An Interview with Soul Blues Legend Roy Roberts: I could go back to when music was real

Roy Roberts became hooked on music while growing up in a small town in Tennessee, listening to blues and R&B on radio stations WLAC out of Nashville. Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” was the clincher and at the age of 14, Roy worked on a nearby farm to earn the money for his first guitar, a mail order Sears Silvertone.

When he turned 18, he moved to Greensboro, North Carolina to live with an uncle. There he had another inspiration to become a professional musician, when he and a carload of friends happened upon a nightclub where Jerry Butler was performing and making quite an impression on the ladies. Roy sharpened his skills while playing in makeshift bands until he landed a job with local hero Guitar Kimbers’ Untouchables. Before long, Roy was backing up major artists who came through town. One of those artists, Solomon Burke, took young Roy under his wing after letting him sit in as a bass player during a local gig. He was soon handling the guitar chores behind the future soul legend on tour. Roberts subsequently picked up touring gigs with such luminaries as Eddie Floyd, “Little” Stevie Wonder, Dee Clark, and Otis Redding, while fronting his own band, The Roy Roberts Experience, on the regional club scene and Southeastern beach town circuit.

Roy began to cut records in the mid-sixties, staying mostly behind the scenes as a session man. The tragic death of Otis Redding inspired him to step up to the microphone with a song dedicated to the late crooner. The record was released on Nina Simone’s NinaAndy label and backed by an ace studio band. Roy followed this successful effort with a string of 45’s that carried him well into the seventies. During the disco years, Roy turned his talents to country music, touring with the great O.B. McClinton and releasing a number of country records. After a brief hiatus from the music scene, Roy built a recording studio in Virginia in 1989, where he produced records by regional gospel artists and cut a gospel record of his own.



One day in the early nineties, he heard a young Robert Cray singing the blues on the radio. “That cat’s got my style,” he declared, and got the blues fever once again. Besides recording his own material on Rock House, Roberts has produced albums for the label by Priscilla Price, Lou Pride, Chick Willis, Skeeter Brandon, Floyd Miles, Eddie Floyd, and many more. Roy continues to record and produce records for his label, and tours the U.S. and Europe regularly. After receiving numerous awards, Roy has earned his place among the finest artists playing blues today.


Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in the blues &who were your first idols?

I became involved with the blues in 1993 and my first idols were Jimmy Reed and Bobby "Blue" Bland. I grew up listening to those guys and hoped one day I could be like them.


Which artists have you worked with & which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best?

I worked with artists such as Solomon Burke, Stevie Wonder, Dee Clark, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, and Otis Redding. I consider Solomon Burke the best.  I learned a lot from him to be a good artist myself.


Is “blues” a way of life & what does the BLUES mean to you?

The blues is a way of life… I came up when times were hard and I lived the blues. So the blues really means a lot to me. You really have to live it to know what the blues really means.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best moments i my career was to be able to travel the world. That was always my biggest dream. The worst time was in the beginning of my career when I had bad management and was beat out of a lot of money. That was the worst.

 

Is there any similarity between the blues today and the blues of the sixties?

The blues today is a lot different than the blues of the sixties. The blues was a lot was a lot more bluesy than what we have today. It was recorded differently with a all live band. Guys playing real instruments, not a drum machine and a keyboard.  The sixties blues was recorded with playing all the instruments.

 

From the musical point of view is there any difference between the north and the south?

There is a difference between the north and the south when it comes to blues. The south is the home of the blues.  A lot more guys moved to the north and took the blues with them. So if you want to hear good blues go south.  You might even run into me along the way.

 

What do you think were the reasons for the blues boom at the end of the sixties?

I think the reason for the blues boom at the end of the sixties was because times were hard and had everyone feeling and singing the blues.

 

Did you help many artist in the meantime did you found any gratitude from them?

I have helped a lot of artists during that time and I found very little gratitude from them. Most of them fell by the wayside, and I am still doing my thing.

 

How was your relationship with the other North Carolina blues bands?

My relationship with other North Carolina blues bands is good I guess. The reason being a lot of them come to me for help.

 

Which musician have you ever wanted to be?

I always wanted to be the best musician I could be. And that was to be myself not like anyone else.

 

Do you think the younger generations are interested in the blues?

The youngest generations of Whites are more interested in the blues than the Blacks.

 

Which of your work would you consider to be the best?

I consider my best work to be when I started playing the blues. My favorite piece of work was a gospel album that I recorded which was dedicated to my Mother. She taught me how to play piano when I was a young boy.

