Gary James' Interview With
Robin McNamara

It was the summer of 1970 and Robin McNamara took a song he co-wrote with his songwriting partner Jim Cretecos all the way to number eleven on the Billboard chart. That song was "Lay A Little Lovin' On Me".

Q - Robin, you're from Newton, Massachusetts. Is that correct?

A - Right.

Q - What was the Rock 'n' Roll scene like in Newton in 1963 when you formed your group, Robin And The Hoods?

A - I was still in high school when I had my first band. This is before The Beatles. Actually, I was singing before that, but I never really constructed a band before then. We were touring around the Boston area and then The Beatles came in in '64 when I was in the eleventh grade and we started touring all over New England. It was just a fun time. Actually, in '63 I was concerned that Rock 'n' Roll might die because we had Frankie Valli and we had The Beach Boys, but there was a lull there, if you know what I mean. Then The Beatles came over and thank God for them.

Q - Not everyone would agree with that, Robin. I know what you're saying.

A - In the '50s it was all right. Then Presley went into the Service. So everything sort of died off there for a few years, but The Beatles came over and saved the day. I love the song, "The Prophet And The King". It's an ode to Elvis Presley and John Lennon. When Presley came out, and I saw the movie Love Me Tender when I came home, I wanted to be him. That was such an exciting time for a young kid, but then he went off into the Service and there was a lull there. When John Lennon was growing up in the '50s his idol was Elvis Presley along with other American artists. My point is, if Elvis Presley and John Lennon had never been involved in Rock 'n' Roll it probably would've still happened. I don't think it would have sustained the way it did or it would have taken a whole different direction. Thank God for those two guys.

Q - And don't forget Brian Epstein. Had he given up at any point along the way trying to land a record deal for The Beatles, the world would never have heard of The Beatles.

A - I agree. Decca turned him down in '62 or '63 I guess.

Q - He was out there pushing for that record deal.

A - He sure was.

Q - Without his efforts we would never have heard of The Beatles.

A - I agree.

Q - How popular was Robin And The Hoods?

A - That band disbanded and I was in another band called Robin And The Stingrays. (laughs) That was the band I toured around New England with. It was great. I was a pretty popular band around the New England area.

Q - That was a cover band?

A - Well, no. Actually we would do some originals. Even back then I was writing songs, but not like I progressed in the future days. But, mostly covers.

Q - Then you moved to New York City and joined the cast of Hair.

A - That wasn't my goal. In high school I took college courses and loved meteorology, the study of weather forecasting, but I had more of a passion for music. So I decided out of high school to go down to New York and see if I could make something of music. This is actually going about a year or two after high school because I still was in bands and I loved my music. I decided not to go to college. I just performed again still around New England. Then about two years after graduating, that's when I decided to go to New York. I went down there and I was actually married at the time with an infant son and we stayed with my ex-wife's relatives in New Jersey. I got a job in a car wash of all things. I was only about a half hour from New York City in Jersey, and I'd go into the city as much as a could. I'd pick up the trade papers like The Village Voice and there would be ads in there for a singer for this or for that and I'd go and audition. I went on about five or six auditions and got about four offers and one of the offers was from a company called Newbeat Management which Mark Allen was the head of it. At the time he had Tommy James And The Shondells and a few other name acts. He liked me. I'm making a long story short here. He signed me to a contract. He introduced me to Jeff Barry. He had Neil Diamond, The Monkees and a whole bunch of other people. That's how that all started and I started recording with Jeff and he signed me to his label. While I was waiting, doing the recording, I was still going back and forth to Jersey, still working at the car wash. I went into my manager's office one day and his secretary actually said to me, "Robin, why don't you go down and audition for Hair?" I had no clue. I said, "What's Hair?" She told me it was a Broadway show and they're looking to replace some of the cast. "They've only been open for a few months and they're doing more auditions." Again, making a long story short, I went down and auditioned and I had about three auditions for that and they finally hired me to do the show.

Q - How long were you with the show?

A - About three years, three and a half years.

Q - That's a pretty good run.

