Rob Stoner interview by Arjan Deelen
Rob Stoner has worked with Robert right from the first recording-sessions with Link Wray in the spring of ’77. You can hear him on albums like ‘Robert Gordon & Link Wray’, ‘Fresh Fish Special’, ‘RockBilly Boogie’, ‘Bad Boy’, ‘Greetings From New York City’ and ‘All For The Love Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’. He has played piano and guitar for Robert, but is best known for his rocksteady bass. Stoner has also done hundreds of gigs with Gordon from the Link Wray era right up to the present. We contacted him for an e-mail interview about his work with Robert.
You played bass and piano on the first Robert Gordon & Link Wray recording-session at Plaza Sound in April ’77. How did you get to play for them?
Howie Wyeth and I were an established NYC rythmn section who worked as free lance “hired guns” for many artists. Our work on Bob Dylan’s “Desire” and “Hard Rain” albums further enhanced our reputation as session players. We also served as the core of Dylans’ touring band. Richard Gottehrer called us to do the session after he had tried some other players who didn’t work out. The RG band has subsequently had other members who were hired by Dylan: Tony Guarnier, Jon Paris and Kenny Aaronson.
With this being Robert’s first recording session, what was his input like?
Link and Robert were very professional and had great energy with cool vibes. They seemed very focused and prepared about the project. I had been a Link fan since I started playing guitar in the 50’s, so I was thrilled to work with him. His wild musicality is exciting, inspiring and unique. Bob Dylan came to see us play in London and told Link backstage that he did the best version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” he had ever heard.
Were you already familiar with songs like ‘Red Hot’ and ‘Boppin’ The Blues’?
I was familiar with all the songs on their list, since I had been singing and playing rockabilly all my life. My own rockabilly band, “Rockin’ Rob and the Rebels”, had been doing a lot of the same songs in Robert’s act for years before I met him.
Were the songs selected ‘on the spot’?
Their repertoire had been chosen by them in advance. The sessions were live and we rarely did more than two takes of anything. I overdubbed my piano parts.
The band toured quite extensively for the first album. How were you received?
When we played live the reaction was great right from the beginning. People loved this band everywhere.
The second session took place in December ’77. One of the songs that Robert recorded was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Fire’. Bruce was present when this song was recorded, and it’s been said that he played piano on that song. Did he have a lot of ideas and suggestions, or did he just let Robert and Link do their thing?
Bruce played piano on “Fire”, but he left most of the arranging to us.
One of the songs that was performed on the last tour with Link was Chris Spedding’s ‘Wild Wild Women’. Do you think that Robert already had Chris in mind as a possible replacement for Link?
We had no idea that Chris would replace Link. We had never met him. We were only playing ‘Wild Wild Women’ because we liked the song. Spedding’s solo records were very hot in Europe during ’78, so we had heard his stuff everywhere.
The first time that Robert recorded with Chris was during the ‘RockBilly Boogie’ sessions in November & December ’78. What was it like to work with Chris back then – I reckon that it was a very different experience compared to working with Link?
When Chris joined, he brought more of a cool studio slickness to the band. This was a contrast to the loud showmanship of Link. I became a huge Chris Spedding fan.
A guy called Scotty Turner played rhythm-guitar on that session. Who was he? I noticed that he co-wrote two songs together with Robert, ‘I Just Met A Memory’ and ‘The Catman’.
Scotty Turner was a guitarist/songwriter/producer from Nashville who had been the bandleader for Tommy Sands.
You toured regularly with Robert, Chris and drummer Bobby Chouinard in the early ‘90s, including Europe and Japan. Are there any memories or anecdotes from those tours that stick out in your mind?
The band with Chouinard was a super rocking well oiled machine. We had a kick-ass, take no prisoners attitude. The music was consistently at a very high level, and the show was always rockin’ and tight.
In the fall of ’93, the Gordon / Spedding collaboration ended. Was that a surprise to you?
I wasn’t surprised when Chris and Robert split. All great artists are restless souls.
I’ve read that it was very hard to find a suitable replacement for Chris. One of the guitarist during that period was Billy Thompson. How did that go? I also heard somewhere that you played guitar for Robert during one or more concerts?
It was indeed difficult filling the chair of a cat of Spedding’s ability. He is a truly amazing guitarist. We tried several replacements with varying degrees of success. I played lead on some shows, but RG said he missed my bass playing.
What’s the story behind ‘Last One To Know’, which you wrote together with Robert? Did you write any other songs together?
Robert needed some new material, so we got together and wrote some songs. We made the demos at my apartment. I don’t know if he plans on using any more of the things we came up with.
Did you ever suggest any songs to Robert?
Robert always comes up with his own ideas for songs to cover, he remembers every great tune he’s ever heard. Once in a while I have made a suggestion which he has recorded. Two examples are “Three Time Loser” and “It Feels So Right”.
Bobby Chouinard died very suddenly on March 8, 1997, at the age of only 43. Were you still working with him at the time?
It was a huge shock when Bobby died. He was one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever heard anywhere. We were working together at the time.
Rob, you’ve worked with a lot of tremendous performers. How would you rate Robert as a singer and a performer?
Nobody in rock sings like RG. He has the kind of powerful baritone you only hear in opera singers. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented individual.
For more info about Rob Stoner, please visit: www.robstoner.com