With a terrific new album ‘Last Light on the Highway’ ROBERT JON & THE WRECK have realised their potential and left rivals to the Southern Roots Rock crown in their slipstream. On the line from California ROBERT JON BURRISON talks to Lyndon Noon about his latest hot waxing.
It’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll as Ian Hunter once said and the Californian quintet from Orange County can certainly relate to that memorable lyric. They’ve been together for nigh on a decade,originally formed by lead singer Robert Jon Burrison and drummer Andrew Espantman the band had been through various changes before settling on the current line up in 2018 with the addition of Steve Maggiora on keys, Henry James on lead guitar and bassist Warren Murrel. Gradually crafting their rock, blues and soul amalgam with a tireless work schedule supporting the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Black Stone Cherry, Peter Frampton and many more, the band amassed a loyal following in Europe though remain relatively unknown in Britain. However with their stunning new album you get the feeling all that is about to change.The latest record is a real coming of age. Lyrically and musically it finds the band stretching out and broadening their palette with a diverse selection that encompasses monster riffs, acoustic delicacy, youthful hope and brutal angst. It recalls the halcyon days of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd for sure but there’s more to it than that.
‘We’re immensely proud of this new record,’ states Robert earnestly. ‘We worked really hard on the song-writing and the musicianship. A lot of the record reflects our experiences on getting older and the ebb and flow of relationships. So there’s a lot of personal stuff in there which we haven’t always shared in the past. That probably reflects a growing maturity which means we can articulate what’s inside and where the band is, rather than it be a story about someone else.’
In the past the band has been likened to contemporaries such as Blackberry Smoke, Black Stone Cherry and a host of others but RJ and the boys steer clear of the grits and cornbread cliches. Musically there are similarities to their Southern compadres, but the band are adept at taking an unexpected turn in the road that can infuse by turns their music with dashes of blues, soul, country and even grunge. ‘ I suppose people hear the slide guitars and hear a soulful song and put things together, so it’s a complement to be compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and such, but our influences stretch beyond that,’ he explains.
Robert was exposed to a wide range of music during his formative years and cites his father as an important influence. ‘He was always listening to music and singing around the house and with the three chords he could play on guitar he could virtually sing any song. He also loved Gospel music so that was also in the mix and hailing from the West Coast we all love the bands that are closer to home like The Grateful Dead and that whole Laurel Canyon scene. I think one of the coolest things about the band is that we all write and bring things to the table. Then when the band get together we work the songs up before Steve our keyboard player arranges and puts a finishing touch to them – he’s a piece of work. He was a choral teacher so it all comes so naturally to him – especially his work on our harmonies.’
Ah yes those harmonies. They have been a big part of the band since the beginning and this time around a new flavour has been added to the mix on the soul shaking r’n’b track ‘Work It Out’. The first time they’ve used a full horn section and female background singers, it’s a song that has echoes of sixties icons Sam & Dave. The ladies with the pipes just happen to be Joe Bonamassa’s backing singers. ‘That all stemmed from the Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea Cruise that we were invited to play,’ enthuses RJ. ‘The cruise was great and introduced us to a new audience. We also got to meet Joe’s fabulous background singers Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Jade McRae who when we were recording graciously agreed to add their magic to our song – it just took it to another level.’
Make no mistake their new offering is not just another Southern Rock record. The great bands transcend being pigeonholed by not only writing great songs but also by transmitting a telepathy that only comes from putting in the hard yards living on the road together 24/7. As the title cut of the latest album conveys, music for these guys is not a flash in the pan but a way of life.
‘It really is,’ says Robert. ‘Lyrically it explores the thoughts behind choosing the life we lead as musicians, always willing to go further and keep chasing the dream. We’ve had a lot of friends over the years that’ve been in great bands but who never really pushed hard enough or found themselves to keep going. It was a really fun song to put together. It started as a kind of tribute to the Allman Brothers, Henry and Steve came up with the first part of the tune and we were then figuring out how to weave it into the instrumental part. We’ve put instrumentals on the past couple of records, but it became a mixture of so many elements and it became a really fun track. It was as if the song was leading us on a journey by itself. It’s a blast to play live.’
Hopefully we’ll be able to hear that for ourselves but it all depends on that pesky Covid 19.
‘We’re still hoping we can get over to Europe in September,’ says Robert ‘But it will depend on flights and quarantine restrictions. We found a big difference in the reactions over in Europe to back home. It may be that it’s down to the opportunities we’ve had over there – appearing at big festivals like Ramblin Man – we’ve had a great reception and had the people keeping in touch with us via Facebook and email. The love we get is just amazing so we try and get over to your side of the pond as often as possible and the good news is that we have dates lined up for England in 2021.’
With that exciting news and the line getting ever more fractured we leave it there. There’s a cold one waiting at the bar guys.
Robert Jon & The Wreck’s album ‘Last Light on the Highway’ is available now via https://robertjonandthewreck.com/