To see Billy Boy Arnold at Amal Blues Fest is nice but not exciting
To see Bigg Robb in Jackson, Tn, is mind expanding
One of the most interesting artists, maybe the most interesting on the southern soul scene of today must be Bigg Robb. His musical field is truly astonishing. He is an arranger, producer, writer, rapper, studio engineer and record label owner. Still he doesn’t like singing, and sings seldom.
He is at the top of an evolution that in fact started with James Brown. From James we come to Bootsy Collins, which leads us to Zapp. Out of Zapp steps Bigg Robb out as a solo artist. After a meeting with soul blues star Mel Waiters in 2000, Bigg Robb turns toward the traditional Southern Soul, which in a way brings us back to James. James Brown started out with slow gospel influenced blues songs, long before the style was called soul and very long before he developed the funk music.
Bigg Robb began as a radio –DJ, started to hang around with Bootsy and Roger Troutman, before joining ZAPP in middle of the 80’s.
Bigg Robbs first own record which came in 2000, was a rap, which were followed by some more records in the rap/funk vein, before he with his band the Problem solvas moved towards southern soul. The basis of Da Problem Solvas is besides Bigg Robb, his producer companion Bart “Sure2B” Thomas and the singer Henry “Bigg Woo” King.
The first bigger impression came in 2000 with the remix of Mel Waiters hit Hole In The Wall, an attempt to update the traditional sounding Southern Soul. The record sold well but caused some debates. His first big seller was Bigg Woman Song in 2003. Since then the direction has been straight up wards.
In 2007 came an artistic statement, the equivalent of the soul blues to Phil Spector or Norman Whitfield, the remix of Carl Marshalls big hit Good Loving Will Make You Cry. All at once Bigg Robb brought up the soul blues to present time comparable to any top production within the big R&B field. It became a big seller in the south and the album, Blues, Soul&Old School, is already a classic, a milestone within southern soul. However as a live artist he beats almost everything, as a synthesis of almost everything within black entertainment.
Robert Smith was born 12th of July in 1967 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The interview was done by phone in February 2009.
The family background
My parents were just hard working people. My fathers name is Robert Smith and my mothers Rosa Smith. My name is after my fathers name. One of My sons name is R3, Robert after me, he is the Robert III. Neither one of my parents were musicians
The interest in music
I don’t know. That’s a gift God gave me. As I got older I found that father kind of wrote poetry and my mother used to sing around the house. Nothing professional or like that. Everyone in my family played a lot of records, they played everything; blues, jazz, gospel. They all listened to everybody, everything that was going on; James Brown, Motown, Blues, Bobby Womack, Isaac Hayes, Bill Withers, man you name it. My father loved Junior Parker, O.V. Wright and of course Al Green, my mother loved Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Laverne Baker. Both my parents also loved country&western music. Growing up I listened to a lot of country&western music.
The beginning with radio
My uncle Penny was into CB radio (Citizen Band) from 1972 to 1980. Everybody that lived in his house or came around him, he would give you a CB handle. He had CB radios and his home base at home. That’s how I first got into it, talking on the CB radio. Also a cousin of mine gave me a tape recorder on my 5th birthday. Man, that changed my life. Before I was interviewing stars I was going around interviewing my family, just record myself on cassette tapes, play like I had a radio station, as a little kid. That led me into a little community radio station in Cincinnati, WAIF, to a program where they actually teach you to be a DJ. My parents and my family, everybody was excited about it, because I was doing something to keep out of trouble. Once I got really involved in that, that’s when my whole life changed.
The first step as a rapper
Yes that was in the 1980. Every kid who heard rappers like Sugarhill Gang wanted to be into rap. Before that it was JACKSON FIVE, JACKSON FIVE, JACKSON FIVE. I’m a Jackson Five fanatic.
Bootsy and your impression of him
It was his whole persona. The way he did it, everything, he was phenomenal. My hats and glasses are not necessarily inherited from Bootsy , but he was an influence. All my wild costumes, I have had many wild costumes throughout the years being a member of the ZAPP Band, are an influence of growing up around him and that type of thing. Bootsy was the first guy who came to my mom’s house, he came to the projects and said “hey Mrs Smith, I want to take your son to the studio, it will be ok, I take good care, don’t worry about a thing”. He let me hang around. Actually I worked with him before I started working with Roger. Bootsy was the precursor to all that. He always told me positive stuff.
ZAPP versus Bootsy and the Funkadelic sound
I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. We have a very, very big musical tradition. James Brown and King Records, James made a lot of his recording there. James helped Bootsy. Roger Troutman was always around town. He and his brothers had always been playing music before they became Zapp. Bootsy and Roger were old friends. Bootsy was looking to branch out and producing people at the height of the Parliament time. His brother Catfish Collins suggested Bootsy to think about producing Roger. He took Roger to George Clinton and they produced the very first ZAPP record, called More Bounce Ounce To The Ounce , which is a classic. That’s how it all came together. Bootsy pretty much discovered Roger and Zapp.
