Hunter Robertson Bio and Quote Sheet

Banjo Marches & Blue Breakdowns
orn in California with a flyswatter banjo on my knee, I’ve been playing banjo
and 12-string guitar for nearly 20 years. Ranging from old-time clawhammer
banjo to end-of-the-world blues – with the occasional foray into playing a oneman-band when a snare drum and kazoo present themselves – this is music which
follows in the steps of the great players of the past, without slavish imitation.
I’ve released one CD, Sings Songs for the Masses. It was recorded a few years ago,
though only just released, and is firmly rooted in traditional Appalachian music,
with a few deviations. It has a fair amount of banjo playing on it - banjo being my
main instrument - including traditional pieces like Soldier's Joy, Bonaparte's
Retreat and Ducks on the Millpond; a northern Greek tune, Milo Mou Kokkino,
and a tune of my own, Threw Down, which are played clawhammer, as well as
some old-time three-finger tunes, Pretty Polly and Red Wing (which is played on a
fretless gut-strung banjo made by my father), and again, some of my own pieces.
There's one number played on a 2-stringed instrument made out of a tin can (the
opus) and a song, You Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond, played as a oneman-band with slide banjo, kazoo, bass drum, high-hat and pseudo-throat singing.
There are a few 12-string guitar pieces to round it out. And one piece on the
electric guitar - I figured if Hobart Smith could do it, why shouldn’t I?
Sings Songs for the Masses can be ordered from my site
and through CD Baby, iTunes and County Sales.
I’ve also written and recorded the music for a documentary premiered at Austin’s
South By Southwest film festival (and winner of the Best of Arizona award at the
Arizona International Film Festival), The Ostrich Testimonies, directed by
Jonathan VanBallenberghe. Variety says about the soundtrack, “Hunter
Robertson's banjo-driven score is apt accompaniment for doc's emotional highs
and lows.” – short and sweet huh?
Recently I’ve been playing gigs and recording with an old friend on fiddle, Casey
High-resolution photographs and other press materials are available at
What some listeners have had to say about Sings Songs for the Masses:
Sing Out! v. 52/2
unter Robertson is a modern day banjo songster. Sings Songs for the Masses is his first
CD, and it’s a solo effort through and through with Hunter playing all the
instruments and establishing a wide range of sounds all the while remaining solidly
rooted in traditional old-time and blues.
Although his biographical information is sketchy, the cover photo shows a young
man and the promotional material states that he has been playing the banjo and 12-string
guitar for nearly 20 years. If I had to guess from listening to the CD, I’d say he’s a much
older man. His voice is deep and resonant, and his playing is very reminiscent of Doc
Boggs and various Piedmont blues players.
The CD opens with “Threw Down,” one of the half dozen original selections on
the recording. It is a short drop-thumb clawhammer banjo piece demonstrating that he is
a fine player. “She Had Eyes” follows, a tune that could easily have been heard on a
plantation well before the Civil War when African American workers could only play
music on whatever happened to be around them. Hunter performs on a self-made
instrument called an Opus. It is a piece of music remarkably unaffected by modern
We are introduced to Hunter’s singing through his rendition of “Pretty Polly.”
His voice would indicate a life surrounded by the horrors described in the old-time
classic. “You Gonna Need Someone On Your Bond” features Hunter as a one man
band as he supplies slide banjo, bass drum, high hat, kazoo and vocals. He realistically
captures the sound that was quite prevalent in many southern towns on court day. Later,
Hunter includes “Milo mou Kokkino,” a Northern Greek tune, as part of a banjo medley
containing “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” “Ducks on the Millpond” and “Salmon Tails up the
Hunter Robertson is a highly talented traditional musician. Sings Songs for the
Masses is as strong a solo CD as I’ve heard in quite some time.
– TD for Sing Out!
