Robin Bank$

Robin Bank$

Well Robin, here we are. Finally getting the chance to sit down and talk some talk! So tell me about Robin...

Baby, you're gonna get the WHOLE story...!

Good! That’s what I want (laughing).

I was born in Chatham Ontario Nov 25, 1963, 3 days after Kennedy's death. I was adopted. My natural parents are both 100% Southern Ontario French. My mother was 17 and her father forced her into giving me up for adoption. She didn't want to... I now have a loving relationship with her.

That must be very special to you...

Yes, she is very special to me. We have become good friends. Our meeting has filled a void in both our lives. We met in1992. She lives in Windsor about an hour from me. Windsor is where we play a lot and my band members are from there... My natural father, I never had the chance to meet. He committed suicide in 1968. I have however met my 1/2 brother Marc on a couple of occasions. My adopted parents were hard working, blue collar, C&W fans. That's both kinds of music... Country AND Western! They raised me the best they could, but I still ended up singing Blues! (laughing)

Haha - How did they feel about that?

Oh, they love what I do. They're not BIG Blues fans, but they appreciate what I love and enjoy my performances. They really like B.B. King... Who doesn't? But really, I was raised on a tobacco farm owned by my (Belgian immigrant) grandparents. My father and mother both worked in factories as well as in the fields. I had it pretty good growing up... never wanted for anything.... except a piano... I always wanted a piano... My dad sang a bit... he had a nice voice. He still does. I have great memories of him singing to me as a little girl.

What did he sing to you?

He used to sing a lot of things but there's this one sweet song, "'re the end of my rainbow, my pot of gold, a something something, to have and hold, a precious gem, is what you are, and your daddy's little girl" Still brings tears to my eyes..

Do your parents play any instruments?

Neither of my parents played any instruments. They bought me a decent kids acoustic guitar at the age of 10 and then bought me a great Yamaha guitar at the age of 14. I can still play a little rhythm but would never consider myself a guitar player of any appeal!

When you were a young girl, what were your “loves”, you know what I mean?

I had a few MAJOR loves from a very young age. I loved my horses, I loved to spend time writing poetry and perhaps the greatest of all my loves... I loved to sing! My first memory of having any vocal ability was caught on tape at the young age of 4. My uncle from Detroit had, what was very modern at the time, a reel to reel tape recorder and recorded me singing Twinke Twinkle Little Star. I was hooked! Of course my parents encouraged my singing ability to their own advantage... whenever they had their friends together, I would be called upon to entertain...

....(laughing) I had to do that too!

The living room became an instant stage... ....sometimes real late at night, after a Saturday night dance or wedding. I vividly recall being dragged out of my bed at 3:00 in the morning to sing a song or two for their (often somewhat intoxicated) guests. I guess they thought it was cute... little Robin twanging out "our D-I-V-O-R-C-E, becomes final today" or, "cause-a-you ain't woman enough, to take-a-my man"... So the C&W girls of the time like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, were certainly a strong influence on me... I'm not ashamed to admit that! Those gals sang with soul and heartfelt passion.

I particular love Patsy Cline. I think she was a singer’s singer. Even kinda “bluesy” at you agree?

Oh, yes. Patsy is a big hero of mine. She had such great passion, phrasing and tone. A woman who's abilities were unlimited. She died the same year I was born. She was also a very strong woman... spoke her mind and didn't take no crap from no one... Sound familiar? But I was more inclined to listen to the more soulful musics of the day. I have a cousin who lived in Detroit at the time, who greatly influenced me musically. She's ten years older than me and babysat my older brother and I a lot. She was hip to the Motown scene which was red hot at the time... late 60's. I was soaking up the sounds of the Motor City...

Who did you listen to?

Smokey and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Temptatons, the Four Tops. And those great GIRLS of Motown, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha and the Vandella's. I also was hearing a lot of Aretha, acts like the Shirelles, Ronnie and the Ronnettes... you get the picture. As the years went by, bands like the Spinners, the Manhattans also caught my ear. Singers! Great singers and great harmonies. My ears sharpened. I spent most of my summers glued to my little transistor radio (remember them?)

Haha - yeah, I had one I prized...

Yeah! The station was firmly fixed to the infamous radio station... CKLW. It was based out of Windsor, but was known as Detroit's finest radio station of the day. They played all the modern hits of the time. Pop, Rock, Motown. Their playlists went like this... BTO - Takin' Care of Business Martha and the Vandella's - Dancin in the Streets Monkeys - Last train to Clarksville WAR - Low Rider Diana Ross - Aint No Mountain High Enough get the idea! A real mix... By the age of about 10, I realized that it would be very exciting to be a singer. I sang in, and was often featured as a soloist, in scool/church choirs. I loved the special feeling singing gave me... being a slightly chubby, awkward young girl. (ironically, not unlike now!)

Oh honey, how I relate! (both laughing)

By the time I reached highschool (13 - 16 years old), I had become proficient enough on my guitar that I could accompany myself entertaing my frinds in the park beside the school. I guess I knew then that entertaining/singing was what I wanted to do.

