I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa and my mother always used to say “if you can play an instrument you can always earn a living!” Of course, she couldn’t foresee the digital age, streaming and rampant downloading (theft).
At any event, she did manage to get me to take about 3 months of piano lessons before the change of teacher drove me to quit. A decision I now regret and am attempting to correct.
I was about 15 when my parents bought my younger brother an acoustic guitar and I whined enough that they bought me one too – both Trek guitars I think. That led to my first ‘duo’ with a friend whose name was Robin Hind. Robin is a little older than I am, from Kenya, and knew a few chords which he taught me how to play and we wrote a song. Yes, it was pretty bad and very forgettable. Sadly, I was driving a friends car (illegally) one day and got stopped for speeding. I was too scared to tell my dad to I pawned the Aria to pay the speeding fine…along with my air rifle (my dad was really angry about that).
Fast forward a couple of years and I had by then hung out with other musicians, learning Beatle songs – until they were banned off the radio – and then other bands like Cream, Dylan, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, Terry Jacks etc. I never liked the Rolling Stones so never bothered to listen or learn any of their songs – except for As Tears Go By and Painted Black.
My brother then got a gig to play a 3 week resident band at a resort. A week before the end of that gig he fired the rhythm guitarist and sax player and asked me to step in. Back in those days it was reasonably easy to learn and remember 50 new songs, unlike today.
Shortly thereafter I was drafted into the South African army – everyone was conscripted in those days – and by the time I came out my brother, who had done nothing but practice guitar for a year, was so much better than I, who had not played much while in the army, I decided I better buy myself a bass. My parents – figuring I deserved something for surviving the military – bought me a Höfner 12 string. It was really on that 12 string, with six strings removed, that I actually taught myself to play guitar. My bass, a Yamaha, cost me the grand total R118, about $336 at the time, and I learned to play bass on that guitar. I still have both guitars and try to keep them in decent shape.
I started a couple of bands that never really got out of rehearsal so short lived were they.
By 1975 I moved to England and started looking for a band, as a bass player. I ended up joining a trio whose bass player had just quit and I played with that trio for almost two years playing clubs, pubs and discos all over the Midlands and Wales. Not into London as that was too much of a drive and while we got paid, it wasn’t enough to warrant the gas which was pretty expensive even then. The trio – guitar, bass and drums – was really a working man’s club band playing songs from the Beatles, Neil Sedaka, and other pop artists of the time.
Well, few bands last forever and after a short break from the trio I went back. That did not work out very well at all and after a couple of months I quit (again).
At then end of 1981 I had moved to Canada, had a family and was doing everything I could to pay the rent, so music pretty much went out the window. I spent almost ten years playing acoustic guitar at home, jamming very occasionally with friends and almost not touching the bass.
Then in about 1988 things changed dramatically as we started attending a church that needed a bass player. That turned out to be me. As of the date of writing this bio I have now been playing either bass (predominantly) or acoustic guitar on Sundays for almost 33 years with very few missed Sundays. At most I’ve missed four or five Sundays a year on average. I think that is more because there seem to few bass players where I attend church but then I was the best bass player available !
While in Canada, in addition to playing in church, in the later years I played in a couple of bands and filled in on occasion for other bands whose bass player was out of town.
In 2006 work brought me to Los Angeles. Being ‘Alone Again, Naturally’, I made a real effort to look for opportunities to play. This resulted in attending open mics all over LA county, Hollywood, Glendale, Santa Clarita, Lake Elizabeth and various stops in between, until I started hosting an open mic night.
When I first came to Los Angeles and started playing at my church I insisted on playing acoustic guitar, which was great for my acoustic guitar playing, but not so great for my bass playing, which got seriously rusty as a result. However, about six years in I found myself reassigned to bass again. That was probably a good thing as…
Not much later I formed a band, with some friends, called ‘The Convictions’ – two guitars and keyboard, bass and drums. We played a mix of classic rock – Mellencamp, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Doobie Brothers, Santana, Chuck Berry, The Ramones, Robert Palmer, James Gang and all the usual suspects. That’s when I first discovered that it’s harder to remember new songs as you get older.
Well, after a couple of years The Convictions went the way of most garage bands, and I was again out on my own primarily playing acoustic guitar.
That pretty much brings us to the present. I was offered a New Years Eve gig for 2014 and immediately called Dan Kirkpatrick, who I had met in July at our annual July 4th barbecue and jam, thanks very much to Richard Marchetta (another cool dude, singer, songwriter, guitar player). Dan said he was up for it…now for a drummer and another guitar and keyboard player.
We couldn’t find another guitarist that was available, or keyboard player, and the drummer I usually played with was going to be away. That gave me the great opportunity to meet Paul Stillman.
Paul had spent the last few years in the wastelands of Northern California and had only recently returned to LA and was not engaged in a band and did not want to get into a band with hacks – at least, that’s the story as I heard it.
Nevertheless, Paul and I eventually spoke and he was convinced to at least join for New Year’s Eve.
Right Side Up was born!
I am very privileged to be able to play with Dan and Paul. They are both great musicians with long musical journeys a lot deeper than mine. Not only are they great musicians but they are fun to be around and I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of their musical journey.
That’s not the end of Robert’s Musical Journey…the song continues…come and see Right Side Up when you can. I guarantee you will have a great time !
What else ? Well, I am finally taking piano lessons from a wonderful teacher here in Santa Clarita, Lauren Compeneitz. I have been teaching myself to play harmonica and saxophone and hope some day to be able to play well enough that the neighbourhood dogs don’t howl !