Roger had a new funkier more heavier sound, his sound was more electronic. Whereas Bootsy and Parliament was more raw, more real instruments and human voices. Roger used drum machine sounds, he incorporated the best of the both worlds. The bottom end of the ZAPP sound was the synthesizer base along with the voice box. It was a bigger, heavier sound. When they first came out in 80’s that was the appropriate time for it, with the electronic voice. Back then, I remember being a kid playing table tennis video games.
The three stages with rap, funk and now great southern soul
Just wanting to survive. When you look at somebody like Cher, she has spanned decades making music. You have to change with the time. The first thing that happened with me was I wanted to be a DJ. When my friend Roger came and said hey man, why don’t you go on the road with me. That stopped me DJ’ing. I had been Dj’in for probably 6 or seven years. I just turned 18 years old and wanted to go out and see the world. That led me into funk music. After Rogers untimely passing I met Mel Waiter, who is a very good friend of mine. He was god send, he took me down to Jackson, MS to Malaco, we bought some studio time and he said
“ Robb do whatever you feel. You have been with Roger, you have been with Bootsy, you have been around the world, you have been on TV. Take this Hole In The Wall song and do what you would do”.
I along with my partner Sure2b went into the studio and came up with the Hole In The Wall remix. That introduced me to the whole southern soul thing. Before that I hadn’t thought about southern soul or blues or anything like that. I was busy trying to do funk and rap. Mel Waiters kind of dropped me into southern soul thing. I love the music. Southern soul as a music being a black kid was part of the household . My parents and everybody they played Johnnie Taylor, Al Green, Candi Staton, Clarence Carter, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, it’s nothing new. I just kind of changed direction and people liked what I was doing. I’m just excited about it. I’m not a southern soul producer, I’m a record producer. I can produce a record on Johnny and Edgar Winter. I could produce a record on Willie Nelson. I have been trained to do that. I love the grass roots.
The alter ego Bigg Robb versus the man Robert Smith
Good question. What Roger showed me was that lots of guys were always dressed up. That’s the difference working with Roger and working with Bootsy. Roger believed that you have a road case, you put your costumes in there when the show is over with you go home and live a normal life. I’m married so I come home and cook dinner for my family. I have two, three little puppies running around. I have to clean up puppy poohs. Today is my daughters birthday so I have go and buy her a birthday cake.
When show time comes you open the case take out those flashy costumes and do your show. You go on and do your job. You thank God for the opportunity to have a job like that. The difference for Bigg Robb is the show time when I put on those rhinestone glasses and the big hat and the flashy colours, It’s time for Bigg Robb to go to work. It’s no difference when you go up in the morning and put on a suit and tie and go to work. But I can’t be walking around like Bigg Robb with the glasses on at the car wash and at the grocery store or in church. It wouldn’t work. Bigg Robb is a flashy guy. Many people may not know, not even my closest friends know that Robert Smith is more quieter than Bigg Robb. I’m kind of introvert. If it wasn’t time for a show I wouldn’t be walking around as during a show. It’s mentally healthy as there have been so many entertainers who don’t know when the show is over. Two in the afternoon when they walk into a diner, they expect everybody clap their hands and treat them like superstars, but its’ not show time. Robert Smith is just a guy who tries to be creative, hopefully I can make some positive music.
I draw from a lot of the influences that have come before me as a tribute to those guys the people have been listening to, the old school music. This guy reminds me of something I heard before. I’m influenced by all music I have taken in. Right now I’m in the studio finishing my new cd, Jerri Curl Muzic. I have probably recorded 80 songs and started the album 8 times. I want to make a great record that if You are driving on the street and hear it it will stop you in your tracks make you go to itunes and download it when u hear it That’s classic.
The stage act Bigg Robb
Bigg Robb stands for positive music. In the southern soul and the blues there are several subjects which is seen to continue to cause to be here. The subject of cheating, I met my baby at the motel, Let’s get drunk because the boss gets on my nerves. When Bigg Robb talks about get drunk or lets got to the hole in the wall or whatever, or meet me at the motel I offer any doubt of positive. I tell the story of the fact I’m a married man, but at the same time I know what it is, I’m doing this wrong. Hopefully somebody who is listening that out will be hit positively, that’s the ministry in my music, I want to be positive.
Good Loving Will Make You Cry and all its integrated influences
I answer in two ways:
That record was originally done by my good friend Carl Marshall. We have been friends for many years. He always wanted for me and him to get together and work together. With that song so popular, I said I was going in to my remix version of that. I drew from Isaac Hayes, you listen to the beginning of the song . I put the voice box because that’s part of my ZAPP/Bigg Robb heritage. I didn’t stray too far from the original. I added a few bells and whistles which I thought would make the record a little bit more commercial. Sometimes with southern soul it’s a little too rough. It was riding in an old Cadillac and I was trying to bring it up to a new Cadillac.
