Famed musician Rob Shrock returns home
Monticello native Rob Shrock, better known in the Monticello community as Rob Shirakbari, was the star artist at Friday’s special homecoming performance at the UAM Fine Arts Center sponsored by the SEARK concert Association.
Shrock, whose name has become well known in the entertainment industry because of his work with pop icon Dionne Warwick, legendary pianist, composer and music producer, Burt Bacharach, and other notable musicians, said Friday’s homecoming was special for him at this stage in his career.
“It was a fantastic homecoming for me,” he said. “It was simply amazing! Every single face I recognized and name I remembered after 30 years. When I first arrived back in town, I had to just drive the city. My old neighborhood, all the locations. I went to the Babe Ruth field and watched a bit of baseball practice some kids were having there. I was a catcher growing up and the home plate area looked like it still belonged to me. I really looked at this homecoming as an opportunity to reunite with people, much more than a performance. It was really a cathartic experience.”
Often proclaimed by many as a Musical Renaissance Man, Shrock is at equal ease playing Debussy on the piano or rocking a B-3 organ, orchestrating and conducting a symphony or thrashing a Les Paul through a Marshall while songwriting with an artist or composing music for an upcoming film. Shrock moved with his family to Monticello from Ft. Smith when he was in the third grade and it was here that his love for music blossomed.
“My mother and grandmother had both played the trumpet in the school band in McGehee, so when I started band in the fifth grade, I naturally went for the trumpet,” Shrock remembered. “It was also around that time that my parents bought me a little cheap guitar and I started to figure out some basic chords. Mark Currey had recently moved to Monticello from Texas and he had a really nice guitar and knew more chords that I did. He is also a great singer and played snare drum in the school band so we naturally became fast friends.”
Shrock said his introduction to the piano was not as natural.
“I loved playing baseball when I was a kid — that’s what I fantasized about doing professionally — and I used to play ball with one of my neighborhood friends, Robert Wallace,” he said. “But, he couldn’t play ball until after he practiced the piano for 30 minutes everyday. So, I would be sitting around his house waiting for him to finish and after a while I started using what I had learned in the band to start reading his piano music. I devised a code in my head to figure out the bass clef notes and, after a while, I was playing his lesson for him.”
Shrock said his friend’s mom, the late Carol Sue Wallace, finally caught on to what was happening and the gig was over.
“She would be listening from the other end of the house to make sure that he (Robert) was playing,” he continued. “After about six months of this going on, she one day walked into the room and saw what was really happening. She was furious at Robert for sitting in a chair reading a comic book while I was the one playing his piano exercises. She then promptly called my parents and told them they needed to get me a piano immediately. She always liked to think that she was largely responsible for me playing the piano, which in truth she was. I’d like to think that I was playing well enough to have saved Robert from a pretty good beating!”
According to Shrock, Laura Ferguson and Marjorie Mae Bond were responsible for teaching him piano after that and Frank Ferguson started teaching him band orchestrating on the side.
“I actually composed the Monticello Jr. High School alma mater in seventh grade and conducted the band playing it at the spring band concert. That was somewhere around 1978.”
From the high school band, his passion evolved into playing in various rock bands.
“It was always a rotating cast of the same characters: me, Mark Currey, Kevin Stokes, Don Orrell, Gary Tucker, Buddy Hyatt, Ken Freeman, Clay Coburn and Cathie Kirchman. I would try to nick a few licks from Don’s older brother, Jimmy Darrell Orrell. He was the best guitarist I had ever heard up close up to that point. I would switch between keyboards, guitar and bass as needed, based on who we had available to play at any particular time. To this day, I still play a lot of different instruments, but it all started as a necessity in those early Monticello days.”
After graduating from Monticello High School, Shrock began studying composing at Ouachita Baptist University under Dr. Fancis McBeth and it was there that Rob’s life took a drastic change in direction.
“I was getting frustrated with things not moving fast enough,” he said. “I think that McBeth sensed that and when I discussed moving to California with him he gave me some of the best advice anyone has ever given me — ‘If you can read (music), you can do anything.’”
Shrock remembers things being very tough when he first moved out to California and at times he felt that the world was against him.
“You go out there thinking that you’re pretty good but what you don’t realize is how good everyone else is until you fall on your face a few times,” he said. “Out there you’re not just competing against other 18-year olds. You are competing against professional musicians who are touring, playing on hit records and composing music for TV and film. They don’t just welcome new kids into their world.”
He said that at times he wanted to quit but instead started slugging it out. He began to lay out and follow his guidelines, continued to improve his craft and eventually doors began to open for him.
Even after traveling the world perfecting his craft, Shrock said that no place was as bittersweet to him as the city of Monticello.
“I’ve missed all of my class reunions. Unfortunately, I found myself in Brazil, Pittsburgh and Europe when each of them were held,” he said. “So, this was a great opportunity for me to see teachers, classmates and friends from my time growing up here.”
While here Shrock played four assemblies at Drew Central and Monticello schools. According to him, these shows were extra special.
“There is just so much talent in this town,” he said. “These shows were very loose and I just fed off the energy of the kids. I took the opportunity to ask questions and chat with them. In doing so we also opened up an avenue of participation. Some of the kids got up and danced, others sang and some even free-style rapped. That was a good thing. The point of these shows was to be creative without judgment, because it all starts there. Freedom of expression and the knowledge that you start there — right here in this town — you can go places. I’m living proof of that. So are others, like my classmate Doug Blackmon, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year. One of my favorite sayings is one that Dionne Warwick said she got from her grandfather, ‘If you can think it, you can do it.’”
While Shrock’s future looks to building on his already well-known personae, he said that he enjoyed his homecoming so much that he is already planning a return trip to Monticello.
“I hope to return in the coming months to do another show, this time as a fundraiser. Monticello has some amazing facilities between the MHS Middle School, the Drew Central Auditorium and the UAM Fine Arts Center. But, I was disappointed in the lack of good, functioning equipment compared to what was available when I was here as a kid. Just to do my simple show and the school assemblies, I had to rent equipment from Little Rock just to make it all work. So, I think with a minor investment in some good working gear, these facilities will be primed to really step it up with their capabilities to put on some great shows. Thriving arts communities lead to all kinds of successes down the road for both the individuals and the community as a whole. In my mind, there is no reason that Monticello can’t be leading that charge. So, I’m going to make every effort to come back soon and when I do I’m going to need a lot of help from some old and new friends to help make this happen. But, I’m in, if you all are!”