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INTERVIEW: Baxter Robertson

Lars HindsleyBy Lars Hindsley Thu 15 May 2008 9:00 PM EST | 2529 Views

Baxter Robertson is a career musician who has enjoyed 1980's recognition on MTV and west coast airplay. Baxter took time out with me to answer a wide range of questions. We covered music to sports and everything in between.

Baxter Robertson Discography

Baxter Robertson is native to California living in the San Francisco area. He's a well accomplished musician (strings and keys) having reached his widest range of listernership through MTV gaining notoriety in the early 1980's alternative music boon when extended plays, better known as EP's were all the rage. 

His first release was the EP Panorama View. Baxter's sophomore release Vanishing Point II, followed by Mere Mortals.

Lyrically songs focused on situations and concepts rather than simple doting love songs. When Baxter did approach love songs they were poetically sincere; almost diametrical to the fun loving spirit he displays in real life. 

"I see the side of you where the colors show, and what you hide from view is what I long to know."

– Secret Is Safe, Mere Mortals

After his three alums with the Baxter Robertson band, Baxter was then off to many other projects and bands. This is where we begin catching up. And if it means anything to you, his very attractive daughter plays a rippin' guitar for the The Donnas. A band that almost got typecast into novelty but their talent insured them against any misuse.

Baxter has remained a good friend since the time of this interview and rest assured he is as good natured as you should think our talk.

Lars: 
Lets start with the obvious question. Bring us up to date. What have you been doing with yourself since the end of the Baxter Robertson band?
Baxter: 
Whoa, thats a lot of water under the bridge! Lets just say I could never stop writing songs. I've done a few collections on CD, starting with a project called Family Pets in '94, which has some of my favorite songs, and most recently, the Sofa Lords, in which I share the writing duties with two other talented writers.
Lars: 
Is Family Pets for sale?  If so where does anyone get it?  And if it is for sale, mention a few tunes we can expect to find on it.
Baxter: 
Must..get...web..site....then,...could...sell...all...kinds..Baxter...tunes
Lars: 
Do those two talented writers have names?
Baxter: 
Cal Ball, Scott Smith.
Lars: 
Do you miss performing the music you made back in the 80's?
Baxter: 
Well, I hadn't until recently, when I hooked up with a few of my old band mates, who suggested a reunion of sorts...that got me missing some of the old songs.
Lars: 
How did you hook up after all this time?
Baxter: 
Through mutual friend, Dennis ODonnell (Google name, then onto Bob Siebenberg's website).Dennis has a geezer band in LA doing his originals. We did a show in Burbank in August and he got Alan Maggini(Gtr) to sign on to play, thus reuniting Alan and myself onstage for the first time in over twenty years. Also during the same visit Alan and his wife hosted me and our ex-drummer, Tom Fillman, for dinner. It was after several margaritas that I agreed to do a reunion.
Lars: 
How rusty are you? Can you still remember them or will you need to go back and listen to them first?
Baxter: 
Naturally Ill have to review my parts; but Im not rusty. Ive been a full-time musician all this time, so I better be able to pull this kids stuff off!
Lars: 
Your music doesnt match up with the general term 80s music.  Are you glad to have come out of that era?
Baxter: 
I'd sort of disagree with your statement. I think eclecticism was a big part of the 80s and I drew from a number of influences, but because I was a bit older than most 80s artists, my influences came mostly from the mid-Sixties to early 70s, and certainly what was popular on the West Coast. I still hear those influences when I go back and listen to the albums. As far as being glad to have come out that era, we were glad to have a record deal at all, so yeah, Im ecstatic!
Lars: 
I think you actually do agree, because you answered why you were different.   You were a bit older which meant different influences and to me that sound had a bit more heart in it.  I liked Tainted Love as much as the next guy but you guys were still playing guitar.  That was almost unusual for the time.  Feel free to tell me Im wrong again.
Baxter: 
Would it do any good? I guess I hear a hybrid vibe in my stuff between other 80s artists, like a little Gabriel mixed with Petty, or Red Ryder with Til Tuesday. Stuff like that.
Lars: 
I guess it would do good!  I see your point, perhaps because I liked and had albums from all those bands you mention.  Red Rider plays one my favorite songs, Human Race.  Im so glad to see my music heroes actually listen to some of the same music interest that I have.  Do you think your music from the 80s is still relevant?
Baxter: 
I get e-mails to this day from people who really liked the songs”that makes it relevant to me.
Lars: 
Lets go back to the 80's for bit.  Do you remember your first MTV video appearance?  How did you react to seeing yourself on TV in a music video for the first time?
Baxter: 
Seeing yourself on MTV in ˜84 was a big deal, no matter how late at night they aired it! Our first video was for Silver Strand, the single from the RCAEP. I certainly saw it before it hit the waves, but when its actually being broadcast, you really get a rush”although I must say hearing your song on the radio for the first time is a bigger one. I think I had a pretty good hair-day for that one, too.
Lars: 
I agree your hair was great. Now those shoes you were wearing¦
Baxter: 
Shoes make the outfit!
Lars: 
You know, I have to say you are right on with that.  So what was it like making a music video?  Did you have any say so in what we as viewers saw in the end or did some director come in and tell you want to do and that was it?  
Baxter: 
Thats opening a can of Pandoras Box (mixed metaphor)! On Silver Strand my manager had wangled TimNewman(ZZ Top, Gimme All Your Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man, Legs) to direct. We considered ourselves lucky and let him go to town; naturally he want a hot chick in there with moi, and no, he really could care less about my artistic vision. On subsequent videos, we had more say about content.
Lars: 
Well at least he got the concept of the song.  She even looked like an imperson-ator.  But if I remember correctly you both didnt find a common denominator.
Baxter: 
She was a really beautiful airhead. I probably would have exercised the 70% rule.
Lars: 
Im sure your better off then. So how many music videos did you make and what where they?
Baxter: 
Three. Silver StrandGreen Light, and No Simple Cure.
Lars: 
This is an unfair question but you have to answer, which is your favorite album?
Baxter: 
I really cant say I have a favorite, the experiences were all great and there are stand-out performances on each.
Lars: 
Another one!  Which song is your favorite and why?  
Baxter: 
The songs which write themselves are my favorites. Panorama from the EP, Green Light and Sleeping Dogs (great guitar solo by Alan Maggini) from Vanishing PointTurn of the Tide and Time and Againfrom Mere Mortals.
Lars: 
Its rare you get to ask a song writer what inspired songs, more specifically lyrics. Ive found that no bad or good you are at writing, if you have a good inspiration, great words can just flow.  What inspired Firewalk?  The song really has a mysterious vibe to it when you use words like village in this modern world.   You paint an electric atmosphere with the simply verse the people are gathered there.