As fas as the sound of my music, I call my music “Over 25 sound” , “Grown Folks Music”. If you are over 25 or 30 years old, as soon as the needle drops on a Bigg Robb song you probably relate to it. I’m working on a song right now for a new Bigg Robb cd, a 12 bar blues, done my may called It Ain’t A Party ‘til You Play The Blues. The story line of that song is pretty much I went to a juke joint to have some fun and the Dj was playing some music he thought was number 1. A lady told him we don’t want to hear more of the hip hop, the nooice must stop, put on some blues. I’m trying to make music. As I said when people hear when the needle drop, wow, it makes them feel good. It strikes to the emotion. I’m not as good as Bobby Womack, Stevie Wonder or Norman Whitfield or any of these guys who came before, I’m trying to carry on the tradition of good music.
An innovation because of the synthesis of all music heritage
I can’t tell because I’m just creating. I cant tell you a story,or tell you a lie, ”yeah I know what I’m doing”. I’m just sitting in the studio to be lead by God trying to put things together that I thing would work. Good loving Make You Cry, I used the same formula as the Hole In The Wall remix done 10 years ago. We used voice boxes and updated beat. And a lot of people had mixed emotions with that. Good Loving Make You Cry take the combination of me and Sure2b on voicebox and Carl Marshall. I think it fits well being the new thing or not, I don’t know.
Me and Carl have a new song on my CD, I wouldn’t beg if it wasn’t so good . I’m having the darnedest time trying to outdo Good Loving Make Me Cry. Roger told me about this day, Bootsy told me about this day. The day when you do a record, you don’t know it’s gonna be a hit. Next thing you know you got a hit record on your hands. I’m trying to do my best. Most important I give all the glory to God, not me. I’m just a little kid from Cincinnati, Ohio who dreamed of making music. I have been living my dream. I never knew I would be doing all this. I was just happy hanging around talking to stars. Its like you Anders decided to go into the studio and start making records, people then start saying “Hey Anders is great”, but you go on “I’m just a journalist, I just write the music”. I guess I have listened to enough music, to know something about it.
The traditional sounding Southern Soul
I think southern soul in lots of times sounds like some guys who used to or wanted to make records in the 70’s and the 80’s, and 90’s, they come over to southern soul to do what they were doing back then. If you listen to what supposed to be the top 10, Lil Wayne, Beyonce or whoever is no 1 right now and you the listen to southern soul it sometimes sounds like it’s dated , but that’s why it’s so successful. The people who like southern soul wants to hold on to the good times. Are you familiar with rockabilly music or surf music? It’s traditional in that sense. It’s energy in itself
With technology you are able to use synthesizers and drum machines, where The Four Tops, The Temptations and Garland Green had a band in there. With technology you are able to do a lot of things they could not do. The basic route of it is the simplicity of a three or four piece band. To me the best southern soul strikes the emotion. It reminds you of good times, it reminds you of bad times, either one, but it’s about striking emotions.
Closeness to the old blues
It’s very close to the old blues, but it doesnt have the repetition the old blues songs have. You go back to listen to Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf or Lowell Fulsom ( I’m a funk guy, I’m not supposed to know about these guys, but they were in my house to grow up to) When you go back listen to them a lots of time it’s’ four lines of lyrics stretched over a 3 minute song because they keep repeating the same lines. In southern soul It uses more words instead of “Hey girl you look good, hey girl you look good, hey girl you look good, I wanna do you”. You know what I mean. Bigg Robb or Sir Charles Jones we would say “Hey pretty mama, I wanna get with you, You turn me on”. We tell the whole story. They were more simple in some ways lyrically and we are more simple because we don’t necessarily get into the horn arrangement and the strings and the orchestral arrangements. It’s different thing, but everything is old is new isn’t it? .
The growing popularity of blues
I was talking to my uncle who is almost 80 years old, uncle Penny , who is a music lover I got a lot of my music influences from him because I was going to his house on the weekends as a child That’s when I got to learn about Millie Jackson and Rudy Ray Moore. I was supposed to be sleeping when the grown people listened to them. My uncle knows a lot of music. He said
“Robert, the country is bankrupt, everybody is losing their jobs, people don’t know how they are gonna make it, that’s the blues”
The times, the current economical state, the mood of the people have influenced the way I’m gonna do my next record. Because the blues is a was a for that black man or black woman, that poor man or poor woman to find some relief on a Friday or Saturday night. When your pay check is short and your baby is getting on your nerves you got a woman cross town and your kids don’t want to listen to you, you may not want to listen to the Jackson Five all night. You might want to listen to a little B.B. King, you might want to put on some Jimmy Witherspoon. Blues is most definitively back, because everybody got the blues.
