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With each lick, each passion soaked riff, Chris King Robinson lights up the stage. His guitar is the match. With fervour dripping from his Stratocaster, and the blues seemingly exploding from every cell of his body, he enraptures each soul surrounding him. He is an undeniable prodigy. A talent well beyond his 21 years. Just an old soul, with dreams bigger than life itself – dreams to play the low down dirty, soul aching blues like the greats.
Chris King Robinson or CKR, as he is now often referred to, grew up in Cambridgeshire, England enjoying a “Nice sheltered life” as a lanky teen with a family that he would describe as a “Strong mismatch of human life“. Inspired by the amalgamation of 80s pop, rock and blues played in his house, he soon got a hold of Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Blues was invariably played in my household from a very young age. I remember one of the very first times I watched the DVD of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing live at Austin City Limits… I blame that for everything I do today.”
Amongst the flurry of pop music the blues still lives on. With a guitar in hand, virtuoso Chris King Robinson is the man poised to breathe life into the scene
Robinson is entirely self-taught. Thanks to years spent ‘trapped’ in his bedroom with a Strat, using records such as Stevie Ray Vaughn’s In Step and Couldn’t Stand The Weather and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, as well as videos and feel to get him by, Robinson taught himself to play the devil’s music as though it were a gift from the gods. However, one talent that hasn’t come so easily is his singing “I needed to sing in order to front my own band and get noticed. In some respects it has come naturally, in others not so much. I’m slowly starting to enjoy it more, and more as my confidence grows.”
Having been born and raised surrounded by support, he makes no attempts to hide his gratitude, admitting that he owes a lot to his parents, yet stating his own self encouragement has been the driving force. “My stepdad first showed me SRV, so I owe a lot to him along with my mum, and dad for always supporting me, and keeping me away from bloody Britain’s Got Talent. My motivation on the other hand is 100% coming from me, I believe that it’s the fuel inside yourself that keeps you going in a business like this”
Although life on a cotton farm is far from Robinson’s reality, one obstacle he faces daily is playing the blues in a time of pop and indie domination. Bringing the genre into the mainstream has proved a journey, but he feels he’s on the right track with his untried, and fiery twist on the blues, “Originality is the biggest struggle for most! I am slowly starting to craft my own genre of music; which is an extremely universal sound!”
The struggle of being a guitar slinging blues musician in 2015 is no secret, however, Robinson may just have exactly what it takes as friend, collaborator and fellow virtuoso Connor Selby explains. “The greatest thing about Chris and his band is the way in which they incorporate so many different styles into their music” he says. “When you listen to their stuff there’s elements of soul, funk, R&B and of course blues rock. I think this gives them a unique edge which most blues rock bands don’t really have. On stage I think he and his band have a really great presence and when I saw him he engaged with the audience a lot. You can see in his face that when he’s playing he’s concentrating hard and really getting into the music, which is something I really admire. Off stage he’s a really nice guy too.”
Fans have agreed, and said that if you close your eyes you can almost feel the presence of the greats while the Chris King Robinson Band perform. This slim white boy from the UK is a direct footpath back to the days of Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, which is rather ironic for someone at the crossroads of their career – a road that immortals like SRV once walked, footsteps that he is now following in.
Robinson’s onstage persona is mysterious and intense. He makes each note spring effortlessly from his guitar to the crowd, yet despite the giant footprints left for him to fill and the fact that he is officially the most followed blues guitarist on Twitter, his band mates insist that he is still a non-shoelace tying, Chinese Chicken ball obsessed young man with plenty of admiration for his friends. Most especially his long time best mate Tom Relihan, who has been responsible for providing the band with a solid heartbeat since 2011.
Relihan first met Robinson while attending their college induction. Having heard rumours flying around about a great guitarist in first year, he immediately took an interest in his playing, waiting patiently for a chance to jam together. “I first joined the band when I was 16, and I’m now 20 and there’s plenty more years to come worth of playing with Chris” he says. “Back at college everyone wanted to play or jam with him, he just made music come alive whereas no one else at college had that ability. I actually remember asking him, almost in a geeky way ‘If you ever need a drummer for a band, I’m here, mate.’ That was strangely around the time he got involved with Robert Knights’ Brotherhood of the Guitar and was basically advised to hit the road with a band, so I swooped in at the right time.”
When asked whether his talents had progressed over their time of knowing one another, Relihan shut the notion down, “He hasn’t actually progressed at all I don’t think! Not in a bad way, in a great way. He’s always been a guitar god! I think he must have been born playing like that, sometimes I don’t even think he’s human!” he continued.
Four years on and the Chris King Robinson Band is in full flight, sky rocketing into greatness, releasing their debut EP Tell Me Why You’re Scared, and the bands’ hard work is something that to Robinson, hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Tom, Zac and Nig are three of the best musicians you’ll ever meet and they’re my best friends! Tom has groove and power like nobody else, Zac is a musical genius with immense swag, and Nig somehow holds the fort, alongside spontaneously throwing in the most killer bass fills you’ll ever hear!”
Serving as the self-proclaimed ‘Dad of the band’, Nig (otherwise known as Nigel Turner) says that advice is regularly being passed around but admits that it usually involves him turning to Robinson for advice on the ladies. “He’s normally giving me advice on how to flirt with women! But I’m sure to listen as much as I give”. Joining in on the journey in May last year, Turner has proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle bringing to the band a greater sense of unity, and experience. Despite having played for 35 years he insists he is “Old in years and young in spirit” and assures that when it comes to the music, Robinson is in charge, “[Chris] allows us freedom to express ourselves, he isn’t a tyrant and there’s a symbiotic feedback that happens.”
When asked what the defining moment has been for him, Robinson says meeting each of the band members has got to be it. “Meeting my band members, who share the exact same passion and goals has actually been the defining moment without me even realising it! They are like an army to me. When playing with them on stage it’s a very personal feeling, it’s everything, letting off steam, immense fulfilment; to me it answers why I’m here on this planet in a strange sort of way. We dream of playing at the Royal Albert Hall, which is where Clapton and all the rest of our heroes have played. I try not to be too goal orientated, however playing there, or at Austin City Limits would be a dream come true!”
As Ma Rainey once said, “White folks hear the blues come out, but they don’t know how it got there”. Robinson, however, is keeping it real. Proving to his heroes of the British blues invasion that blues 2015 style is still as diverse and as equally impressive, that someday he too could sell out the venues that they have.
If one thing is evident about Robinson, it’s his dedication to providing something otherworldly to audiences, and when asked what he’d like to achieve through his music, he was quick to know the answer “I hope to inject the same guitar bug into many… like SRV did with me! I want my sound to give people goose bumps, and an almost out of body experience.”
There’s no denying that Chris King Robinson knows exactly how to deliver the truth through the slightest touch of his guitar and with a decadent, feverish tone under his strap, this bedraggled bedroom jammer turned critically acclaimed virtuoso could well be the next king of the blues. Using his guitar like a defibrillator, he ensures the pulse of the genre lives on.
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