Editor’s note: The Greyboy Allstars shows this weekend have been postponed. New dates will be announced.
Concertgoers who see the Greyboy Allstars on either of its 2022 tours this year will get a tasty dose of tunes from the album, “Get a Job: Music from the Original Broadcast Soul Dream,” which was released on April 1.
Formed in 1993, the funk and jazz band includes drummer Aaron Redfield and founding members saxophonist Karl Denson, guitarist Elgin Park, bassist Chris Stillwell and keyboardist Robert Walter, who fielded some questions from Tahoe Onstage.
Robert Shaun Walter VI has a rich family history. The first Robert Walter is a Civil War hero for the Union army, and his father, Thomas Ustick Walter, designed the dome of the United State Capitol. The Greyboy Allstars keyboardist is the first professional musician in the family, but Robert the seventh could be following his dad’s career path, which goes in many directions.
In addition to “Get a Job,” Walter earlier this year released a solo album, “Better Feathers,” featuring Galactic drummer Stanton Moore. In the fall, he will release “The Rare Sounds,” a Color Red label project with Stillwell, original Greyboy Allstars drummer Zak Najor and Eddie Roberts of the New Mastersounds.
A native of San Diego, Walter lived in New Orleans from 2004-2009, before moving to Los Angeles, where he produces movie soundtracks.
Walter is involved in many more music endeavors, some of which he discussed in this question-and-answer session:
Tahoe Onstage: In addition to being in numerous bands, you appear on a whole lot of records with different artists. You must be a high-energy person with a great passion for music.
Robert Walter: I’ve always been fascinated with music in general and American music in particular, niche music with small bands and small labels, and I am happy to have been involved with a lot of those people in one way or another. American music through blues and gospel. I try to do as much as I can with as many people.
You’ve recorded hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. Do you have a photographic memory?
I don’t have a photographic memory, but I am pretty good at remembering songs. Also, as you play music longer you realize where things intersect. It’s harder to remember music by a very idiosyncratic composer, like if you are trying to remember a bunch of music by Frank Zappa or something that doesn’t really follow the same rulebook. But in the realm of jazz-blues-gospel-rock and roll, most of the moves are the same. If you can remember the tune in your head, you can sort of remember where it goes. It’s almost like learning to speak a language and once you speak the language it’s not so hard to remember the particular things. I still forget sometimes, though.
What did you do during the lockdown?
I did a lot of remote sessions for people and I spent a lot of time just practicing. At first it was kind of a drag because I am so used to performing but it was kind of a blessing in disguise because I was able to just take a break and just focus on maybe find some weak spots in my playing. When you are prepping for gigs, you are always trying to learn all of these new songs. It’s cool to be able to run through scales and play jazz standards and try to learn some stuff like that. … I started teaching online. Teaching people teaches you a lot because you have to realize some things you take for granted and do automatically. You have to think back and reverse engineer why I made these choices. Why did I put my hand here with this fingering? You don’t want to teach them wrong, so you are forced to do it right yourself.
The Greyboy Allstars’ fifth studio album, “Como De Allstars,” was released in June 2020, so you obviously could not tour on it.
There was a thought that we would wait on the release of that until we could tour but we thought, “Let’s just put it out. It’s not getting any newer.” It was a happy, uplifting record and we thought it was a good thing to put out there at that time. Sort of escapist music rather than dwelling on what’s wrong with things and to provide some relief.
Please explain how the lockdown kindled your new album, “Get a Job: Music from the Original Broadcast Soul Dream.”
Because we couldn’t play gigs, we decided we would set up in a studio and perform a gig and stream it for people. A lot of people were doing that a low-fi way but we wanted to do something nice, so we recorded it well and did multiple cameras and tried to make it a very high quality. And it was a good way to get together and play because it had been so long. We ended up liking a lot of the stuff, so we decided to release it. We had all these covers in our sets for years. They’re sort of favorites of the fans but they never existed on any of our albums. It’s been on a back burner for years.
I listened to “Get a Job” before reading about it. I noticed the obvious cover songs, “Taxman” and “Walk On By.” When I heard “Lady Day and John Coltrane,” I remembered it as a Gil Scott-Heron tune. Then I read they were all cover songs, but most were unfamiliar to me.
Mostly our philosophy about covers is to play maybe songs that maybe the audience hasn’t heard. The conventional logic is to play a tune that everyone has an emotional connection to already. But to me, you have to give something to the song, so reinterpreting in some way, put a perspective on it that’s different. If it’s a really famous piece of music, unless you are going to improve upon the original or make a comment on the tune, then you’re just taking from it. You’re just glomming on to the fame of the thing and hoping that that fame or feeling rubs off on you. I’m never really interested in that. If it’s the same of something, it’s flippant. Most of the time we want to fine tune, but maybe this audience hasn’t been exposed to it in terms of turning them on to great music. That’s giving something to the music rather than taking from it.
Do you prefer to record live and not use overdubs?
I love the craft of making records and I love things that are more produced as well. But I like them to be documentary style record making, which is you set up to record but then you let the performance happen in a real natural way. I think what’s interesting about music is the interaction with the players. I like when you don’t fix every rough edge. You let things happen, you let things be. You hit the wrong note and sometimes it becomes your favorite part of the record. I am not a big one to overthink it. I like to capture the spontaneity and interaction. That’s why I love all of those old jazz records. One or two takes a song and that’s what you get. For years they never get old because you find new nuances.
Who makes the set list for the Greyboy Allstars?
I make them. I send everybody the list during the day and then at sound check we edit it. Everyone’s involved. But I get sort of a skeleton planned.
Can you count all the different bands you’ve played with at Crystal Bay?
I’ve definitely been there with 20th Congress, and I’ve done a guest spot with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and the Greyboy Allstars, Stanton Moore Trio, and I don’t know what else. I’m sure there’s been a couple of others. It’s a great spot. Before that we used to always play at Humpty’s (in Tahoe City).
Crystal Bay books so many bands from New Orleans, the Crown Room could be called Tipitina’s of the West. The Greyboy Allstars have a show on April 30 at Tipitina’s that begins at 2 a.m., the first week of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
The mid-90s is when the big Jazz Fest scene of after-shows began. There is something about that super late-night thing that inspires more reckless abandon from the crowd and the band. There’s something magical about it when it goes right.
A few years ago, Tipatina’s was purchased by the members of Galactic, one of Crystal Bay concertgoers’ favorite bands. It’s good that they were able to stay in business during the Covid show lockdown.
I’ve been friends with those guys for years. We came up at a similar time, them from New Orleans and us from San Diego. I am glad that club fell into the right hands with people who really care about the culture and preserving that legacy.
Has Karl Denson changed since he became a touring member of the Rolling Stones?
He seems more relaxed. I think it’s given him a home base of some success, and also being around those great people boosts your confidence. But other than that, he’s the same old Karl. He still likes to play this music and to improvise. But he loves rock and roll and that’s a great gig for him. I can’t think of a greater sax player on the scene to play that music.
- The Greyboy Allstars
- When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 15-16
- Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
- Tickets: $30