Landing in a home rented by their father's employer in the bucolic Parkrose Heights neighborhood of mid-Multnomah County made the citified Robb brothers unhappy. We were very urban, Robb said. It was kind of a culture shock. We lived in Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, British Columbia - which is a very urban area - then Pittsburgh. We were used to the urban environment. My brother and I didn't like it here for a long time. Parkrose was so different then; it was nothing but farms and fields, nothing. Argay Terrace was the first sign of houses. Robb's brother, Larry, is nine years Terry's senior and was a standout baseball star at Parkrose. He graduated 1965 and is now retired from the City Auditor's Office.
Despite his sons' initial reaction to where they were living, and managing an office near Lloyd Center, Robb's father liked Parkrose enough to buy a home on 134th Avenue near Northeast San Rafael Street.
Robb attended St. Rita Catholic Grade School, but after the move to the Russell neighborhood, transferred to Thompson Elementary in the Parkrose School District. Parkrose Heights Junior High was next, and then he graduated from Parkrose High in 1974. (Then, elementary schools in Parkrose were grades 1-6; junior high, grades 7-9 and the high school was three years, grades 10-12.)
Robb matriculated at Portland State University, majoring in music and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1978. A highlight of his PSU experience was studying music theory from Czechoslovakian modern classical composer Tomas Svoboda.
Robb remembers two teachers at Parkrose having an impact on him. His English teacher, Larry McKinney, was young, smart, understanding and hip. His music theory teacher, Ron Williams - an Oregon Symphony violinist - gave the curious and intuitive Robb his first glimpse at music theory, the language of music and how it is analyzed and understood.
Robb wasn't all about music in high school yet. He ran track for two years and excelled at it. I loved it, and I was very good at it. I have ribbons and everything. Track was big. I did track because I was a skinny little guy. Forget about technique, shoot the gun, I start running. I could run fast, and a long way.
I went out for cross country too - I was really good - but it was miserable. You fall down a lot. Then they took you to Lents Park to run through mud, sliding all over the place. It was not fun. I discovered spring track was the way to go. We had all these great runners Alan Hager. There were really great runners there.
I remember one time when Mr. Lund, our track coach, tried to get us runners to try field events. It was a comedy act. Everyone ended up laughing, including the coaches. Coach says, 'OK, Hager, go jump over the (high jump) bar.' Alan, he leaps up and falls on his ass. Another guy picks up the shot put, drops it, almost breaking his foot. I said, 'I'll try the pole vault.' I thought it was kind of interesting. I got the pole, ran up, went up, fell down, knocked the whole apparatus over. The crossbar fell and hit me on the head. It knocked me out cold. When I woke up, everyone was laughing, including the coach, and he said, 'Forget about this. Go on and do what you guys do.'
I wish they had videotaped that. That was better than any race we won; here were these really talented runners trying to do stuff they shouldn't do, like getting major league pitchers to hit home runs.
I did track for two years until band practice took up my time after school. I remember consciously having to make that decision to choose between the two. I really liked track. Thankfully for Portland music lovers, he liked music and performing more.
Besides his music theory class, Robb wasn't that involved in music at Parkrose. I took a little band, briefly, he remembered. They didn't like me. They said, 'You have perfect hands to play the violin.' I said, 'I want to play guitar in a rock band.' They said, 'Get outta here.' Just like the coach who cut Michael Jordan from his high school basketball team, you have to wonder what that band director was thinking.
A lot of good musicians came out of Parkrose, Robb said, but they didn't have a strong music program. You have to remember, back then, 'music program' pretty much meant marching band. Today, there's more inclination to jazz and pop music, more current things outside the regular marching band. They were teaching us stuff they were doing in the '40s. This was a common complaint back in the day among talented, gifted young people demonstrating extreme proficiency in a subject or art, but stuck in an educational environment built for the many, not the few. Teachers and administrators recognized Robb's skill and passion, encouraging and supporting his extra-curricular music playing. A teenager living at home has low overhead. Robb made enough money playing dances, parties and wedding receptions to keep him out of the grocery-bagging and berry- and bean-picking businesses.
Robb thinks having strong arts and music programs in schools is crucial to human development. I think it's extremely important and extremely neglected. The arts are the one thing that separates us from the other species. Arts make for a full and complete living experience. You take that away from somebody, (and) other aspects come out that aren't good. Music is a part of who we are. If you take it away, violence fills the vacuum. I feel really strongly about this.
He views the trend to cut music, arts and extra-curricular programs in the schools as a shame. They shouldn't cut anything. I don't know who determines what is and isn't important. Obviously, the people in charge don't understand the importance of it all.
It doesn't have to be that kids have to learn a certain kind of music or art. It covers everything. It could be playing with puppets. Kids need a place to channel energy. It could be sports, economics, anything. I thought the idea is to nourish kids in school instead of denying them. Unfortunately, Americans - with their music and art that have changed the world - are number one in denying it.
Our troops can't get the proper armor, so why would they give a (bleep) about violin lessons for kids?
It makes one wonder how many potential Terry Robbs are lost to the world with all the music and art programs being cut.
In addition to performing, Robb also teaches acoustic guitar. He began the Terry Robb Northwest School of Acoustic Guitar, his outlet for teaching the guitar. He likes teaching. I'm pretty good at it. I don't like to do it a lot because my main thing is to perform and play the guitar.
Robb tours Europe, where he is immensely popular. How are European audiences different?
They're more open. They love American music and everything about it. We take it for granted because we grew up around it. We could walk into a club and hear a really great country band, rock band, jazz, whatever. Over there, maybe now you can do that, but for a very long time it wasn't a common thing in Europe, so they really like it a lot. You can play anything - not badly - but they're not categorizing. I played a blues festival (and) the act on after me was Rick Wakeman (former progressive rock keyboard player for the '70s band Yes). That wouldn't happen here at blues festivals. But, to them, it wasn't any different. It was just good American. music.
What's up next for the childless, once married Robb? I'm just working. Yes, Terry, and the sun will come up tomorrow. Married to his music, he thrills music lovers worldwide whenever he plays.
He does have a new record coming out with his electric band - the one performing at the Parkrose homecoming event - We're halfway through it. I'm talking to some labels to put it out. I'm very excited about it.
Robb said, The biggest compliment in the world is if you're playing and someone gets up and starts dancing. Look for at least one fat old man (the interviewer) complimenting the hell out of him Friday, Oct. 30 at The Refectory.
To learn more about Robb, visit www.myspace.com/terryrobbguitar. Or, sample some of his music at iTunes on the Web.
Editor's note: Subsequent to this interview - putting his money where his mouth is - Robb's representative contacted the Parkrose Music Boosters, offering to donate proceeds from an upcoming performance. The beginning of, we hope, a long relationship.
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