Brother, Can You Spare the Time?
Charlie and Bruce Robison, the crown princes of Texas country music, each had pretty good years in 2001. Charlie's Step Right Up generated impressive radio play, while his pointed public comments on the state of contemporary country garnered him plenty of ink. Bruce asked Sony to free him from his contract and recently self-released the masterful Country Sunshine album. Lee Ann Womack and Tim McGraw both recorded his songs on their most recent albums.
But after taking care to establish themselves as successful separate entities, the brothers Robison have now chosen to work together, on both an acoustic duet tour and an upcoming album.
"I felt like it was time," says kid brother Charlie. "I've just been so busy over this last year, being on the road for nine months. So a little bit of it is selfish. I look at my wife's band [the Dixie Chicks], and there's a bit of delegation they get to have. One girl contributes some songs, the other contributes some songs, and one of them takes the calls if the others don't want to that day. I wanted to do a project and have it not just be 'the buck stops here' all the time. I wanted Bruce to be along too so we could work together."
"It wasn't as if we had never worked together," says Bruce. "In the past, we were doing gigs together down on Sixth Street, playing in bands together and singing with each other at our gigs. But I haven't done anything with Charlie in what feels like years. At that point we were getting to see each other all we wanted to. Now it's the other way around."
If there's one song every fan of Bruce and/or Charlie wonders whether they'll play on this joint tour, it's Bruce's "My Brother and Me." Bruce says the song embarrasses Charlie. "And it's one of my best songs," he adds.
"There's a certain amount of posturing that goes along with that," Charlie explains. "That's my favorite song of Bruce's. But it's kind of weird. You feel like you're at a Dean Martin roast or something. You expect Foster Brooks to come up next."
But the brothers are looking forward to playing each other's new material. "Since Charlie's been on the road all of this year, I haven't gotten to play 'John O'Reilly' or a couple of other ones on the new record," says Bruce. "I love them, and I haven't gotten to play them yet. That will be really fun for me, because I haven't been onstage singing the songs with him, and we used to do that all the time."
"It's the same thing for me," Charlie chimes in. "There are songs on Bruce's new record that I'm just in love with, and I haven't even had a chance to go see him live. Not to sound too maudlin, but Bruce is one of my favorite songwriters, if not my favorite. So Bruce can do a song like 'Valentine' or 'What Would Willie Do,' and I can sit back and laugh my ass off and have a beer and enjoy the music."
The Robisons didn't always sit back and enjoy each other's music, especially when it came to fighting over the record player as kids. Bruce admits to an "embarrassing" lapse in taste in early high school. "This kind of knocks my whole cool factor down. He got into Neil Young. And I'm a huge Neil Young fan now, but at that time, I was just like, 'Turn it off, what is that guy doing?' I just really wanted him to stop."
Not that Bruce's taste was bad across the board. "I would venture further into the '70s singer-songwriter side back then that he might not have been so comfortable with," he says. Within reason, Charlie hastens to add. "He never listened to Dan Fogelberg, and I still respect him to this day for that."
What Bruce respects about Charlie goes beyond mere taste in music. "Charlie's fearless," says Bruce. "He does everything that I want to do before I do, and it gives me the courage to go ahead and do it, whether it's join a band or put out a record, whatever it is."
"I act very fearless on things," says Charlie, "but I would like to have the opposite quality that Bruce has."
"Very fearful?" asks Bruce. "What are you talking about?"
"Yeah, you're terrified all the time," Charlie shoots back. "No, but Bruce sits back and thinks about things. He actually thinks through things before he says them or before he acts. Sometimes I move a little bit too fast and say things off the top of my head. I think if you put the way we do things together, you'd have somebody who goes about things the right way."
Enough of the mutual admiration society. Let's have a little controversy. What do you find most irksome about your brother?
"Are you trying to start a fight?" asks Bruce.
Nope, simply trying to get an interesting article here.
"Just come to Thanksgiving next year, and you'll get everything you need," Charlie deadpans, before getting serious. "I think it goes back to the same thing we were just talking about. Like for this tour Bruce loves to rehearse and have things tight, and it really shows, and it's really great, and I love that about him. But with me, where my energy comes from is sometimes getting myself into a bind onstage or flying by the seat of my pants, and not really knowing what's going to happen next. And I thrive on that. And sometimes he'll balk at that a little bit."
"If we're in a room together, then I don't feel heard," Bruce finds voice enough to say. "It's always been like that, hell, since we were born. He's been the football star since we were little kids. It's just our roles in life, and I've embraced it. Now it just makes me chuckle and makes me feel lucky that I have a brother and we're able to do these things together. Charlie is a certain type of personality, and I'm a certain type of personality, and I think that we created each other. The reason that I'm like that and the reason that he's the way he is comes from the fact that we've been in the same rooms together since we were children. That's just the way it goes. And even though I'm looking forward to these shows, the sound bite for this tour is 'If we don't kill each other, it should be fun.' "
Okay, one final question. Which pair of musical brothers do you feel you most resemble: the Everly Brothers or the Smothers Brothers?
Charlie: "Definitely the Smothers."
Charlie: "Yeah, I'm Tom, because I'm the blond one."
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