Robbie Fulks

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Robbie Fulks
Fulks in 2011
Fulks in 2011
Background information
Birth nameRobert William Fulks[1]
Born (1963-03-25) March 25, 1963 (age 59)
York, Pennsylvania, U.S.
OriginNorth Carolina
Neo-traditionalist country
Alternative country
Instrument(s)Guitar, vocals, banjo
Years active1986–present
LabelsBoondoggle Records
Bloodshot Records
Yep Roc Records
Geffen Records
MembersChris Scruggs
Jenny Scheinman
Robbie Gjersoe

Robert William "Robbie" Fulks (born March 25, 1963) is an American alternative country singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and long-time Chicago, Illinois resident.[2][3] He has released 13 albums over a career spanning more than 30 years.[4] His 2016 record Upland Stories was nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album and the song "Alabama at Night" was nominated for a Grammy for Best American Roots Song.[5]

Early life[edit]

Fulks was born in York, Pennsylvania, the son of a school teacher father. He grew up in small towns in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Blue Ridge Mountains area of Virginia, and the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Fulks' family moved often when he was young, until they eventually settled in North Carolina when he was 12. Fulks considers North Carolina his childhood home.[6] Fulks has a younger brother named Jubal.[2]

Fulks was exposed to music through his family, where everyone played a different instrument, from his Aunt Stella on banjo, his Aunt Mildred on violin, and his mother on autoharp to his father playing guitar.[2][6][7] Through this immersion, Fulks picked up his aunt's banjo when he was six and started playing guitar at age 11.[2][8]

In 1980, he graduated from Carolina Friends School.[8] In 1980 at the age of 17, Fulks moved to New York City and attended Columbia College, Columbia University, with the class of 1984.[6][9]


While at Columbia University, Fulks often played at Gerdes Folk City and other places in Greenwich Village.[6] He also performed on campus in places such as the Postcrypt Coffeehouse.[9] He eventually dropped out of college after two years to pursue music full time.[10]


Fulks moved to Chicago in 1983, and shortly after started teaching at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music.[2] In 1987, he joined The Special Consensus Bluegrass Band, where he showcased his unique guitar flatpicking. In the early 1990s, he performed in the musical Woody Guthrie's American Song.[11]

Meanwhile, he recorded his original compositions. Steve Albini engineered many of his early tracks, and the Chicago punk-country label Bloodshot Records began releasing them in 1993.[6][12][13]


While living in Chicago, Fulks worked for four years as a country songwriter, mainly for Music Row publisher API.[2]

Fulks's solo debut, Country Love Songs, was released on Bloodshot Records in 1996 to positive reviews. The album was engineered by Steve Albini.[11] The Skeletons, members of whom later formed the band The Morells, played on much of the record.[13] Tom Brumley and Buck Owens are also featured. It was followed by 1997's South Mouth, which cemented Fulks's retro-alternative image.

As fans had grown used to his rough and sparse sound, many were shocked by the release of Fulks's third album, 1998's Let's Kill Saturday Night, on Geffen Records.[14][15] Fulks recorded it during the spring of 1998 in Nashville with producer Rick Will. The record includes performances by Lucinda Williams, Sam Bush, Bill Lloyd, and Al Anderson as well as guitarist Rob Gjersoe (Jimmie Dale Gilmore), bassist Lorne Rall, and drummer Dan Massey.[2]

When Geffen disbanded shortly after the release of the record, Fulks found himself without a label, so he started his own company, Boondoggle Records. He released an album of previously unreleased material called The Very Best of Robbie Fulks. He often licenses his music for distribution by Bloodshot.[2]


I called it Gone Away Backward because it's a phrase from the Bible… I stumbled on the phrase later in the evolution of the record when I was looking around for a title. I think it's a nice piquant phrase that has three good, strong, mellifluous words in it. As far as the backwardness of the record, I think it goes backward in terms of nostalgia for the past – bittersweet nostalgia for the past – as well as the recession having knocked everything backwards for people. In that sense, it's not an album about the past, it's an album about now.

"Interview with Robbie Fulks about 'Gone Away Backward'"
by Kim Ruehl, No Depression Magazine (September 18, 2013)

2001 saw the release of Couples in Trouble, a dark, brooding, and decidedly non-country album, and 13 Hillbilly Giants, a collection of covers of classic country numbers both obscure and well known. Both records were released by Bloodshot Records. Also in 2001, Fulks was an inaugural member of the judging panel for the Independent Music Awards, which supports independent artists.[16]

Fulks would not release another album until 2005. Georgia Hard on Yep Roc Records shows a return to his county roots. The album was notable for its use of long-time Nashville talent like Lloyd Green, Hank Singer, Dennis Crouch, and Dallas Wayne.[17]

He gained attention for a novelty single he wrote called "Fountains of Wayne Hotline," in which he imagined the power pop band Fountains of Wayne as having a hotline that struggling songwriters could call for help with their song structure.

