Sherman Robertson

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SHERMAN ROBERTSON

He was on fire. He ruled the stage. He had the audience in the palm of his hand, and his plain physical showmanship reminded me of Albert Collins... He's got that Texas energy, he’s got great guitar chops, and is a wonderful, soulful singer. – Bruce Iglauer President, Alligator Records

Variously known as the King of LOUTEX (Sherman’s unique brand of Louisiana swamp and Texas blues), and the ‘Master Fender Bender’ Sherman IS the successor to Albert Collins.

The former Bobby Bland, Clifton Chenier (King of Zydeco), Rockin Dospie, Johnny Copeland and Paul Simon guitarist (Sherman appeared on the million selling ‘Graceland’s) is steeped in the blues but is regarded as one of the great guitarists of our time appearing in both the book and the film of THE HISTORY OF THE FENDER STRATOCASTER.

He carved out his own solo career with legendary blues producer Mike Vernon, and cut the aptly titled ‘I’m The Man’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Here & Now which brought him chart success. But Sherman craved artistic independence, finding it on ‘Going Back Home’ which he recorded with members of Little Feat.

His current live album ‘Guitar Man’ was recorded at Kwadendamme Blues Festival in Holland and is everything you would expect from one of the great performers of our time.

 

THE RETURN OF SHERMAN ROBERTSON: OR HOW THE KING OF LOUTEX WENT BACK TO HIS ROOTS

Sherman Robertson is back. Well in a sense he’s never been away, but a long absence from the European and blues scene – save for a few festivals – and a seeming enduring silence on the recording front have heightened the sense of absence. But now Sherman is set to roar back on to the boards with an extensive tour in late July onwards.

“I felt I had got to the point where my blues wasn’t good enough for the blues fans and I wasn’t rocky enough for the Rock fans; So I headed home and rediscovered my Texas thing”.

Variously described as The King of Loutex (a unique Sherman brand of Lousiana swamp and Texas blues), or more predictably as the successor to Albert Collins as a “Master Fender bender”, to simply “the man with the plan”, or “the new kid from the old school”, perhaps it was the title of his 1993 album “I’m The Man’ that came closest to capturing his sense of self exuberance, and on-stage charisma. And it is indeed over 10 years since Sherman first blazed a trail on the concert circuit in the UK. The intervening years have seen both highs and lows. The lows included some throat problems and his former keyboard player Kim Foreman having to stop playing because of arthritis in his hands.

These events alone would have derailed most performers, and it took a while for Sherman to regroup, overcome some uncharacteristic self-doubt and hit the road again.

“The blues as they say never leaves you; but I had it in mind to just play what I always enjoyed; It’s a mixture of stuff really. The gigs I do back home and across the States have been a mix of blues and Zydeco. Its been a process of finding what I’m happiest with right now, without the concern of having to live up to various label expectations”

Since “breaking” over here circa 1993, Sherman Robertson has been heralded as the latest guitarist on the block – being featured in the History of The Fender Stratocaster book and film - as an up and coming star on the World Music scene, in his role as Paul Simon’s guitarist, and seen as the new Robert Cray, courtesy of a brace of albums recorded in the UK with Mike Vernon. Sherman himself keeps his council and remains happy to be himself, exploring his own roots through being a working blues musician who just happens to have an angelic soulful voice, and a master’s touch on his guitar.

“I’m just happy playing to people who enjoy what I do “, says Sherman; “Ultimately gigs are what it is really all about, getting a response to people who have specifically come to see you. When I played with Clifton Chenier and Terrance (Simien), it was all about getting the crowd dancing. But I learned a lot more from them about reading a crowd, and about pacing a show and about understanding real feel”

“Of course it’s my job to entertain and put across my music, but there is that moment when you cross the line and lose yourself in what you do. In a sense you could say this forthcoming European tour is going back to square one. I don’t mean going back musically, but I did break out in the UK playing some rocking blues…’spanking the plank’, so to speak” (he laughs). “So I’m aiming to check everyone out again, and let them know Sherman is still on the boards.”

Born in Beaux Bridges, Louisiana, Sherman revelled in a wide musical perspective that his home offered him, before he moved to Houston Texas.

“Back where I came from there was lots of Roosty Zydeco stuff, and some great players; but when I was growing up I was influenced by people like Freddie King, Albert Collins, and then there was also Bobby Bland and Junior Parker who were both hot in my day, and I actually played with them both. I was undoubtedly influenced by them, the songs and the style of playing. But my first musical buzz came from Hank Williams. I saw him on TV and realised where he was coming from. I also grew to love Freddie King. I still play “Hideaway” as a tribute to him, but back then he was ahead of his time”. v“So along with Albert Collins – who I saw in his early days when he was getting his sound together – Lightnin’ Hopkins, BB King etc, I guess I had the usual influences. But I’ve always dibbled and dabbled, and I decided to explore more of the music from where I came from. As a matter of fact this was not just the music but the whole heritage thing about Louisiana, the food, the feel, and the whole genre. So I never had what you’d call a straight blues upbringing. I cast my horizons wider than that. It wasn’t until I got to Houston that the Texas blues thing became more of a strong influence”.

