Back in the mid-1980’s, I first heard of a band called Precious Metal. Trying to compare them to the Go-Go’s, from that same era, would be like apples-to-oranges, because this female band definitely rocked. I’ll never forget songs like “Right Here, Right Now” and their cover of Jean Knight’s 1971 hit “Mr. Big Stuff.” Delivering the guitar leads for Precious Metal way back then was Janet Robin.
When she was in her teens just a few years prior, Janet took guitar lessons from Randy Rhoads, of Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne fame, not too long before a plane crash took Randy’s life in 1982. After Precious Metal broke up as the 1990’s began, Janet went on to work with artists like Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, Heart’s Ann & Nancy Wilson, Michelle Shocked, Meredith Brooks, and the band Air Supply.
Janet Robin playing banjitar
I recently asked Janet about these experiences in the first of a 2-part interview:
Steve: What was it like to have learned how to play guitar from Randy Rhoads?
Janet: Randy was amazing…an amazing person and musician. I was his youngest and only female student. He never treated me any different, however. It was always about practicing as much as you can and learning to improvise. I also learned quite a bit about how to put a song together, like writing a catchy riff…etc. It was my early days of songwriting. I remember bringing in one of my garage band boys from the neighborhood and showing him our song and trying to get help from him on it. Randy was inspirational, supportive, and serious. I think even at my young age studying with him, I knew he was special. I was grateful to have him as a teacher and mentor.
Steve: It was said that Precious Metal had to “be twice as good as their male counterparts to gain half the respect,” a statement that might as well have applied to many female bands over the years. Do you think major-label politics, to this day, still play a part in the difficulties an all-female act has of breaking through?
Janet: I think it’s a lot easier for all-female bands and female musicians these days…although there are still some stereotypes out there and I think sometimes [women] have to prove themselves more than men, but that goes for almost any job…of course, it’s gotten way better…. And, I also think that there are a lot more really great female musicians out there than there [were] when I was coming up. It’s way more encouraged by parents these days, and guys are way more open to hav[ing] girls in their bands.
Steve: Since Precious Metal broke up in early 1990’s, of course, you have either toured, recorded, or co-wrote songs with everyone from Lindsey Buckingham to Meredith Brooks to Michelle Shocked, and from Heart to Cheap Trick to Air Supply, as well as done lots of solo acoustic gigs and recorded several albums on your own. Have any of the fans who remember you from your Precious Metal days embraced your versatility?
Janet: Oh sure. Absolutely. Just last night after opening for John Waite here in LA, a precious metal fan showed up with a cover of one our cd’s from back then. I think our fans are open to what we’ve gone on to do. My style of music may have somewhat changed, but I’m still rockin’ it no matter, and my guitar playing still plays a huge part in my music. I meet fans even in Europe that show up randomly at gigs with old lp’s and cd’s. I’m actually honored that they still remember us and take the time to come and see what I’m doing now. 🙂
Steve: How much did working with Lindsey Buckingham influence you not just as a musician and songwriter, but also in terms of learning more about the music business itself?
Janet: My experience with Lindsey taught me quite a bit about the music business itself. Working with top level managers, agents…seeing how they operate, road managers and little things like having a tour book. Also, the professionalism you portray, you usually get back. And Lindsey was by far 100% professional no matter what the situation was. I also learned about the ins and outs of touring, budgets, and all the intricacies of putting together a tour.
Steve: Since Heart is one of my personal favorites, what was it like working with Ann & Nancy Wilson?
Janet: I actually just saw Heart the other night and went backstage to say a quick “hi.” I also brought one of my guitar students-[a] very young girl, and she was really excited and inspired to meet them. I had an amazing time working with Ann & Nancy, and I must mention my friend and theirs, Sue Ennis, who also helped write a lot of their songs and was responsible for putting us all together. They are extremely supportive of women musicians and just being around that energy was inspiring, especially at that time during the 80’s when women musicians were just starting to come up.
Nancy was a personal inspiration to me as a young girl since I really didn’t have any women guitar players in rock n’ roll to look up to, and she was one. Being able to work with them was very special and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity. At the beginning of my solo career, they let me open for them once on an acoustic tour they were doing, and I thought that was just very cool of them to let me on the bill and give me that exposure and confidence I needed right at that time.
Steve: You’ve also worked with Meredith Brooks, as well as with Michelle Shocked, who described you, justifiably so, as “one of the best guitarists in the country, male or female.” How did you hook up with these two?
Janet: As I began my solo career, I wasn’t really focusing on hired-gun gigs for a while. I actually was turning down stuff, but after several years, I was a little more comfortable with having more experiences on the road again at a totally pro level and I thought it would only help my solo work more. Meredith just happened to call me out of the blue as she was putting together a new band for her record and wanted another girl in the band for singing and playing. We had met many years ago when I was in Precious Metal. In fact, I think she even auditioned for Lindsey’s band, but went on to do her own stuff. She was also in a band with Precious Metal’s drummer before so we both new each other and the opportunity came up and it was just the right timing, so I decided to go for it. It was a great experience. She was also quite supportive of my solo stuff – even letting me sell my own cd’s at her shows as well as the tour we did with Melissa Etheridge. And…also let me open for her (Meredith) once, as well as play in her band. I thought that was extremely cool.
I met Michelle Shocked at the NAMM show in Los Angeles and just kinda hit it off. I’ve been a fan for several years and really respected her songwriting and independence. She was one of the first artists to have in a record contract that she owned her “masters.” Kind of unheard of back in the day. She seemed to like my guitar playing so I offered her my work in case she ever needed it and she ended up calling me for a bunch of duo-acoustic dates supporting a political candidate. We did a lot of rally dates but also some club dates. It was just me and her…pretty cool tour. We are still in touch, and in fact, sometimes at my LA shows, I bring up a special guest, and I invited her to join me on a song at a show out here and she graciously accepted.
Steve: In their 1980’s heyday, Air Supply epitomized what has come to be known as soft rock. How did they select you as guitarist–and the only female one, at that–for their tour a few years ago, and what was the experience like?
Janet: As it turns out, Air Supply’s road manager was Precious Metal’s road manager way back in the day. I happened to have done a one-off show with a 70’s revival band featuring Ambrosia, Gary Wright, and John Ford Coley. Air Supply was the headliner and were thinking about adding a lead guitarist. They happened to see me that night and the road manager happened to remember me from Precious Metal.
The next thing I know is they send me their live cd show to learn…no audition…and just show up at the gig! Crazy. It was a great gig. Everyone was really cool. I just had to move on after a while because their work schedule was quite heavy and it was getting hard to continue my solo career, and then I got the opportunity to work with John Carter Cash on my new cd so I decided it was time to move on from them. They were really cool and supportive and very respectful and in fact, last year, I opened for them on a show in Los Angeles. We are still friends and in touch.
Since Janet mentioned John Carter Cash, the son of a legendary country music couple, that’s where part 2 of my interview will lead off, as I’ll ask Janet about John producing her album “Everything Has Changed”. Also, I’ll be asking about her work as a guitar teacher, as well as writing music for movies and TV, her take on BalconyTV as an online promotional tool, and a rather unique guitar that she demonstrated for a YouTube video.
In the meantime, you can find out more about Janet Robin by visiting her website, http://www.janetrobin.com, as well as liking her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/janetrobinmusic , and following her on Twitter @JanetRobin.
Photo credits: JanetRobin.com; Steve Wheeler Photography