~ “Listening to Songs for the Masses (that title comprising the album’s one and only
flash of humor), I reflected on how rarely these days one hears traditional songs – field
recordings aside – performed traditionally. Even less commonly encountered are records
by raised-outside-the-tradition artists who choose to recreate a sound that seems to
capture the feeling of homespun front-porch, dance-hall, street-corner music from the
age before the advent of the recording industry. (Since we have no recordings from back
then to guide us, imagination and inference are as omnipresent in the attempt as
“authenticity,” of course.)
Hunter Robertson, who now resides in Vermont but who has lived in the United
Kingdom, Greece and France, has produced that kind of record. The sole performer, he
employs the banjo (along with the occasional fretless, gut-string or gourd variation) as his
principal instrument, though 12-string guitar, electric guitar, kazoo and percussion also
show up, if less often. There are 14 songs and instrumentals, approximately half of them
traditional, the rest originals indistinguishable from traditionals.
Robertson sings in a rolling rumble that will likely put you in a couple of minds: Tom
Waits and Captain Beefheart in one, in the other the sort of field recording in which an
ethnomusicologist is seeking to document an instrumental style and the singing, rough as
a cob, is simply – at least from the immediate academic perspective – extraneous.
Contributing to the latter psychic impression is Robertson’s sometime habit of burying
his vocal into the mix, if “mix” is not too fancy a word to denote the almost skinless
sound; sometimes, if one were a superstitious soul, one might imagine a 200-year-old
ghost was accidentally captured on the tape as, otherwise inaudible, it sang to
Robertson’s playing of an old tune. All of this, by the way, is perfectly fine by me.
The banjo playing – as exquisite as it is eccentric – has the creaky ambience of a haunted
house. “Banjo Medley” is 5:37’s worth of four venerable tunes played clawhammer style,
the last of them a Greek folk piece that feels in no way out of place. The AfricanAmerican spiritual “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” has Robertson’s growled
lyrics set on top of a fierce, doom-laden 12-string groove. It is damned scary.
‘Til now, I have not heard a version of “Red Wing” – though long since absorbed by
tradition, it began its life as a pop song in the early 20th century – so stark and gloomy as
to make one forget just how dopey the lyrics are. Even so, what a melody, all the more
attractive for the way Robertson manages to turn it inside out without killing it. In
another sit-up-and-take-notice moment, he gives “You Gonna Need Somebody on Your
Bond” – always emotionally and rhythmically dead-on – the one-man-band treatment.
Songs for the Masses is for neither the masses nor the timid. But if you’re up for a walk
through the lonesome valley that stretches across the moonless landscape of the old,
weird America, Robertson will show you the way.”
– Jerome Clark writing for Rambles.Net
Trad Magazine review
"If I hadn't seen the picture of Hunter Robertson on the CD cover I would have thought
I was dealing with an older person. But no, in fact he's a fairly young man. And that's
what is amazing! At times you would think you were listening to an old 78, but recorded
with modern technology. Impressive! Hunter's main instrument is the 5-string banjo,
which he plays to perfection in all the old-time styles: clawhammer, two and three finger
picking. Also the 12-string guitar, which is less common nowadays. I consider this to be
one of the best CDs I've heard recently. To listen to, first of all, his compositions on the
banjo: "Threw Down" and "Souris Mécanique", and then his very beautiful version of
"Red Wing" on the fretless gut-strung banjo as well as "Crawdad Hole" on the 12-string,
a little treasure."
"Si je n’avais pas vu la photo de Hunter Robertson sur la jaquette du CD, j’aurais cru avoir affaire à une personne d’un certain âge. Mais
non, en fait, il s’agit d’un tout jeune homme. Et c’est cela qui est étonnant ! On croirait écouter un vieux 78 tours par moment, mais
enregistré avec la technologie moderne. Bluffant ! L’instrument de prédilection de Hunter est le banjo 5 cordes qu’il joue à la perfection
dans tous les styles de l’old time : clawhammer, two et three finger picking. Et puis aussi la guitare douze cordes, ce qui est moins courant à
l’heure actuelle. Je considère que ce CD est l’un des meilleurs que j’ai entendus récemment. A écouter en priorité ses compositions au banjo
: “Threw down” et “Souris mécanique”, et puis sa très belle version de “Red wing” au banjo fretless à cordes en boyau ainsi que “Crawdad
hole” à la douze cordes, une petite merveille."