As a teenager did you have any plans to broaden your musical and personal horizons?

I knew I had to leave the sleepy backwards town that I was raised in... so I completed highschool and was accepted into the Music course at Toronto's famed Humber College studying Jazz Vocal. I spent 1 year there... but was far more interested in getting into a band than getting a degree.... Right around this time, a friend of mine suggested that I go see this Blues singer playing at a downtown Toronto club, Alberts Hall. Her name was Etta James. I was 18 at the time,not old enough to be in a bar in Ontario, but that never stopped me! I paid a $3.00 cover charge and saw a performance that would eventually lead me to the road I am currently traveling... the life of the Blues. Etta took the top of my head off! I had been familiar with gals like Aretha, Billie Holiday... giants... but this big, beautiful woman scared the hell out of me! She sang these songs, FIVE FEET IN FRONT OF ME, that brought me to tears! Not once but many times. Songs like "Sugar on the Floor" and my all time favorite "I'd Rather Go Blind"

That song still brings tears to my eyes...It is something to say I'd rather go blind then to be without you...

Yeah. We include that song in our act today. Etta is probably my single biggest Blues vocal influence.

After getting “inspired” by Etta. What did you do next?

Well, I played in several recording acts in Toronto. No Blues bands though. But you know the old story... very little fish in a GREAT BIG POND! After 10 years of it, I packed up and returned to my home town. It was 1992. That was when I put together The ROBIN BANK$ Band...

Hey, who thought of that little dollar sign at the end of your name?

I did. I've been using that spelling since 1986. 1992 was also when a local young Blues guitar player by the name of Mark Martin was introduced to me. I auditioned him and right then I knew there was something special about this guy. Some unique quality that I needed to have beside me on stage. It was September 1992. By July of 1993, Mark and I were married to the surprise of our friends and family! At that time the band was playing a few gigs a month. I was waitressing at a little local bar that had Blues bands from Detroit and Windsor playing there on the weekends. Bands like Chicago Pete, Robert Penn, The Windsor Dukes, The Jesse Grooms Band and my good friend and fellow Blues mama, the girl they call ZOOM! I owe my careers to these people, and of course my husband Mark, for influencing me to play, sing and love the Blues as I do today. My performance style is a by-product of what I saw in those early years. I took what they taught me and made it my own. In particular, to respect the music, respect myself, keep it real, keep it Blue, touch the people, tell them where it comes from, and always, always do it from your heart. Sort of like life I guess!

How is it playing with your husband?

Ahhh, we spend a lot of time together. We do everything together and it is amazing that we don't want to kill each other! But we get along pretty good. He puts up with me and I put up with him. We have a very strong bond, of course. Our careers are our lives... it's all rolled into one so, we just put it all together and deal with it as it unfolds. It works for us.

So, what has been happening?

Since then, we have accomplished a lot I suppose. Won a big Blues talent contest in Toronto in 96, competed in another one in Memphis that same year, played some great Blues Festivals all over Canada, travelled to Blues cities like Memphis and Chicago, met a lot of great people along the way, been featured on TV a few times, recorded a CD, got some international airplay, won a Canadian Blues award! Heck, if I died tomorrow, I'd be content! In addition to all this, I get to play music for a living, and have done so for a couple of years now. And above all, I get to share all this with a great guy, and a great Blues guitar man all on his own, my husband Mark Martin. We really have a fairy tale life. I am truely blessed! I thank the big guy every day for all my blessings!

The music business can be tough. Many work on a “take no prisoners” type of attitude. It is often partcularly rough on women. Is it difficult being a woman who plays/sings the blues?

I think the music business in general is tough for either a man or a woman. Especially Blues because it's more of a calling, a passion. One does not play this music to get rich. You play it because you HAVE to... it's in your soul. Like falling in love... you don't mean to... it just happens!

Speak to me girlfriend! Those are very wise words and oh so true.

I'm sure there are folks out there who will give me a problem because I am a woman. Especially a stubborn, driven, bold Blues woman like me who not only sings in the band, but also books, manages, promotes and leads the band. I'm sure there are an equal amount of people who WILL give me the time of day because I am all of those things. I have experienced both sides of this coin firsthand...

It is really tough to put together a recording. Tell me about the experience of putting together your first CD.

It started as a free recording that we won as a prize for winning the Toronto Blues Society talent competition in 1996. We had only intended on recording 6 of our original songs during this session. It turned into a record deal and the release of our debut CD, Permanent Record.

You and your band recently were honored by being asked to do a showcase this past October at BLUESTOCK in Memphis. What was that like?