In April 2007, Fulks released a 2-CD album, Revenge! (also on Yep Roc), mainly of live concert recordings of older songs, but including some new material. One disc, labeled Standing, features a full-band sound, while the second disc, Sitting, consists of Fulks with little or no musical accompaniment. Standing opens with the tongue-in-cheek studio track "We're on the Road", which describes life on tour and simulates a telephone call to Fulks from Yep Roc Records President Glenn Dicker, demanding a new record and denigrating the sales performance of the "path-breaking, not chart-breaking" album Georgia Hard.

In 2009, Fulks self-released a 50-song, alphabetically organized mass of songs via his website, a compilation called 50-Vc. Doberman.[18] Fulks notes that this method, and electronic-only release in general, is not typical of musicians who work in his genre.[19]

In 2010, Fulks released his album Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson via Yep Roc Records, in which he covered a group of Jackson's songs as a tribute to the recently deceased musician. He had been working on the record since 2005.[20][21]

In 2013, Fulks released Gone Away Backward, which was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini. It was released on Bloodshot Records, his first release on that label since 2001's 13 Hillbilly Giants. The album features banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and upright bass.[22] "That's Where I'm From" is a song Fulks cites as being autobiographical.[23] Four songs from 50-Vc. Doberman were the genesis of Gone Away Backward.[24] The title of the record comes from the Book of Isaiah in The Bible.[25]

Gone Away Backward is an acoustic record that goes back to his roots as a musician, Fulks says.[7] He comments that the stylistic choice was a good fit with the musicians who appear on the recording: Robbie Gjersoe, Jenny Scheinman, and Mike Bub. They recorded live, without using any overdubbing or elaborate production, around 25 songs over the course of three days.[26]

In 2014, Fulks joined some members of The Mekons, dubbed "mini-Mekons", on a trip to write and record on the island of Jura in Scotland. The resulting record, Jura, was released in November 2015 and is made up of original songs written on the trip as well as traditional songs.[27]

In April 2016, Fulks released a new record, Upland Stories.[28] The album was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award for best folk album, while the album's opening track, "Alabama at Night", was nominated for best American roots song.[29]

Musical style[edit]

Robbie Fulks playing a house concert on December 14, 2013

As a songwriter Fulks is difficult to categorize.[30] Nathan Rabin of A.V. Club says he "has a genius for twisting and subverting country tropes," and "there's more to Fulks than tomfoolery and glibly satirical lyrics."[31] Many of his compositions are silly, funny or spoof songs, such as "Godfrey" ("the sickly, unemployed, amateur children's magician") on the compilation children's album The Bottle Let Me Down, while others are serious country songs.[32]

His music is widely described as either alternative country or folk. Fulks's songwriting often includes humor.[33] Peter Applebome of The New York Times describes his work as "one part artful country, one part artful sendup of country, and one part a little of everything else."[10]

Fulks has an encyclopedic knowledge of country and pop music,[19] and has produced a critically lauded tribute to Johnny Paycheck called Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck, which was released by Sugar Hill Records in 2004.[34] He considers himself adventurous, and is always willing to try new things and experiment. "Why not push the envelope and see what you are capable of doing rather than recycle the same old ideas over and over again," he said.[7]

His musicianship has been called "impeccable".[35] Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal suggests that "a world in which Fulks isn't a household name is somehow upside down."[36]

Fulks often plays at The Hideout, a bar and club in Chicago, and has done long-term residencies there.[12][37][38] While there, Fulks performs anything from current popular hits to jazz to obscure country masterpieces. He says he rarely performs his own compositions at these shows, preferring to explore other music that has caught his attention at the time.[19]

His live performances feature improvised rearrangements of his original songs, off-the-cuff musical humor, and covers of songs by Michael Jackson, Cher, Shania Twain, and The Bangles, among others.

