Terry Robb

Acoustic Innovator

After so many years of playing guitar, Portland musician Terry Robb says the fingers on his left hand are longer than the fingers on his right. Nevertheless, he’s just thankful his chosen vocation hasn’t stricken him with carpal tunnel or worse. He credits his playing style. “I have a pretty light touch,” he says.

Robb, 61, returns to the Eugene area behind his 2016 release Cool on the Bloom, but he says a new album is in the works. “I just finished,” he says. “The new record is mostly all original. I’m doing some things with a high-powered trio: it’s an acoustic Mahavishnu.” 

The award-winning fingerstyle guitarist is known for blending Delta blues, jazz and folk music with a unique sense of improvisation. Robb’s a virtuoso player with a raw earthiness to his sound, putting him alongside other primitive and influential guitar greats like the late John Fahey, with whom Robb worked in the early ’80s. 

An artist of almost mythic proportion, Fahey had a lasting effect on Robb’s music. “We both had the same influences,” Robb recalls. “He was influenced by Americana. He was also influenced by Stravinsky and Bartok. He was a real American composer.” 

Robb’s usual repertoire is “70/30” cover tunes versus originals, he tells Eugene Weekly, and when evaluating material to play he looks for “anything that moves me in any sort of way.”

“I do a lot of improvisation off the older tunes,” he continues. “It doesn’t have to be a blues song.” And while he plays a lot of jazz standards, Robb doesn’t consider himself a jazz musician. “I don’t really play a jazz-style guitar, but I play jazz songs.” 

What inspires a musician known for reimagining so many traditional styles of American music to write his own material? “Sometimes I start with a melody,” he says. “If it needs lyrics I’ll write it. For me it’s good to have some kind of rhythm. Then I’ll take it someplace.”

Terry Robb plays 7:30 pm Saturday, June 30, at The Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove; $10, 21-plus.