Trig­gered by a stickup

Rob­bery spurs singer to quit his Gary milk route, jump-start mu­si­cal ca­reer

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPLASH - BY DAVE HOEK­STRA Staff Re­porter Email: dhoek­stra@sun­ Twit­ter: @cst­d­hoek­stra

Alit­tle more than a year ago, Robert Rolfe Fed­der­sen was on his morn­ing milk route in down­town Gary when two men held him up. Fed­der­sen was dragged into an al­ley, where one man put a gun to his head and de­manded money from his truck. Fed­der­sen played his mu­sic card, telling them he was a strug­gling singer-song­writer.

It worked.

The day af­ter the rob­bery he called Chicago record­ing en­gi­neer Steve Al­bini. And quit his day job soon af­ter.

Fed­der­sen’s “Amer­i­can Loser” CD was born. It’s a pas­tiche about sense of place, rang­ing from the Hem­ing­way-in­spired “Two Hearted River” to the blue­grassy “Black Oak In­di­ana,” about a neigh­bor­hood on his milk route. “Dave’s Lament” is a rocker about Dave Mus­taine get­ting kicked out of Me­tal­lica, and the bal­lad “Home” is sung by Fed­der­sen’s wife, Terri Ann, also the band per­cus­sion­ist.

He and his four-piece band (with vi­o­lin) will play Wed­nes­day at the Beat Kitchen.

Fed­der­sen, 43, is from Oak Lawn. His par­ents met while work­ing at the Nabisco fac­tory at 63rd and Kedzie. His fa­ther was an en­gi­neer, his mother worked in per­son­nel. Fed­der­sen lived in Bridge­port and Lake View be­fore mov­ing to his wife’s home­town of Crown Point, Ind.

But noth­ing hap­pened to him in Chicago like what hap­pened near his In­di­ana home.

“The stickup looked like death,” said Fed­der­sen, who is 5 feet 9 and 210 pounds. “The guy next to the guy with the gun was telling him to shoot the m-----f-----. It was bru­tal. It hap­pened at 10 in the morn­ing. They took my money. I had about $300. Af­ter I told them about mu­sic, they let me go.” The thieves have not been caught, and of course, Fed­der­sen is writ­ing a song about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Fed­der­sen’s mu­sic has ap­peared in the movie “Var­sity Blues” and tele­vi­sion shows in­clud­ing “Parental Con­trol” and “The Os­bournes.” He sang the na­tional an­them for the mi­nor league Gary SouthShore RailCats base­ball team. “It’s pretty nerve-rack­ing when you’re used to hav­ing a gui­tar in your hands and a gui­tarist and vi­o­lin player next to you,” he said.

Al­bini met Fed­der­sen in 2006 af­ter he wrote the Chicago White Sox an­them “Win or Die Try­ing.” Ra­dio per­son­al­ity Steve Dahl liked the song but didn’t care for the pro­duc­tion. Base­ball fan Al­bini was lis­ten­ing to Dahl’s show, called in and said he would pro­duce the song. Dahl con­trib­uted back­ing vo­cals, al­though the song has never been re­leased.

“Amer­i­can Loser” was recorded in two days at Elec­tri­cal Au­dio Stu­dios in Chicago. “The thing with Steve is that you have to be able to play live and record ev­ery­thing live,” Fed­der­sen said. “That’s the school I’m from. I used to record on [ana­log] 2-inch tape. Steve Al­bini is an ap­proach­able guy and fun to talk to.”

In the 1990s Fed­der­sen led a rock band, Loud­mouth. A 1995 al­bum re­view by this re­porter ac­tu­ally said, “Loud­mouth opens wide and jams su­per nat­u­rally hard.” Huh?

“We put that quote on ev­ery CD,” Fed­der­sen said, “and Me­tal­lica got ahold of it. Me­tal­lica came out twice to see Loud­mouth at the Dou­ble Door. When our song ‘Fly’ started chart­ing we got picked up by Me­gadeth to tour [in 1999]. I got to know [Me­gadeth co-founder] Dave Mus­taine pretty good.”

Get­ting robbed gave Fed­der­sen per­spec­tive. “The first thing I thought about was that I would never play mu­sic again,” he said. “I al­ways thought I had mu­sic in my back pocket. I re­al­ized I didn’t. And I didn’t want to waste any more time.”


Robert Rolfe Fed­der­sen’s CD “Amer­i­can Loser” is about sense of place.

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