New Oldies – Surfer’s Life by Robby And The Robbins

You’ve just got to love the city names in Wisconsin! These guys from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a lake community that’s on the western fringe of Milwaukee, hold the record for having the most singles on Billboard’s Bubbling Under The Hot 100, six of them to be exact, without ever breaking into the Hot 100.

This group was formed in the early 1960’s by three brothers, David Donaldson on lead vocals and guitar, Robert Donaldson on guitar and vocals, and George Donaldson on keyboards. They took stage names, so David became Dee Rob, Robert became Bruce Robb, and George became Joe Robb. This original group cut records on Argo as Dee Robb, on Todd as Robby And Robbins, and on Score as Dee Robb And The Robbins. In 1965, changed their name to The Robbs and brought in a fourth member to play drums, family friend Craig Krampf, who took the name Craig Robb.

When Dick Clark discovered the band in 1966, he got them signed to Mercury Records where Lou Reizner began producing some singles on them. The boys headed for California to replace Paul Revere And The Raiders as the house band on Dick Clark’s spin-off of American Bandstand called Where The Action Is. That show ran from 27 June 1965 to 31 March 1967 and was aired on the ABC television network. The show’s theme song, Action, became a #13 hit for Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon in September 1965.

The records they made on Mercury may not have done well across the nation, but they had tremendous success in certain regions, particularly their home town of Milwaukee. They also made the Top 40 in places like Chicago, Duluth, Louisville, San Antonio, Honolulu, Lansing, Hartford, Columbus, Youngstown, and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. If you lived in one of these cities, you probably remember hearing The Robbs often on the radio.

This record was one of the band’s early efforts, before Craig joined the band. It’s unusual because it’s a surfing track that was recorded a couple thousand miles from California, the mecca of surfing in the continental United States. Here’s Surfer’s Life by Robby And The Robbins on Todd 1080 from 1963:

Five of their singles as The Robbs made it into Billboard’s Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart, starting with Race With The Wind at #103 in 1966. Then came Rapid Transit peaking at #123 in 1967. In 1969, another single called Movin’ topped off at #131. Two more singles parked on that same chart in 1970, Last Of The Wine at #114, and I’ll Never Get Enough at #106.

After making just one self-titled album as The Robbs, then changed their name to Cherokee in 1971, with the band members reverting to their real names. They had help from Chris Hillman of the Byrds on their Cherokee album, but it never showed up on the national charts. Neither did the single they released from that album, Rosianna. They made a follow-up single that was not from the album called Girl I’ve Got News For You, which became their fifth record to top off on Billboard’s Bubbling Under chart at #116.

Craig Krampf left the group and became a respected session drummer, songwriter and record producer. You can hear him drumming on Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes. He helped write Oh Sherrie, which became a big hit for Steve Perry in 1984. He produced Melissa Etheridge’s first album.

The three Robb brothers built studios in a barn in rural California to record their own material, but they ended up using it to record other artists, such as Del Shannon. They never broke up the band, but kept so busy recording other artists they didn’t have time to perform anymore. In 1975, they bought a premiere recording facility from Mike Curb and opened Cherokee Studio in Los Angeles, where more than 250 gold and platinum hit records were made. One of the artists who recorded there was another Oconomonoc native, Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s. The studio also rocked with the sounds of Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, Al Green, Barbra Streisand, John Cougar, Warren Zevon, Jane’s Addiction, Devo, Prince, Twisted Sister, Ozzy Osbourne, Public Enemy, Lenny Kravitz, and many others.

David Donaldson (Dee Robb) passed away in February 2008 after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

I’ll leave you with two of my favorite Robbs tracks, neither of which ever made it onto the Billboard charts, although one of them is the B-side to one of their Bubbling Under records, Rapid Transit. That one is called Cynthia Loves by The Robbs on Mercury 72678 from 1967:

You can hear one more, but you have to promise me that you’ll fire up iTunes and buy some Robbs music for your iPod. Here’s Bittersweet by The Robbs on Mercury 72641 from 1966:

Coming up, I’ll feature some more bands that made great records that became regional hits, but never broke out nationwide. Keep listening to MusicMaster Oldies. If you don’t like what you hear, send me suggestions. If you do like it, please be sure to tell your friends!