Bruce Robison

by Dan MacIntosh

Husband and wife Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis were married for 16 years before they decided they should record an album together, the 2013 release Cheater's Game. Robison is an accomplished songwriter with three #1 country hits under his belt, courtesy of the Dixie Chicks, Faith & Tim, and George Strait. Willis is an accomplished singer/songwriter as well, with eight solo albums to her credit.

So why wait 16 years? Well, sometimes things just aren't as obvious on the inside, and excuses pile as high as... well, a neglected multi-horse barn. First there was a family to raise. Then there was their agreement that marriage and professional should not deign to meet. There's also the odd fact that Robison doesn't co-write, even with his wife.

Somewhere, though, in the time/space continuum, they collided, probably in their own hallway, and the thought came to them like an exclamation point. The result is an album of nothing-but-Robison penned duets. Was it worth the wait? Our vote is yes.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): The song that you're most famous for, "Traveling Soldier," the Dixie Chicks song, do you remember the experience that went into writing that?

Bruce Robison: I do. Yeah. A friend of mine that I was working with in a kitchen in Austin was getting called up in the reserves for the first Iraq War. And generally that was the situation that started me thinking about that. I set the song in Vietnam, but those were the things that I was thinking about. If you'll recall, it took a long time for us to send all the people over, and there was months of amassing our forces over in Kuwait in the first Gulf War. Those were the thoughts going through my head.

Songfacts: There's one song that Tim McGraw and Faith Hill recorded, "Angry All the Time," have you ever sung that with Kelly?

Robison: Oh, yeah. We sing it together all the time, and she was on my recording of it, which was what got them to record it. They heard my recording of it, which had her on it. It's on my record called Wrapped. She sings it lovely.

Songfacts: If you go down as the next George Jones and Tammy Wynette, would you be comfortable with that comparison?

Robison: Yeah. I think I would. Because of the way that I see them. I see them as the real thing. I see them as the gold standard of that type of artistry. So I would definitely love anyone to associate me with that kind of thing. And I love being a country artist too. So that would be a beautiful thing for me to be associated with them in any way.

Songfacts: There are a lot of really great duet albums these days. There's Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson.

Robison: Yeah. And they're married, too, right?

Songfacts: Yeah.

Robison: We only met them at the AMAs last year.

Songfacts: And there's Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Is it coincidental that there are so many really good male/female duet albums, or do you think people just really want to hear sort of those male/female harmonies in country music?

Robison: I wonder. I have no idea. Kasey and Shane are probably in a similar situation: they got married, and you end up collaborating in one way or another, and then you end up thinking, Well, it might be fun to do some shows together. There might be some of the same thing. But I couldn't tell you. I think the harmony singing is coming back in a way, even in pop/rock & roll music, there are a lot of different bands that do harmonies, and I think that's a cool thing, too.

Songfacts: Kelly said that she just feels really comfortable when she's singing with you, and she doesn't have the same kind of stress as when she's doing her solo shows. Do you feel a similar sense of ease?

Robison: Oh, yes. For sure. I've said that it doesn't cut the stress in half, it feels like it makes it just go away. I swear, when I'm doing my own shows, I worry about all kinds of stuff. Who's going to show up, what we're going to play, every bit of it. And so I don't have that. So maybe that's why we both like doing those things. There's a lot less stress involved with it, and that why the recordings turned out so well. But that's the main thing, too, that historically, it's easier for me to approach it wholeheartedly if you really feel like the music's good.

Songfacts: Do you write together?

Robison: No, never.

Songfacts: Why do you think that is?

Robison: You never say never, but that's the way we feel about it right now. And we have a different way of writing, too. I'm not a big co-writer all around, whether it's my wife or anybody else. I just don't do that a lot.

Songfacts: Well, you guys sound so wonderful together.

Robison: Thanks, Dan. I appreciate that.

May 20, 2013
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