From A to ZZ with Robin Hood Brians

Have you ever had the Chili’s baby back rib jingle stuck in your head? Would you have guessed its author built an audio recording studio in Tyler and that ZZ Top recorded their first four albums there and that it’s still going strong now for 50 years?

It was 1963. Zip codes and the first diet soda were introduced, the Beatles scored their first #1, and Robin Hood Brians was preparing to make his mark on the music industry.

Born in Corsicana, then relocated to Edom by 1945, Brians started school and discovered music at age five. He performed with multiple acts growing up. After nine years of classical piano lessons, it seemed a lot cooler to play like Jerry Lee Lewis, so he figured out how to do that. The converted rocker formed Robin Hood and His Merry Men during his high school years, and performed all around East Texas. He graduated Tyler High School in 1957 (a year before Robert E. Lee opened).

Brians wrote a song called "Dis-A-Itty-Bit" which was recorded at KTBB studio in Tyler. His drummer’s dad was a jukebox operator who played the song in Dallas. Fraternity Records of Cincinnati, Ohio, caught wind.  By December 1957, Brians was in Nashville. Fraternity arranged for the fresh talent to split a session with two artists. The other two went first, leaving Brians a meager 30 minutes to cut two songs. He did both on the first take, and ignited a passion that is still making music today.

Back home, a friend, Robie Morgan, engineer at KDOK Tyler, built Brians a 10- channel mixing board. Brians insisted each channel have its own high and low equalizer, allowing the highest and lowest sound frequencies to be manipulated in a way that would prevent distortion and improve clarity on the small speakers in transistor radios. That was virtually unheard of and thought unnecessary, but today is standard on any mixing console.

He began hanging microphones in the living room and dining room of his parents home, stretching cables down the hall. After a noise complaint and plenty of sleepless nights for his parents, Robin’s dad, Bob, decided to move the operation to the back yard. Robin’s sister drew the plans. Over nine months he and his parents built what is now Robin Hood Studios. In July 1963, they were open to the public.

Tragically, the November evening of President Kennedy’s assassination, Bob died suddenly leaving Robin as head of household. With his mother managing schedules, telephones, and the coffee pot, Robin recorded anyone performing any genre ranging from square dance music, to vocal groups, horn ensembles, or rock bands. Eventually his skill and sound earned the attention of successful labels that sent him business. Besides ZZ TOP, his client list grew to include Joe Stampley, Tony Douglas, Don Henley, James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Mouse and The Traps, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gary Allen, and Bugs Henderson among others.

On June 10, ZZ Top released "The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990)." This release is special because their debut album is available in its original mix, which was engineered by Brians. ZZ Top recorded there twice as The Moving Sidewalks, then returned a third time with a new name, ZZ Top. Founding members Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard had also acquired a new bass player Dusty Hill along with their new manger and Waxahachie native Bill Ham.

Brians sent Ham to Country Tavern on Highway 31 towards Kilgore to get barbecue, not telling him it was a 30-mile trip one way. When Ham returned the sound was perfect and Ham then insisted all the songs be done that way.

Robin Hood Studios has grown through five renovations and embraced the conversion to digital technology. Brians engineering himself, knowing his equipment, and settling for no less than pristine sound, has kept the studio at the top of the list for fifty years.

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