CSI Star Releasing Debut Album
While his success as an actor is self-evident, there is, in fact, another facet to his talent that has been off screen while "Dr. Robbins" has been in the spotlight. Robert David Hall is also a gifted songwriter, singer/guitarist.
The world is about to find that out in no uncertain terms with the release of Things They Don't Teach You In School, an album debut that's been, in some ways, many decades in the making. (It will hit stores on June 1st)
As a child growing up in upstate New York, he was taken with singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and became entranced by the amazing sounds he heard emanating from Les Paul's guitar. He got a ukulele when he was 8 but was later "sentenced" to play the French horn, starting in the second grade.
When his family moved to California, he entered the 9th grade and traded in the horn for an acoustic guitar but it didn't satisfy his growing obsession with rock and roll. "I wanted a Fender but couldn't afford it," he recollects. Still, he tried to play along with every record he could until, at long last, an electric guitar came into his possession and he proceeded to thrash out surf music with a band called The Emulators. It was the mid-1960s and he hung out in Orange County folk clubs where he saw Hoyt Axton, Joe & Eddie and The Nitty Gritty Dirt band as well as at the Rendezvous Ballroom where Dick Dale & The Del-tones reigned. Later he discovered the blues at the legendary Ash Grove in LA where he heard Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb.
As a UCLA undergrad he wrote snippets of songs and played in "dorm bands" for a while until an accident intervened. He was in a motorcycle crash and broke his foot necessitating that he stay for an extra semester. On something of a whim, he took acting classes and found that he had talent. Ultimately admitted to law school, he decided not to go. "That frosted my dad," he remembers, as he spurned the paper chase to pursue music. He played in a series of professional yet "corny" bands and toured the country. "It got old," he remembers, noting, "The experience helped me realize what I didn't want to be."
He did an air shift on a radio station nobody listened to, played in pick-up bands that nobody heard and then something cataclysmic happened that changed his life in a very big way. It was 1978 and an 18-wheeler struck Hall's car causing the gas tank to explode. He not only suffered severe burns but the accident necessitated the amputation of both of his legs. Looking back on that horrific experience, Hall flatly states, "The accident changed a lot of things but not who I am." After eight months of recuperation he went back to work at the radio station and someone actually did listen. It was a CBS Radio executive who was taken with his voice and asked him to come to Hollywood to audition for KNX-FM, a free-form station that was staffing up. After getting over the shock of finding out that Hall had a major disability. "It was before I had my prosthetic legs, Hall recounts, "It must have been pretty strange when I showed up; this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act existed." Nonetheless, he was hired and carved out a career for himself in radio as both a popular air personality and music director. He still played music but, for a number of reasons: the move to LA, the accident, he didn't really focus on it. He decided to get his acting career together ("because somebody said I couldn't do it") and joined a theater company. As he recalls it, "as a younger guy, the only jobs offered were 'the angry cripple' or the 'superhuman disabled guy'" but he kept at it just the same.
His radio renaissance led to voice over work and, ultimately back to acting as he played the role of a burn survivor in director Michael Apted's (Gorillas In the Mist, Coal Miner's Daughter) Class Action which also featured Laurence Fishburn who would, years later, join him on CSI. That role led to television guest-starring roles in "West Wing," "Brooklyn South," "Touched By An Angel," ''Promised Land,'' ''Love and War'' and ''Highway to Heaven'' and recurring roles on "L.A. Law," "Family Law," "The Practice," "High Incident" and "Life Goes On".
As the years flew by, he kept thinking about the career in music he had left behind to go into radio and acting. Many years before he had met a bartender named Chris Wall who had discernible musical talent. Hall, among a few others, offered lots of encouragement and urged his friend to move to Austin to pursue music on a full time basis. That advice was followed and Chris went on to become a successful songwriter and producer. Ultimately, Chris returned the favor and urged his friend to dig out the songs he'd been writing "in the closet" for the past 20 years. "I don't think Judy" (Hall's wife) "even knew that I'd been writing songs; I think I surprised her," he says.
When his brother Steve fell ill to cancer a few years ago, it served, as he tells it, "to kick my ass" as far as pursing music is concerned. "I took a leap of faith and went to Austin where Chris encouraged me and helped me polish my songs. I guess I loved music so much I didn't dare do it... I guess it took all this time to get over myself," Hall theorizes. The recording of those songs, produced by Wall, at Merel Bregante's Cribworks studio, with some of Austin's best players – Cindy Cashdollar, Gene Elders, Lynn Daniel among them -- resulted in what Hall calls "the best time I've had in 30 years. Every day in Austin was a great day, I got pushed, I learned things and now I want to take more risks," noting "this is the first time I've really 'jumped off the cliff'."
That metaphoric jump, as evidenced by Things They Don't Teach You In School, was well worth the risk. The album, which would seem to fit into the Americana format, is a beautifully crafted work that offers moments of introspection, wit and insight over the course of twelve songs, 9 of which Hall wrote or co-wrote.
His excitement about his re-born music career is palpable. "Music is part of every day to me. Music was the first art form I ever had. I want to play and sing and write songs until I can't anymore. I know that being on this hugely rated TV show has given me a platform but, as far as music is concerned, I think I can stand -- no pun intended --on my own two feet."
Speaking of which, Hall is a devoted community activist and one of the most prominent disabled actors working today. He serves on the Board of Directors of the National Organization on Disability and completed a term as a National Board Member of the Screen Actors Guild and is National Chairman of the Performers with Disabilities Caucus for SAG, AFTRA and EQUITY and is in demand as a public speaker. Hall has twice spoken at the United Nations and has addressed U.S. Congress on disability issues and has been a guest at Walter Reed Hospital on two occasions.
Robert David Hall's life has been full of surprises, tragedies and triumphs. Things They Don't Teach You In School, his aptly titled debut album, is a reflection of that life and of the immense talent that was born of it.
Things They Don't Teach You In School tracklisting:
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