Robin Swenson

Suncoast Post Interview with Suncoast Keyboardist Robin Swenson

Robin Swenson is a keyboardist and singer-songwriter in the Tampa Bay area.  Robin has quite a history of playing with national acts such as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Chuck Negron and Air Supply to name a few.  He moved to Clearwater in 2015 and began playing with the popular local band, Kettle of Fish with Dana Lawrence. We asked Dana about working with Robin and he gave us this quote – “Robin is the consummate professional who doesn’t let professionalism get in the way of having fun playing music”

He recently joined the Billy Rice Band, and they currently play every Thursday night at 88Live Piano Bar in Bradenton.  Robin also occasionally plays with a jazz trio in Tampa.  We talked to Robin about his musical experiences throughout the years.

SP: Where are you originally from?

RS: I consider home Vancouver, Washington. My family moved there when I was 13, from northern music and took piano lessons. I married a gal from Oakland and moved to Northern California for 7 years.  I then moved to Southern California after my divorce, where I lived most of my life until coming to Florida.

Robin Swenson Musician

SP: After being in L.A., who did you work with?

RS: I was in a Top 40 band for a while, and I got a call to be in Tina Turner’s band and I got the gig! This was around 1983 after Tina left Ike before she had hit it big. My job was to play organ, keyboards, whatever other than piano. They gave me a cassette with the music on it. I went to Tina’s house, and I was really green back then and Tina was intimidating. She wanted to have a synthesizer, so I went and bought one and created all these great sounds, but I hadn’t learned the music for the show, so I got fired! (laughing) It was a huge lesson. Coming out of it, I got a call for Frankie Valli.

SP: How was it working with Frankie Valli? He is one of the oldest guys still on the road.

RS: I have actually played with Frankie on three different tours. Frankie is a stand-up guy.  He still rehearses and looks at changing things on the setlist here & there.

SP: Who else have you worked with?

RS: I worked with Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night for seven years.  He sang “One” and the iconic “Joy to the World”. I played with him from 1994-2002. We jokingly called him One Dog Night! (laughs) They had so many huge hits that we played. 


SP: Who are some of your favorite artists?

RS: In the jazz world, I love Miles Davis and through Miles Davis, I love Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. I probably emulate Bill Evans more than anyone else.  You can tell that in my playing. In the pop world, I have always loved R&B and artists like James Brown and Wilson Pickett.  Aretha Franklin’s 1967, “I Never Loved A Man” stopped me in my tracks and I had to go and buy the record.  I actually played a private show with Aretha about 10 years ago.  I was hired as part of the band they used, and Aretha had three keyboard players. One of her players got sick and I got to do the show with her.  That was amazing and the hair still stands up on the back of my neck about doing that.   

SP: How do you like working with Billy Rice?

RS: I love it! Billy is a great singer.  For me, the key element to the band is Rich McDonald the drummer.  He is a great drummer.  If you don’t have a good drummer, you don’t have a good band.  I enjoy all the players in the band.  Billy has a lot of integrity.  He has everybody’s best interest at heart.  Everybody in the band is respected.

SP: Have you worked in Europe or abroad?

RS: Before I left L.A. I was working with Helen Reddy (I Am Woman) and we toured Australia for 2 weeks.   That was a blast.  We had some down time to see some of Australia and Helen was a lot of fun to work with. 

If you would like to learn more about Robin, check out his website at Robin Swenson Music.

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Air Supply, Billy Rice Band, Chuck Negron, Clearwater, Events, Florida, jazz trio, Kettle of Fish, live music, musical, Sarasota, Singer, songwriter, Vicky Sullivan

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