Remembering Charlie Robison: Houston-born country music giant passes away at 59
A giant of the Texas music scene has passed away. Charlie Robison, a gravelly voiced, bad boy, say-anything singer-songwriter, died at a hospital in San Antonio on Sunday, September 10 after suffering cardiac arrest and other complications, according to an Associated Press report. Robison passed away just nine days after his 59th birthday.
His wife, Kristen Robison, confirmed the new on social media, writing:
“It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that my husband, Charlie Robison has passed away today, surrounded by his family and friends. My heart is broken. Please pray for me, our children and our family.”
Robison was born in Houston — making him a local favorite here for decades — but grew up in Bandera, Texas on the ranch his family has owned for generations. Tanned, ranch-strong, and standing six-foot-four, Robison looked more jock than country singer — he played football at then Southwest Texas State University in the 1980s before an injury ending his sports career.
He made his way to Austin, playing with bands Chaparral and Two Hoots and a Holler before forming his own act, Millionaire Playboys. Paying homage to his beloved ranch home, he released his solo debut album, Bandera, in 1996. Sony Records caught wind of the young star and quickly signed him to the subsidiary Lucky Dog Records, releasing Life of the Party on the label in 1998.
Life of the Party may well be Robison's most beloved album, netting monster tracks such as the singalong, anthemic "My Hometown," "Sunset Boulevard," and "Barlight." His next album, Unleashed Live, features two Texas country giants: Robison's brother Bruce Robison and Jack Ingram.
Columbia Records then snatched him up, releasing a live album and Step Right Up. The sheen of the Nashville country scene jetted him into pop culture; he was cast as a judge in the reality TV singing competition Nashville Star.
But the tough guy, straight-shootin' Robison and his Texas grit found the glossy, hip Nashville scene repressive. He left Columbia, signed with the smaller label Dualtone, moved away from mainstream/Nashville radio-friendly tunes and returned to his love of Southern rock. The move paid off: In 2004, his single "Good Times" from the album of the same name was featured on the HBO vampire series smash True Blood.
He later self-produced and released the album Beautiful Day in 2009 on Dualtone, which prominently features Nashville singer/songwriter Keith Gattis. He left his Texas base to embark on an East Coast and U.S. tour in 2009, bringing his Texas swag to national live audiences, before settling back in Texas and gigging primarily there and Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
While Life of the Party may be Robison's most familiar release, the 2013 Live at Billy Bob's Texas album is perhaps his magnum opus, showcasing his gritty voice, Lone Star State lyricism, and shredding guitar solos. (He was known to play classic rock covers during live shows, such as AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" and even Elton John's "Rocket Man.")
Persistent throat problems prompted surgery in 2018 that ultimately cost him his 25-year singing career. Robison announced his retirement in a statement that year that reflected his "never take yourself too seriously" approach to music:
“With a very heavy heart I am officially retiring from the stage and studio. “It’s been an amazing ride, and I cannot tell you all what the last 25 years has meant to me. I was looking forward to another 25 but as they say, ‘shit happens.’”
Always alongside country's elite, Robison will be remembered for his collaborations with notable names such as Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Lloyd Maines, Charlie Sexton, Rich Brotherton, his brother Bruce, and more — some of whom would surprise fans onstage.
Branching into the hospitality business, Charlie Robison opened Alamo Icehouse in San Antonio with former Major League Baseball player Brooks Kieschnick in 2014.
Music permeated his personal life: Robison married Emily Erwin of The Chicks in 1999; the couple divorced in 2008 and shared three children: Charles Augustus and twins Julianna Tex and Henry Benjamin. He married Kristen Robison — also a singer-songwriter — in 2015.
Legendary at Houston venues like The Mucky Duck for crowd-favorite, shout-out lines, Robison maintained everyman charm with his party boy paycheck lines like "...we drove back home at the end of that week and we spent it all on pot" from "My Hometown."
He stands tall, literally and figuratively, as a Texas rebel who traded national country music sheen for staying true to his Texas roots. The larger-than-life singer was known for his exceptional treatment of his band and being refreshingly approachable to fans. No doubt his "My Hometown" line, "I'll see you in Houston If I ever get out that way" will be echoing across the Bayou City in tribute to a true local son.