Frankfort songwriter Scott Robinson died July 15, 2002 of a grand mal seizure at the age of 45. Scott was blessed with an achingly beautiful tenor that for many brought to mind a young Don McLean. But it was as a songwriter that he made his greatest mark. His writing has been likened to Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and John Prine, but his was a very original voice. His best songs are at once emotionally moving, melodically beautiful and lyrically graceful.
Rick Towles, the owner of Louisville's Twice-Told Coffeehouse told everyone back in 1996 that Scott had recently played at an open mike night at Twice-Told and knocked out everyone who heard him. "I thought 'Oh my God, who is this guy?'" Towles recalls.
At the time, I was hosting a monthly songwriter showcase at Twice-Told. Towles prevailed upon me to book Scott sight unseen. Tim Krekel was also on the bill for that show, and after hearing Scott's first song, we were both thoroughly impressed.
"I was struck by his storytelling, especially a song of his called 'Thieves,' said Krekel. "These were really well-written songs written by a very mature writer."
According to Scott's son Ian, the experience of playing at Twice-Told Coffeehouse, a performance space where people came specifically to listen to original music, had a galvanizing effect on Scott. He began to take his songwriting more seriously and started to contemplate recording an album, something he had long fantasized about. I agreed to produce Scott's album, Mellow Drama, which was released in 1998 to critical acclaim locally.
Leslie Stewart was Program Director at Louisville's WFPK when Scott's CD came out. "I'm sorry that Louisville audiences aren't more familiar with him," said Stewart. "Scott was a natural, an extremely gifted songwriter. The comparisons to Townes Van Zandt were apt - he was that good. And he struck me as a very genuine person, very quiet and gentle, extremely gracious and humbled by the media attention he received."
Laura Shine was a DJ on Georgetown station WRVG at the time and had Scott as a guest on her show. "He just blew me a way with his songwriting," remembered Shine. "I always compared him to Steve Earle in that he was such a prolific and talented songwriter. I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend some time with him. But he seemed like a tortured soul to me. He was such a great musician and seemed such a sensitive man that it kind of breaks my heart that he was so hard on himself."
Tortured and troubled are words that come up often when people talk about Scott. Shackled with the burden of manic-depression throughout his adult life, Scott rode the up and down waves of that disease endlessly. It affected his writing, with many songs that alluded to his demons.
Kathleen Hoye is a Louisville songwriter who was strongly affected by Scott's writing. "I felt agony for him," said Hoye. "I always felt that he was being torn in two different directions incompatible directions. It seemed like it was often torturous for him to be alive, but then at other times it was an intensely beautiful experience for him. That's why his songs were so poignant."
After Scott's CD came out, several fairly high-profile performance opportunities came his way, including opening for Richard Thompson and performing on the nationally syndicated WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour.
WoodSongs host Michael Johnathon thought very highly of Scott and his music. "Scott was a genuinely passionate man. He was very dedicated to his music, and his heart ached that he wasn't able to do more with it than he was. He was at least able to get his music down on CD, which for him was a real act of commitment, [but] he never reached even the edge of his audience during his lifetime."
A reccurring motif in Scott's life was his often-maddening inability to follow through with the simplest tasks of marketing his music. This unfortunately meant that Scott has remained a well-kept secret even in his own backyard of Central Kentucky.
Louisville musician Michael Campbell was a close friend and musical collaborator of Scott's and knew him as well as anyone. "What kept Scott from becoming better known than he waswas Scott," said Campbell.
"[He] was waiting for a Col. Tom Parker or Brian Epstein to walk up to him and say 'My God, you've really got something here. You just concentrate on playing the music and I'll take care of everything else.' Scott took care of the music, no doubt about that, but it was the everything else part that he found daunting."
Campbell pins his hopes on Scott's music becoming better known now that he's gone. "I think the biggest compliment that could be paid to Scott, and something he would have loved, is for other people to perform his songs. That was undoubtedly one of his greatest pleasures. So I think if his music continued to live through the voices of other people who are inspired by his work. That would be the ultimate compliment."
Scott's album Mellow Drama is available in Lexington at[TBA]. More information about Scott and excerpts from his album can be found at www.dangediman.com/scottrobinson.htm. There are also plans in the works for a Scott Robinson memorial concert, to be held later this fall with area musicians performing their favorite Scott Robinson songs. A CD from that concert is planned as well. Fundraising efforts will be ongoing for his son.
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