Charlie Robison, seen here performing in Dallas in 2016, recently announced his retirement from music due to complications from vocal cord surgery.

Charlie Robison, seen here performing in Dallas in 2016, recently announced his retirement from music due to complications from vocal cord surgery.

Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor

One afternoon in 1998, my musical interests took a forever turn after I came across a static-filled car radio signal playing Charlie Robison's "My Hometown." 

I wasn't new to country music, as I listened to the mainstream stations as well as old-schoolers like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. But in that moment, I was genuinely blown away, and that chance encounter with Robison's signature song led me to seek out not only more of his music, but the work of many other young, independent artists with Lone Star edge.

That journey hasn't stopped for me, yet it seems as though Robison's music-making has. This week, he posted a short note on his Facebook page informing everyone that he must retire. The Bandera-based Robison explained "at the beginning of this year I underwent a surgical procedure that because of complications left me with the permanent inability to sing."

Hey amigos,Charlie here. I’m sure you’ve all been wondering where I’ve been. Well,at the beginning of this year I...

Posted by Charlie Robison on Monday, September 24, 2018

In predictable order, the social media tributes from fans and fellow artists have flooded in. Robison has been doing his thing since the mid-'90s, before anyone was calling what he does "Texas country." There really wasn't a Texas country scene before Robison, and now, should we never see him take a stage again, it won't ever be the same.

With a laid-back, cigarette-powered voice and a gift for making the monotonous monumental, Robison has been the artist so many others wish they were. His 1998 album, Life of the Party, is a foundational touchstone of the modern Texas country set. That album, with revered classics including "Sunset Boulevard" and "Loving County," made Robison one of the undisputed trailblazers responsible for the industrial behemoth we see and hear all around us via dozens of Texas-intensive radio stations, festivals and live venues.

As the millennium turned, the Texas country scene had three one-name icons that would be chased from college town to college town each weekend. "Charlie," along with "Pat [Green]" and "Jack [Ingram]" were the Willie, Waylon and Merle for tons of Texans just entering their legal drinking years. As that decade progressed, younger artists such as Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers and Reckless Kelly took many of the tricks and lessons learned from Robison's albums and concerts and applied them to their own creations.

Speaking of the Texas country scene, there really haven't been many major departures, which makes this one that much more impactful. In 2010, Cross Canadian Ragweed disbanded while they were at the height of their fame and power, though that loss was quickly comforted by group's leader Cody Canada staying active. And earlier this year, red dirt pioneer Brandon Jenkins tragically died following complications from heart surgery. Fans around here aren't used to being left behind.

Thankfully, Robison's condition doesn't appear to be life-threatening, but knowing his voice is likely silenced carries a stark finality that compels contemplation, and yes, even grief. He's here, but his voice is seemingly gone. During an interview with 1310 the Ticket on Thursday morning, Ingram discussed his own reaction to the news about his friend of 25 years.

Robison in 1996 around the time he released his solo debut album Bandera.

Robison in 1996 around the time he released his solo debut album Bandera.

/File

"I'm just hoping he'll get better some day," he said while audibly searching for the right words. "I think I'm in the denial stage of grieving because I don't want it to be real."

In his own Facebook post, Charlie's brother also admits some denial by writing, "I prefer to hope that he will sing again," while adding that his bro has always been "a natural."

That natural ability was arguably at its highest point when he released Beautiful Day in 2009, following his divorce from Emily Erwin of the Dixie Chicks in 2008. That faultless combo of reflection, realization and sarcasm nestled in country-rock arrangements proved that some people simply know how to turn painful loss into something gloriously everlasting.

Robison's never been the biggest commercial star in Texas, though he's had his share of notoriety and success over the course of nine album releases. But even though he's rarely been the most successful artist on a festival bill, his songs are almost always the most beloved. In February at the Mile 0 Fest in Key West, as I stood watching both Robison's perform with Ingram, my own singing along was drowned out by the joyful, word-for-word shouting of Texas-based artist William Clark Green, who had performed on that very stage only minutes before.

Whether we ever see Robison again or not is left to be determined, perhaps, but as with many of the greats, his songs will only continue to grow in strength. It's not really a goodbye when we can push play to pay him a visit anytime we want.

So instead, I'll steal a line from his song that changed everything for me: "I'll see you around, around my hometown."

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