Like many teenagers in 1964, Chris Robison watched the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan.” Like many too, he says that appearance transformed his life.
For most, that transformation meant listening to a new kind of music or growing hair. Some picked up guitars, and tried to strum.
Chris embarked on a lifetime of music.
He hitchhiked to Burlington to see the Searchers and Zombies. (Rod Argent is still his hero.) In Boston he watched Van Morrison, Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood.
He started a band. In Provincetown they opened for the garage group The Barbarians — of “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?” fame.
Eventually Chris recorded with John Lennon, Keith Richards, Papa John Phillips and Gene Simmons. (Not all at the same time, obviously.)
While living in the East Village, he got an offer to join Steam. There was no real band of that name — just a bunch of studio musicians who’d recorded a song called “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” When it rocketed to #1 in 1969, a group was formed to tour under that name. They burned themselves out, so Chris was asked to join Steam’s 2nd incarnation.
They played 28 states on grueling 3-week tours of 1-night stands, TV shows and festivals, sharing the bill with Bob Seger and MC5, among others. “Steam” played all original material; the only obligation was to start and end each set with “na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!” (“Now you see how the 1st lineup evaporated,” Chris says.)
Chris’ next gig was Elephant’s Memory, the politically active band best known for backing John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They opened for Aerosmith, Rare Earth and Billy Preston too, and once played a Circle Line tourist boat gig — hosted by the Hell’s Angels — with Bo Diddley and Jerry Garcia.
Then it was on to the New York Dolls — a key influence on later punk, new wave and glam metal groups like the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads — and a tour of Japan with Jeff Beck and Felix Pappalardi. A crowd of 55,000 jammed Tokyo Baseball Stadium to hear them play.
Later Chris formed his own band, Stumblebunny, which toured the UK and Germany with the Hollies.
But — even if they never stop playing music — rock stars eventually grow up, get married, have kids and move to the suburbs. (Hey there, Keith Richards!)
In 1990 Chris came to Westport, in large part for the schools. He added teaching — piano, keyboard, folk and electric and bass guitar, bass guitar, even songwriting — to his resume. (He’d studied composition, music theory and classical guitar at the New England Conservatory.) He’s the founder and director of Half Mile Studios, here in Westport.
“I’m a natural teacher,” he says. “When my kids had playdates, I’d show everyone the difference between black and white keys on the piano.
“It may sound corny, but I like making a difference in someone’s life.”
He’s seen plenty of bad teachers. Some are “too pedantic or strict.” Others are disengaged — “it’s like, ‘I’m just doing this while I’m not on tour.'” Chris truly loves to teach.
He’s been a role model to many. “Your free-spirited attitude, calming presence and thoughtful perspective on life has helped create a special connection,” is a typical comment on his website. “You have helped create a bit of who (our children) are and are becoming to be — just by being you.”
But — just as Chris’ old stagemate Bob Seger sang — plenty of people “still like that old time rock and roll.”
Documentary filmmakers Paul Rachman and Steven Blush — makers of “American Hardcore” — are in post-production with “Lost Rockers.” It “peeks under the dusty rug of music history and tells the stories of great forgotten musicians.”
Of course, I wouldn’t mention “Lost Rockers” unless Chris is in it.
And he’s put his old band Stumblebunny back together.
“It’s all fun,” he says. “Playing, teaching, working with kids — I love it.”
Just take those old records off the shelf…
…and just don’t play Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.