Texas/Red Dirt Legend Charlie Robison Announces Retirement After Surgery

Photo: Brad Coolidge

One of the members of the First Family of Texas Music—and a landmark musician and songwriter for a quarter century—shocked and saddened fans on Monday (9/24) evening when he announced that he’s calling it quits. In a short note to fans, Charlie Robison let it be known that he will no longer be pursuing music, either in the studio or on the stage after suffering complications from surgery that have left him unable to sing.

Playing some of his final shows on the “Unleashed Live” tour with fellow Texas country stalwarts Jack Ingram and brother Bruce Robison at the first of the year, Charlie had been mostly out of the spotlight recently, leading to speculation about his health and well-being.

The note from Charlie Robison states in full:

Hey amigos, Charlie here. I’m sure you’ve all been wondering where I’ve been. Well, at the beginning of this year I underwent a surgical procedure that because of complications left me with the permanent inability to sing. Therefore,with a very heavy heart I am officially retiring from the the stage and studio. Gonna keep it short but just wanted y’all to hear it from me. It’s been an amazing ride and I cannot tell you all what the last 25 years has meant to me. I was looking forward to another 25 but as they say “shit happens”. I thank you all for everything you’ve given me and I hope I was able to give you a fraction of the happiness you gave me. It was a hell of a ride but as they say all good things must end. Keep on supporting this thing we call Texas/Red dirt and hopefully we’ll all get to have a cocktail or two and talk about the good ol days. Until then,Buenos Noches. It’s been fun. Love each and every one of y’all.

After an injury ended a potential football career for Robison in the late 80’s, he moved to Austin, TX where he played in numerous bands like Chaparral and Millionaire Playboys, eventually becoming a songwriter and performer in the burgeoning Texas music scene. Releasing his first record independently in 1996, he subsequently signed with Sony Records and released four major label albums before switching to Dualtone in 2003. Though he never had any major Top 25 singles, Robison helped pave the way for future Texas-based performers and songwriters to find success and reception in Nashville while still holding on to their sound and fan base back home.

Charlie Robison is part of one of the most important families in Texas music. Along with his well-known brother Bruce, his sister Robyn Ludwick is also a songwriter and performer. Charlie was also married to Emily Erwin of The Dixie Chicks for a decade, and the couple had three children together before divorcing in 2008.

Along with the music, Charlie Robison has been an outspoken advocate for independent music over the years. In 2015 when CEO of Sony Nashville Gary Overton said in an interview with The Tennessean, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist,” Charlie lead the charge rebutting the claim.

Charlie Robison said in short,

A few words for Gary Overton. I was signed by Warner Bros, and Sony during the days I had the patience to smile while ignorant pencil pushing, mullet headed expense account rapists like you ran those labels. I’m on the road right now and just finished putting on a show for the folks in Shreveport. That’s a town u call a blip on your screen … I probably have a bigger house than you (for the time being because you’ll be back in the Mail room like all the other Nashville heads. I’ll still be playing for crowds that have been loyal to me for 25 years). Lemme cut you in on some people who don’t exist. Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Keen. Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso didn’t exist for a long time. Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, and the ever terrible songwriter Steve Earle. When the world of music fans go to bed tonight they’ll be singing these amazing artists in their head. You my friend will be wondering how you could ever reach your unreachable place in the annals of mediocrity. Have fun hovering above your tombstone and listening to people say “who the fuck is that?”as they make their way to Townes’s grave. I’m sorry I lost my train of thought, I think it was “Who doesn’t exist?” Yep that’s it, Gary Overton.

But mostly what fans will remember is Charlie Robison’s laid-back style and music that seemed custom made for sweltery nights at a Texas dancehall. “New Year’s Day” has become a staple of many households and gatherings on January 1st in Texas and beyond. His version of “El Cerrito Place” written by Keith Gattis remains the definitive take for many, even when Kenny Chesney cut his own version years later. “My Hometown” is an unofficial anthem of Texas. His 1998 album Life of the Party is considered a landmark record of Texas music. Charlie’s last record, 2013’s High Life is an underrated gem, as are many of his songs and records that never got their fair due outside of his loyal Texas fan base.

This isn’t just the end of Charlie Robison’s career. This is the end of an era in Texas music—one that picked up where Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Fromholz and others left off, and set the table for the new generation with artists like Wade Bowen and the Turnpike Troubadours to pick up and carry the traditions of true-to-life songs onto the fans of today.

If an artist ends their career on choice, all you can do is tip your cap and thank them for the memories. The fact that Charlie’s road ends with an affliction is especially painful. But the memories and the music remain, and will resonate in Texas and beyond for generations to come.