For forty years, the MD writer epitomized the role of drum journalist
The drumming world lost one of its finest writers this past June 24, when Robin Tolleson passed away suddenly in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Tolleson, who had been a Modern Drummer scribe since 1979, suffered a heart attack while performing at the city’s Downtown After Five concert.
Tolleson hailed from San Francisco, then moved to North Carolina at age eleven. That, according to his daughter, Millie, gave him unique perspective artistically speaking. “My dad always seemed torn between the two cities, and he used to talk about 1967’s Summer of Love, the band shell at Golden Gate Park, and groups like the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Jimi Hendrix. But at the same time, he loved the serenity and beauty of North Carolina.”
Tolleson’s majoring in journalism in college was a key factor in developing his writing excellence. Actually, says Millie, “It was a second choice [after music school], which among those who knew him at the time signaled that he had a genuine flair for writing about music and musicians.”
Some of Tolleson’s more recent MD features include Ani DiFranco’s Terence Higgins (May 2019) and his cover story on Anderson .Paak (August 2019). According to Millie, some of his personal favorite interviews included one with Tony Royster Jr. and the two he conducted with the late Ginger Baker.
Among Tolleson’s strengths were his abilities to converse knowingly with players across the genre spectrum and relate to people of all dispositions. “Robin was a giver,” offers his wife, Jocelyn. “He was the executive director of the Hendersonville Community Music Center, where he outreached to several institutions, including the Boys & Girls Club, and exposed young people to his love of music and those who played it, [kids] who otherwise would have little or no access to the performing arts.”
“He was always listening to some kind of music,” adds Robin’s son, James. “Stylistically he was all over the map. Very often I had no idea who or what it was, but it was always good! An ongoing project, sadly still unfinished, was his ‘Spinterview’ series, which combined snippets of his favorite interviews with the artist’s music.
“As a family man,” James continues, “there was none better. When Millie and I were toddlers, he would constantly video and audiotape us. After his passing, the outpouring on Facebook really exemplified how much he impacted everyone. There was no better listener than him. His calmness and understanding were attributes exclusive to a very few nowadays. He truly respected not only artists, but people from all walks of life. In all, my dad loved what he did.”