 

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your meet with Solomon Burke

I met Solomon Burke in 1963. I went to a club to see him. The band that was going to back him that night was having a problem at rehearsal with the bass player.  The guy was a friend of mine and asked me to show him how to play the song.  So when I showed him how to play it Solomon asked me did I know how to play any of the other songs. I told him I knew how to play all of his recordings to he asked me to play for him that night.  After the show he asked me to go on the road with him.  And that is how we got together.  That was the beginning of me becoming a recording artist myself.

 

Do you feel more like a singer, a guitarist or producer?

I feel like I am a decent singer, guitarist and producer.


What made you want to work with Robert Cray?

I wanted to work with Robert Cray because our sound is similar.



What does Blues offered you & why do you play the blues?

The blues offered me a way to make a good living and I play the blues because I love the blues.

 

What do you learn about yourself from music?

I learned a lot about myself from music. When I am down music picks me up. When things are wrong for me music  is always there to pick me up.  It is my best friend.

 

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

I learned from Solomon Burke how to capture the crowd when I am on stage. So my contact with people when I am on stage is great.

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

The most interesting period in my life is when I am traveling on the road to a gig. And you asked whey the road and playing?  It's my life.

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

I think what makes me a good musician is that I am loyal to the fans to the music business.

 

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as an old blues man that loved playing his music.

 

What was the first gig you ever went to?

My first gig I went to was in 1962 and it was great.  I knew then that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

 

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

If I wasn't a musician then I would have been a long distance truck driver so I could travel. I love the road.

 

What turns you on?

Music is a big turn on for me.

 

How was your recording hours with all your guests?

My recording hours with all my guests are great. We spend a lot of hours cutting a lot of good music.

 

How was your relationship with Otis Redding & what advice would you had given to him?

My relationship with Otis Redding was great, and he didn't need me to give him advice. He was a great artist in his own right.

 

What gift would you give to Johnny Rawls?

Johnny Rawls and I gave each other a gift when we recorded a great CD together.

 

What would you ask of Commodores?

I would not ask anything from the Commodores unless it would be keep recording good music.

 

What do you think of Nina Simone?

I loved the music of Nina Simone. She was a great artist.



What mistake of blues business you want to correct?

If I could correct anything in the blues business it would be getting the club owners to pay more money for good entertainment.

 

You have traveling all around the world. What are your conclusions?

My conclusions for traveling the world: it has been great and I hope I can keep on traveling till the end.

 

Give one wish for the music

My wish for the music world would be that I could go back to when music was real, with real people playing it, and we could make good money playing it.

 

Media or talent plays the most important role for a artist to get discovered?

Talent plays the most important role for a artist to get discovered.

 

What is the think you miss most of the 60s

I miss mostly the sixties with all the great music and all the great singers.

 

Is there anything that you mist from your childhood times?

The one thing I miss about my childhood is being with my grandparents.  They have been gone a long time, but I still think of them.

 

Three words to describe your sound & your progress

To describe my sound it is different from all the rest, and my plan was to be the best I could be.

 

Why did you think that Chick Willie continued to generate such a devoted following?

Chick Willis continues to generate a devoted following because he has been in the business for a lot of years.

 

What's been their experience of touring in Greece?

My experience of touring Greece was great.  I am waiting for you to bring me back.

 

When did you first realize you were a performer, that what you did onstage was affecting people?

I realized I was a performer when I had to open for Solomon Burke and the people went wild. I knew I wanted to be a performer.

 

Describe the ideal rhythm section to you?

The ideal rhythm section for me is guitar, organ, bass, and drums.

 

Who are some of your favorite blues musician of today & what was the last record you bought?

My favorite blues artist is B.B. King, and the last record I bought was B.B. King.


How do you get inspiration for your songs & what musicians have influenced you most as a songwriter?

I get inspiration to write songs by things that have happened in my life. The best song writers I think is Eddie Floyd, and Don Convey.


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

The music business has changed a lot over the years. All the real soul and blues singers have passed on and this is a new day in time. Club owners don't want to pay anything now. Music is not being played with real musicians.  It all has changed.


What advice would you give to aspiring  musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

My advice to all aspiring musicians: keep your heads together, leave drugs and alcohol alone, and work hard to be the best you can be.


What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?

The key to my success was hard work being consistent, and leaving the drugs and alcohol alone. Music to me is my job and my business.


Roy Robert's website




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