Tim Robbins goes rogue, explores musical heritage 

It’s no big Hollywood secret that Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins can carry a tune. He crooned and strummed his way through “Bob Roberts,” the 1992 mockumentary he wrote, directed and starred in as the eponymous — and slightly dubious — folksinging senatorial candidate.

Afterwards, he even toured with Pearl Jam as Gob Roberts, performing punk-rock versions of the movie’s songs, plus covers such as Fear’s “Let’s Have A War.”

So it’s no big shock that this week, he’ll issue his Hal Willner-produced debut disc, “Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band,” and back it with an introductory concert at Bimbo’s in The City.

What is curious, however, is Robbins’ rich musical heritage. His father, the late Gilbert Robbins, played a breakthrough gig at San Francisco’s Hungry I in the early ’60s with his first group, The Cumberland Three.
“They were signed after that show, and my dad moved us to Greenwich Village,” he says.

By 1962, his dad had joined the influential Highwaymen, and also begun managing a hip folk hangout called The Gaslight Café, which guaranteed a colorful childhood for his son, who worked as the club’s errand boy and phone reservationist.

In retrospect, Robbins views those years as amazing.

“But of course, you don’t know that when you’re a kid and that’s the only world you know,” he says. “But once you experience the boredom of the rest of the world, you realize ‘Oh, my God! My parents were very cool!’ I mean, Tom Paxton was a family friend, Dave Van Ronk was a drinking buddy of my dad’s. And I’m sure I walked right past Allen Ginsberg or Bob Dylan with my baseball glove a few times.”

The “Rogues” CD booklet features a snapshot of the Gaslight-era Robbins, in pensive, acoustic-wielding, turtleneck mode. He began composing then, but penned his first serious song — the breakup-themed “Dreams,” included on the album, — when he was 24.

“It’s amazing what heartache does for your songwriting — it was a real good starting point,” he reflects. He fell in love with punk, but waived music for acting at UCLA. “So I’d go to my X, Fear and Black Flag concerts, but then I’d try to bring that energy into the kind of theater we did,” he says.

It was Willner who was so impressed with forlorn Robbins originals such as “Lightning Calls” and “Toledo Girl,” he organized a band and recording session. And Robbins — who’d been quietly doing open-mic nights for years — is ready for a real-deal tour.

“We’ve got about 25 songs that we can do, plus covers,” he says. “So we’re gonna play a good two hours — even longer if we can!”

Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Where: Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: $28
Contact: (877) 435-9849, www.ticketfly.com

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Tom Lanham

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