Fulks has co-written with Dallas Wayne and NRBQ's Al Anderson, to name a few.[17]

Fulks has a long-time association with engineer Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac).[19]

Personal life[edit]

Fulks has three children, sons Nick, Preston, and Tennessee, and one grandson, Logan.[7][17] His wife is actress Donna Jay Fulks. Fulks's oldest son, Nick Fulks, and father-in-law, Donald Jerousek, were contestants on season 12 of The Amazing Race. They placed third.[39]



Solo records[edit]

  • 1996: Country Love Songs (Bloodshot)
  • 1997: South Mouth (Bloodshot)
  • 1998: Let's Kill Saturday Night (Geffen)
  • 2000: The Very Best of Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot)
  • 2001: Couples in Trouble (Boondoggle)
  • 2001: 13 Hillbilly Giants (Bloodshot)
  • 2004: Live at Double Door 1/16/04 (EMusic Live)
  • 2005: Georgia Hard (Yep Roc)
  • 2007: Revenge! (Yep Roc Records)
  • 2009: 50 Vc. Doberman 50 song digital release (Boondoggle)
  • 2010: Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson (Boondoggle)/(Yep Roc)
  • 2013: Gone Away Backward (Bloodshot)
  • 2016: Upland Stories (Bloodshot)
  • 2018: Revenge of the Doberman 53 song digital release (Self-released)
  • 2019: 16 (Bloodshot)

Contributions, collaborations[edit]

  • 1994: "Cigarette State" – For a Life of Sin: A Compilation of Insurgent Chicago Country (Bloodshot)
  • 1995: "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)" – Hell-Bent: Insurgent Country Volume 2 (Bloodshot)
  • 1997: "Wedding of the Bugs" (studio version) – Straight Outta Boone County: Cowboy Songs, Home Songs, Western Songs, Mountain Songs (Bloodshot)
  • 1998: "Across the Alley from the Alamo" – The Pine Valley Cosmonauts Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills: The King of Western Swing (Bloodshot)
  • 1999: "Call of the Wrecking Ball" – Poor Little Knitter on the Road: A Tribute to The Knitters (Bloodshot)
  • 2000: "Bloodshot's Turning 5" – Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records (Bloodshot)
  • 2002: "Godfrey" – The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides (Bloodshot)
  • 2004: "Tears at the Grand Ol' Opry" – Hard-Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson (Bloodshot)
  • 2004: "Shakin' The Blues" (with Gail Davies) – Touch My Heart: a Tribute to Johnny Paycheck (Sugar Hill Records); Fulks produced this record also
  • 2006: "Browns Ferry Blues" – Old Town School Songbook: Volume One (Bloodshot)
  • 2006: "Dirty-Mouthed Flo" (live) – Bloodied But Unbowed: Bloodshot Records' Life In The Trenches (DVD) (Bloodshot)
  • 2006: "Dirty-Mouthed Flo" (live) – Bloodied But Unbowed: The Soundtrack (Bloodshot)
  • 2014: "Sally G" (Paul McCartney cover) – More Super Hits Of The Seventies (Mike-Shell) WFMU fundraiser CD[40]
  • 2015: Jura with the mini-Mekons (Bloodshot) – Record Store Day vinyl-only release on Black Friday; subsequently in general release[41]
  • 2018: Wild! Wild! Wild! with Linda Gail Lewis (Bloodshot)
  • 2019: "Lonely Ain’t Hardly Alive" - Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots (Bloodshot)[42][43]


