ROBIN HOOD BRIANS (By Steve Walker)
Born Corsicana, Texas, 30 April, 1939
Robin Hood Brians recorded one of my favourite one-off rock'n'roll songs, the interestingly entitled 'Dis A Itty Bit!'. If you haven't heard this excellent piece of Ferriday Fireball-inspired adrenalin-fed music, then you should rectify the situation as soon as possible. Here is Robin Hood's story:
He was born in Corsicana, Texas on April 30 1939. The family moved to a farm near Edom, Texas in 1945 and he went to the first grade in the Edom schools. The family later moved into Tyler and Robin finished his schooling in the Tyler schools. He formed a trio in the 4th grade, and in Middle School he formed a quartet called the Four Roses (Tyler was the 'Rose Capital' of the world then with more roses grown there than any other place). After High School, he formed a band called 'Robin Hood and His Merry Men' that played dances and shows throughout the area. Robin's professional musical career started in 1957. After nine years of classical piano lessons, he was swept off his feet when he heard Sun 267 in the spring of that year. Robin listened to 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' and practiced until he could play as good as Jerry could. Jerry Lee came to Tyler and played at the Mayfair Building on the Smith County Fair Grounds. Robin not only got to meet him and party with him and his band in his hotel room, but also stood at the edge of the stage and photographed all his moves.
Shortly thereafter, he wrote a song entitled 'Dis A Itty Bit!'. He recorded the demo in the studios of KTBB radio station, at the old Blackstone Hotel, which was demolished many years ago. Robin played piano and sang while Randy Robins played drums. Randy's father was a juke box operator and agreed to send the tape to his distributor in Dallas. They in turn sent it to Fraternity Records in Cincinnati Ohio. Robin got a call from Harry Carlson, owner of Fraternity Records and the wheels started turning. On a cold, snowy December day in 1957, Robin found himself booked into Owen Bradley's Studio at 804, 16th Avenue South, Nashville - the Quonset Hut - meeting up with Harry Carlson and arranger Lew Douglas. The four- hour session was due to be shared with Dale Wright who was recording the follow-up to 'She's Neat'. Robin had written 'Can It Be' for the flip of his own recording, but in the end agreed to let Dale record the song, which appeared as the 'B'-side to 'Dance With Me' (Fraternity 804, April 1958). Dale Wright took three and a half hours getting his two songs down, which left Robin only thirty minutes. When Owen Bradley started playing piano from the charts that Lew Douglas had written for 'Dis A Itty Bit!', Robin stepped up and asked if he could show him how to play the part. Owen got up and said, "Sure. show me want you want." Robin had only played one verse when Owen told the engineer to move the vocal mike over to the piano and let Robin play the song himself. The record was nailed on the first take and with a safety copy committed to tape, there was eleven minutes of the session left to cut the ballad 'Without You', written by D.J. Clarence Hartzell, for the flip. After a couple of guitar intro fluffs, the number was completed on the third take. The players on the session were the Owen Bradley Quintet, including Harold Bradley on guitar, and the Anita Kerr Singers. The record was released the following spring on Fraternity 803. In Robin's own words: "As I look back on all the records I have ever heard, I cannot name another record that contained two songs as different in style as 'Dis A Itty Bit!' and 'Without You'. I heard Lew Douglas tell Harry Carlson as we left the studio. "Wow, that Robin Hood kid has a lot of talent. He just needs to decide whether he wants to be Jerry Lee Lewis or Bing Crosby."
Although the record never made the national charts, it remains a fondly-remembered classic of the era. As a result of his experiences in Nashville at the Quonset Hut, Robin was bitten by the studio-recording bug. Shortly afterwards, he set up his first recording studio in the front room of his parents's house and in July 1963, opened 'Robin Hood Studios' to record himself and others artists in the East Texas area. The studio was built by Robin and his father in the back yard of the Brians' residence at 1024 West 10th Street in Tyler, and is still there today, open for business to all-comers. Unfortunately, Robin's father died in November 1963, but he and his mother Audrey Brians - known to all as 'Mrs. B' - ran the studio together until her death in 1996.
The first Billboard hits for Robin Hood Studios came from major regional labels in Dallas and Shreveport. They produced 'Mountain Of Love' by David Houston on Epic Records. The first Pop Billboard hit was produced by Dale Hawkins; it was by the Uniques, featuring Joe Stampley and was entitled 'Not Too Long Ago'. Robin recorded several albums by the Uniques for Paula Records, Platinum albums by ZZ Top (originally released on London Records and later re-released under the Warner Brothers label), The Five Americans, Jon & Robin and the In Crowd for ABNAK Records of Dallas, as well as regional hits from many other artists.
Another artist that crossed Robin's path was John Fred. Here's what Robin has to say regarding John and the Playboys: "I learned a lot working with John Fred and the Playboy band - those guys were all from LSU. They were all college-trained musicians. There were things that I learned from those guys. You really need to get the old John Fred albums, because they're good albums - "Judy in Disguise", "Up End Down", "Agnes English" - those are great songs. "They did wonderful things with percussion. They'd have one guy with sandpaper blocks, another guy with shakers. A real human feel. They taught me how to play a cowbell. They'd have a cowbell on a stand, and a guy would play it with a glove - he'd grasp and let go of it while he played it with both the tip and the butt of the stick. It was really funky, sort of a ticky-pom-pom ticky-pom-pom sort of sound. You take that with sandpaper blocks and maybe some conga or something, and you can do a whole record like that."
You can read all about the studio at:
And a lengthy interview with Robin at:
Much of the above was written as a result of Robin Hood Brians kindly entering into the spirit of the thing and sending me his own reminiscences of the day he recorded 'Dis A Itty Bit', hence the personalised nature of the text.
Terry Gordon's site carries a couple of label shots at:
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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