reunion’ in the record studio?
Bill LaBounty and I met in the studio in LA while I was at the end of recording my debut album. Gary Brandt, engineer, suggested Bill as a contributor. I was reluctant to add any songs to the album because we were already behind schedule. Steal Away was a hit single and the album was not even released. The label was screaming for the completed album. I finally listened to Gary and my producers, meeting Bill and hearing an almost finished Hot Rod Hearts on the studio piano. We finished the song and the recording in a marathon 24 hour session.
Bill and I went on to write many songs together. I recorded other work of Bill’s and in time, his writing influenced each of my recordings. When a Japanese label and a French label pooled their interest in a new LaBounty album, I brought the concept to Bill. We made a good record together and I am proud of the songs we wrote for it as well.
-In the late 80’ies more and more songwriters started having their own home studios. Using your own equipment, you started developing a new kind of song writing built on drum and bass riffs. Could you describe that process of writing?
I have never been a proponent of drum machines but as a writing tool they can be a useful tool. With reduced budgets it was more difficult to get groups of musicians together for work sessions. I retreated to my home in Woodstock where I created musical atmosphere with home recording devices. To this day, I prefer getting together with musicians to write tracks – but the tech equipment fills the gap when it is impossible to do it other ways.
-Do you have specific musicians in mind, when you write songs? The reason for this question is that to me, it would seem that you might have had e.g. Steve Gadd in mind for your “Smoke and Mirrors” album from ’95 (especially one the song “Truly Amazing”).
I have been using many of the same musicians on my recordings since This is Life in 1987. I always rely on them for their understanding and interpretation of my music. Quite honestly, I write very simple grooves – the magic is created by players like Steve Gadd, David Sancious, Tony Levin, Jeff Pevar, Harvey Jones, John Robinson and the rest of regulars.
-The last track on “Smoke and Mirrors” is a wonderful re-recording of “The Last Goodbye”, originally from “Street Corner Heroes”. Why did you choose to make that song again? (Well, not that it matters – it’s a great song..)
I re-recorded Long Goodbye because I was experimenting with making music simple and organic again. I had been performing this song as a piano-voice duet for years. I really liked the results and I received many good comments from fans.
-Later on, you approached your friend and keyboard player, David Sancious, with a list of songs you would like to play just with piano, song and harmonica. And according to him, it worked out beautifully from the first time.
However, in an interview from the west coast festival in Paris in ’97, you described your songs as being more kind of ‘moods’ and not typical songs to be played on just acoustic instruments. What were your reasons for wanting to play your songs acoustically?
In my interview in Paris I was probably explaining that my newer songs were not typical in that they were not written on piano or guitar. They were not traditional Pop songs- and that atmosphere played a big role in conveying the songs message. When I brought the songs and concept of a duet to David, we agreed that David would arrange the music to be faithful to the mood of the original recordings, but remain as open and expressive as possible. These arrangements are treasures because David is a brilliant artist
-You also began performing, just David Sancious and you. How is that compared to playing with a band?
Our live shows continue to be a great musical experience for me . It is much different from band performances, but in no way is it anything less powerful
-Last year, you released an album with just David and you. Normally your recordings involve a lot of musicians, so how was it to be just the 2 of you?
It was great. I consider our cd to be one of my proudest moments.
-David and you wrote 1 song, “Sunny Day”, together for the album. David surely believes that more songs will come from the two of you. Do you agree? (We will only accept a ‘yes’…☺).
David and I have written and recorded several songs together including, Real World, Person to Person and most recently, Sunny Day. We have a trust in each others song writing, making it a wonderful experience.
-Through the years you have performed many times in the United States, of course, and in South America, Japan and Europe. How would you describe the audiences and fans you have met outside the U.S.?
Performing around the world is a much different experience than performing in the U.S. As a rule, international audiences are more informed about music and they are very supportive of artists from all eras. For as long as I can remember, American artists have enjoyed the support of fans from around the world even after the market in America has gone quiet.
-You performed at the West Coast Festival in Paris, France in 1997 among artists like Marc Jordan, Stephen Bishop, Ambrosia, Peter Mayer and others. Is there any chance of seeing you in Europe in the near future?
The West Coast Festival was fantastic. I performed there both years and I was completely blown away by the response from fans. Many had travelled across Europe to be there. My fondest memory was singing “Are you ready for love” with the late Greg Guidry.
I’m not sure if there will be another festival in PARIS but I would surely be there again…
-As a lot of other singer songwriters you have started releasing your albums on your own label. Is this a consequence of earlier experiences with other record companies or just an urge to be free / be your ‘own master’?
I began releasing my own recordings because the business has changed so much in recent years. It is better to control your own destiny than to be in the hands of incompetent and often dishonest record companies.
Artists like myself are working hard to keep music flowing to their fans. Being on a record label today is much more of a disadvantage to artist and fan alike. The WEB has made it easy to have direct contact with our fans and it seems everyone is happy with the situation.
-Your 2 Vintage albums have only been released in limited editions. They include recordings from 1974 and from the period between your 2 first albums and “Carried Away”. The fact that you have chosen to share this materiel with us fans might describe you as “a fan of your fans”…
The Vintage collections are for real fans. I found many tapes from the past and decided to share the music from that time period. It is an interesting collection of demos, unreleased material, Spanish language versions of some early hits. Since I was not signed to a major label I had the freedom to do this kind of project.
-On your “Vintage vol. 2” you have added a bonus video of the song “This is Life” – a song you were inspired to write by the loss of a dear friend who was killed by a drunk driver. The State of New York then made this video to show to high school students as a part of a campaign against drunk driving. I was very moved by this video – partly because it is a beautiful song that doesn’t tend to be either too sentimental or to moralistic and partly because it is a very personal video with pictures of your friend, Robin DeLisio, and his family. What reactions have you got from this video?
The video accompanying This is Life was originally produced for use by The State of New York, It was an educational tool used to point out the perils of drunk driving. I had recently lost my friend Robin DeLisio in an accident caused by a drunk driver. He left behind 6 young children. It was such a tragedy. His family allowed me to make this video, sharing family photos etc. The reaction was very profound. People were moved to tears and I think in some small way I was able to help raise awareness. I included it on Vintage 2 because there would be no other way to let people see it around the world.
-Your latest release, the duo album with you and David Sancious, could be described as ‘a tribute to Robbie Dupree’s wonderful back catalogue of songs’. You have described the cd as being one of your moments. Do you and David have another acoustic album in mind, or would you rather make an album with a whole band next time?
My cd with David is a special project but I wouldn’t expect to make another like it. My next project will be a full band project. I hope to begin it late in 04. I will be performing extensively this year and it would be perfect to bring the band into the studio when we are at the top of our performance.
More information about Robbie Dupree at his official website.