Features Regular Columns Robin Lane

Regular Columns: Robin Lane

Robin Lane was born and raised in the music and entertainment world of Los Angeles. Her mother was a model and her father a songwriter and musical director for Dean Martin. I first caught her in 1978 at the infamous punk rock club the Rat in Boston when she fronted Robin Lane & The Chartbusters a band that would go on to release three albums for Warner Brothers. Robin Lane and the Chartbusters toured extensively as headliners and opening for such bands as The Kinks, The Cars, Hall and Oates and XTC. Robin has kept active in music industry over the years and now runs a non-profit organization aimed at helping victims of abuse. She also performs house concerts, singing solo and reading from her memoirs, she performed at my house last summer and everyone in attendance had a great time. Over to Robin.

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robin lane & the chartbusters.jpgGrowing up with a father who was the music arranger for Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, who would ultimately end up working with Dean Martin (see Dean Martin show) it would have been impossible for me as a child to not be infected with the wonders of music, song, and all the fascinating people that went along with it. My father, Ken Lane, wrote Dean’s signature hit “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime” and, consequently, I was aware of the creative aspects of songwriting.

I was a very shy child, however, and so during high school when I crossed the hill from the un-hip San Fernando Valley into the bright lights of Hollywood, a long 3 miles away, it still took a few years for me to feel confident enough to begin my own vision quest through music.

The roots of rock and roll for me were some of the first bands, solo artists and duos, that were coming over from England. But, wait, I must back track here: The Electric Prunes went to my high school, although they were known by something else at the time. They played our sock hops and all the frat parties we used to crash. There was another curious phenomenon that took place at the frat house parties: the guys would put pee in the beer bottles and hand them to us girls thinking it was oh so funny...har har! Even that didn't stop us from going back again and again. Prunes band member, Jim 'Weasel' Spagnola was a schoolmate.

robin-4-poster.jpgBack to Hollywood, the difference between the valley (Encino) and those who hung out in Hollywood (or what was referred to then as "the other side of the hill") was measurable at that time. In a way, I was a hick even though I'd been brought up with the music business surrounding me. These bands I found myself hanging out with on the other side of the hill were my peers, and they were creating the music that was defining a whole new generation. I did not want to be listening to Frank Sinatra at this time: a cultural transformation was taking place. I revered these new friends and acquaintances but it was intimidating to be around them because, somewhere in me, I knew I could do it too. But I was a girl, after all, and usually girls sat around watching the guys play their music.

At first there were Peter and Gordon, cute but sort of fake, then Donovan appeared and was well...Donovan, incredibly inspiring at that time. I wasn't just meeting these people I was hanging around with Donovan and a guy named Bobby Jamison who was known as the Bob Dylan of the Sunset Strip. We hung out at Jiffy Jeffy's, whose house up on Woodrow Wilson drive off Mulholland was where all the crazies went for “you know.” A bunch of loonies, really, but there was Doni hooking up with these very hip chicks and writing songs about them on the spot.

I had met a Shindig dancer named Danny Whitten around this time. After our first meeting I didn't see him again for a year. In that one year Danny had gone from wearing baby blue cashmere sweaters to plaid shirts and long yellow hair drooping over his eye with a shiteating grin on his face. After Danny's dancing phase he started a band with Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina called Danny and the Memories. When I actually began hanging out at their house up on Laurel Canyon they had morphed into The Rockets. I kind of thought they were not so hot however, in retrospect, they were the first garage band I ever knew. The din across Laurel Canyon and the whiff of pot fumes led right to their door. The Rockets sold pot to survive, then they’d give me money and I’d go to the market buy food and, although I couldn’t boil an egg, I found I was very adept at following the recipes from the new hit cook book by Julia Child.

One night Neil Young showed up. His band The Buffalo Springfield was already one of the favorite bands around town. "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" was completely unique. This band hit a nerve with me as did Neil and Stephen's songs, I was desperate to write songs like they did. There were other people that greatly influenced me around this time including Bert Jansch, Jackie DeShannon, The Byrds, and most of all Laura Nyro. Once I heard her, that was it: she was like Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Dionne Warwick all rolled into one. Those songs as well as all Motown hits and the Beatles had been my staples while growing up.

Neil Young and Stephen Stills were a constant at the Rocket house, singing their songs. I'd sit in front of them totally mesmerized, absorbing their music. I could only creak out a couple songs Danny had shown me, but much to my amazement Neil liked the way I sang and taught me one of his own songs he hadn’t recorded with The Springfield. A couple years later I recorded this song, “Round and Round,” with Danny and Neil in the studio for his first solo album Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. In time, all the practicing the Rockets put in had paid off and after Neil broke with The Springfield he renamed the Rockets “Crazy Horse” and the rest is history.

Around that same time I began writing my own songs, wanting to be the guitar playing Laura Nyro. I think I wrote ten songs a day and could remember all of them without a tape recorder. I married Andy Summers, before he was in the Police, and while he went to school in the valley and learned to play classical guitar, I would write songs and go to one record company after another trying to get a recording contract. It was always the same, "Well we already have Joni Mitchell, or we already have Melanie, or we already have Linda Rondstadt." They couldn’t seem to think beyond one chick singer per record company.

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I had to get away. Andy stayed in LA and I went back east going through many incarnations before moving to Boston where I frequented the Rat with my new friend Alpo from the Real Kids. By that time popular music had become stale for me and I was infected by the punk/new wave scene. I found the members of my future band Robin Lane and the Chartbusters playing at the Rat with other bands.

I never saw Danny again, after moving back east I learned about his death from a mutual friend. Danny had been fired from Crazy Horse for being too stoned to play. Neil wrote “The Needle and the Damage Done” for Danny after he used his severance pay for more heroin which killed him at age 29. Throughout the years I have been influenced by many diverse styles of music, when I started my band I stayed focused on rock and roll. We had some great times. The only thing I'm wistful about is that I didn't realize we were being given a golden opportunity. I thought it would go on forever. But life is in a constant state of flux and chance favors the prepared mind, as they say. So the best thing is to grow through the changes, keep open to learning new things. Acceptance is key.

Recently I started a non-profit organization called Songbird Sings (http://www.songbirdsings.org) where I work with youth at risk, domestic abuse survivors, the elderly, veterans, and prison inmates, helping them write their experiences into song. Songwriting can help trauma survivors find the key to their own healing, I'm not overstating when I say songwriting saved my life in so many ways.

- Robin Lane

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Posted on April 9, 2011, 8:31 p.m.

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Robin Lane

Posted on April 9, 2011, 8:31 p.m.

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