2007-12-05 News Article - Christmas Island Style

 12.05.07 News Article - Christmas Island Style

J. Robert playing at last week's Christmas Walk at the Shops of Marco. 

His friends say, "No tellin' about Houghtaling [pronounced hotellin'], because you never know what he's going to play." They are referring to J. Robert Houghtaling, known professionally as J. Robert. 

Quite well-known on the island, J. Robert is so in demand that he doesn't play regularly at a club or restaurant. But he does play all over Marco, Naples, Bonita Springs and Ft. Myers. 

J. Robert's heart lies in his first instrument, the violin, but he is quite adept with the guitar, mandolin, harmonica and keyboard. Sixteen years ago, he was invited to play at Quinn's on the Beach where he continued through the summer. During that time, he met Stan Gober and the owner of the Snook Inn. He was hired for the season to play at Stan's, Snook Inn, and the Marco Bay Resort. The following summer he was invited back to the Marriott where he entertained for eight years. 

Living in Southwest Florida, J. Robert immediately recognized that Jimmy Buffet was not being promoted at that time on Marco. New York style piano players were what the establishments wanted. "I didn't play that, but told the proprietors that I was working up a bunch of Jimmy Buffet material with a tropical flavor and one thing led to another," said J. Robert. 

He ultimately mastered the guitar with a lot of classical lessons, got into Spanish and tropical styles, and studied a little jazz. "Somewhere in the last 12 years, as a Jimmy Buffet artist, you have to have a pan man [steel drums], so I've been dealing with a lot of guys from Trinidad, Jamaica and Tobago. I let the pan man play for many years, but it is difficult keeping them steady around here," said J. Robert. "At 50-years-old, I picked up the pan myself and I'm having a lot of fun with it, as much as I do with my other instruments," he said. 

J. Robert started to get the feel for music as a young child singing and swinging in the backyard and waking up the neighbors, as he tells it. He learned the violin in junior high school and was greatly influenced by his father who was into every kind of music from Rachmaninoff and Bach to jazz as well as being a hi-fi buff. "My father was one of those john boys who left the farm, took his family, went to the university and succeeded as a nuclear engineer. That's how I got to see the world -- on the coat-tails of my father and his hi-fi productions," he said. "My mother loved country music to the max. So I got a good blend. I'm a fusion," he went on to say. 

While in college, J. Robert became intrigued by the beatniks and hippies playing jug band music. He played that for a while, but his roots were the Beatles, Dylan, and the Stones. He says he is constantly picking up new styles, such as soca and reggae. 

His Mangrove Music Studio is where he produces local CDs. However, he has produced other CDs with C.W. Colt from Key West, Brent Moyer from Nashville, John McEuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steel on Steel, and Jim Billie to name a few. 

His own latest CD is entitled "Blue Water Christmas." It has folksy traditional Christmas songs island style with reggae, jazz, Spanish and soca. With J. Robert playing violin and steel drums, he is accompanied by bass guitarist Alex Santonelli; drummer Bobby Snyder Jr.; percussionist Tony Pastrana; singer Joanne Hammond from the Wildflowers; guitarist Frank Carroll; samba and jazz guitarist Michael Oakland; keyboardist Mark Pettey from the Marshall Tucker Band; and Roli Scholl, a Hawaiian steel guitarist from Switzerland. 

His previous CD, Blue Water Cruise, was created with the concept of sailing and yachting. "Besides the great musicians that are on my CD, we have some of the finest world-class musicians on Marco Island, not only from Florida, but from all over the country. From Bob Snyder to Dan Vass, who is so amazing, to young people like Gino Ortiz. We have more entertainment on Marco than in Naples and practically any place in Florida," said J. Robert. 

J. Robert primarily plays at private functions and weddings. He recently appeared at the Shops of Marco Christmas Walk and at the Tree Lighting Ceremony. 

On Dec. 7, he will entertain at the Kiwanis Christmas Party for Needy Families on Marco, Dec. 10 at the Olde Marco Island Inn for the Christian Woman's Club Tour of Homes and New Year's Eve at the Hilton hotel. 

For bookings, call 642-7462 or e-mail jrobert@jrobert.net. You can order his $15 Christmas CD at amazon.com and jrobert.net. 

Phyllis Bator grew up in a musical family. Her father had a band, her brother played the accordion and she learned to read music before she could read words. Music has always been a part of her life. 

Bator can be reached by e-mail at phyllisbator@earthlink.net

©Marco Island Sun Times 2007 

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