- Claude Vue writing for Trad Magazine (France)
The Old-Time Herald – June/July 2008
~ "When you live far away from most other musicians, say on Crete, you will probably
develop your own styles and write your own songs after wearing out all the recordings
you brought with you. On this album, the artist composed about half the songs and
tunes; the rest are traditional. His voice is distinctive, sounding like an old blues singer,
filtered through a rock musician such as Eddie Vedder. The banjo playing is solid
clawhammer with a light, sure touch. Not traditional old-time music as I know it, but
eclectic and distinctive."
– Pete Peterson writing for The Old-Time Herald
Musical Traditions
~ "So - this is the second CD I've received this month for which the words 'strange and
worthwhile' seem appropriate..." "All of the playing is pretty quirky - and extremely
interesting...” – Rod Stradling - Musical Traditions (
Bluegrass Unlimited
Hunter Robertson is an old-time music musician from New England who has compiled
an unusual 14-song collection blending both traditional and original material. Hunter
performs all vocal and instrumental parts that include banjo, fretless banjo, 12-string
guitar, kazoo, and electric guitar. Robertson's raspy vocals may not be universally
acceptable, but they do fit into the fabric of the arrangements. Featured performances
include "Pretty Polly," Robertson's own "She Had Eyes," "Ol' Virginee," and a bizarre
rendering of "Crawdad Hole." In spite of its title, Hunter Robertson "Sings Songs For
The Masses" may be of limited interest except to those daring souls prepared to venture
into unexplored territory.
- Bluegrass Unlimited (Sept. 2008)
~ "Hunter's delivery is raw and archaic. I don't know what the masses say, I guess they
take it rather indifferently, but so mustn't we." – FolkWorld (Germany)
~ " have plenty of talent! “Sings Songs” is a beautiful record, honest and true to the
spirit of deep blues, but at the same time so full of you, your emotions and personal
experiences evident in rhythmic and melodic nuances of your playing. From banjo,
through guitar, to plucked opus (which is new to my ears), I like it all. Some people say
that you need to look into the future to keep things interesting. I see it in a different way.
Digging deeper is interesting and it is exactly what you do. Congratulations!"
– Przemek Draheim, Blues DJ on Radio Sfera
~ "...some fine pickin—clawhammer, gut-string fretless, & tin-can banjo, 12 string guitar,
old-school sounding vox + kazoo too! Excellent. Sounds ancient. Play!"
– Kimberly, WRUV's Folk Music Director
~ “I like your tunes very much... I won't say they're “the real stuff”, 'cause this is a quite
ungrounded cliché. It's that mixture of rawness and tenderness and the feeling that you
love on different levels whatever you are engaged in when playing.” – L.D.N.
~ "Reminds me of a modern Dock Boggs with a kazoo and a drum!" – D.L.
~ “…sounds like what oldtime music would sound like if it was played by Tom Waits or
Captain Beefheart. Great stuff.” – T.D.
~ "Banjos are capable of a wide range of styles and moods and I enjoy them all - but the
thing that will grab me every time is a haunting melody supported by a banjo that is full
of conviction and growl. With a range of old time clawhammer and finger styles and low
gravelly vocals, Hunter Robertson Sings Songs for the Masses fills my need for moving,
haunting banjo perfectly.
The songs have the feeling of old field recordings in that most are one take tunes
without the sterile touch of heavy post production mixing and over dubbing. Just
Hunter, his instrument, and his voice.
… the result is a great CD that breaks a lot of people's idea of what "banjo
music" is."
– Yopparai Kyabetsu