Terry Robb, friends bring acoustic tunes to Ridgefield
By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
August 3, 2018
He was just 10 years old when his father took him to see The Beatles’ concert at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum in August 1965, but Terry Robb learned a lot about his future as a guitarist’s guitarist from that one frantic occasion.
Lesson 1: Touring is tough. It later came to light The Beatles’ airplane lost an engine on its approach to Portland, and the band was grateful to touch down alive. Robb’s least favorite part of being a guitar hero is distances between venues, he said. And yet, he added, his favorite part is reaching new audiences — like the one he hopes will show up Saturday night at Ridgefield’s Old Liberty Theater. That’s not too far a distance for Robb, who lives in Portland and frequently visits family in Ridgefield, he said.
The Old Liberty “is a great room and (owner) Don Griswold is a cool guy,” Robb said. “I’ve seen the place build up over the years. It’s a great thing for a community like Ridgefield to have a place to bring live music, and a lot of really nice people always come out to listen.”
Lesson 2: Big rock concerts like The Beatles get crazy. “I remember a lot of screaming going on, and a line of cops in front of the stage throwing the girls back into the audience like they were tennis balls,” Robb said. “It was great, but seeing them on TV was better. You could see better and hear better.”
You’ll be able to hear Robb’s fine, fleet, genre-bending music and see his fantastic fingerpicking technique up close at the Old Liberty, where the acoustics are great. The same goes for special guests Adam Scramstad, a fellow blues/Americana finger-style guitarist; Zach Bryson, a honky-tonk, yodellin’ singer-songwriter; and an alt-singer-songwriter who goes by Stuart — yes, just Stuart.
“We’re doing a whole night of Americana,” said Robb, who has been hailed for decades for his own personal blend of Delta blues, swing, ragtime and country.
But Robb learned another, larger lesson from his diverse musical upbringing: genres are made for testing and blending. As a child he was exposed to symphony orchestras as well as live jivin’ by jazz giant Louis Armstrong in the parking lot of the Lloyd Center mall, he said. Robb’s first guitar was a gift from an uncle who played smooth swing music with Lawrence Welk. While he shared the world’s passion for The Beatles, Robb ultimately was drawn off by another British Invasion sound of the 1960s: black American blues that got revved up by white Brits with screaming electric guitars, and sent back across the ocean.
“It was a big blues revival,” Robb said. “You’d hear Howlin’ Wolf and you’d hear Cream. You’d hear The Beatles and you’d hear the (Rolling) Stones. Guitars were happening and the blues was happening. Everything was happening all at once. It was so exciting.”
Everything happening at once is a good description of Robb’s guitar technique. “I’ve developed a fingerpicking style that sounds like a full band played on solo guitar,” he said, “in which I play the bass line, rhythm chords and single-note leads simultaneously.” While definitely rooted in the blues, Robb likes to “incorporate influences from other genres too, such as jazz, classical and world music, often utilizing odd time measures to personalize my music,” he said.
Robb grew up in Pittsburgh and then Portland, where he was gigging by age 12. After college, he connected with local luminaries like singer Curtis Salgado and steel-string primitivist John Fahey, who became a significant mentor — and who invited Robb to produce Fahey’s albums for more than a decade. Robb also led his own band, toured nationally with Steve Miller, Salgado and electric blues legend Buddy Guy, and appeared as a special guest soloist with the Oregon Symphony.
Starting in 1992, Robb enjoyed an unbroken string of 19 consecutive wins of the Cascade Blues Association’s acoustic guitar award — through 2011, when the award itself was renamed the Terry Robb Acoustic Guitar award. In 2017, Robb also won the Cascade Blues Association’s Lifetime Achievement award (named for late Portland bluesman Paul deLay) “for his career not only as a musician, but as a teacher, producer and engineer in the studio working with artists” like Fahey, among many others.
Robb’s latest CD release is 2016’s “Cool on the Bloom,” a mostly acoustic album that foregrounds his fingers and his singing. The next Robb album, expected late this year or early in 2019, will be a little different, he said. Much of it was roughly sketched out but then improvised, live in the studio, with a group of stellar local musicians including Vancouver jazz drummer Garry Hobbs.
“That’s the kind of guy you want to play with,” Robb said, referencing the jam-heavy supergroup that came late in Jimi Hendrix’ career: “It’s an acoustic ‘Band of Gypsies’ kind of thing.”