You don't hear many guys play guitar like Robert Fortune, especially 21-year-old guys. Robert Fortune is a guy you need to watch and listen to. We should also mention that Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) befriended Robert and urged him to pick up the guitar. The rest is history in the making. We talked to Robert about his friendship with Billy Gibbons, his guitar playing and what his future holds.
Q - Robert, how long have you been playing guitar?
A - I've been playing guitar for like 10 years now. It's crazy.
Q - How'd you learn to play the guitar the way you do? Most bands today don't even have lead guitarists. Their guitarists are playing rhythm.
A - Thank you very much for the compliment.
Q - Well, it's true.
A - I didn't play guitar until I was 13. I was bedridden. I got into an accident. I went through a sliding glass door. I messed my leg up and I was bedridden for like three months. Billy Gibbons is actually one of my dad's good friends. He had just given me a guitar before that. He came down and saw me and told me, "Just pick it up and don't put it down." He gave me some records to listen to and I've never stopped since then.
Q - Let's back up for a minute. How did that accident happen?
A - I went through a sliding glass door. It was the old pane glass that wouldn't shatter. So it just came down in big hunks and messed my leg up pretty bad. It tore up a bunch of tendons.
Q - I don't get how something like that happened.
A - I closed the door right behind me and then I forgot something inside, whatever it was, and I tried turning around real fast and I broke it with my knee and I completely forgot I closed it actually. I was just careless. I couldn't walk hardly at all. I had to let my tendons heal.
Q - Are you all right now?
A - Oh, yeah. I'm 100%.
Q - So, "Wild" Bill Gibbons is a friend of your father's. Did your father worked for ZZ Top?
A - No. My dad had a bar on Beale Street (Memphis, Tennessee) in 1980, something like that, and he went to a bunch of concerts and he met Billy in 1981. They just became friends ever since. He's been in my life my whole life.
Q - When you first met him, did you understand how famous ZZ Top was and is?
A - I've always grown up listening to ZZ Top. When I first met him, I can't even remember. He's been in my life so long. I didn't quite understand until I started really getting into music, when I was 11 or 12, to know how big they actually were. Everyone actually knew who they were. That was kind of shocking.
Q - I can only imagine. To have a guy like that come into your house and say "Pick up the guitar and don't put it down!" That's what he said to you?
A - It's like he just handed it to me and said, "Get to work!" He told me to get Freddie King and B.B. King records. He told me to get John Mayall and Eric Clapton records.
Q - How did he know you had a talent for playing guitar? Maybe you would've been better suited for playing drums.
A - I have no idea. I've always looked up to Billy my whole life. We used to go to see concerts. When I was little I was like, "I want to do that when I grow up." I just never thought that eight years later that I'd actually be doing that and getting good at it. I just got into it.
Q - Did guitar playing come easy for you then or did you have to struggle a little bit?
A - Like I tell everyone who tries to play guitar, I just practice eight hours a day, every day in my bedroom, just learning Blues guys. Of course at first you've got to build your calluses up. It's like a foreign object to you at first. But I just couldn't get enough of it. I never put it down. Still, I can't get enough of playing guitar. (Laughs).
Q - When you thought you were good enough on guitar, did you recruit a couple of other guys and put a band together?
A - Well, yeah. I had a few years under my belt playing guitar and my father said, "You should start a band." I was going to school. I met a couple guys there. A guy played drums and another guitar player friend. They would come over after school and we would just jam in my garage. Eventually I found some members at a music store and we just started jamming and became a band. That's how anyone gets into that I guess. I never stopped since.
Q - Are these guys still with you? Is it the same line-up?
A - No. A different line-up. We've changed a few times over the years. We've had a band for like seven years now. It's been a few different players for sure.
Q - You are planning to go out on the road, are you?
A - Yes sir. I think we got South By Southwest coming up in March (2014) and we are planning to be out on the road after that full-blown. We've got a few dates coming up before the end of the year (2013). I think we've got Chicago, Birmingham, Memphis and Houston. None of those are confirmed yet, but we are working on those right now.
Q - As we speak, it's you and two other guys?
A - Yeah. It's a three-piece right now. It's always been a trio. We have talked about adding a guitar player, but I don't think we need it.
Q - I know record companies for the most part don't exist anymore, but do you have any recorded product out?
A - Right now we are not signed. We are about to put out an EP. No release date yet. We are gonna do it by ourselves. I have had a release on Geffen Records back in 2007. I was signed to them. We had an EP release on them. A few years later we released a self-released EP.
Q - Your songs have that 1970s feel to them.
A - For sure. Big guitars. Big drums. That's what I love. I just can't help it. (Laughs). When I write songs, it's rock 'n roll pretty much.
Q - What do you do with yourself while you are waiting for South By Southwest? Do you have a job? Are you in school?
A - Oh, no. We do a couple one off shows here and there until March (2014). Until then I'll just be writing. I've been writing for six months now non-stop, just in the studio. Trying to get a good album's worth of stuff together. But we'll be doing shows in between there as well.
Q - You are a singer as well?
A - Yes sir. I'm a lead singer.
Q - I think you sound like Robert Plant at times.
A - I don't know. That's a huge compliment. I don't think I'm that good at all. I thank you. The higher register stuff is a lot easier for me to sing than lower. I have a fuller voice when I sing higher. I guess that's where it comes from.