Richard J. Dobson is one of the legendary Texan singer-songwriters, not so well-known as Townes VanZandt or Guy Clark but he befriended them and is playing in the same league! He currently lives in Switzerland and introduces himself as a Gulf Coast Boy on the River Rhine.
When he was eight he even called Dutch city The Hague his home for a year. He went to the International School, where the teachers told him his Texan accent was barbaric and he took some piano lessons. At twenty he bought a secondhand guitar in Cali, Columbia and started teaching himself to play. He finished college, joined the Peace Corps and became an author. But after his first manuscript was turned down by several publishers he moved to New Mexico and songwriting became his mainline instead of a sideline. Influenced by rising star Kris Kristofferson and of course Dylan, he went to Nashville in 1971, although he kept going back and forth to Texas. His first LP "In Texas Last December" was released in 1977. During the 80s he started touring Europe and landed a deal with Swiss label Brambus Records. More than ten albums later, here's "Back At The Red Shack".
Richard tells: "People say when you come back to a place that it looks smaller than you remembered, but there never was a lot of room at the Red Shack. I recorded my first two records there, with Rock Romano at the controls. It went by another name then, and the recording gear of course has changed, but the place looks much the same. When I thought about recording in Texas again with my old compadres it didn't take long to figure where to go." The result of recording in Houston during the month of December 2006 is a feel-good album that leaves the lovers of typical Texan singer-songwriter music with a smile on the face, reaching for the repeat button.
"Sixty-Three Mercury", uptempo with accordion and electric slide-guitar is a perfect opener. It was first recorded in 1994 but the Austin-based label that released the album, went out of business a week later. Must be about a car Richard really owned, nobody just makes up a line like "Coming back across the desert we hit a buzzard doing ninety"! "Aunt Betty's Lament" is indeed her story in her own words, adorned with violin playing. Various funny songs on this album: "Aye Chihuahua", a real city and desert state in Northern Mexico, so this is TexMex, partly in Spanish, even mentioning DJ Bobo, Marijuana and Revolucion! "Close Calls" is another happy nonsense-song, but "I guess it doesn't have to be about anything", says Richard and gets away with it! "There ought to be a law against feeling so good" is an inventive one-liner too, packed in an uptempo song, while "Walking My Blues Away" is another funny one, featuring dogs and mockingbirds and a cool electric guitar. Melodies that urge to take a loved one's hand and head for the dancefloor are "Never Say Never" ("We always play this song!") and bilingual "Over All Over Again" ("I wrote this song for Freddy Fender and pitched it to him a couple of times.")
And did you know that "Baby Ride Easy", made semi-famous by Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds, was written by Richard Dobson? "One of the first songs I wrote in 1972, Guy Clark made a demo of this song when I came to Nashville. It was once performed by Johnny Cash and June Carter on a Christmas TV Special." Here it's played with accordion and fiddle in a Gulfcoast / Cajun way. "Suited Me" is a brandnew song about Richard's blue-collar offshore days on boats and drilling rigs, it sounds like the best work of Townes VanZandt. "Hard By The Highway", written in 1979 ("From my hitchhiking days..."), could measure up with several unofficial hits by Guy Clark and Kris Kristofferson: "The coyote answers from back in the canyon / Hungry for more than plain understanding." "Hard Work Talking Blues", just imagine this one in the phrasing of Johnny Cash... Richard comments with a wink: "My father tried hard to instil the work ethic in me; he partly succeeded."
Then the CD runs out of music... But if you want more of Richard's warm, expressive voice, memorable melodies, witty storytelling backed up by the flawless playing of his compadres (with lots of awesome accordion!), do reach for that repeat button!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, March 2007.