A - Yeah, it was a long run. From '69 to about '72. Three years actually. I started out in the chorus, but they had me understudy one of the lead characters whose name was Woof. At the time it was being performed by Keith Carradine and so he left to do some movies out in Hollywood and so I moved up to that role. I'm sorry, he moved up to the role of Claude, which was the first lead. So when he did that, I took over the role of Woof. They still had me understudying him for the role of Claude and then he finally did leave and did some movies out in Hollywood, so I got the role of Claude. I did that for a year and a half, the lead role.

Q - You didn't go on the road with Hair, did you?

A - No, but there was a bunch of touring companies around the country. As a matter of fact, Hair is the only play to have thirty-three running companies at the same time around the world to this day.

Q - While you were still in Hair you teamed up with Jim Cretecos as your songwriting partner?

A - That's a funny story. When I went down to New York with my ex-wife and son, we were staying with her relations. I auditioned and got with Mark Allen. He introduced me to Jeff and at the time I could play a few chords on the guitar and the keyboard but I wasn't that accomplished. One of the kids that was in my band back in Boston before I left, his name was Jimmy Cretecos. He played rhythm guitar, but him and I always got together. We would try to write songs together and we were good friends. We had a good collaboration. He was going to Emerson College in Boston. I called him and said, "Jimmy, I just got a manager and they want to hear some original songs." (laughs). I said, "You've got to quit school and come down. You've got to write with me." Anyway, he quit school, got on his motorcycle, came down and we started writing together. Again, I'm making a long story short. Him and I started writing together and then we'd bring material to Jeff to listen to. One of the songs was "Lay A Little Lovin' On Me".

Q - You two guys wrote that song?

A - Jimmy and I did, but Jeff got involved with us and he's the third writer on it.

Q - How long then did it take you guys to write that song?

A - I don't know. We would sit up at times and we worked on a bunch of songs. That was just one of 'em. We'd bring material to Jeff. Sometimes we'd have half songs and we'd just show him ideas we had. So, how long did it take? I don't know. To come up with that idea, that hook, I don't think it took a long time. Like I said, we were working on a bunch of material at the time. We didn't try to write one song at a time, if you know what I mean. But actually, the song was re-written with Jeff so we brought it to him and made some changes. So, overall, it did take awhile.

Q - That song sounds like it was Gospel inspired.

A - Well, I love Gospel music and Jeff Barry, if you know anything about his productions and recordings, they all have big hooks. We hired a bunch of girls for the back ground. I tried to get a little Gospel feel into it.

Q - Did you think you just recorded a hit record?

A - You never know. Especially if you write the song and help with the production. It's just so hard to be objective. You have to go by people's reactions that you respect, but anytime you record a song, you're not going to start recording a song unless you think it has potential, but when it's all done hopefully you're satisfied with your work and you hope for the best. You just never know. You just hope.

Q - When that song became a hit record, how did you promote it? Was there a band put together?

A - Paramount Records, which was the parent company of Steed Records, which was my label, sent me on promotional tours around the country. I'd go to major markets and minor markets and do local radio and local TV interviews. I would go and perform in certain cities. I'd sent my material ahead of time. There'd be a local band that would learn my songs and I would perform with them. But not all the time.

Q - Which brings us up to date. What is Robin McNamara doing these days?

A - I should add there that Mark Allen also had a group at the time called the Exiles from Kentucky. I went down to Kentucky and rehearsed with them and with that group I toured with them. Matter of fact, they're still famous today as a Country band.

Q - The band was Exiles or Exile?

A - The band was called Exiles, plural when they were Rock 'n' Roll, but they had that hit song "Kiss You All Over" in '78, but that was my band in the early '70s that I did tour with.

Q - So, what are you doing these days?

A - I'm still writing and recording all the time. I also have a show called Stuck In The Sixties. Matter of fact, we did a concert last Saturday night in Edinburgh, Indiana and it was a wonderful success. This is a show called Stuck In The Sixties. We do all '60s music, actually a few '70s, but it's just a flashback and we have a wonderful light show and sound system and smoke machines. It's a lot of fun. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Official Website of Robin McNamara

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