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photos courtesy of Lucy Ross

Ross Roberts was laid to rest in his hometown of Jasper, AL on December 9 in a family plot, next to his beloved sister, Jane. Ross was surrounded by friends and family at the graveside. His loving wife, Carrie, and his daughter, Ryan, held up well as Ross was remembered for his adventurous life, musical career and family committment as well as the evolution of his faith as he knew the "end of his life was near". The Friday preceding Ross' funeral (at Southern Heritage) was full of musicians, music fans and family. Ross' music played in the background as players who had known Ross in some musical format or another shared "war stories".

Well, it's up to me to write this tribute, so forgive me for leaving anything out as I can only write this from my perspective. As most of the readers of this newsletter know, Birmingham is a town rich with musicians of high caliber... some greatly celebrated and well known and others not so well known.

I would submit that I personally know many in this town who should have been or should be a nationally recognized act. I am talking about working bands and musicians that we have all enjoyed and said "Man, those guys are tight;they should be more widely known". There are too many to list, but these include Marc Phillips from Hotel; Ray Reach; all of the guys from Telluride, Eric Essix, Topper Price, Tim Boykin and Damon Johnson. (I am sure the readers could name 3 each if we gave you the chance). Well, Ross Roberts would be at the top of that list!

The band that brought the euphimism to life ("tighter than Dick's Hat Band") featured Ross Roberts on guitar. I remember being in bands in the same time as D.H.B. and thinking "Man, these guys rule". D.H.B. played funk, soul and blues with their own spin. Mike Lawley was the most excellent front man;his vocals and Ross' soulful guitar leads were ALWAYS special. You can stlll find D.H.B. CDs out there and every B'ham blues fan ought to have some in their collection.

Ross went on to try the record business with his own label (Vent Records and Studio-AudioState 55). There were lots of players in that scene and Ross did not do it alone. I personally know that his trusty engineer and sidekick, "J.M.", was there for most of the ride. Well, Vent played out over time, but, in that time, some significant recording was accomplished. Topper Price and the Upsetters made a landmark blues CD there that defined Topper's sound.

Ross was a hard drivin' man with vision and was not always easy to work with. In retrospect, I think all the "battles" were worth it. Nothing worthwhile comes about without a little friction...a little "push-pull", if you will. Every band member-player-artist knows what I am talking about. For me, at the end of all those skirmishes, Ross was always gracious.

Ross was a band leader by choice and loved to "start things up". I met him in 2001-2002 when he asked me to sing with the (then named) band Po Monkey. He was forming a five piece blues-based band. Po Monkey played gigs all aound the region while Ross was tweaking the list and getting his new studio ready out at what I called "The Roberts Ranch". Po Monkey's name was changed to "The Alabama Blues Machine" and a horn section was added.

Ross and I developed a song writing relationship after the studio was completed and Alabama Blues Machine was solidified. He would write the music. I would add the lyrics. The CD turned out to be a good, swinging blues CD and Ross' studio turned out its first good product. Life has a way of throwing you such a curve, in that I thought that time/ space was about getting the ABM stuff written and recorded. It was, in fact, about getting to know Ross. We wrote music. We shared our faith. We laughed our butts off.

Ross wanted to compete in the International Blues Challenge. We were fortunate enough to win the MCBS Battle of the Blues Band competition in 2008. Really fortunate -- not only was the competition fierce, BUT it would be Ross' last road trip. We played the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street for two nights in January 2009. It's an old style theatre where BB King and many other blues giants played and left it all on the stage. Well, Ross Roberts left it all on the stage those two nights. It was total musical satisfaction. The sets were as flawless as they could be.

The last public performance of Ross was with ABM at (the last) City Stages in June 2009. We played the Oasis venue which hapened to be a beautiful old church. My man, Ross, played his last solo on the altar of a church. We were doing a slow blues medley in C...so common you might say...but, Ross never addressed a solo as common or ordinary. He told me on more than one occassion: "Boy,if you can't sing or play with soul, why do it?" So, Ross played his last public solo with such soul and conviction that the packed sanctuary was moved to a standing ovation - for the soloist. It was magic. It was God-orchestrated in my view.

Ross was an unusually spiritual guy - perhaps a suprise to some. The dude loved the outdoors. He built this awesome, adult-sized tree house just so he could chill and listen to the red-tailed hawks and owls in the area. He liked to fish. My good buddy, George Dudley, and myself would go fishin' out at Ross' a good bit; if we were lucky, Ross would join us...but, if he couldn't, he was happy to share his lake with us. That's the kinda guy he was to me.

George and I played "Amazing Grace" at his funeral... guitar and harmonica... with as much soul and conviction as we could muster. That is the only way Ross would have wanted it.

You can get the Alabama Blues Machine CD through CD Baby or I-Tunes. All of the checks still go to Ross' house and his widow, Carrie, will know we still love the music.

- Bruce Andrews

via the January 2010 Magic City Blues News newsletter