Charlie Robison, Charismatic Texas Country Singer-Songwriter, Has Died at 59

Following 2018 retirement, Robison had returned to the stage this year

Shawn Colvin, Britt Daniel (Spoon), and Charlie Robison on the cover of the Chronicle in January 2001 (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Charlie Robison, the artist behind such Texas staples as “My Hometown” and “New Year’s Day,” died on Sunday at age 59.

A family representative told Associated Press that Robison died at a hospital in San Antonio after suffering cardiac arrest and other complications. Announced in social media posts from his wife, Kristen, and his sister, Robyn Ludwick, Robison’s death comes as the songwriter was just making a comeback to the stage in recent years.

Robison rose to the top of the Texas music scene in the late Nineties alongside songwriters like Jack Ingram and his brother, Bruce. His breakout 1998 album Life of the Party and 2001’s Step Right Up bridged the gap between artists like Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett and the new generation of Red Dirt rockers.

2001's Step Right Up

Born in Houston, but raised on a ranch in Bandera, Robison followed his younger brother into Austin’s music scene after injuries cut short his college football career at Texas State. Charlie cut his teeth playing with local favorites like Two Hoots & a Holler and Chaparral before pursuing his own career with 1996 debut Bandera.

Despite receiving major label attention by the Nineties, and even appearing as a judge on the first season of Nashville Star in 2003, Robison famously clashed with Nashville and corporate country expectations.

“I don't suffer fools easily and never will," he told the Chronicle in 2001. "I haven't and won't make any apologies for that. Even if I go to bed feeling like something I said may have been over the top, I still have an easier time sleeping than if I wouldn't have said anything at all.

“Once you've given up your integrity, you can't get it back.”

Robison maintained his artistic integrity as a distinct songwriter who could pen sharp, strong-hooked ballads while never shying away from his harder-rocking impulses onstage. Songs like his early hit “Barlight” showcased the appeal that Nashville saw in his writing, though “My Hometown” captured the kind of grounded and character-driven narratives that earned him a following in the Texas music scene. He struck a balance after leaving Nashville and signing with Dualtone for 2004’s Good Times, which included the rollicking “New Year’s Day” and the poignant Keith Gattis composition “El Cerrito Place.”

Following his 2008 divorce from his first wife, Emily Strayer of the Chicks, Robison delivered the earnest Beautiful Day and 2013 party platter High Life. But his career was cut short after complications from throat surgery forced his retirement from music in 2018. Only in the past year had Robison returned to the stage, including a seated set at last spring’s Two Step Inn where he received Texas-sized appreciation from fans. He was slated to play a big show with friends at the Moody Theater in January next year.

"My dream career would be to have the size [of career] somebody like Steve Earle has," offered Robison as the Chronicle marked his rise in 1998. "To just draw 1,000 people regularly like Jerry Jeff or Ray Benson. To me, that's the perfect career. And I've always enjoyed flying below the radar anyway. I never dressed well enough or schmoozed well enough to be the flavor of the month.”

Robison is survived by his wife Kristen and four children, including three from his previous marriage to Strayer. Memorial services have not yet been announced.

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Charlie Robison, Bruce Robison, The Chicks, Emily Strayer

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