Day job: I work at Siegel’s Jewelry and Loan full time. I’ve been there almost 20 years handling musical stuff, tools, and jewelry, as well as store supplies and occasionally building store fixtures. Sunday through Thursday I also work a night job, doing janitorial work in a seven-story office building. In addition to that, I run a 24-track recording studio, and teach music lessons about eight hours every week.
How I got started: Music is in my genes. My great grandfather was a founder of the Appalachian Guitar and Mandolin Foundation. I began as a drummer at age seven taking lessons from David Logeman, who ended up playing with Frank Zappa for a time. My father was an English professor in Lincoln, Illinois, in the late ’60s, where I met lots of musicians, including the members of REO Speedwagon. I began playing keyboards, and at 14 I built a PAiA synthesizer from a kit I bought from the old Southwest Technical Products Corporation.
Band: Iowa-based, five-piece country variety act Black Diamond. I’ve worked in the band twice, returning after a 13-year hiatus. We play classic and current country, along with rock ’n’ roll. In addition to keyboards, I take turns at bass and guitar in each show. We actually have four members who play a little bit of keys during a performance.
Influences: A lot of my inspiration came from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Yes, then later, Styx. Boston really got to me with all those guitars and keyboards. When I started playing country, which relies so much on piano, it was easy for me. I’m a little embarrassed, but proud to say that most of the ballad piano skills I have come from listening to a ton of Barry Manilow! I learned rock ’n’ roll from listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Dennis DeYoung of Styx.
Why I play: I feel that God gave me a gift, and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t share it. Although it’s nice to get paid for playing a job, I don’t believe I’ll ever think of it as work. It’s just as rewarding to be broke, and to have someone walk up at the end of a show and say they love to come and see you perform.
The Black Diamond Band’s Robbie Young shares keyboard duties with other band members. “There are two rigs onstage,” he says, “an Ensoniq TS-10 and a Yamaha PF80. I mostly use the Yamaha because of the weighted keys, and control a Roland SC-55 Sound Canvas module with it. I think it’s the best thing Roland ever made. We plug straight into an Allen & Heath GL series board, and use monitors — no amps onstage.”
Weekend warrior Robbie Young says the music of the rock powerhouse Styx, which pumped out multi-platinum recordings in the ‘70s and ‘80s, helped to shape his playing style. “Wow, what a sound,” says Robbie. “There were great works like Grand Illusion, then Paradise Theater.” Styx gave their Greatest Hits compilation (A&M Records) a digital makeover a couple of years back. It’s a great way to sample the band’s forays into art rock, power ballads, and hard-hitting, keyboard-driven rock.