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Bruce Robison basks in "Country Sunshine"

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 2001

What a difference a song or two can make. For tall Texan Bruce Robison, that meant he wanted to be a free agent as in free from major labels and back to his own baby.

Robison hit paydirt when Tim McGraw decided to include "Angry All the Time," his duet with wife Faith Hill on his latest "Set This Circus Down." McGraw then released the song as a single, hitting the top 10. That means a lot of greenbacks for Robison as the songwriter.

And Robison, who had two solo albums on Sony/Lucky Dog, also struck gold when Lee Ann Womack recorded "Lonely Too" for her megaselling album, "I Hope You Dance."

For a guy who always considered himself more of a songwriter than an artist in his own right, the timing was propitious for Robinson to make the label break.

Robison had recorded "Wrapped" and "Long Way Home From Anywhere" for Lucky Dog, the edgy Sony imprint that also hosts brother Charlie Robison and Jack Ingram.

Both albums received critical praise, but when it came to the cash register, the disc wasn't exactly flying out of the stores.

Which leads to "Country Sunshine," released in September once again on Robison's Boar's Nest label. Robison mixes it up musically, including hard core country on "Bed of Ashes," a Beatles pop/country bent on "Devil May Care," a duet with Kelly Willis on "Friendless Marriage" and "Can't Get There From Here," written with singer Allison Moorer.

But none of this would have happened without help from McGraw and Womack.

"It's really ownership of the recordings these days," says Robison in a telephone interview from his Austin, Texas home. "When I got the single and song on the McGraw thing and the Womack thing, I just really had to use the freedom to do something with it."

"You feel you like you get this amazing break commercially, so what do you do with it? Do you continue business as usual. It will afford you some sort of freedom to do something. You can get a cocaine habit. You can travel. You can do a lot of things."

Robison, all 6-6 of him, also says his major label experience was not all to his liking.

"The last record, 'Long Way Home,' was a pretty frustrating experience. When I went into meetings with Lucky Dog and we were talking about what we were going to do, I just wanted to know what they were planning on doing, and so it just kind of seemed real haphazard. I just thought this is pretty much the best record label in Nashville. They're my friends, and I really love those people. If it wasn't working there, I had other options."

"This was really the same thing as when I did 'Wrapped.' I recorded it and shopped it around. Both times I probably forgot how hard it is. I'm just going to do it myself."

"I'm really a control freak when it comes down to it," he says.

While disappointed, Robison indicates he understands what happened to him and the major label. And he talks about it without a hint of anger.

"I think the (country) labels are focused on getting records on country radio. That's what their talent is. That's what their forte is. That's what they've been doing for the last 60 years. At the end of the day, that's pretty much what they're best at."

Robison says part of the problem was that he has a "different audience than your Joe Diffie records or whoever you've been selling...it's not easy for them to change gears. Why would they? God bless them. They gaze me a place to play records. It just didn't feel right any more. They were cool there."

The success of Charlie had an effect on Bruce. Charlie's "Life of the Party" sold about 100,000 despite no hits at all.

Bruce Robison said he didn't get a clear sense of where Lucky Dog was going with him for a third album.

"You have to really be moving forward on things. I had the advantage of seeing my brother on the same label. They were obviously taking (him) up a notch on what they were going to do commercially. I hate to portray it that I was thinking if you're doing this for (him)..I could see them saying 'this is what we're going to do with it. This is how we are going to blow it open.' They wanted me to continue on my road and see what happens with it. I was thinking I could do that on my own."

"I could see them excited about him because they thought they could do something with him and country radio. Again, that's what they do best."

"You spend all your money from your advance recording your record ' and turn it in and you never make any record money from that end. You have to tour and sell merchandise to make money."

Robison took time off after he and Willis had their first child, Deral Otis, in January before hitting the recording studio.

Robison went back to old records from Don Williams and JJ Cale as inspiration.

"I tried starting to figure out what I liked about them and what was different (from my records)," he says. "The plans I already had made for Sony were out the window at that point."

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