The Robert Hill Band – Rollin’ with the Blues

Robert Hill Band interview

Robert Hill was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. A native of North Little Rock, Arkansas, Robert has been living and performing around the New York City area for the past 25 years. Tina LoBosco spoke with the award-winning slide guitarist and songwriter.

Hi Robert, can you tell me about your musical background?

Sure. I took piano lessons for 3 years growing up. Just before I quit, my teacher gave me a book on New Orleans Jazz & Blues, which opened a whole new world to me. Self-taught on the guitar beginning in college. Played throughout college, and for a number of years after, in various blues bands around Little Rock, Arkansas, where I’m from. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have four CDs out of mostly original material, almost all of which is blues-based. 

Tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Well, for most of my adult life I have been a graphic artist/animator during the day and played music at night. The graphics jobs paid the bills and insurance, but playing music at night is what fed my soul and kept me sane! About 4 years ago, I was able to pursue music full time. 

How would you describe your musical style of genre?

I would say, Delta Blues/Americana. It’s all steeped in the blues, but I do branch out into some Roots/Americana at times. Some Hill Country blues influence. I love all the old classic blues players and tunes, but I like to put my own twist on those when we do them, and on my original material. 

Can you share any memorable or defining moments in your musical journey so far?

Well, moving to NYC in the early 80’s got me on my way. It was a little daunting at first, but I was able to get into working in video post-production and animation and find a lot of great players to play music with. I needed a big change, and it proved to be the right move.

What challenges have you faced as a professional musician, and how did you overcome them?

It was a little hard holding down a demanding day job, and then playing music till the wee hours, there were many times where’d I go from a late-night gig to breakfast and then to the day job. Amazing how little sleep you need when you’re young. Also, dealing with unscrupulous venues that didn’t honor deals. Finding the money to go into a decent studio and record was also a major obstacle in the past.

Are there any artists or musicians who have influenced your work?

I have always gravitated towards the slide players like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Duane Allman, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Sonny Landreth. Other influences would be the 3 Kings, (Albert, BB and Freddie), Mississippi John Hurt, and Fred McDowell. Among rock players, I like Jimmy Page and particularly Jeff Beck.  How do you approach the process of creating and composing music?It can start with one good guitar lick, and maybe a phrase to go with it. It usually builds from something simple like that, for me. I have had a few songs come out all at once, almost fully formed, but most of the time I work on them a while, trimming the fat and only keeping the essence of whatever it is I’m going for. The songs do seem to write themselves once I get the ball rolling. I love creating something from nothing.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re excited about?

I’m working on a new album with singer Rae Simone and my daughter, Paulina. Mostly original, all blues with some soul and roots influences. I’m very excited about this one- it’s going to be unique, two incredible vocalists with different styles that work well together. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are just starting their journey? It’s ok to emulate whoever you like starting out, but if you are so inclined, find your own personal style, and if you can, WRITE! I say find your own style, that will come across as more interesting and honest, in my opinion. How do you balance your personal life with the demands of a music career?Well, I don’t have to do the day job anymore, so it’s much easier. I have infinitely more time to deal with everything! 

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