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Willard Robison

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Biography

A songwriter and occasional performer of his own pastoral, semi-rural ballads, Willard Robison offered several standards to the classic American pop repertoire, including "A Cottage for Sale," "Don't Smoke in Bed," "'Tain't So, Honey, 'Tain't So," "Old Folks," and "Peaceful Valley" (the latter Paul Whiteman's theme song). Born in Missouri, Robison played piano and led a few territory bands in the Southwest during the '20s (including work with Jack Teagarden) and recorded several dozen sides in New York later in the decade as the leader of Willard Robison's Levee Loungers and the Deep River Boys. He also made several sides as part of Busse's Buzzards, a studio group led by trumpeter Harry Busse (a star soloist for Whiteman's band). Robison's masterpieces such as "Old Folks" and "Deep Elm" were laconic -- occasionally downright narcoleptic -- portraits of life in small-town America, summoning a similarly earthy philosophy as a pair of other classic singer/songwriters: Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. His 1929 composition "A Cottage for Sale" (lyric by Larry Conley) became his best-known, with over 100 performances and popular recordings by Guy Lombardo (in 1930) and Billy Eckstine (in 1945). Robison's last major composition, "Don't Smoke in Bed," was a hit for Peggy Lee in 1948, and he also wrote a book, Willard Robison's Six Studies in Syncopation, for Piano. In 1962, old friend Teagarden recorded Think Well of Me, a full album of Willard Robison songs (it was his second-to-last session), and six years later, Robison died in New York. ~ John Bush

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