Q&A with singer and harmonica player Tad Robinson, one of the leading voices of modern soul-blues music.

"Technique is a means of expressing what's in your soul and in your heart. Technique is the mechanism that helps to make real the ideas that you have. But once you have technique, you are best off to leave it alone and just express yourself and communicate with an audience."

Tad Robinson: The Soul-Blues ...Love Is!

Singer and harmonica player Tad Robinson is one of the leading voices of modern soul-blues music. From his NYC roots and his Indiana and Chicago musical upbringing, Tad has caught the attention of the scene with his 10 Blues Music Award nominations and his recordings for Delmark Records and the Severn Records label. He tours widely in the U.S. and has played in over 20 countries worldwide with performances at some of the most important international blues festivals. With Harmonica chops influenced by Junior Wells and Junior Parker and a voice inspired by Otis Redding, Syl Johnson, Al Green, and Teddy Pendergrass, Tad ranks as one of the most unique and talented members of the international blues and soul communities. After being recruited by guitarist Dave Specter to join his Chicago band in the 1990s and record the studio album, Blueplicity as well as a “live-in-Europe” release, Tad has gone on to collaborate with some of the highest profile musicians in the genre. In 2004, Robinson was signed to a record deal with Maryland-based soul/blues focussed, Severn Records, a turning point in his career which moved him further into the blues spotlight.  

(Tad Robinson / Photo by Rich Voorhees)

His last five album releases for Severn have featured backing by the great Severn house band of Steve Gomes, Robb Stupka, Kevin Anker and Benjie Porecki, and horn and string arrangements by the legendary producer Willie Henderson. The Severn output has also included guest appearances by the Memphis Horns, Otis Clay, Anson Funderburgh, Johnny Moeller, Alex Schultz, and the Hi Rhythm Section. The powerful singer/harp player just released the single “That’s How Strong My Love Is” with Delmark and the final recording sessions for his new Delmark album will happen in Chicago at the end of March 2024. Tad says: "I'm so excited about working as a Delmark Records artist again! I'll be hitting you all up with news about an album of brand new songs that we are working on...". He was featured singing this tune in 1994 Dave Specter’s Delmark album “Blueplicity”. Looking for a song for the historical Delmark 70th anniversary concert, Tad and Dave decided to revisit this title after three decades, this time with the Delmark.

Interview by Michael Limnios                    Archive: Tad Robinson, 2015 Interview

Special Thanks: Tad Robinson, Kevin Johnson & Delmark Records

How has the Blues influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues music is a great unifier. I've seen it bring people together. Historically, Blues music is also music that alerts people about hardship, inequality and injustice in the world. Blues is more than a strong melody and a strong groove, it's a language that speaks hard truths about personal relationships as well as the human condition on a larger scale. The unparalleled power of blues music can be illustrated by examining just how many other styles of music have come branching off from the original form. Blues music has become inseparable, and practically a synonym for American music in general. And then add to that, the fact that Blues is heard and celebrated as emblematic of American culture's finest hour, in so many other parts of the world.

What moment changed your music life the most? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I don't think there was any single moment, but as a kid hearing the great soul voices like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, David Ruffin, and so many others, reached me deep in my heart and I always wanted to make music from those early years, on into my whole life.

Technique is a means of expressing what's in your soul and in your heart. Technique is the mechanism that helps to make real the ideas that you have. But once you have technique, you are best off to leave it alone and just express yourself and communicate with an audience.

"I think it was very hard for me at first to conceptualize how to be something more than a blues imposter, as a white musician, and particularly as a white singer. Finding your own direction and carving it out is tough when you begin." (Tad Robinson / Photo by Rich Voorhees)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

The golden rule still stands tall: treat people as you would want to be treated. It works!

Why do you think that Delmark Records continues to generate such a devoted following?

There are several reasons that Delmark continues to have devoted followers. One aspect is that Delmark is so closely associated with the great city of Chicago and its cultural heritage in blues and in jazz. The music that came out of Chicago has been embraced worldwide as something that is real and singular, and Delmark has throughout that history been there to capture those sounds, often like "lightning in a bottle". So, there is the Chicago connection. Also, the approach of Delmark to capturing a live feeling and the energy of that connection between the music and listener has always been a feature of Delmark's music. The ultimate respect for the blues and jazz traditions embodied by the Delmark catalogue is what continues to be another hallmark of the label and its leadership.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of your new single song “That’s How Strong My Love Is”?

In 2023 I began to talk with Julia Miller and Elbio Barilari, the owners of Delmark, about perhaps releasing a new album of songs with Delmark. They thought it would be a nice introduction to the current musical direction of the label if I came to Chicago and performed a couple of songs at a gig celebrating the 70th anniversary of the label. The show was actually in Evanston at the great nightclub, Evanston SPACE. So I sang that night with the Delmark All-Stars. I had a great time that night. One of the two songs I performed was one of my favorites, That's How Strong My Love Is. I didn't know that we were being recorded, or if I did, I forgot about it. Shortly after the gig I heard about the desire of the label to release songs from that night's performance. And now we have a live version!

"I think so, and I hope so. There are plenty of young musicians who have been convinced that the blues is still relevant! Some of those young musicians have now become ambassadors to the world." (Tad Robinson & Dave Specter, Delmark Records 70th Anniversary at Evanston SPACE, 2023 / Photo by Casey Mitchel)

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

I think it was very hard for me at first to conceptualize how to be something more than a blues imposter, as a white musician, and particularly as a white singer. Finding your own direction and carving it out is tough when you begin.

I think the main thing is writing your own material and creating your own brand of blues and soul. Rather than being a cover artist, the only way to continue to work in the blues world is to try to keep your music fresh and to be "you"! Writing my own songs doesn't come easy for me. But the only way to sleep at night is if you are being genuine with your music. Honesty is the main factor that allows you to have longevity in the business and as an artist. You have to be true to yourself first. And then people will perhaps be interested in what you have to say. Particularly in Blues, which is often played and perceived as being so derivative, it's hard to seek out a path where you can create and be original.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications?  How do you want the music to affect people?

Ultimately the point of music is to uplift people. Sometimes uplifting them is shining a light on what is wrong with the world and seeking a better world. But there is also the aspect of the arts which is about transporting people to another plane of existence, away from their daily struggles. Blues music has always also been about pure entertainment, and storytelling.

Do you think there is an audience for blues/soul music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

I think so, and I hope so. There are plenty of young musicians who have been convinced that the blues is still relevant! Some of those young musicians have now become ambassadors to the world.

Tad Robinson - Home

(Tad Robinson / Photo by Rich Voorhees)

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