Family Style

The Robison philosophy on fraternal bonds: the less hyped the better

It could be the stuff Nashville wet dreams are made of: two strapping, handsome brothers from a Wild West small town in Texas, both of whom sing and write songs. They grew up ranching, working on an oil pipeline and playing in a local band before they both won sports scholarships to college. One is married to a pretty, well-respected singer, while the other is engaged to a gal from a currently chart-topping country act. Why, hell, put them boys in Stetsons and some crisp, tight Wranglers, get 'em to cut an album -- hell, even a single -- together, maybe even make a video for TNN or CMT that gets the babes wet in the saddle, and it just might be "easy street, here they come."

But Bruce and Charlie Robison will have none of that. Although these two siblings from Bandera by way of Austin make contributions to each other's albums, and have a fairly obvious pact of mutual support, don't expect them to go the way of so many other brothers -- from the Everlys to more recent Texans such as the Vaughans and Sextons -- and team up to milk the natural show-biz fondness for family acts, at least not any time soon. Even though they've both issued new CDs via the same major-label affiliate, the Nashville straight-and-narrow is far from where the Robisons make their way. Charlie has already bailed on one previous Music City deal, and Bruce seems almost surprised that he's come up to bat in the musical major leagues, having previously seen his future mainly as a writer, not a performer.

Which means that you probably aren't going to hear Bruce's Wrapped and Charlie's Life of the Party on 93Q Country. Nor, for that matter, are these musically left-leaning "country" discs likely to change the thinking in the industry, even though they are full of the smart and rugged songwriting that Nashville is sorely lacking these days. But that hasn't stopped both siblings from seeing their deals with Sony's Lucky Dog imprint as a ray of hope for their brand of quality American roots music from Texas.

For both Robison brothers, the mere fact that they have careers is like a dream come true. "I'm surprised, in a way, that I ended up being a songwriter and a singer," Bruce confesses. "It didn't seem to be an attainable goal when I was a kid. Those people who made records and stuff were from another planet as far as I was concerned. My family was very working class; journeyman types. After I quit school, they hoped I would join a union or something."

Luckily, the brothers Robison (both pronounce it "Rah-bison," not "Row-bison") grew up in Bandera, the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Capital of the World," a town where the horizons were far more wide-open than in most other small Texas communities. "It's kind of special, in that it's a small Texas town, and yet there's lots of tourists there, so it's a real open-minded place," Bruce explains. "People are used to seeing anybody from Japan or England or China or wherever the hell. It's pretty cosmopolitan in its own backwards kind of way."

Similarly, the Robison household boasted fairly eclectic musical tastes. "We lived out on a ranch, and every morning I would wake up at 7 o'clock with Janis Joplin blaring or Stone Poneys or something like that," recalls Charlie. "It was always there. My grandmother's a huge music fan. Any time of the day, music would be a huge, integral part of what was going on."

By the time they were in high school, Charlie (the elder) and Bruce (the younger) Robison were playing together in a band that covered everything from Black Sabbath tunes to "Whiskey River." Each of them won sports scholarships to college -- Charlie playing football, Bruce in basketball -- and eventually dropped out. For both, the clarion call of a musical future echoed somewhere in the back of their minds.

"It's really what I wanted to do," says Charlie. "Either that, or I wanted to be a professional sports person, baseball or football player or something. I guess at the point when I was a sophomore [in high school] that I decided I wanted to do music. I really didn't want to go play college football that bad. I wanted to stay and keep doing music. But I felt like, you're getting free school, you'd be stupid not to. It was a good experience, but then I was ready to get back to music."

For Bruce, the ambitions took a bit longer to bubble to the surface. "I didn't think it was something that was within my capabilities. Those people I idolized, like Waylon and Willie, they weren't real people. When I was a kid, there were people like that, and people like me.

"I never really thought that people would want to listen to my voice. It was a long and slow transformation to get to that level of conceit, which it kinda is: I'm gonna book a show and people are gonna pay money and come in and watch me for two hours. For me that's a pretty conceited notion, a pretty arrogant proposition."

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