Ok, here's the short version... We had a ball! Memphis is like a second home to me. Our hotel was located right on the Mississippi River, right beside a picturesque old abandoned civil war hospital. I love old architecture. Great vibe. We went downtown Friday night, ate the best ribs on the planet at Rendezvous and made sure to stock up on their patented sauce and dry seasoning! Hung out on Beale, bought a John the Conqueror root from Tater Red and I think he got a kick out of my Bettie Page look! (those southern boys all seen to love Bettie Page!) We checked out all shopes the clubs on Beale including Elvis'. (found out later that my friend Wild Child Butler was playing with Big Jack Johnson at the Blues City Cafe, but missed him!) Went down to the Rum Boogie Cafe where my friend James Govan has the house gig. We sat in and did a couple of songs with their wonderful band. Then we went down to the Blues City Cafe (late night) and caught James Harman and his band. What a show! These guys are the STUFF! Saturday, we went to register at the Radisson where I hooked up with Wild Child and his wife Elaine. Wild Child introduced me to our very own Dick Waterman and what a gentleman he was... glad to have finally met him. Saturday night we did our set at the Elvis' beautifil club. Pat Brown opened, we did the 2nd show. Texas Johnny Brown played after us and then the Drifters. Our set went pretty smoothly considering it wasn't our rhythm section... had only met the bass player and drummer that day. The crowd seemed to enjoy my teasing and bold delivery. Got them dancing and singing along. They appreciated Mark's and Ray's soloing, clapping at the end of each. I was glad to see some friends in the audience including BC, Dick Waterman, Dom Forcella, James Govan and a few others... It was a lot of fun! After our set we strolled down Beale again and caught Hubert Sumlin and Little Milton. I even got to sample some hot tomales at the Blues City Cafe! Mmmm! Sunday before we hit the highway, we stopped again at Elvis' to take a few pictures and decided to eat brunch there. There was an awesome all male vocal Gospel Band playing throughout the brunch. There were 6 or 7 men singing (like angels) and bass drums guitar and piano. This was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend! What a glorious send off! I even got to sing with these guys a little! Sounded kinda cool too. Them with their warm, heartfelt, sweet harmonies and me with my scratchy, moaning, female Blues voice on top of them! It sounded very cool! And loads of fun! We hit the highway.... with a tear in my eye...

{Laughing) And that was the "short version"....

Robin, you have just been doing so much it is hard to keep track of you! What are your plans for the future?

Immediate future... we're flying to the east coast of Canada on Friday to perform at The Harvest Jazz & Blues Fest in Fredericton New Brunswick. (we've never been flown to a gig before!) I just started getting calls from clubs in Michigan and I plan to break into the American Blues club scene a bit in the new year... We work an average of 13 to 16 nights per month. Close to 200 shows a year I guess. We usually do 4 shows per night. We play bars, nightclubs, festivals, concerts and other special events. We drive a lot. We put about 40,000 kms (that's about 25,000 miles) on our truck last year. My goal at this point is to keep playing, keep writing and hopefully find a supportive Blues record label and possibly management to take us on. I want to be a working, touring, recording International Blues act. I want to play in Europe, the US and anywhere else that'll have us! And some day I might even have a baby or two...

Yeah, they are nice to have too.

What would you like to say to people through music?

I guess I just want to make them happy. Make them smile. Maybe touch a few people along the way. I think in sharing myself and my love of what I do with an audience, I might take them to a good place for a minute or two. I do make a point in my performance to really promote and encourage folks to dig the Blues. The Blues is a beautiful place, I like to share it.

Take a moment and look back. The crowd is there, the music is pumping and everything is just “on point.” Can you pick your favorite moments so far playing Blues?

Well, my favorite moments are on stage. I just love performing. But apart from that... I guess finishing our CD was a big thrill. Also, I'm a real kid at heart so meeting our heroes is very cool. I guess, the road we've traveled playing together these last 6 years has been a real dream come true. Going to places like Memphis and Chicago... out east... playing with great musicians and entertaining big audiences at some of the bigger festivals has been a real thrill too... I know it sounds goofy but I really love my life. I am blessed.

Like I said, you are just a busy woman! What do you do when you're not performing?

I guess I do a lot of promoting... one track mind! I like to cook and visit my friends. Mark and I both love to watch movies.

I love movies also. I have a serious “movie jones” as my husband likes to say. (laughing)

I also spend a good deal of time on the "net" promoting my band and talking, learning from, sharing and becoming good friends with folks from all over the world... Blues folks and fellow players like Donnie Moretone, Hash Brown, L.A. Jones, Kenny Blue Ray, Bill Salmon, Maxdog, Chuck N., Dave Therault... oh so many many more... and you too my sister Lea! I really appreciate and enjoy the friendship I have forund here... Blues-L, Muddy's Cabin... it's a great format we have here... a great opportunity to learn, share and make friends in the Blues. I LOVE IT! We have an ever growing music collection. We like to go to the beach as much as possible in the summer. We like to chill out at home with our cats. Oh, a tropical vacation once in a while is nice too!

Robin, it has been too much fun talking with you. You are truly a woman who lives and loves the music. If you had one musical wish, what would it be?

To tour with Jimmie Vaughan! No, but really... The same one as always, just to keep playing this music that I love, with this man that I love. To make a living at it, maybe make a few records... meet the great people of the planet... We're not trying to save the world... just play and do what comes naturally. Trying to hold up the tradition of our heroes... trying to keep it Blue!

©1998 Lea A. Gilmore and P.W. Fenton, All Rights Reserved.