KJAZZ Radio UK is very proud to present The Robert Lee Revue and Robert Lee Balderrama (aka Bobby Balderrama). From bursting on to the music scene in the sixties with hits like ’96 Tears’ with a band that had the uniquely different name of Question Mark & the Mysterians (…it was the sixties after all!), Robert Lee Balderrama now performs Smooth Jazz as The Robert Lee Revue. Members of The Robert Lee Revue are fellow Mysterians cohort Frank Rodriguez on keyboards, Tom Barsheff on saxophone, Dr. Jack Nash on bass and Amy Lynn Balderrama keeps the beat on percussion along with drummer Rudy Levario. The group has fused on a sound that focuses on Smooth Jazz but is reminiscent of George Benson and
Carlos Santana in style.
Robert Balderrama and Frank Rodriguez have experienced both the positives and negatives of the music business during nearly five decades of playing together. The success came very early – as teenage members of Question Mark and The Mysterians they enjoyed a #1 hit in 1966 with “96 Tears” which has been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the UK’s punk band The Stranglers. This was followed by four more singles on the Billboard charts before the record label they were on went out of business in late 1967. The band recorded on a number of other labels without the success of the earlier hits. They also got poor business advice that cost them the rights to their original recordings.
Robert’s introduction to jazz guitar came early. As a young man he cites Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, and Grant Green as early influences. In the 70’s it was Carlos Santana and George Benson. He would practice those styles on his guitar for hours. For the new album Santana was the inspiration for the Latin ingredients, while he drew on Benson for the beautiful low tones on his guitar. “Everybody is influenced by somebody else and Benson has said that he was influenced by Wes Montgomery, so that gave me the idea of putting two styles together that I admire out of respect. When I hear people comment on my sound, it proves that I’m able to come across with what it is that I’m trying to do” states Robert.
The Robert Lee Revue has performed in New York City at Times Square and can be seen at many festivals in the area. They also play a monthly gig at The Midland Brewing Company.
Changing the groove to explore the music of The Robert Lee Revue, there are two CD’s available, ‘City of Smooth Jazz’, from which KJAZZ Radio UK is playing tracks, and “For the Love of Smooth Jazz”. Smooth Jazz featured in the title gives a clear indication of where the band feels they sit in the overall musical market.
‘City of Smooth Jazz’ has been praised as their most original and imaginative work yet and sets the tone for the direction of the band for the future. Robert feels that this release represents a truly group effort. “This time around I wanted to build the album around the entire band, instead of featuring a few artists,” he explains. “I do have a few guest artists such as Darin Scott on a few tracks, but for me the best part is that the overall tracks that we recorded were put together and created from the core of the band.” According to Robert, Frank Rodriguez wrote the majority of the material, with Robert adding in three songs. “We infuse each track with our own feelings, especially with the respective lead work of each performer. Tom had a certain style he was going after with the saxophone sound, and I’ve had many fans tell me during live performances that my tone sounds like George Benson but my style of attack is like Santana, which is what I was striving for.”
Bassist Dr. Jack Nash feels the CD has evolved much differently than “For the Love of Smooth Jazz”. Dr Jack Nash commented “Bobby and Frank made the material so that it was loaded with a lot more options for the rhythm section. The core progressions would be laid down, but I basically had to make and create bass lines for each of the songs, which I accomplished through a lot of time and work. I would try a lot of different things because the melody lines were there, but I had to come up with something to accompany that and really had to listen to the different chord progressions. Rodriguez is different from a lot of keyboard players in that he knows how to change the sound of the chord through inversions, so once you catch onto that, you can develop the song better.”
‘City of Smooth Jazz’ sees the use of new studio software in the recording of the CD. Robert said “I spent a lot of time recording each musician that played on each of the individual tracks, because nothing was synthesized. A year and a half ago I started using this Paris Ensoniq recording system, which has a fantastic sound. In fact, we got halfway finished with this recording and then my hard drive burned up and I lost everything. This was a new hard drive and I wasn’t expecting that to happen, so we had to start the entire project over again.”
‘City of Smooth Jazz’ is attracting worldwide interest marking a global awareness for the band. Robert commented “With our first CD a couple years ago we might sell one or two here and there, but now I’m getting calls from all over the world, which is blowing me away. We have a lot of visitors that come to our website from all over the USA and Europe ordering the albums. With our first video we had almost 400 hits in the first month,” notes Nash. And currently Robert is also collaborating with another smooth jazz artist from Europe named Paul Lancaster. “He’s unbelievable,” states Robert, “and plays keyboards and is really into the quality of his recording.”
Besides being an all-instrumental album, “City of Smooth Jazz” broadens the band’s market appeal to the Latin market – all the tracks on the new CD are in both Spanish and English. Robert states “It must be paying off because we are also getting a lot of web traffic from Spain. But we get a lot of hits from Europe and we’ve also had our material played on this European Jazz Program that is syndicated all over Europe, so things are progressing nicely for us.”
Asked if they will tour in Europe Robert replied “I played in Spain and Europe years ago on a tour with Question Mark and Joe King Carrasco, and would love to tour Europe again. We were there traveling with a lot of American bands. But if you’re not known well, it’s very hard. The lesser-known bands were living in vans, whereas we had a hotel. I’d have some of the guys in the lesser-known bands come up to take a shower. So to answer your question, I would go to Europe if one of our CD’s did really good, but I wouldn’t want to go there as an unknown.”
“City of Smooth Jazz” was selected by MRRL as one of 2012’s Noteworthy Michigan Albums. Its two founding members hope that their unique brand of smooth jazz will eventually be heard and recognized around the world.