With all that is said in the song and the powerful music behind it, I have to know just what inspired you to write of a Firewalk. Spare no detail!
Baxter: 
I was reading about people who practice a leap of faith literally walking on coals for about 10 feet. I figured if every in the world had even a fraction of that amount of faith (in anything!) the world would be a little better off. The music is constructed from the retrograde of Street Fighting Man by the Stones.
Lars: 
I'm not a Stones fan, go figure.  Now I have to go check that song out to hear how you drew from it.Id like to stay with song titles and inspirations for a moment.  I met CyCurnin of the Fixx years ago and he said that he much preferred to steer away from love songs because the world has plenty of them.  And I agree 90 percent of all songs are about love.  I noticed you too have been able to explore other concepts.  How do you draw t hat inspiration?  Songs such as Mile ZeroNo Simple CureTime and AgainPanorama ViewGreenlightFirewalkTurn of the TideScatter the list goes on. Most artists cant get away from love songs.  So how do you choose your subjects?
Baxter: 
Every single song you mention above was started as a title alone. In those days Id collect titles, then when I had time to write Id choose one, see where it took me, and also check my bank(journal of phrases and short word combos) to see if any applied to a particular song. About half the time I had a piece of music or chord progression first and try to shoehorn the lyrical idea in.I eventually changed my whole approach to writing more of a story first, then writing the accompanying music and editing lyrics.
Lars: 
Now that was great answer.  I wish all artist were as candid as yourself.  I understand you have great respect for the guys that played with you.  They were more than just professionals.  Did they influence your style during the Baxter Robertson albums era?
Baxter: 
And how! When I finally had a few steady guys and we developed a sound, I started writing TO that sound and player dynamic. In rehearsal I would insist on some things, while trusting Al, Jay, Tom (orGary) to make up the rest of their parts.
Lars: 
Do you still make money from sales of your albums?
Baxter: 
That would be a no. There was never any money made from them in the first place. They were all losing ventures for RCA and Atlantic.
Lars: 
So if a song was played on the radio youd get no royalties?
Baxter: 
Good point!  Radio, TV, or movie play generates royalties for the writer. I still make money from having a song in the original Karate Kid (one of my least favorite songs).
Lars: 
I didnt know that!  What song was it?
Baxter: 
Feel the Night, co-written with Hollywood Theme Maven Bill Conti
Lars: 
What is that design on the Vanishing Point II cover?
Baxter: 
Thats a random Rohrshak ink design. What do YOU see?
Lars: 
I dont think I can say that!  Lets just say I cant get my mind out of the gutter!
Baxter: 
Funny...I always saw a goat.
Lars: 
That's funny; you got me, set me up nicely there.   I understand you want to reunite the band for a gig in 2006.  Do you plan on playing everything straight or are there songs you plan to re-work a bit?  If so which ones?
Baxter: 
I wouldnt rework anything too much, except for my pretentious and self-absorbed vocal approach on some tunes.Actually, I think most of the tunes will benefit from a second coming so to speak.
Lars: 
Which songs can we expect to hear?
Baxter: 
Ha! The hits, of course!
Lars: 
Will you have the original line up?  Has anyone died making it impossible to unite an original group?
Baxter: 
Yes, Ill have the original band, plus ancillary stars like my daughters on keys and guitar.
Lars: 
Did the Baxter Robertson band consider any other name(s)?  If so can you remember any?
Baxter: 
No. By the time I tried showcasing for labels in L.A., I was gun-shy about sharing control of the material and direction; and certain kinds of musicians were either cool or not with this.
Lars: 
So some musicians wouldnt play with you because the band had your name?
Baxter: 
