ROBIN SYLER | 1951-2005
By MALCOLM MAYHEW
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
Robin Syler's music, say friends and fans, defied categorization.
He knew blues, surf music and rock 'n' roll," said Wes Race, a longtime friend who also produced some of Mr. Syler's music.
But he could also do country-Western and just about everything else. He could do just about anything he set his mind to."
Mr. Syler, 54, was found dead in his home Sunday evening. The Tarrant
County Medical Examiner's Office ruled his death a suicide.
His funeral was Thursday in Dallas. It drew some of the biggest names
in North Texas' music and art scene, including musicians Jim Suhler and
Smokin' Joe Kubek, and acclaimed cartoonist Mike Judge, who once played
in a band with Mr. Syler. Local blues singer Johnny Mack performed
Mr, Syler was born March 12,1951, and grew up in the Dallas area. He
moved to Fort Worth several years ago and quickly became a part of the
city's blues scene.
Influenced by musicians such as Jimmy Reed and Albert King, his style
was completely his own. He often performed at the Keys Lounge on
Westcreek Drive and J&J Texas Roadhouse and Blues Bar on Woodward
"Robin wasn't so much a great blues player as much as he played the
blues great," says another friend and fellow musician Sumter Bruton.
"He was a great player, a wonderful player. He played rockabilly,
blues, rock 'n' roll and surf music, and played ‘em all well."
In the 1970s, Mr. Syler played in the band Krackerjack with legendary
blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. He later shared the studio and
stage with players such as Doyle Bramhall, Jimmie Vaughan and Homer
Mr. Syler's interests went beyond music, but he aproached other projects with the same eclectic enthusiasm.
"He was into hip, funky, esoteric things," Race says. "He made some of
his own cowboy shirts. He was beginning to build and work on bicycles
before he died. He did some of his own decor at home."
But Mr. Syler will mostly be remembered for his genre-defying music.
"You couldn't put him in a certain mold," Bruton says. “He played rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s put it like that. He really did.”
-from Ft. Worth Star Telegram - December 2005
Robin Sylar’s last stand
By Tim Schuller
(- from Buddy magazine – January 2006)
Brilliance and the dark are sometimes accompanists. Everyone who
attended Robin Sylar’s funeral in December knew of his brilliance. On a
good night, everything of merit in the American electric guitar
experience could be heard from him. If you let your eyes pan over his
mourners, you saw more than a few who knew the dark well themselves.
Sunny types were rare in Sylar’s orbit. He was a walking battle flag
against conformity and people like that don’t run with Pollyanna. He
would’ve been that way if he had a choice, but he didn’t. He was off
center to the marrow and for years his life was a celebration of that.
Exactly when the celebration stopped is hard to pinpoint. His mental
state, long precarious, had been stressed by recent physical woes
including a stroke that diminished his playing ability, and back
problems that gave him constant pain. In December, he put a firearm to
his chest and that was that.
He was often referred to as a "guitar player's guitar player"
Sylar and I were brothers in melancholy. It wasn’t like we’d chosen to be on that path but there we were, and we recognized it about each other. There were times we might have talked about it but then the drinks arrived or a song came on the jukebox that warranted our deep discussion. Or he’d just plain clam up.
Sylar was famous for joining you at your table on break at a gig, and then going silent. When jazz pianist Bud Powell did this, he was said to be “in a state of grace.” Sylar was often referred to as a “guitar player’s guitar player.” That’s the sort of appraisal given artists who elude mainstream approval but awe initiates.
Bassist/composer Homer Henderson (an initiate if there ever was one)
believes he first saw Sylar playing with the Millionaires at the Cave
on Greenville Avenue. He would become a staunch Sylar ally. “He played
with a lot of class,” stated Henderson. “He made all the other guitar
players seem like they were struggling. He really knew how to construct
a solo without all the long-winded Stevie Ray Vaughan bullshit and you
can quote me on that! Blues, jazz country, Link Wray—he didn’t really
have to sit there and figure it out, he just listened to it and he
could play it.
By the 1980’s, Sylar and Henderson were playing together regularly. Or, as regularly as a twosome could whose repertoire was (to say the least) eclectic. In those days, most club owners didn’t know there was such a word.
Dallas Blues Society founder Chuck Nevitt recognized Sylar’s uniqueness and recorded him but the sessions stayed in the can at Sylar’s request. He thought their emergence would be inopportune in light of his collaboration with Doyle Bramhall on the latter’s Bird Nest On The Ground, cut slightly after the Nevitt production. The journalist Ken Shimamoto also perceived Sylar with clarity. He appreciatively and accurately profiled Sylar in the Fort Worth Weekly (4/7/04), writing, “His left of center ideas and delivery clearly set him apart from the pack of bluesicians.” Not that Shimamoto viewed Sylar as wholly in the blues niche. He called him “Šomething Entirely Other,” an appraisal Sylar would’ve probably liked. For years, Sylar was in an excellent trio with Bramhall drumming and singing (usually with Mike Judge on bass). I remember them holding forth in some long-gone dive in the West End. It was one of those nights when Sylar came to my table on break and sat there in silence. The threesome also played the Lakewood bar Schooner’s and they’d get that place rocking like an adrenalized zoo. They played blues far more excitingly than many bands that played nothing but, and often spiced the mix with “Penetration,” “Pipeline” and other pre-Beatle guitar instrumentals. Sylar had the jump on a million bands that would soon cram the “surf guitar” bandwagon. He had been a Pulp Fiction star years before the movie was made. Sylar was raised in Dallas but moved to Fort Worth. Homer Henderson says Sylar later came to rue that.
