When you talk about Blues Men you have the usual criteria of technique, style and timing, and Robert Hill excels on all those levels on Have Slide Will Travel, but what makes him such a great artist, and this such a great album is the human wisdom that comes through between the notes. And this wisdom takes many shapes and colors. Robert Hill has the ability to be relevant, intelligent and sympathetic in an amazing variety of moods and emotions and this collection of songs delivers a stellar diversity of thoughts and expressions all picked and plucked with style and confidence.
Each song is it’s own creation and stands alone. Whether tearing it up on a track like Evolution Blues or slowing it down on something like Alma De Una Mujer this awarded musician is completely at peace with his creative ideas and completely at home in the recording process. Recently we wrote about Tom Principato and what we commented about him was that he had the ability to create a narrative and to perfectly fulfill the listener’s expectations as the song unfolded. Similarly, Robert Hill’s ability to tell a story with his music, and to give you the feeling of having accomplished a journey through his music is simply superb. And these journeys have such different feelings and spaces… it’s a truly brilliant musician that can inhabit so many environments and to meet the challenges of saying such different things. This album almost feels like a collection of musicians rather than just one, but Robert Hill keeps the whole ship on an even keel by quiet mastery of his captainship.
We were so interested in this artist we reached out to him to tell us a little about Have Slide Will Travel in his own words:
RUST: Robert, thanks for making such a sweet album. Is there a story behind it? How long have you had these songs awaiting the light of day?
RH: Four of the songs I had cut the basic tracks for live-in-the-studio as far back as 5 or more years ago. They languished on the shelf for a long time, until I signed a deal with a production house to do several slide tracks. I had a deadline, so this lit a fire under me to finish these, and write some new material. I would write and record a new one, and then immediately start on something new in a different direction. Most of the songs were written and recorded in about a 9 month period. Being under the gun is a good thing for me.
RUST: The diversity of what we hear is tremendous. Did you always intend to move through so many moods in this group of songs or did ideas emerge as you recorded?
RH: I wanted to touch on most of the genres that I like, but I also made a conscious effort to break some new ground. To me, that was the best part – pushing myself to write and perform something that I’ve never done before, and not just keep repeating myself. My first two cds were fairly diverse, as well. I’ve always liked bands that were diverse and musically deep.
RUST: No man is an Island, though Robin Williams would comment that some men are peninsulas, who are some of the other musicians at work here?
RH: A lot of these guys are well-known around NY/NJ area. I’ve played with bassist Mark Murphy,(Guy Davis,Levon Helm, among many others), off and on for a number of years. He’s just got an excellent ear and touch on the upright bass, and bows as well, which adds a great texture. Same goes for Jerry Krenach,(Chris Whitley, among many others), on the drums – perfect timing and plays for the song. Bob Hoffnar, from the band Hem, played some great pedal steel on one of the songs. Derrik Jordan, a virtuoso of many genres,and composer/performer with a number of cds to his credit, contributed on “My Babe”. Multi-instrumentalist, Art Labriola, laid down some nice accordian. I was lucky to snag local NJ legend, Frank Pagano, (Blondie, Donovan, Donald Fagen, Lesley Gore, Al Green, Levon Helm, Doctor John, Gladys Knight, Al Kooper, Darlene Love, just to name a very few), on drums for one song. I recently started playing some with bassist,Doug O’Connor, (McMule, (Whitney Road), and he did a great job on “The Robusticator” and “Alma De Una Mujer,” the latter of which he put some real thought and work into. I was also very glad to get Steve Jordan, (formerly from my hometown of North Little Rock, AR, now living outside Madrid), to do percussion on “Alma De Una Mujer”. I recently returned from tour of Spain with Steve on drums.
RUST: Is there anybody that really helped you get this album done that deserves a little credit and appreciation?
RH: Eric Puente on drums and percussion. I would have never finished this cd without his tireless help,creativity,and desire to get it right. Able to take on anything I threw at him, and do it with a healthy sense of humor, which kept it all fun and loose. Just a great player and person.
RUST: Can you tell us a little about your gear kit for Have Slide Will Travel? Any secret weapons you brought into the studio?
RH: Well, I’ve never been too interested in pedals, etc. I subscribe to the school of thought that all you really need is the right guitar and the right amp. Bascially, a little reverb, maybe a little delay, and once in a while some amp tremelo. I used a Mesa Boogie Mark IV for some of the guitar parts. On a lot of the other electric guitar parts, I ended up just recording the guitar clean and using a few amp plugins in ProTools. Saved a lot of time, made mixing more flexible, and kept my family from killing me. I used a National Radiotone for a lot of the acoustic slide parts. For the electric guitars, a ’74 Strat, an early 90’s Fernandes Strat, a G&L Legacy and a G&L ASAT.
RUST: Thanks so much, last question, we’ve been seeing a phenomenal expansion of the companies making guitars and the kinds (and quality) of instruments available. Is there any make or model that might be on your wish list, or that you might recommend to an aspiring player?
RH: I’ve always been a Fender guy, but I mainly play G&L guitars now. Their Strat model, The Legacy, and their Tele, The ASAT are really solid, well-built, and to my ears, sound better than a lot of the Fender stuff now. The pickups are excellent, and they have a lot of options available. I also like to take inexpensive guitars, like my Fernandes,and change the pickups and other things to get a unique sound. I would say don’t get too bogged down with effects and gear – it really boils down to what’s coming out those fingers.
Thanks again Robert, for more info visit http://roberthillband.com/