Waylon Jennings wisely sings about the benefits of “going back to the basics of love “ in “Luckenbach,” though he may have been crooning to a love interest, the advice can also apply to life in general. Bruce Robison has recently launched a platform based on going back to the basics into the music he loves, all the while pushing forward into modern media.
Robison has created The Next Waltz, an online source for videos and songs by some of the best singer songwriters, recorded on location at his studio in Lockhart, Texas. They are also putting together a small string of shows with Willis Alan Ramsey, John Fullbright, Carrie Rodriguez and Robison himself and will make a stop at the Heights Theater, October 6.
“I’ve been working on it for years, it’s gone from a label, to a platform and back to a label with a platform attached. The main challenge is figuring how to actually put out music in this day and age and sort of how to pay for it as well.” Robison invites artists, legendary and newcomers, to visit his remote, all analog studio. He engages them in deep conversations and produces in the recording studio, all with a camera crew filming.
The songs are later available on streaming platforms, with half of the profits going directly to the artists, and the videos can be accessed through the website or on YouTube. Robison has released The Next Waltz Volume One, featuring tracks from the episodes, and is set to release Volume Two on Black Friday this year.
With the rich history of his musical career, Robison has access to some of Texas’s best artists, many counted among friends of his and wife Kelly Willis. Their first episode features none other than Jerry Jeff Walker breaking down how he explored internal rhymes while writing his hit song, “Mr. Bojangles”. “I love when Jerry Jeff talks about writing Bojangles, he tells it like he’s never told that story before,” says Robison.
One of the defining characteristics of The Next Waltz episodes, aside from the amazing songs, is Robison’s ability to connect with the people he’s interviewing. Everyone always looks sincerely relaxed and happy, especially Robison himself. “The access that we have to these artists is crazy. This is a dream come true for me; I love talking with these folks. It’s interesting to me to try to show what’s great about these folks because I think that this music is a real big part of the story of our times.”
Robison has a unique perspective as an interviewer and producer; he’s often been on the other side of the equation. He has been releasing albums since 1996 and has had a string of hits with songs written by himself and made famous by Nashville Country stars like George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
He, his siblings and his wife are all major players in the Texas singer songwriter scene. It’s his shared experience with the artists that encourages him to work with them, respecting their story and supporting their careers. “It’s not dissimilar to the way I approached songwriting back in the day, which was actually just wanting to be a part of this music that I love so much. That's why I wrote those songs, just to be part of things and now really The Next Waltz feels like my best shot at still doing that,” says Robison.
“Honestly, everything I do is in service of trying to get in the studio with people that I love and so it’s more than a distraction, it’s necessary. Everything I do is in service of trying to get in there with a great song, a great artist, some great musicians and trying to make something that really adds something to our culture you know, that’s just really hard to do these days.”
He approaches The Next Waltz with the same enthusiasm and desire to tap into the vibe and sounds of the past as he puts into his songwriting. The name itself comes from his admiration of The Last Waltz, which Robison considers “the gold standard” in combining great music with storytelling and equally magnetic visual content. He even got Armadillo World Headquarters poster artist, Kerry Awn to do the concert artwork, clinging tightly to the '70s Texas music aesthetic.
Robison takes artists out to the country, forcing them to lower their speed and watch for signs ahead just to get to the physical location. The Next Waltz provides a rare opportunity for everyone involved to just enjoy the moment, “I call it ‘painting with oils’, it slows you down and it makes you commit to creating something together. It just really has a positive effect on this specific type of music that I deal with which is very roots oriented.”
One of Robison’s most recent visitors was Texas legend, Willis Alan Ramsey. Ramsey had a giant debut album on Leon Russel’s label, Shelter, back in 1972. His only album to date is often considered one of the best albums of all time and pushed him into a cult status. Fans all over the world may still be waiting for his famous second album, but The Next Waltz managed to capture a new song in the studio and paired it with an equally beautiful video.
“When we recorded that “Mockingbird Blues” song he loved it. I really treated it a lot more gingerly then I would with anybody else just because I don't want to interfere with anything that Willis has got going on with this second record, and I wanted to try to do something that would help. It was a little way for us to help remind folks of what an incredibly talented and amazing songwriter he is because I hope that people know that, and that’s what this tour is about as well.” Ramsey enjoyed the experience so much he asked if he could come back with a little help from fellow Texan, Lyle Lovett.
The natural next step for The Next Waltz is to put on live shows featuring some of the talent Robison has had the pleasure of working with in his studio. When Robison got the green light from Ramsey for this tour he immediately reached out to John Fullbright and Carrie Rodriguez who jumped at the opportunity.
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These special shows will only take place in four cities around Texas, with Houston as the last stop. Each artist will do a song swap in the first set followed by Ramsey taking the stage to do songs of his own, old and new, with Fullbright, Robison and Rodriguez backing him up.
Robison obviously holds the music he grew up with deep in his heart and mind. He manages to convey that same feeling and aesthetic while sharing the episodes with Americana fans all over the world.
“The music that I loved thematically was kind of a search for authenticity in a complicated world, so that’s always been a theme, and then you get down to a simple way to tell the same stories that resonate with folks. That is just a really big part of my career, my life and the kind of music that I like; it’s simple songs about regular people's lives and that’s still what I love.”
The Next Waltz featuring Willis Alan Ramsey, Bruce Robison, Carrie Rodriguez, and John Fulbright is scheduled for Sunday, September 6 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m. $30-222.