Not too far off. However, most all-for-one bands need time to develop a group conscience, vibe, look. I didnt want to hassle all that. Mostly, I just couldnt find another writer with whom I could partner to co-write, whose stuff I liked as well as my own. I think most  all-for-one bands seem to have a writing team, or more than one competent writer, at least at the outset.
Lars: 
Im sure your music career didnt end with the BaxterRobertson band.  Tell me about the other bands youve been in and how do they differ from the Baxter Robertson band sound?
Baxter: 
After Mere Mortals I did an album under the pseudonym Family Pets with 3 other musicians. Thats louder and more raucous than BRB but has some of my favorite tunes. In ˜95 I got into a joke band in SF called The Cheeseballs which inadvertently became the toast of the partyin SF crowd. This was a cover band of the most heinous variety. These days I have a new project called Tiger Club which explores retro and cinematic instrumental styles and includes a 3-piece horn section.
Lars: 
Damn I love horns.  Bands sound so big when you do that.  Have you gone the other way and played Chill-Out Music?
Baxter: 
Quite the opposite. The Tiger Club could be labeled experimental. The originals have been called famous TV and movie themes from TV shows and movies that youve never seen. Also, who in their right mind would attempt a faithful and respectful cover of Daydream Believer on stage, in front of real people? My philosophies are influenced by my tenure in the great unsung LA street band, the Roto-rooter Goodtime Christmas Band (Google), also experimental for its time!
Lars: 
I understand you have a daughter in music.  What band is she in, what instrument does she play?  
Baxter: 
Allison is in The Donnas, currently on Atlantic Records. She plays guitar.
Lars: 
Did she decide to get into music because of you, if not how did she get started?
Baxter: 
Well, our household was a music biz household when she was young. Dad was Mr.Mom writing songs at home and bringing musicians around all the time. Mom worked at various record and publishing companies in LA and the Bay Area. When Alli was about 12 she just started fiddling around with the guitar(mixed metaphor again, sorry!) and the rest is history.
Lars: 
I dont expect you to say you dont like your daughters music but do identify with the sound?  What can you say about it?
Baxter: 
Wow! Its TOTALLY up my alley! It reminds me of Mick Ronson with Bowie, Mick Ralphs with Bad Company and of courseAngusYoung with ACDC. These are some of MY faves, too.
Lars: 
Could you elaborate a bit on that?  So you really love her sound, thats cool. But when you mention all these legendary sounds, you put her in good company.  I have to agree from just hitting her bands homepage the rock factor of the music sounds really clean and professional while laying out a really good hook.
Baxter: 
It's important to point out that the Donnas my be the only ones out there doing real hard rock, based on Brit Glam, post-glam, hair metal, etc. Therefore there is no real radio format into which they fit. Her sound is based on LesPaul, Marshallstack, no effects, plug-it-in. Most of her riffs are pretty derivative. But when you play ˜em with attitude, youve got the incomparable DonnaR.!
Lars: 
I have to say no one knows you like a father.  Who better to describe a sound? OK, back to you.  How do you think your style has changed over the years? 
Its a lot less nervous; Im not as reluctant to be a native Californian”nor am I unwilling to write a love song.  What music to you listen to now?
Baxter: 
GeorgeJones, (PeterGreen) Fleetwood Mac, Dylan, Procol Harum,Petula Clark, etc.
Lars: 
That sounds like music you listened to then, <grin> but I get it.  Do you find that a lot of todays music is too caught up in the hip-hop or rap sound to make it worth going out and finding a new group to add to your music library?
Baxter: 
No. I read reviews pretty regularly and there are lots of groups doing music Id be really interested in if other artists hadnt done it first.
Lars: 
How many guitars do you own?
Baxter: 
Seven; GNL tele, Fender tele, Gibson 335, Fender strat, Gibson L0 acoustic,  Washburn acoustic, and Yamaha acoustic 12-string.
