The dark Americana vibe of Robert Hazard’s Troubadour may come as a surprise to those who know him as the hit songwriter of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” — which, by the way, was written in fifteen minutes, in a bathtub, on an acoustic guitar.
But those who value first-rate musicianship, insightful songwriting and straight-from-the-heart singing will greet his new album like an old friend.
The Philadelphia-born Hazard’s love and knowledge of folk, blues and other American roots styles shines through on his Rykodisc debut, Troubadour, an album that breathes the life of a man who has lived; filled with rich characters and poetic storytelling, inspired by the rustic beauty of his adopted home in the Adirondack Mountains.
Hazard traces his musical inspiration back to the classics.
“My older sister Gloria turned me on to Elvis, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins and other hillbilly cats. The music just knocked me out. At 10, I was playing guitar ‘cause I thought it was cool, but I got sidetracked by writing songs,” he said.
“Rockabilly led me to folk, blues and what we call roots music today. I was playing in coffee houses and writing songs in high school, hanging out in folk clubs and soaking up gigs by Jimmy Webb, Eric Andersen and Jackson Browne. (The fact that Eric Andersen played on the title track is a real thrill.) A guy named Jerry Ricks gave me guitar lessons and taught me about the delta blues and Robert Johnson,” Hazard said.
Back when the New-Wave era hit, Hazard formed Robert Hazard and The Heroes. Having gained a huge following in his hometown of Philadelphia, RCA reissued their self-released EP resulting in MTV hits and tours opening for heavyweights U2 and Bob Dylan.
“The royalties from ‘Girls’ allowed me to survive. In the ’90s I had a band called The Hombres, but we never recorded,” Hazard said.
In 1998 Hazard cut Howl, the project that began to tap into his singer/songwriter soul. He started writing with a newfound conviction and the stories began to just pour out.
“I woke up and started writing, going back to the folk and blues that originally inspired me. I decided to go back to what I love to do: me with an acoustic guitar,” Hazard said.
In 2004 Hazard hooked up with T-Bone Wolk for his first singer/songwriter album, The Seventh Lake. Later in 2004, he cut Blue Mountain.
“I made that for about $1.98,” Hazard jokes. “Everything was one take. The songs were written, I laid ’em down, and it was done.”
With Troubadour, Robert Hazard’s adventurous musical journey comes full circle — back to his original inspirations.
“Songwriting is an emotional process. Getting to the place where the words and music came pouring out honestly is what I call success,” Hazard said.
The album features drummer Steve Holley (McCartney’s Wings, Joe Cocker, Dar Williams, Elton John) and multi-instrumentalist T-Bone Wolk (Carly Simon, SNL Band, Hall & Oates).
Hazard enlisted the team of Pete Heitzman and Karen Savoca (Greg Brown) to helm the production efforts that give the album a classic folk sound with an urgent presence.
“Nobody But the Night” resonates with chiming electric guitar, a driving rhythm and Hazard’s emotional vocal, finely balanced between anguish and hope.
“It’s about being alone and knowing you’ve got to be yourself, no matter what,” Hazard says. “Everybody’s been in that place at least once in their life.”
The Cajun stomp of “A Whole Lot of Water” is