Robert Cline Jr. returns to Fort Collins steeped in Muscle Shoals sound
By Steve Graham
Robert Cline Jr. has a knack for working with major musicians and not even knowing it.
When he was living in Fort Collins, the Texas-born Americana singer-songwriter fell in with the Subdudes and starting gigging with them before he realized how large and passionate their fan base was.
Similarly, he found himself in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and started jamming without realizing he was surrounded by the musicians at the heart of countless classic soul, Southern rock and pop hits of the past 50 years.
He is bringing those influences and history back to Fort Collins for a free show with David Starr on Thursday, March 21, at Magic Rat.
Cline’s first career was in oil and gas title work. He traveled around Texas, spending a lot of time in small towns with mainly his guitar for company.
“That’s how I got the work time in to play on an instrument,” he said.
He also started experiencing the variety of music around the Lone Star state, and he kept exploring music when he came to Fort Collins for graduate school in natural resources. He went on to work for the U.S. Geological Survey and started playing more music.
He played his first gig with a band in Sheridan, Wyo., one week after buying his first guitar.
“I was terrible but they said, ‘Come back and keep working on it,’” he said.
He kept working on it with members of the Subdudes, a Fort Collins roots rock band with strong New Orleans roots and a loyal following.
“I had no idea how legendary they were,” he said, of performing with John Magnie and the rest of the band. “Working with the Subdudes was a great blessing. They were patient with me and helped me make this a thing.”
Magnie produced Cline’s first album, “All the Right Reasons,” in 2012. Then the Subdudes went on hiatus and encouraged him to pursue a solo career.
“Those guys kind of patted my head and said, ‘Go figure this out,’” Cline said.
But first, they introduced him to Shelly King, who taught him about the business of making music. In turn, she also introduced him to a former bandmate who played in the Swampers in Muscle Shoals.
Cline looked up the band when he went to south Alabama to work. Like most music fans, he knew before heading south that the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was home to recordings by The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, among countless others.
However, he thought the Muscle Shoals sound was really only in history books and on historic recordings until he saw an award-winning 2013 documentary about the past and present of the studio and the session musicians, many of whom are still performing.
“I didn’t really foresee that they were still alive,” Cline said. “I thought that was decades ago, but it’s really not. After the movie came out, I was blown away.”
He also was amazed by the humility and generosity of the musicians, even though the experience was sometimes intimidating.
“They’re very humble and approachable, but I had this moment of, ‘I’m sitting where Bob Dylan was sitting,’” Cline said.
He worked with the famed musicians in the storied studio on his second album, 2017’s “American Mojo,” which blends Steve Earle-flavored Americana with classic country crooning and southern rock tributes to the Swampers who influenced and backed him.
“It’s about a whole understanding of ‘What is America?’” Cline said. “I was getting hip to what is American music, exploring that through being a fan, traveling and seeing the people that live in America.”