November 15, 2009

Virginia's Rock-n-Roll Troubadour

by Jim Newsom

Back in 1980, it seemed like everybody in Virginia had an album called Two “B’s” Please by the Richmond-based Robbin Thompson Band.

“Yes they did apparently,” Thompson said in a recent conversation. “It came out first as a local/regional type of album, and we immediately sold about 25,000 copies. Then it went to another label, Ovation out of Chicago, and it sold 150-200,000 records. I remember FM-99 or K-94 told us that it outsold the Rolling Stones record [Emotional Rescue] that had come out at the same time.”

We were talking by phone on Halloween as he headed to the Homestead in Hot Springs to celebrate his wife’s birthday (“she’s a good witch,” he laughed). The reason for my call was the upcoming reunion concert of the Robbin Thompson Band at the Norva on December 4th. They’re going to perform the whole album to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

“It is the 30th anniversary in 2010,” he said. “We recorded it in ’79 and in 1980, so it’s the 30-year reunion no matter what.”

Two B’s included Thompson’s signature tune and unofficial state anthem, “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” written with fellow Richmonder Steve Bassett, and other longtime favorites including “Candy Apple Red,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” and “All Alone in the Endzone.” It is the record that made him Virginia’s Rock-n-Roll Troubadour.

“I don’t know about that,” he said, “but I do know that a lot of people have it, and if they don’t have it they’re buying it again on CD. They tell me these incredible stories of why they don’t have it any more—the wife took it in the divorce; they wore out the 8-track, they wore out the LP, they wore out the cassette.”

Though Thompson already had an impressive self-titled national label debut, it was the Richmond-recorded Two B’s that caught on with the public and remains his definitive musical statement.

“There were two covers,” he reminded me. “There was the regional release on Short Pump Records, which was the Peter Max-y looking, giant Robbin Thompson face on the front. When it came out on Ovation, it was a black cover with just the logo name on the front. That was the one that was more mass produced.

“It’s funny—some people still don’t understand why it’s called Two B’s Please. I’ve had emails going ‘why was that album named that?’ So I have to explain the dilemma of having a name spelled not normally. Actually, the first album I did in 1976—my producer Jim Mason and I were trying to figure out what to call the record. And I said, you know, everybody’s always misspelling my name. And he said, ‘all right let’s call it Two B’s Please.’ But we didn’t.

“I was dealing with the Atlantic Records people and I told the art director I was working with, ‘You spell my name with two B’s.’ So when the proof came back, it had one B in Robbin and two P’s in Thompson!

“You’d be amazed! I’ve got a copy of my first album—it’s my cover, my label on the record, but all the music on it is Stanley Clarke.”

Robbin broke up the band and went solo full-time in 1989. He’s always been a favorite around here.

“It seems like I play more in the Tidewater area than anywhere,” he said. “Guys like Hunter Hughes, carriers of the touch for under-the-radar music. I make a point of not performing all the time in the same area. I’ve done that for about twenty years, just making sure that I’m not the local guy who’s playing every weekend in the same place. I don’t play bars and places where music is secondary, so I only play a couple of times a year in Richmond and play the rest of the time around the country—private things, house concerts, and places where music is more appreciated than if I was in a bar somewhere. I’ve luckily been able to do that.

“I feel like some of my songs need explaining and I enjoy the rap, talking about how a song came to be. Hopefully it helps everyone understand it a little bit more, and that becomes part of the show. I’m fortunate enough to have gotten into the business of music for commercials and am one of the owners of a pretty major recording studio. But it doesn’t mean that life is easy—times are tough for my business like they are for anybody else’s business. But it has allowed me to not do things I didn’t want to do.”

Robbin Thompson continues to make a life in music on his own terms:

“I’ve never been one to worry about keeping up with the times stylistically. There are a lot of us songwriters out there who have to write; it’s just what we do. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter what you write as long as you write what you’re feeling, and hopefully what you’ve written is relative to the rest of the world.”

Timothy B. Schmidt of The Eagles contributed harmony vocals to Two B’s. I asked if he’d be coming in for the Norva reunion.

“I hadn’t even thought about that,” Thompson replied. “That would be great! He’s a good friend but I’m not sure he’s that good of a friend.”

Robbin Thompson Band
The Norva
Friday, December 4 – 8:00 pm

copyright © 2009 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.


"Telling Stories and Singing Songs"
PortFolio Weekly
February 19, 2008
An earlier interview with Robbin Thompson.

"Steve Bassett's Adventures in Music"
PortFolio Weekly
August 14, 2007
An interview with Steve Bassett, co-composer of "Sweet Virginia Breeze."