ALL FOR LOVE
Robinson Eikenberry would give his coat to a homeless man.
That’s how Mary Beth Norum described the late Santa Barbara musician and sound engineer, who was loved by local singers and bands.
“He would give everything away. Material things meant nothing. It (his life) was about loving people and helping people out” Ms. Norum, 69, told the News-Press by phone from the Mount Shasta home she shares with her wife, Mary Jane Franus, Mr. Eikenberry’s biological mother. They became married almost 16 years ago.
Mr. Eikenberry called them both his “mamas.”
Their son died at age 47 in 2017 after a heart attack in Santa Barbara. His family and friends honored him that year with a memorial concert featuring 30 or so singers at the Lobero Theatre.
Ms. Franus, 68, decided to continue the tribute this year with the new CD “Be Love Now.”
The new double disc features 40 songs performed by local musicians in Mr. Eikenberry’s honor, everyone from his close friend, Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, to singer and songwriter Karla Bonoff. They performed songs that reminded them of Mr. Eikenberry or had recorded with him.
“She (Ms. Norum) had to fit 40 songs on a double (disc) CD. It was quite a task to get it all in there” Ms. Franus, the album’s executive producer, said about her wife, who also designed the album jacket featuring several pages of photos of their son and his drawings.
The two women co-produced the album with Jesse Rhodes, one of Mr. Eikenberry’s friends and a musician who sings his song “111” on the record.
The album was released in June during a party that 75 people attended at Center of the Heart Church in Santa Barbara. Twenty-five of the CD’s musicians performed, and Ms. Norum said listeners have given “Be Love Now” rave reviews.
The album can be purchased for $35 at www.robinsoneikenberry.com. You can also download it at cdbaby.com. Ms. Franus said that after costs are covered, proceeds will go to a yet-to-be-determined nonprofit.
Ms. Franus said her son, a great listener who loved to learn about people, left an impact on local musicians and others. “I’ve had at least 30 or 40 people tell me directly that they’ve lost their best friend.”
Mr. Eikenberry, a Santa Rosa native, grew up with Ms. Franus in Carmel Valley and Napa, and the boy demonstrated a love for drawing and other art.
At age 14, Mr. Eikenberry moved to Santa Barbara to live with his father, Arthur Eikenberry, who taught at Crane Country Day School.
“When his dad died unexpectedly when he was 17, he put the art and drawing aside and taught himself recording. He started with a little four-track (panel) in his bedroom” Ms. Franus said.
Mr. Eikenberry, who graduated from San Marcos High School in 1986, attended Santa Barbara City College. The painter, illustrator and sculptor went on to UCSB College of Creative Studies, where he worked on art but didn’t get a degree.
His priorities instead included the high-end recording studio he started. He recorded albums for local musicians, including those who performed on “Be Love Now.” In the album jacket, they praise him for bringing out the best in them and their music.
“With Robinson, there was no limit to what he could do creatively” Ms. Franus said. “Whether they were accomplished professionals like Karla Bonoff or a musician with a fistful of sheet music they had just thrown together, he would help everybody reach their potential. He was kind of amazing that way.”
Mr. Eikenberry played the guitar, dulcimer, saxophone and sometimes banjo, drum and bass. He sang harmonies for recording artists.
He demonstrated his creativity further when he wrote and recorded music with Bruce Winter under the name Fringe Deities in the mid-1990s.
Ms. Franus talked about the duo’s distinctive album.
“That one is just a wild ride!” she said. “Every song is different. It’s everything from a Gregorian chant to country western.”
For the most part, Mr. Eikenberry liked to write and perform melodic, sometimes slow folk songs, Ms. Franus said.
Mr. Eikenberry sings “Be Love Now’s” first song, “Sycamore Farm” (1994), which he wrote about his childhood home in Carmel Valley.
“His own personal songwriting was introspective and beautifully produced and written” Ms. Franus said.
Mr. Eikenberry’s friends contributed in various ways to “Be Love Now.”
Musicians performing their original songs varied from Cyrus Clarke (“Grace Notes to a Friend”) to Jim Connolly (“This Box is Bright”) and Ellen Turner (“He See Angels”).
“A song, ?Little Bird,’ is on the album, written and sung by Eric Conn. Eric went to high school with Robinson, then moved to Nashville, where he’s a very well-known sound engineer” Ms. Franus said.
Mr. Conn donated his time in Nashville to do the mastering work on “Be Love Now” which was recorded in Santa Barbara.
Fifteen other singers performed harmonies that were incorporated with a recording of Mr. Eikenberry singing his song, “O How Beautiful.”
Another recording of his voice was merged with the talents of singers Heather Stevenson, Antara Hunter and Bill Lanphar for the album’s finale, “Be Love Now.” Ms. Franus said Ms. Stevenson composed the music and incorporated passages from Mr. Eikenberry’s journals for the lyrics.
“They all felt he was their support system” Ms. Norum said. “Jen Baron, who sings ?Promise’ on the first disc and runs Girls Rock Santa Barbara, said he was their spiritual leader.
“His whole being was about love. His whole message was about loving other people and inviting people in and being kind.”
“Be Love Now” a double-disc CD in honor of the late Santa Barbara musician and sound engineer Robinson Eikenberry, is being sold for $35 at www.robinsoneikenberry.comand cdbaby.com. (Instead of purchasing a CD, you can download all the music for $30 at cdbaby.com.)
For more information, email Mary Jane Franus at email@example.com.