John JR Robinson, Festival Bag Show, Paris
Sunday October 9th 2016
While the last days of August are synonymous with the end of the holidays and going back to school for a lot of people, I was happy that everything was completed for the release of Let’s Make HIStory in September. With that goal reached, I was about to think of the promotion phase when I received an email from my friend Sébastien Benoits of Batterie Magazine : « John Robinson will be in Paris on October 9th : maybe you would like to present him with your book ? » Indeed, it would have been a shame to miss that opportunity, especially as the drummer on the Off The Wall and Bad albums is one of the participants in my new book. I should just make it clear that Sebastien was then fully aware of the Let’s Make HIStory menu with JR in the program since he had helped me get in touch with the musician and interview him. I also must add that, as a professional journalist, with many interviews conducted for Batterie Magazine, he was very helpful when I asked myself many questions and had requests that are legitimate when one embarks upon such a complex task.
So we agreed to meet on Sunday, October 9th for the Bag Show Festival 2016, a drummers and percussionists live show organized by the specialized shop La Baguetterie and taking place at La Machine du Moulin Rouge. I arrived early in the morning on Boulevard Clichy and, as luck would have it, I met John Robinson who was about to enter the building and greeted me with a handshake since Sebastien had told him that I would be there to give him a copy of the book. Just by that, I was already over the moon especially as the musician’s presence and charisma cannot leave anyone indifferent. Still, the pressure was brought down in the queue until the doors opened, although it was not long before I met Sébastien Benoits at his magazine stand and he introduced me to some of his colleagues like Ludovic (from Guitare Xtreme Magazine) and Patrick Buchmann, a professional drummer with a lengthy resume. Our discussion then turned to the book since my friend took many notes after reading it and he naturally wanted to discuss it with me. He also confirmed that an interview with JR would take place in the afternoon but only after his performance on stage that would itself be followed by an autograph signing session with the public. Of course he assured I would be able to attend this interview and provided me with a pass so I could give my book to JR backstage : what more could you ask for ?
My mind immediately wandered about biscuits and drinks offered backstage (no, I am not at all caricaturing…) but we actually had to focus our attention on the stage of La Machine du Moulin Rouge (remember that this happened on Sunday morning, not Saturday night, that’s important). Indeed, John JR Robinson entered, settled behind his DW and warmed his drumsticks through a very technical and precise solo. Only then, very spontaneously and all smiles, did he address the audience to thank them for being there and have a good time together. And one could already say : « mission accomplished ! » when he started doing some settings on his Mac right at the left of his instrument. The first notes of Lose Yourself To Dance by the Daft Punk could then be heard while JR played live on top of them.
I had seen this type of performance on YouTube before, but the result is even more enjoyable there, seen with my own eyes. This is an excellent concept to hear some songs from the rich discography drummer. The latter is still sought for studio sessions and last album of tandem helmeted no exception to the rule. I had previously watched this type of performance on YouTube, but the result was even more enjoyable, seen with my own eyes. This is an excellent concept to listen to some songs from the drummer’s rich discography. The latter is still very much called upon studio sessions and the last album of the « helmeted tandem » was no exception to the rule. JR’s performance was about to continue with the next song, but not before a few words suited to the circumstances would be pronounced. Indeed, it seemed right and fair to pay tribute to Rod Temperton (who had passed away just days before) prior to an interpretation of Rock With You, played in the same way as the previous track. The drums were programmed to deliver the same sound as the studio version so that magic happened and we went on a time travel back to 1979. I then had the feeling of experiencing a special moment in my life as a fan, thinking that this musical concept could please many other admirers of the King of Pop… In case any people involved in Jackson events might be reading… John Robinson then followed up with another track from the Off The Wall album – that is Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – but he played it solo this time. He couldn’t fool me – I recognized it anyway !
I was well set to listen to some of the Bad album tracks but JR decided to go for things he did with other artists. Since he remains the most recorded drummer in the studio in the history of music, it sounds logical that he chose to diversify his performance.
He then addressed the audience : « Are you afraid of ghosts ?? » (no, that didn’t mean he would play Thriller and Ghosts, you annoying bunch !) before adding : « The music is better than the movie ! » We then immediately recognized the first notes of the 2016 version of Ghostbusters before the track Change The World by Eric Clapton followed up, as a way to experience the whole diversity of the drum sticks virtuoso’s rich discography. Willing to interact with the public once more, he then posed a riddle : « I play the intro and you tell me the title of the song ! » I easily recognized Rock With You but decided to let my neighbors search for it. At worst, I would just whisper the answer if needed… JR told the story with Quincy and Rod about that song, as he did in his interview for the book. He had so much fun on stage that he did not see time was passing but somebody just made signs to remind him that he only had one more song to play. This would be the hit Ain’t Nobody by Rufus & Chaka Khan, his group at the time, composed by his friend David « Hawk » Wolinski (who also participated in the book).
JR then left the stage to start his signing session and in the meantime Sébastien nodded to me so I would follow him and Patrick Buchmann to the backstage rooms for the interview that would soon be published in Batterie Magazine. I kept in mind that John Robinson was the headliner of the festival (with Ian Paice of Deep Purple) and was inevitably sought-after a lot during the day, so that I measured the chance to be present in his dressing room. As a Michael Jackson fan, Sébastien did not hesitate to ask questions about him, but also discussed JR’s current projects like his Vinyl Night show on EnterTalk Radio (with guests such as Jerry Hey and Greg Phillinganes).
The interview was about to be completed and the time came to offer him his own copy of Let’s Make HIStory but not without thanking him for his participation and confidence in the project. He was delighted to discover the book and lent himself to a photo shoot with me. I also took this opportunity to ask him to sign my own copy and write a personal autograph. I wanted to present him with my work as an author, but in that type of situation, the fan is never far away and I asked him to sign some vinyl records I put out of my backpack too…
The circle was now complete and I still had not come down off of my cloud… One last handshake before catching my train back to my country town… No, I hope that was not the last one… Thank you to John Robinson but also to Sébastien – at the end of that day, I felt like I had lived the HIStory up close…