Distinctive and influential Texan piano player Robert Shaw paid for his own piano lessons as a kid, because his parents didn’t approve. He would leave the farm and travel into Houston, where he picked up a liking for barrelhouse style playing, and earned a living on the ‘Santa Fe Circuit’, following the freight train routes. Robert pounded the 88s around the bars and cat-houses of his home State for most of the inter-War years. He hosted a radio show in Oklahoma for a while around 1933, and sometimes played in Kansas City and even Chicago but otherwise rarely left Texas.
Before WWII, Robert settled in Austin and retired from music to run a grocery store, but returned to his keyboard in 1963 to record a smokin’ album for the small Almanac label, which was then re-released by Arhoolie as ‘The Ma Grinder’. This prime example of barrelhouse piano got Robert noticed, with his complex, jazz influenced style and strong left hand work. Festival dates were arranged in Europe and at home, but perhaps Robert was not keen on travel as his live appearances outside Texas were sporadic. Talking about his style, he said, “When you listen to what I’m playin’ you got to see in your mind all them gals out there swingin’ their butts and gettin’ the mens all excited. Otherwise you ain’t got this music rightly understood!”
Robert passed away in Austin in 1985.
‘Ma Grinder’ from Robert Shaw;
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