  1. ^ "A MIRACLE". ASCAP. American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Retrieved March 13, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Margasak, Peter (5 June 2003). "Robbie Fulks: Country Without Borders". Journal of Country Music. Country Music Hall of Fame.
  3. ^ Bellware, Kim (6 September 2013). "Robbie Fulks Talks Dinner Guests, Baseball Bullies And Making Country Music As A City-Dweller". The Huffington Post.
  4. ^ "Robbie Fulks". Last Call with Carson Daly. 12 December 2013. Archived from the original on 22 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "2017 Grammy Awards: Complete list of nominees". Los Angeles Times. 6 December 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e Brown, Shannon (24 June 2012). "A Chat with Robbie Fulks: Country's Kingpin of Clever". Outlaw Magazine.
  7. ^ a b c d "Robbie Fulks" (TV interview). WTTW Chicago Tonight. 9 January 2014.
  8. ^ a b Schram, Dan (23 June 2016). "Video: Robbie Fulks Returns to Durham with New Autobiographical Songs". Indy Week.
  9. ^ a b "Take Five with Adam Van Doren '84, GSAPP'89". Columbia College Today. 2020-08-06. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
  10. ^ a b Applebome, Peter (October 15, 2000). "MUSIC; It's Off the Map, but It's His Country, Right or Wrong". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Robbie Fulks – Biography". All Music. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Gendron, Bob (July 1, 2011). "Fulks honest, unpredictable". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  13. ^ a b Ray, Linda (September–October 1997). "The Long Way Around – Feature: Robbie Fulks". No Depression Magazine (11). Archived from the original on June 6, 2013. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  14. ^ Walker, Jesse (May 2000). "Soundbite: Music Man". Reason Foundation. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  15. ^ Strauss, Neil (December 21, 1998). "A Major Merger Shakes Up the World of Rock". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  16. ^ "Past Judges for the Independent Music Awards". Independent Music Awards. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  17. ^ a b c Goodman, Frank (July 2005). "A Conversation with Robbie Fulks" (PDF). Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  18. ^ Ratliff, Ben (March 4, 2009). "Playlist: Expansive Pop, Hypnotic Jazz, Surprising Metal". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  19. ^ a b c d Margasak, Peter (January 6, 2014). "Artist on Artist: Robbie Fulks talks to Steve Albini". Chicago Reader. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  20. ^ Guarino, Mark (May 28, 2010). "Robbie Fulks Reinterprets Michael Jackson's Music in New Album, "Happy"". Chicago Magazine. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  21. ^ Fontenot, Elvis (April 8, 2010). "Robbie Fulks – "Happy"". No Depression. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  22. ^ McGovern, Kyle (August 20, 2013). "Stream Robbie Fulks' Small-Town Folk Epic 'Gone Away Backward':Newest full-length from 50-year-old tunesmith arrives August 27" (audio stream). Spin magazine. Spin Music, a division of SpinMedia. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  23. ^ Ruehl, Kim (September 18, 2013). "Interview with Robbie Fulks about 'Gone Away Backward'". No Depression Magazine. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  24. ^ Mateer, Chris (December 4, 2013). "Robbie Fulks Spins His Tale Of "Gone Away Backward" (Interview)". No Depression. Archived from the original on December 28, 2013. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  25. ^ "Isaiah: Isa.1". Bible, King James Version. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  26. ^ "Robbie Fulks on World Cafe". WXPN. NPR. January 21, 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  27. ^ Moss, Marissa R. (November 5, 2015). "Hear Robbie Fulks and Cowpunkers the Mekons' Wild 'Beaten and Broken'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 21, 2015.
  28. ^ Odenkirk, Bob (March 9, 2016). "The First Bob Odenkirk Interview Quiz Challenge Show: Robbie Fulks". Funny or Die. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  29. ^ Loerzel, Robert. "Wilmette's Robbie Fulks up for first two Grammy Awards on Sunday". Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  30. ^ Tucker, Ken (September 19, 2013). "Robbie Fulks: Exhilarating And Bitter On 'Gone Away Backward'". NPR (Fresh Air). National Public Radio. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  31. ^ Rabin, Nathan (June 29, 2010). "Week 37: Robbie Fulks, The Alternative". AV Club. The Onion. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  32. ^ "Godfrey, the sickly unemployed amateur children's magician". MemeFirst. January 13, 2006. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  33. ^ Varriano, Jackie (December 13, 2013). "Alt country is funny for Fulks: The longtime musician finally got some recognition with a hard jab at Nashville". The Register Guard (Eugene, OR). Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  34. ^ "Tributes rarely get better than this, a country music masterpiece". Billboard. August 21, 2004. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  35. ^ Pareles, Jon (October 5, 1998). "POP REVIEW; Heartbreak and Wordplay". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  36. ^ Fusilli, Jim (August 27, 2013). "Robbie Fulks Goes Back to His Acoustic Roots". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  37. ^ Loerzel, Robert (February 9, 2010). "Robbie Fulks at the Hideout". Underground Bee. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  38. ^ Margasak, Peter (May 16, 2013). "Robbie Fulks revisits a scorned gem by Bob Dylan". Chicago Reader. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  39. ^ Pang, Kevin (January 10, 2008). "Amazing relatives: Locals on 'Race' related to alt-country's Fulks". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  40. ^ "Mike-Shell Presents – More Super Hits of the Seventies!". Michael Shelley (website). Retrieved February 5, 2014. 2014 WFMU Fund Raising Premium CD
  41. ^ "Mekons & Robbie Fulks: Jura". Record Store Day. Retrieved November 21, 2015.
  42. ^ Vitali, Marc (November 7, 2019). "Chicago's Bloodshot Records Celebrates 25th Anniversary". WTTW. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  43. ^ "Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots". Bloodshot Records. 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-26.

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