joe robinson has come a long way from humble beginnings in temagog, a small town west of kempsey. he got his big break when his sensational guitar skills saw him win australia’s got talent, and now he is based in nashville, tennessee. we catch up with joe in the lead up to his Glasshouse concert in january
What drew you to the guitar?
Well … I played the piano first, and I actually hated it with a passion. Ha ha! I really didn’t like the routine of sitting in the same place every day and practicing the same scales, so I begged my mum to let me play the guitar. And she did! That was back when I was 10-years-old.
You grew up on the Mid North Coast of NSW. What do you love about the area?
So much! I got back from Japan this morning and set foot in Australia for the first time in 6 months, and I realise how lucky I’ve been to grow up in this part of the world!
My mum played drums, and a lot of her friends were the local Hillbilly musicians, so I grew up playing along with these guys about 50 km west of Kempsey.
Tell us about your big break on Australia’s Got Talent and how that shaped you.
It was amazing. To go from being just ‘Joe who played the guitar’ to being suddenly viewed as a successful performer was pretty amazing. I still can’t believe that happened. It was crazy, because 3 days after I won, I actually flew to Nashville, TN to record my album.
I guess having my dreams instantly come true really made me think about what I enjoy in life and what makes me the happiest. That is why I have a guitar in my hand right now.
Since then, you’ve played with some of the world’s best artists. Who have been some of the most influential artists you’ve worked with, and why?
Well, to play with Les Paul was pretty amazing. He was 94 when I played with him, and he was still funny as hell!
I was double billed on a festival in Germany last month with Paco De Lucia, who is the greatest Flamenco guitarist on earth, and Al Di Meola … that was RIDICULOUS! Those guys really inspired me so much.
Having one of my tracks on the new Lee Ritenour record was amazing also – he was such a great guy to be around, and I learned a tonne from him. To be on an album with everyone from BB King to George Benson was pretty cool as well.
And I did a couple of shows with Tommy Emmanuel last month. We played in Bratislava, Slovakia and in Prague, Czech Republic. Being around him is so inspiring. He and Phil Emmanuel were the guys who really inspired me to play in the first place.
Tell us about the whole Nashville experience.
I love Nashville! I moved there in February 2010 and have been learning so much. To work with so many great songwriters and musicians has really taught me a lot, and I have a really great management team there. I feel like I’m really in a good place there.
In 2009 you won ‘Senior Grand Champion Performer of The World’ award at the World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood, a competition that draws 75,000 auditions from over 40 countries worldwide. Tell us about that experience.
Ha ha! Well, there is a 60 second time limit, and there are categories of Modelling, Acting, Dancing, Singing and Playing an Instrument. So ANYTHING goes.
I progressed through the heats (it took a week) and eventually got through to the finals. It was amazing to win. The judges were a panel of 20 Hollywood judges who had all won Grammys, Oscars or Emmy Awards, and none of them knew a thing about guitar playing! So I kind of knew it was all about the ‘performance.’ So I went nuts on stage.
It was so incredible to win. I still can’t believe it. It really is a week I’ll never forget.
Describe your style of music and how it has evolved over the past few years.
Well, I guess my foundations are in Rock, Blues and Country, but over the last few years I’ve been gravitating towards more Jazz Fusion and R & B. I feel like I have a unique playing style, and my goal is to showcase that style under my vocals, with really strong songs. So I’m really excited about the next tour and album.
You’re still young. How do you cope with all the pressure?
I eat a lot. Ha ha! Not really. You know, I feel really lucky, because I’ve always had an endless supply of passion for music. So everything I do is simply because I love it. I don’t really think about the pressure, because I guess the only person I’m trying to impress is myself.
You’ll be stopping at Sawtell RSL as a part of your January tour. What can we expect from the show?
I can’t wait to come to the Coffs Coast! I’m bringing two incredible musicians from the USA with me. We toured all through Europe last month, and I can’t wait for Australia to see the new show.
I’m singing in the show, and it has a lot of light and shade, so I feel like it’s a whole lot more entertaining than my previous ‘one man band’ touring.
What are your plans for 2011?
After the tour, I’m heading back to Nashville to track the new album. In March I’m doing some US shows around Boston and New York with Kaki King – that should be fun. Then I’m playing some more US and Canada shows after that. No rest for the wicked!
Thanks Joe. Good luck with the tour.
Joe Robinson will be performing with his American band at the Glasshouse on Thursday 13 January.