'Drawing From The Craft of The Industry'
In basketball, Rob Whitlock would be known as “the sixth man,” the first player to come off the bench and the one expected to sink key baskets during crunch time. In baseball, he’d be “the utility player” who can play almost any position in the field day-after-day and can be counted on to connect when up at the plate. In the world of acting, Whitlock would be described as a “character actor,” someone who delivers a memorable and often pivotal performance while occasionally stealing scenes from marquee stars.
Now, through a two-part series of musical sketches that incorporate a variety of genres, the keyboardist-producer-composer proves that he is indeed ready for his close-up. And this time, the stellar cast is supporting him.
With more than two decades in music, Whitlock is a “musician’s musician” who has performed and recorded with a wide array of top artists in pop, R&B and jazz. He’s a much sought after Hammond B3 organist, who also plays piano and keyboards in addition to producing, writing and arranging. Over a two-year span, Whitlock was joined in recording studios all over the U.S. by a few friends to work on an eclectic project called Sketchin’.
Along with Michael Brecker, Vinnie Colaiuta, Anthony Jackson, Scott Henderson, Othello Molineaux, Pat Kelley, and Cliff Almond, Whitlock recorded enough material to populate two albums. Sketchin’ was released nationally last fall on the artist’s own Sketchin’ Records label. Sketchin’ 2 is scheduled for release this spring.
Chatting recently with Rob, I first asked him what is was about the Etch-A-Sketch (re: his website) that still mesmerized him to this day?! "First of all, the Etch-A-Sketch takes us back to when we were kids. I find a couple of things from my past that trigger those memories (I won't go into Hot Wheels right now). The fact that anybody could actually draw something on it that turned out decent is quite a feat. We were very fortunate to meet a great Etch-A-Sketch artist while recording my first "Sketchin'" CD at Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena, CA. Her name is Nicole Falzone and she's also a drummer who claims to be dyslexic and ambidextrous. Maybe that's what it takes to have that kind of talent! There is an interesting book titled "The Playmakers: Amazing Origins of Timeless Toys" by Tim Walsh. The book features Falzone's amazing Etch-A-Sketch drawing of Albert Einstein on pg. 180. In the book, they call her "The Monet" of the magic screen."
Your album title 'Sketchin' 2' tells the story of further adventures in, well, sketching. So please describe in what manner this title evokes the musical element of this phrase to your mind?! "In both "Sketchin" and "Sketchin' 2," I first came up with the musicians I wanted to record with. Then I wrote and arranged the songs to feature some of their specific talents. Both projects are primarily centered around my songwriting and my performance second. I wanted to take it from the beginning stages all the way through the production, mixing and mastering and then onto the packaging and even marketing. I relate to art and drawings directly in that it is all a creative process. When all is said and done, you can step back and look at what you created. With sketching, it's a much simpler and direct process, which I used to remind myself to keep it simple, balanced and organic. For "Sketchin 2," I brought on-board the son of an old friend of mine, Jaco Pastorius, the jazz bass legend. Julius, coincidentally, is a drummer like Nicole. When I first saw his drawings, I was struck by the detail in his work and knew that someday I'd like to do something with him."
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Rob Whitlock at his musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "I would say that 'The Colours Of Life' captures the best of all the elements I want to convey. It has a powerful haunting theme, it cameos me on all the instruments, and I'm joined by the great eleven-time Grammy Award winner Michael Brecker on sax and EWI. On the album version, there is a cool back and forth dialogue between my synth and Michael Brecker on EWI. There is a vocal version of this song on Amber Whitlock's CD "The Colours Of Life." Amber has great lyrics to the song, which are based on the life of her mother and artist, Lanet, who is a painter."
Knowing that this album came together over a period of recording sessions that took place over a two-year span, please relate to us just what went into it before it finally gets into your listeners hands. "It would be as follows:
a. Writing and/or coming up with the songs
b. Pre-production (pre-recording): sequencing the song with all the instruments you have in mind
c. Writing charts for the musicians to read on the ultimate recording session
d. Calling and lining up the musicians
e. Booking a recording studio and an engineer to record the session. Calling cartage companies to haul and set up the gear
f. If you are using a musician who is out of town, or you are traveling to them, you need to book hotel accommodations & airline tickets
g. Purchase hard drives formatted correctly to record on
h. Edit the music in my home recording studio
i. Line-up musicians for over-dubs (i.e.. strings, horns, steel pans, etc.). Repeat the same process as before (book studio, etc. & make necessary travel plans)
j. Record overdubs
k. Back to editing the over-dubs
l. Find a mixing engineer
m. Start mixing and editing with the engineer
n. Find a mastering studio to master your CD.
o. Find a graphic artist to collaborate on artwork for the CD
p. Find a manufacturer to make your CD
q. Look for a distributor or record label
r. Hire a publicist and/or radio promoter
s. Pray for money to fall from the sky
t. Pray again!
And don't forget all the web page stuff, a web designer, a booking agent and management unless you do some of those things yourself."
On this album you play keyboard, piano, and organ (the latter of which you're best known for), but do you ever wish you could have chosen a smaller instrument to have mastered - for traveling purposes and such?! "When I was 8, I wanted to play guitar like my father. He advised me to take up a keyboard instrument because he felt it was the instrument of the future. Most writers refer to the keyboard when composing. My dad was selling pianos and organs at that time so we got a good deal on a Hammond M-3. Playing organ relates to all the instruments. You play bass with your feet, accompany with your left hand, and play the melody and horn section parts with your right hand. I look at hauling and moving the organ around like the workouts that I never get!"
Was your wife, Amber always first choice to perform the Billie Holiday song, 'Them There Eyes'? "Yes, Amber will always be my first pick. We write, perform and produce together. I think Amber dedicated this song to me. The verse was written by the two of us based on the instrumental/ scat solo section in the middle of the song."
Is it safe to say that 'Sketches 3' is in the works as we speak?! "Yes, I'm working on it now. So far I've come up with a few originals. I already have artwork in mind."
Who does all the black and white 'sketches' on your website and such? "Most sketches throughout the site are by Julius Pastorius and there are a few by Lanet in the Artist's page. There is a drawing that I did on that page from when I was a kid. It's a drawing of a cop car and a helicopter racing to a crime scene. I think I was heavily into "Batman" in those days."
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "I never thought of that. I always liked "Take On Me." Maybe the sketches in the video drew me in!"
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "I do like penguins. They are loyal, choose one mate and they protect their young. They are determined to accomplish their goal and endure whatever they must endure. They are beautiful animals. The only thing I don't like about them is that they remind me of tuxedos, which I hate to wear!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Rob's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: Recently Rob Whitlock finished production on his wife Amber’s second album, which will be unveiled this summer. What is the title they have chosen to give this forthcoming treat?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'ROB WHITLOCK SIGNED CDs' to: email@example.com
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