Considering the tongue-not-so-firmly-in-cheek wise-assery that has defined Robbie Fulks’ 30-year career on the periphery of Country music, it’s not surprising that Fulks looks to Roger Miller for inspiration. The difference is Miller routinely hit the top of the Country and Pop charts while Fulks, despite his songwriting brilliance, has toiled primarily in the shadow of obscurity. If you were to ask Fulks if it might have been a wiser choice for him to conform, just a bit, to Country standards in order to raise his profile, his response would likely be in the ballpark of, “How many rough creative edges would have to be sanded down to make me palatable, and what would be the cost to my ethical soul?” Or, more likely, he’d tell you where to get off, just as he did to Nashville in 1997 with the brilliant song “Fuck This Town.”
In fact, Fulks’ entire catalog stands as one long middle-finger salute to expectations and trend-following. He’s done insurgent Country, straight Country, Americana and pure novelty songs like “Fountains of Wayne Hotline.” His live album, 2007’s Revenge!, was teed up with a new studio track called “We’re on the Road,” which featured a faux phone call with Yep Roc president Glenn Dicker (who was played as a cross between a Southern lawyer and Foghorn Leghorn), who chided Fulks for being a cult artist. He released an album of unreleased material and titled it The Very Best of Robbie Fulks, and he worked for five years on Happy, a tribute to Michael Jackson that he released just after the King of Pop’s tragic passing.
Fulks covered the greats and unknowns of Country on 13 Hillbilly Giants, and played it relatively straight on 2013’s Gone Away Backwards and this year’s amazing Upland Stories, both produced by genius curmudgeon Steve Albini. He self-released a 50-song digital collection through his website, connected with members of The Mekons to form a side project called Jura in 2014 and, two decades ago, he taught Tina Fey to play the ukulele when he was a teacher at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and she was a member of Second City.
And that’s just the Cliff Notes version; it’s a good thing Fulks exists, because no one is batshit crazy enough to invent him.
Click here for tickets/more info on the 2016 WHISPERING BEARD FOLK FESTIVAL.