Session with Roberts
Robert Roberts, who was a member of Ministry from '81-'83 (With Sympathy days), kindly and patiently, answered questions that members from this site sent him, particularly Bisquitodoom.
Hopefully you, the reader, are just as thrilled to read this interview, as we were when conducting this interview with Mr. Roberts.
Q: I guess let's start with a little info on you. Would you mind giving some background on yourself for those who know you only as a name on the old 12"s?
Roberts: Well, first Afra, let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you. I haven't been associated with the band for quite some time, but I'm sure this interview will allow me to rekindle some fond old memories. Hmm ..let's see. Some basic background on me ..I'm a native Chicagoan. I've been playing guitar since I was 12, keyboards since I was about 10. Like a lot of Catholic boys from the South Side, my first ever instrument was the accordian. Not so unusual really. Not for around here. I have quite a few friends who started on the accordian. I can play Revenge on it. (laughs) I have a family now, a wife and two sons, 12 & 15. We live just outside of Chicago and I work in the Loop where I manage a TV Studio. We lived in Texas for a few years, in Houston. I worked for NASA where I managed the Audio Department. Then we came back, we missed Chicago.
Q: How did you get involved with Ministry?
Roberts: I had a friend named Paul Taylor, who was in the original line-up of Ministry and through him I met Al. Over a few drinks one night around Thankgiving '81, at a club called Neo, I mentioned to Al that I was a multi-instrumentalist and he invited me to a rehearsal. He was looking for a keyboardist. I auditioned by playing along on a couple of songs, I'm positive that "I'm Falling" was one of them. Al asked if I would like to join the band, no actually I believe that Al "told me" that I was in the band, like it or not (laughs).
Q: Who else was involved with Ministry from the begining through the early tours?
Roberts: There were two separate line-ups of the band while I was in it. The first lasted from late '81 through around the end of '82. The second line-up was the band that did the "With Sympathy" Tour in '83. Al, drummer Steven George (Stevo) and myself were in both versions.
At first version had bassist Marty Sorenson, who was the bass player in Special Affect. Marty only played the first few dates with the band. John Davis (JD) who was a keyboardist was also in the band for the first year. We had a few walk-ons to do things like sing back-up or play trumpet but the band was mostly Al, Stevo, JD and me for the better part of the first year or so. Singer Shay Jones was also in the band for most of the first year, but I don't think she was in the original line-up. Paul Taylor, was part of the original band, but got sick before the first gig and never actually played out live, if I recall correctly. He was laid up for several months. The second version of the band was Al, Stevo, me and two players from Boston who had been in a band called "Pastiche", bassist Brad Hallen and keyboardist Mark Pothier. Al had recruited them during the recording of WS. Brad was a really good player who also did some keyboard work.
Q: You mention the first live gig, some info on that would be really nice.
Roberts: The first Ministry gig was in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood at a club called Huey's. Right next to the L stop on Sheridan. It was New Year's Eve '81-'82. We also played there the following night. I do seem to recall that we had a lot of people join us onstage, background singers and horn players. We played Cold Life and I'm Falling and some covers including a Jimmy Ross song called "First True Love Affair". I think we only knew about 8 or 9 songs. We had kind of a white boy funk thing going on. We were well received and immediately got hot on the local club scene. We never had any trouble getting gigs. By this time the "I'm Falling/Cold Life" 12" was making the rounds in the clubs so we were already well known around town.
Q: I have read that the early shows were done travelling in the van. I'm sure there are all kinds of great stories from those days. Feel free to share.
Roberts: Well, we really didn't have that much gear when we played aside from Stevo's drum kit. JD and I had a couple of keyboards each and Al had a gray Ibanez Iceman that he played on just one or two tunes. We made quite a few trips out East in an old Dodge van. All our gear could be stored in the space from the rear door to the rear wheels. We had a mattress on the floor and that was it. Just the four of us and the driver who owned the van. His name was John Holland. John seemed to always have a bottle of Heineken in his hand. We would joke about the fact that our driver would forego regular meals and subsist almost entirely on Heineken. I remember one incident when we were pulled over on our way to NY in Jersey someplace. I'm sure that the State Trooper was certain that he would find some kind of illegal contraband in our van, judging from the looks of us, but we were actually smart enough to avoid that kind of temptation when we were on the road. We were all so poor, we couldn't afford any contraband anyway. We ended up giving the Trooper an 8 X 10 of the band that we autographed right then and there on the hood of his police cruiser.
Q: What was the lineup for the With Sympathy tour? Did Shay Jones sing with the band on the entire tour?
Roberts: The line-up was Al, Stevo, Brad, Mark, me and a singer who subbed for Shay. For the life of me I can't remember her name. Sorry. Shay Jones did not do the "With Sympathy" Tour with the band. Stevo, Brad and I were in a side project with Shay the winter after the WS tour. We were just trying to keep up our chops by playing around town. We had a tight little band because we had been on the road for awhile and actually got some good reviews and got a lot of work because of it.
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