I could fill this entire edition of Riff with my impressions, accolades and studio stories about Robbie Calvo. There are so many facets and colors to his talents and personality that somebody should – and probably will – write a book about him.
The first thing I remember about Robbie is his smile. He’s always smiling, even in the face of adversity. That smile won me over immediately at our first session together. We connected inside of five minutes and I knew then that we’d collaborate on a lot of projects together. And we have — 17 top-ranked, best-selling courses to date and counting.
The next thing that will grab you is his smarts – and that’s not just because he speaks with an eloquent British accent. This chap is highly intelligent, creative and articulate, which makes for great concepting, efficient curriculum preparation, and spot-on presentations for the camera.
He’s funny too. He can take a joke and dish it out with the best of them. And indeed, quite a lot of that goes on in the studio when Robbie’s in town. There’s a lot of laughing going on in between takes and the sessions are always a blast.
Oh, and the boy can play some serious guitar across virtually any style, technique or musical setting. The diversity of his course library is a clear testament to that. He can also communicate very sophisticated concepts and techniques in a very accessible manner — no wonder his TrueFire fan base is massive and very dedicated.
Robbie is multi-talented as well. Nashville‐based session player, songwriter, musical director and master educator. He’s also an award-winning interior designer and decorative painter winning Nashville’s best decorative painter award for 3 consecutive years.
What I love best about Robbie is his inspiring free spirit and imagination. Most people dream about moving to the islands or some other exotic destination. Robbie manifests those dreams into realties. As successful as he is in Nashville, he’s recently been drawn to the island life and talked about making a move a few sessions ago. We thought it was just talk, but the next thing we know, he’s living the beach life on a Kona coffee plantation in Hawaii, putting a roof over his head and good food on the table playing gigs at all the popular venues where the locals love him as much as we do.
Robbie, if you’re reading this…Mahalo (and save a beach towel for me)!
What is it about the guitar that attracted you to it originally, and still fascinates you today?
The guitar has always possessed many attractive qualities to me. There’s the artistic and aesthetic pleasure I get from holding and looking at its many colors, shapes and tone woods and then there’s the vibrational and musical aspects.
The guitar, to this day, remains one of the few instruments that never goes out of style, can be played acoustically or manipulated through effects and amplification. But above all, it’s the one instrument that translates personal style, personality and passion.
Your idea of happiness?
Swimming in the crystal-clear blue Hawaiian ocean with my dog and then showering naked, outside in the sun and sand. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Whether living or dead, who would you like to have dinner with?
Jennifer Love Hewitt. Beautiful, natural, funny and a light spirit. Call me.
Name three things a player can do to improve their musicianship.
In my experience guitarists are terrible listeners and play before they understand what they’re hearing…so…listen first, then respond. It’s like good conversation — listen, comprehend and then reply with an appropriate answer.
Secondly, having a solid understanding of time, measures of music and basic music theory. If you can count 2-, 4- and 8-bar sections of music, then you’ll interact better with other musicians and improvise better solos and rhythm parts. If you understand the basics of harmony and theory, then you’ll be able to communicate your ideas to other musicians and figure out new voicings and compositions. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it.
Thirdly, stop trying to play things to impress people — it isn’t a competition. Soulful music can be simple and passionate. Most of the music I write and play contains just a few simple chords. I try to express those chords with interesting musical voicings and sounds that work with them. My melodies are usually simple motif-based ideas that are phrased to sound unique. They have a beginning, middle and crescendo. Consider note choice, resolutions and phrasing first and then you are truly expressing yourself.
If not yourself, who would you be?
I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. I truly believe we’ve all been put here as complete individuals to learn and impart wisdoms that we’ve learnt along the path. If I had to be someone else though, how about Hugh Hefner in his 30’s, robe and all!
Given the changing business landscape of the music business and how tough it is to sell records etc — what are the positives about the current evolution of the music business?
I don’t actually see any positives in the current evolution of the music business. It’s a dying model and without a way to monetize music, musicians will need to take other jobs to sustain a living. If we are talking about technologies however, there are some amazing developments in amp modeling, effects and home recording. The Line 6 Helix unit takes this technology to a wonderful new level. I never thought I’d use anything other than a tube amp, but it’s pretty amazing!
Your favorite motto?
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
What do you dream about? Literally.
My dreams usually consist of finding my soul mate and enjoying the most amazing time together. My other dreams are usually frustrations; running a lot and not getting anywhere. Do I need a therapist?!
What are your aspirations?
I just want to do good work on the planet, play music for appreciative audiences around the world, impart my philosophies on creative musicianship to those who have ears to listen, and have a peaceful heart. Oh!…And to vaporize the gatekeepers!
Your favorite heroes in fiction?
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Times of valor, truth, honor and romance…things we could use more of in today’s society.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My best friend and dog, Poopy Jones. She is there for me no matter what. I miss her!
Your favorite food and drink?
Mediterranean cuisine, Italian pastas and marinara, Italian red wine. On the fast food side of things — beans on toast and a mug of tea!
In your next life, what or who would you like to come back as and why?
I’d like to come back again as myself. I’m sure this life won’t be long enough to enjoy and achieve my personal desires, so let’s have another go at it!
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with (other than music)?
I’d love to be able to dance. I’m way too self conscious to do that, but I think it would be so amazing to just let yourself go and express feelings and emotions through body movement — without people laughing at you!
In life or in music, what is the one central key learning that you’d like to pass on to others?
Be authentic. Trust your instincts. Visualize your goals and manifest the reality.