I recently bought, I only heard this gentlemans name, I had never heard his music, one of his albums two months ago. I’m in love with it. The guy is by the name of Luther Allison. I was listening to him and man, in 2009, what he was talking about in 1973’s, I can feel him, I feel where he is coming from. The album is his first on Motown. There is a song called Evil on that. The way he slams that guitar, the emotion, that’s what I want bring back on a couple of songs on the new Bigg Robb cd. I just wanna go down into these gut buckets, Albert King. Just give the people something , because my fan base is throughout the delta and throughout the south. Those folks down there have a hard time. We could go down and do 2 or 3 big blues shows a years in 2008. In 2009 the people don’t have the free money to go out to the shows anymore. So I wanna minister to those peoples souls. I wanna come out and speak and give them something, make them feel better.
The bestselling latest album, Blues, Soul&Old School
I’m not sure, but it has done very well. That album was really meant to be...you may remember the K-Tel, 20 hits on one cd, the difference would be that these were all kind of new songs that I produced. I wrote and produced everything on that with the exception of Mercy, we leased that song from a guy named Dre T Turner. It was meant to be kind of something to give to the people. We had no idea that it would be as successful as it was. I give all glory to God . I think it is successful because I was not being selfish. I wanted to share what little light Bigg Robb had. I wanted to shine some of it on Pat Cooley, some of it on Special, my son R3 is on there. It was a collaboration with me and a whole bunch of different artists. It is not what I call a real Bigg Robb record, because the real Bigg Robb would lead everything. It’s a little different, but the people liked it. We had success with Older Woman, Younger Man. Denise LaSalle contacted me in the process of rerecording that song. Which is ironic, because when I wrote Older Woman, Younger Man, I was thinking about I need to do something and try as Denise LaSalle on the song. All songs on that have been very well received, it’s blessing.
The reception in the Far East
Yeah, yeah . They love it. One of my biggest fan bases is in Japan. Let me tell you what they really love about Bigg Robb, they like more of the ZAPP/ROGER sounding stuff, stuff with the voice box, the bass synthesizer and all that. They are really into that sound over there. They know about my ZAPP/ROGER history. We have lots of positive moments from the history. Bootsy took me around Cincinnati, Roger Troutman took me around the world. They look at me as carrying on the funk legacy over in Asia and the Far East. They don’t necessarily know about the southern soul. Over there the music is kind of… you have a group of funk lovers, then you have a group of blues lovers. Bigg Robb is a mixture of all that. They are not together yet. Maybe my music will bring the blues lovers and funk lovers together. Because they are two totally different things.
The final words
Let me say this Anders, I’m one of those guys, you don’t need to talk to six managers before you talk to me. I apologize for being so hard to get in contact with, but we were going out with ZAPP for two weeks doing shows. No matter how successful I get with my southern soul career, I have been a member of the ZAPP Band for almost 25 years. I’m not going to stop that. I’m continuing my thing with that group. I want to be everything to everybody, but I run out of time. I’m a humble guy. I started on this trip when I was 9 or ten years old, I’m 41 now. I have been doing this for a long time, I was raised up in the music business.
Sometimes I don’t have patience for a lot of the things . Alot of thing that people get excited about, I don’t get excited about anymore. Because this is my life. If you have any other questions just reach out for me. You are trying to help let the world know about what I do. Without people like yourself letting the world know, Good Lovin Makes You Cry would be another song sitting on somebodys shelf, waiting to be discovered. I appreciate the fact that you even try to tell the world about Bigg Robb. I really appreciate that. This is personally from me, when I got a copy of the magazine (J:157) and I opened up and saw the guitar player, the guitar player, Riccardo Bray, is my cousin. Me and him have been together ever since I was 9 or 10 years old. When you asked about my family who else from the family plays music ? he’s the only person other than my son R3 that plays music. As a little kid we hooked up, he is much older than me. It was great that you guys had a picture of him. I’m gonna feature him on my next cd, if I can get him. He is always busy. I wanna do a song just dedicated to him, because I have a secret desire to turn him into a blues man, because he can play the blues. As a record producer I’m gonna sneak him in to studio and get some songs out of him, because I love his playing.
I have a musical partner, his name is Sure2b, he has been co producing this music with me for 15 years. He is a musical genius. He is one of the most humble guys. I pick out notes, I know where I’m trying to go. But he is an extremely talented guy. We are producing, writing, engineering and recording. And God is blessing the BIGG ROBB ” OVER25SOUND”
I hope everyone that reads this will download and purchase a Bigg Robb Production and that one day soon I can come to Sweden and abroad to perform live in concert
Management: Robbmusic p.o. box 581 Dayton ohio 45405
Writer: Anders Lillsunde / Jefferson #160