Lars: 
Do you still have the one from the Mere Mortals cover? Is that theGibson?  That was a big ass guitar!
Baxter: 
Yes. Thats a ˜75 Fender Strat with a Telecaster Deluxe neck”one of a kind. Im sorry to say its not in playing condition currently.
Lars: 
Do you like the sound of nylon strings?
Baxter: 
Only on my Mahalo guitar-ukelele.
Lars: 
Ill have to turn you onto a couple LozNetto tunes then.  Youd be surprised.
Baxter: 
Bring ˜em on!
Lars: 
Do you have any great stories that came about during the Baxter Robertson 80s era?  Be careful, your daughter may be reading this!
Baxter: 
Too involved to go into here!
Lars: 
I'll accept that answer. <laugh>  What comes first for you the music or the lyrics?
Baxter: 
As I said, it used to be half and half; now I insist that the lyrical ideas be fleshed out before the music is started
Lars: 
Why is the sky blue?  Better yet, if you put on new king pins and tie rods do you have to do a complete wheel alignment?
Baxter: 
Why baklava after a Greek meal? Why the Euro version of La Femme Nikita?
Lars: 
If you were not a musician what would have done with your life?
Baxter: 
Pitched Single A baseball and have been on lots of buses in small towns with pig races between innings.
Lars: 
I see that a professional football team is noticeable absent!  A mystery Im sure!
Baxter: 
Sorry, I dont get football at all. But I like the food at Superbowl parties!
Lars: 
Dont you hate front runners?  I had to stop routing for the As when everyone and their brother became an As fan.  Im lucky I can be a Phillies fan for life.  They are the losingest team in history so Im sure no one will jump on that bandwagon.
Baxter: 
Be careful what youre NOT wishing for!
Lars: 
It appears you are a mere mortal like the rest of us.  What is aBaxterRobertson weekend like?
Baxter: 
I chase around my 9-year-old daughter. I also chase around my 26- and 20-year-old daughters. I also chase around my wife, but I never catch her!
Lars: 
Great answer!  Because they all involve women!  But alas you are a liar.  You had to have caught your wife at least three times by my count.J Back to music¦ What advice do you have for young artist just getting started?  If you would, target this answer to established bands hoping to get signed. 
Baxter: 
Dont EVER give up. Its the only sure way to fail. If you want to write---read!
Lars: 
Powerful advice Im sure.  I often give advice to my son, If you never quit, you get there.  So I can relate to your point, lets hope someone reads this and takes something from it. Final question, Im sure you thought Id never get to one¦  If SpiderMan and Batman got into a fight which one would win?  You have to say why.
Baxter: 
Batman for sure. If he can survive this long without a real power, he can figure out a way to off Spidy. Also, hed bring in the Justice League to help him out, and they rock WAY more than Marvel superheroes!
Lars: 
Oh the can of worms youve opened.  But Ill keep it to this one follow-up since this is a music article ¦ I think you are right, Batman would out-think young Spidey. But as much as I think Batman and Superman are amazing characters they are all DC has with some umph, dont you think Marvel as a longer list of not only recognizable heros but just as cool?  You got Wolverine and all those X-Men, Iron Man, Deadpool, DareDevil, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, The Punisher, even dare I mention, Captain Marvel (Shazam!).   What does DC have after my man Batman and the Superman?  Wonderwoman?  I think if Spiderman called in his back-up Batmans squad would pale.  Sorry, got on a roll¦
Baxter: 
We could really get into this”one elephant in the corner; Wonderwoman helped win WWII!  The Marvel Superheroes are draftdodgers for sure!
Lars: 
Now thats funny.   I lied, one more!  Can I sing back-up on any of the songs when you play live?  I'll buy you a beer!
Baxter: 
As long as its a premium brew, yes.
Lars: 
Way cool. Send me the set list and Ill practice real hard. Heck, I'll buy ya two beers! One for each hand!
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