“In the end he hated it. (He said) ‘I’m dyin’ over here, I hate it.’ Heard that shit for years,” asserted Henderson.
A good thing about the move was that it put him close to poet/security guard Wes Race. At bookstores or hole in the wall bars Race would recite his sage, street-wise poems flanked by Sylar on guitar and Henderson on bongos. It was beatnik-y but lacking in parody, witty without being dumb. Thoroughly recommendable is Sylar’s CD Bust Out on Wes’ indie imprint, called (what else?) Race Records. After releasing a couple of CDs by artists who screwed him, Topcat Record’s Richard Chalk could have hardly been blamed for targeting some sane, safe, commercially viable artist for a session. Instead, he chose Sylar.
The result, Tricked Out, weird even by Sylar standards, is essential to any fan of musical Texana and sonic trespass. Several people eulogized Sylar at his funeral, none more movingly than Sonnie Collie, a bassist who knew Sylar for decades. His recollections were profound, compelling, and well spoken. I hope I don’t severely skew a certain thing Collie said about Sylar’s having made a choice, and deserving respect for that. He sure gets my respect for it.
Sylar made a stand against conformity. He knew the dark. Many people fear the dark, cower before it, or in simpering voices deny that it’s there. Not our Sylar. In the end, he didn’t merely face it—he embraced it.
We’ll all see him soon.
© 2006 Buddy Magazine and Tim Schuller
December 14, 2005
If ever there was a case of a 'Criminally Unrecognized/Unrewarded Artist' (once again Europeans & Japanese fans knew more about him than North Americans...) it was the totally mind-boggling talents and IMAGINATION of Robin Syler..we can be thankful that Richard Chalk of Topcat Records and Robin's good buddy Wes Race, made sure that the World had a bit of Robin's Magic to remember him by.
Robin knew he was The Greatest (that's NO exageration)..it bothered him immensely that he lived in a Society that doesn't recognize Real Talent. Like virtually all True Genius artists, Robin lived in a 'different place' than the rest of us and outside of creating his Magic Music, life was often painful, incomprehensible or just boring. Robin Needed-to-be creating his Joyful Magic for people and when his opportunities for doing that dwindled, so did his Reasons for Living. Like always, when we lose someone like Robin, it brings home the reality that we are 'Our- Brother's- Keepers' and yes, maybe we could've all done a little bit more for a guy who gave us back so much more in return...inside the cover of Robin's CD "Tricked Out" there is a group photo of the Legendary Texas Blues band, Krackerjack, circa 1971, and standing next to luminary bandmates Uncle John Turner and Tommy Shannon, is a serious-looking Robin Syler. On Robin's left is his young 'pupil', Stevie Ray Vaughan...... with much sadness,
Real Blues Magazine
From Richard Chalk, TopCat Records
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2005 11:04:06 -0600
Subject: Re: Robin Syler R.I.P.
It is with a heavy heart that I relay the sad news of the untimely passing of Robin Syler.
Robin died at his home in Ft. Worth, Texas last week.
Funeral services will be held tomorrow, Thursday December 15th at Sparkman Hillcrest Funeral Home in Dallas at 2:00pm.
Robin was widely regarded as one of the absolute best, most unique, gifted guitarist in Texas, if not the entire world. Most all guitarists in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, professional and amateur alike, would flock to his shows to experience this Master at work and try to steal a lick or two. It was common to see all the guitarists in attendance transfixed by his stunning prowess, all sitting there in amazement with their jaws dropped, completely in awe.
Robin will be sorely missed. The Blues world, and especially Blues musicians, supporters and enthusiasts in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, have lost one of the greatest, most unique talents to have ever walked the planet. . God bless you Robin.
A Soul’s Soliloquy
Today the journey is ended,
I have worked out the mandates of fate;
Naked, alone, undefended, I knock at the uttermost gate.
Behind is life and its longing, its trial, it trouble, its sorrow;
Beyond is the infinite morning of a day without a tomorrow.
Go back to dust and decay, body grown weary and old;
You are worthless to me from today- No longer my soul can you hold.
I lay you down gladly forever for a life that is better than this;
I go where partings ne’er sever you into oblivion’s abyss.
Lo, the gate swings wide at my knocking, across endless reaches I see
Lost friends with laughter come flocking to give a glad welcome to me.
Farewell, the maze has been threaded, this is the ending of strife;
Say not that death should be dreaded- ‘Tis but the beginning of life’.
- Wenonah Stevens Abbott
There is No Death
There is a plan far greater than the plan you know;
There is a landscape broader than the one you see.
There is a haven where storm-tossed souls may go
You call it death- we, immortality.
You call it death-this seeming endless sleep;
We call it birth- the soul at last set free.
‘Tis hampered not by time or space’ you weep.
Why weep at death? ‘Tis immortality’.
Farewell, dear voyageur- ‘twill not be long’.
Your work is done- now peace rest with thee.
Your kindly thoughts and deeds- they will live on.
This is not death- ‘Tis immortality’.
Farewell, dear voyageur- the river winds and turns;
The cadence of your song wafts near to me,
And now you know the thing that all men learn;
There is no death- there’s immortality.