For a superlative musician, Portland blues guitarist Terry Robb has flown under the radar during his long career.
Fans may recall guitar slinger from his live shows in the late ‘80s at Jazmin’s (shuttered in ‘90) and the lounge in the Marc Antony Hotel (now Ashland Springs Hotel) in Ashland.
“I used to have an electric blues band back then,” he says from his hotel room in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I had a trio and a quartet. Me, bass and drums. We were pretty intense. I’m still pretty intense, but now I do it on acoustic guitar by myself. I still kinda sound like a whole band. I keep the bass going with my thumb, play chords, and play the melody on top to keep it going. It’s a lot of fingerpicking.”
Robb has two shows set for this weekend at local haunts. He’ll play at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at La Baguette Music Cafe, 340 A St., Ashland. Admission is free. Another show is set for 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Talent Club, 114 Talent Ave., Talent. Admission is $15.
The many awards Robb’s received speak for his talent as a blues guitarist.
He’s been inducted into both the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and the Cascade Blues Association Hall of Fame. He earned so many Muddy Awards for Best Acoustic Guitarist — 19 consecutive times between 1992 and 2011 — that when he retired from the competition, the award was renamed the “Terry Robb.”
In 2017, he received a Muddy for Lifetime Achievement.
Vintage Guitar Magazine calls Robb “One of the best players, on acoustic and electric, embracing a range of blues styles and then some.”
Tee Watts of Blues Blast wrote “Much of the blues press places Robb at the top of the heap of acoustic and electric pickers globally ... a force to be reckoned with.”
And Ian Zack of Acoustic Guitar wrote “It’s the rare guitarist who can whip off a killer 12-bar blues solo, then turn around and fingerpick Travis-style with speed and subtlety. Yet Portland, Oregon, guitarist and singer Terry Robb does just that.”
“Twelve-bar blues is pretty much standardized,” Robb says. “The old stuff didn’t really have any strict order as to how many bars should be played. Sixteen-bar just throws in a couple of extra chords. It’s like what you’d hear Ray Charles doing. An eight-bar would be something like ‘Key to the Highway.’ A lot of country-blues guys would play that.”
Along with his solo shows, Robb has a few students and works at guitar clinics. He’s just finished a performance and a master class at the Vancouver International Guitar Festival in British Columbia. In June, he joined guitarists Ed Dunsavage, Vicki Genfan, Page Hamilton, Michael Herman and Mark Nelson for Britt Festival’s Guitar Weekend.
Robb didn’t play many cover songs back in the heyday of blues clubs in Ashland and Portland.
“There were songs I did that were part of the blues-rock repertoire,” he says. “I did do Hendrix songs here and there because he was so great. I wrote quite a few songs back then for the band. We mixed things up. It’s always good to throw in songs from records people are familiar with. It draws them in. Then maybe they’d listen to some of our original stuff.
“I had a song called ‘Bertha Lee,’ and an album called ‘Next Window.’ Other than ‘Nineteen Years Old’ by Muddy Waters, it was all original stuff. Then I did an album called ‘Jelly Behind the Sun’ with singer Ike Willis from Frank Zappa’s band, and it was mostly original songs. I’d do those songs at shows, and people liked them. They’d ask for them.”
With a dozen or so albums of his own, Robb’s collaborated on recordings with Alice Stuart, Eddy Clearwater, Maria Muldaur, Curtis Salgado and Glenn Moore. He’s toured with Buddy Guy and Steve Miller. In ‘81, Robb met steel-string guitar icon John Fahey and produced several of his albums for Varrick, a subsidiary of Rounder Records, including “Let Go,” which earned Fahey a four-star review in Rolling Stone.
After working with Fahey, Robb began to integrate more acoustic into his band’s act.
Fortunately his career was moving forward as the club scene started to change. Stricter DUI laws kept more people at home, and those who’d go out to clubs drank less.
“People got older,” Robb says.
“The ‘80s were a big time for live music in the Pacific Northwest, like Portland, Ashland, Eugene and Corvallis. There’s only a couple of blues bars left in Portland. If I had a band like back then and played the club scene, it would be hard now. You used to be able to play five, six nights a week in Portland and make a good living.”
Rob still plays electric guitar and works with other musicians in studios. When he’s on the road, though, he plays solo acoustic.
“Now I write songs in the vein of country-blues guys, but I put my own thing to it. I listen country blues. I listen to jazz. I listen to classical musicians, and I like world music and Middle Eastern music. So there’s more influence to it. I improvise quite a bit and do some singing on my originals,” he says. “I might hear a melody line I like on a television commercial and throw it in. I try to keep the door open. My stuff always comes out sounding bluesy because that’s the technique I learned when I picked up the guitar.”
Robb’s newest album, “Cool on the Bloom,” was released in 2016 on Nia Sounds, an independent record label in Portland. A new album is planned for release later this year. See terryrobb.com.