Music Review: Robbie Rist is driven by a need to create
Actor-musician Robbie Rist is an engaging, amiable cat, so much so that it almost seems he’s a member of your family. In a very broad pop cultural sense, he is. As a tow-headed, bowl-cut, bespectacled youth, the ubiquitous and perennially recurring Rist played the unlucky cousin Oliver in “The Brady Bunch,” Ted Baxter’s son on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Officer Grossi’s troubled nephew on “CHiPs.”
Rist has maintained an active screen career, doing everything from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to “Sharknado,” but he also consistently upholds an equally important aspect of his creative life — rock ‘n’ roll — which he is now bringing to the Pickwick Bowl’s Riverside Concert Hall every Sunday afternoon.
“We call it K-Tel Sundays. It’s sort of a ‘70s song revue, that is half performance by my band and half live karaoke,” Rist said. “We do a set and then if anyone in the audience knows a song they can get up and do it. We know a lot of songs and even if we don’t we’ll go ahead and trainwreck it.”
His band, Ballzy Tomorrow, specialize in bright, tight pop-rock, characterized by a high-explosive bubblegum fixation that traverses gaudy territory where Suzi Quatro, the Osmonds and the Captain & Tennille are figures of totemic significance.
“We’ve been doing this for two or three years up in Moorpark, but we needed more people, so we came down to Pickwick. It’s like this great entertainment center,” Rist said. “So if you’re not the football-watching type or if you’re a musician who still wants to play some more after Saturday night, come on out. My goal is to introduce the show, then hand off my guitar so I can sit down, drink beer and listen to the songs.”
“Growing up, I was an AM radio kid and nailing the K-Tel thing down to this one decade — the ‘70s — was easy to do,” Rist said. “All genres of music were good in the ‘70s: country was good, rock ‘n’ roll was good, pop was great. We do it all, the one-hit-wonders, the new wave is represented, everything. And, more importantly, it’s not the ‘60s. I if I have to hear ‘Mustang Sally’ one more time, someone is going to pay.”
In Rist’s capable hands, the repertoire enjoys some startling treatment, with unusual arrangements and emphasis that can completely redefine familiar hits. “I started with music a long time ago, I was playing music at 3,” he said. “I started banging on the piano, tried violin, but my hands were too small. At 6, I took up guitar, at 12 or 13, it was bass and drums and in my early 20s, mandolin and little banjo. So yes, I’ve been playing pretty much my entire life.
“My teenage years were very lonely, and I spent a lot of time practicing in my room a lot of time. As a child actor I was pretty much split between two worlds. I hung around with a lot of adults all day at work and then when I was around kids I just thought, ‘Why are they acting like children?’ I don’t know, maybe my mom was overprotective, but I spent a lot of time just practicing.”
Rist’s creative, spontaneous drive is also reflected in the band’s offbeat title. “At rehearsal one day, I suggested ‘Can’t we play this more ballsy?’ And someone said ‘We’ll play it more ballsy tomorrow.’ And of course it’s spelled with a ‘Z’ because, no matter how far I roam, glam is never far away.”
“I don’t really consider myself an actor or a musician. I am just an entertainment guy,” Rist said. “The only differences between acting and music are subtle criteria. There are many similarities, although most actors and musicians would probably despair me saying that. I just like making stuff. I do all the cartoon stuff, acting. I wrote commercials for a while. I produced a movie in 2006. I have a podcast called ‘The Spoon,’ and I have my band.”
“It’s important to just make stuff, fill in the blank, even if you don’t do it professionally, or in my case, semiprofessionally. And it’s good for you. I really wonder, and I’ve never researched this, if there is a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease among artists and musicians.”
“Art is all about putting out fires. It’s constant problem solving. It keeps your brain alive. And it feels so good to do it.”
What: Robbie Rist’s “K-Tel Sundays”
Where: Riverside Concert Hall, 1001 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank
When: Every Sunday, 3 to 6 p.m.
More info: (818) 848-8810, windsorlivemusic.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin’ Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”