In the event Sherman sharpened his own chops by fronting his own band the Soul Vibrations and the “Crosstown Blues Band”, before being asked to join Zydeco star Clifton Chenier’s band. “He called me in the early hours, say 4am. I said let me think about it. 4 hours later I was in his band”.

That five year period included stints in Europe, and Africa and as Sherman’s reputation as a hot player grew, so did the offers. Stints with Terrance Simien and Rock Dopsie, further strengthened his credentials, before Sherman landed the guitar part on the million selling Paul Simon album “Gracelands”. “I didn’t really have time to think about the project. It was OK, let’s get it down as good as we can”

History records that famed former British blues producer Mike Vernon ended his quest for a new up and coming blues star when he caught the guitarist at a Euro festival, and saw a gutsy performer with real ability, a fluid guitar style, soulful voice and above all a crowd pleaser. Sometime circa 1993, Sherman played his first greater London show at a blues club in Feltham, Middlesex guesting at the interval for a three number appearance that turned everyone’s head. “I’ve found my crowd!”, exclaimed Sherman on the night. His eyes veered between the lightning runs on his guitar and the excited faces of the crowd, who back then, had rarely if ever seen a performer join them on the dance floor with his guitar. By the time he returned for a full blown UK tour with his own band and a debut album, Sherman had honed his style to complement the AOR friendly UK debut album, “I’m The Man”, but still put on the kind of climactic show that stays with blues fans until their dying day.

But it could be argued that it was around this point that the very thing that gave him a modicum of success, also sowed the seeds of future discontent.

“I think they were trying to mould me. The songs were fine and the playing was cool, but it blanded me out a little”, says Sherman. “And musically I was compromised in a way, as I seemed to fall between two stools. We got good reviews, and played some great shows, but some people expected Sherman the showman and others wanted what they heard on the radio. As I said before, we weren’t bluesy enough for the blues, and were too smooth for the rockers”.

While “Am I Losing You” and “Out Of Site, Out Of Mind” were as close as you can get to Sherman’s unique soulful oeuvre, the would be rockers such as “Vacating The Blues” and the title track leaned more towards a radio friendly funky groove than Sherman’s renowned on- stage “upbeat rocking blues”

Be that as it may, “I’m The Man” and its successor “Here & Now” were two slabs of mature soulful blues, and only record company problems aborted the lift off in the States.

“Code Blue my label, got bought out by Atlantic, and basically ‘I’m The Man’ was never properly released over here. When the buy out hapened, it had already been out 4 years, so they were not prepared to get behind an album of that age.”

By the time of “Here & Now” the record company was in trouble. The album peaked at number 40 in the Living Blues 1996 blues chart. Sherman’s funky blues although very radio friendly, was not a mirror reflection of his on stage frisson.

It wasn’t until 1998 that he appeared to chuck his all back into a rocker edged blues, with the down to the wood “Going Back Home”.

The title was more a reference to the rockier blues edge that got him noticed in the UK to start with. “Yeah it was simply that”, agrees Sherman; “I wanted to explore where I’d started out from and enjoy my music again.”

The Audioquest album turned out to be the last we heard of Sherman, save for a cameo appearance at the all star Peter Green Tribute Night. Two short low key UK tours have followed, with the last South West London appearance at the late Worcester Park Club four years ago, being favourably reviewed in the Times.

John Clarke the blues correspondence was suitably moved to note; “He has been blessed with one of the great voices of modern blues, a pleading, gospel-like tone that makes him sound like a cross between BB King and Robert Cray”

Alligator records were reputedly ready to bid for Sherman, but neither part seemed happy with the deal on offer, and Sherman once again hit the road.

“I’ve done a lot of road work since then”, concludes Sherman; “We’ve been playing some older stuff , with a mix of blues, r&b and even a bit of soul”; Anyone who caught Sherman’s wonderful reading of the Temptations “My Girl” on his last tour 4 years ago, would have been mesmerised by his soulful phrasing and delicate licks. “Well I’ve always enjoyed that kind of mix. It’s in my background, and I’m retracing those steps”.

With plans for a new live album, to be culled form an extensive Autumn tour later this year, and an appearance at the Colne Blues Festival, Sherman Robertson does appear to be back. “Yeah I’m back to check everyone out, to play some blues and to hopefully meet some old and new friends in the UK. This is where I originally found my crowd”

Pete Feenstra in Blues in Britain 2004


Here are the reviews from The Times in April 2000 and October 2000