Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


DOBSON, Richard

(b Richard James Joseph Dobson II, 19 March 1942, Tyler TX; d 16 December 2017, Switzerland) Country-rock singer, songwriter, guitarist. His father was a geologist in the oil industry; the family lived in Holland for a year when he was eight. His father had a big collection of classical records, but in his teens Richard was listening to Hank Williams and Chuck Berry. He lived in New Mexico, Washington DC and Colombia; got a degree in Spanish in Houston, worked for the Peace Corps in Chile, taught school in Michigan, lived in New York, in the New Mexico ghost town of San Miguel, in Galveston and off and on in Nashville, always with day jobs. His intention was to write a novel, but he kept writing songs instead.

His first LP In Texas Last December '76 on Houston's tiny Buttermilk label included a fine title song; 'Baby Ride Easy', covered by Billie Jo Spears and Del Wood, Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds; and 'Piece Of Wood And Steel', covered by David Allan Coe. The Big Taste '78 on Galveston's Rinconada label was followed by Save The World '82 on his own RJD label: a superb set of songs, mostly about working for a living; 'Ballad Of Robin Wintersmith' was covered by Nanci Griffith (based on a true story about a motorcycle daredevil: he does it because that's what he does, and gets killed; Dobson's friend Griffith describes it as his lifestyle justification song). 'Lovin' Yolanda' was covered by Don Sanders. The excellent band included David and Leland Waddell on bass, drums, Phillip Donnelly, lead guitar. Save The World was produced by Jim Rooney, a picker/poet whose his own LPs included Ready For The Times To Get Better '80, Brand New Tennessee Waltz '81; he wrote books Baby Let Me Follow You Down, about the USA folk revival '50s-60s, and Bossmen, portraits of Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters. Rooney also played on Dobson's True West '86, another strong set, mostly love songs: 'You Ain't Gonna Do It To Me' would fit in Bob Dylan's canon; 'Goosebumps' is excellent rockabilly/bar band fodder; 'So Have I' was co-written with Susanna and Guy Clark. Other songs have been covered by Clark, Rodney Crowell, Linda Lowe, Lacy J. Dalton and Kelly Willis. Dobson finally published a novel, Seasons And Companions, and co-wrote 'Old Friends' with Guy and Susanna, the title song of a Clark album.

For a while his band was called State of the Heart; they made Live At The Station Inn '88 (again with Rooney) and Hearts And Rivers '89 (with Wes McGhee and Bonnie Koloc in the cast; included 'Old Friends'). Having got into the European country music tour circuit he then made a deal with Brambus Records in Switzerland, where he now lives; Hearts And Rivers was reissued on that label and most of his subsequent albums have been on Brambus, except as noted: Blue Collar Blues '93, Amigos -- Sings Townes Van Zandt '94, Mankind '94 (on Austin's Sundown label), One Bar Town '95 (mostly Dobson's songs, but covers include the title track by his old pal Pinto [Fred] Bennett, who lives in Boise, Idaho, but who like Richard is better known in Europe than at home, and Lucinda Williams's 'Big Red Sun'), Love Only Love '96, Salty Songs '98, Global Village Garage '99 (on R&T Musikproduktion), Hum Of The Wheels 2001, stripped down Doppelgaenger 2002 with just voice and guitar, and A River Will Do 2003. Back Tracks '95 on RJD was a 21-track CD reissue of Save The World and True West, lacking one track. In 1998 he published a book called The Gulf Coast Boys, recollections of the 1970s and touring with Rex (Wrecks) Bell, Mickey White and Van Zandt.