ZZ Top founder helping shape Louisiana musician’s career

Many people grow up with the dream of making it big and becoming famous, but most of us simply don’t know how.

Mandeville singer and songwriter Robert Fortune was one of those children.

Luckily for the 19-year-old musician, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons was always there to guide him along the way.

“He became like a godfather to me. He was always around,” said Robert. “Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be some type of show biz entertainer because I grew up around it and I really digged it.”

Gibbons met Robert’s father at the elder Fortune’s bar on Memphis’ famed Beale Street in 1980, and the two remained close friends even after the Fortune family moved from Elvis Presley country to Mandeville early in Robert’s life.

“I really enjoyed the whole aspect of seeing Billy [Gibbons] in concerts and backstage,” said Robert. “I always knew I wanted to be something like that in entertainment.”

But even after Gibbons gave Robert his first guitar at age 8, he still wasn’t sure what path to glory he would choose.

All that changed at age 12 when Robert was limited to staying inside his house while recovering from injuries he sustained after going through a plate glass door.

“I was in bed for about 3 months so I had a guitar lying around. I picked it up and never put it down after I got hurt so, in a way, [the accident] was a good thing,” said Robert.

Robert said he began practicing eight hours a day, and after learning a few basic chords from a friend, he got better and better every day.

“It took a week or so for me to know where I am on the neck – just figuring out what sounds good, combination of fretting, what sounds good together,” said Robert. “Mainly, just listening to records and picking it up.”

At age 15, just three years after picking up a guitar for the first time, Robert already had written 50 songs, and his band, the Robert Fortune Band, signed a record deal with Geffen Records in 2005.

But don’t tell Robert he’s a musical prodigy.

“I don’t listen to that. I don’t think I’m any type of prodigy at all. I just like to play the guitar,” he said. “I try not to listen to compliments. You never know if they’re telling the truth, and you get satisfied if you listen to all your compliments – you don’t proceed in your craft.”

The Robert Fortune Band released a four-song extended play (EP) disk – “March of the Wooden Tigers” – while with Geffen. The band even had a couple songs make it to a New Orleans rock radio station.

Two years later in 2007, Geffen Records dropped the Robert Fortune Band, but Robert has not given up his dream and has written about 35 more songs.

As the singer and guitar player of the Robert Fortune Band, Robert said he writes and plays with a strong blues influence.

“The closest thing that’s somebody’s doing [to the band’s sound] is probably the White Stripes. Jack White [White Stripes songwriter] is really blues influenced like I am, and he’s mixing that rock, punk vibe to it,” said Robert. “I’d say my music is Stone Temple Pilots meets White Stripes.”

Now at age 19, Robert Fortune and his band are ready to rock the City Club in Houma April 15.

“We’re fresh. We don’t regurgitate. Every show is different, so you never know what you’re going to get,” said Robert. “You can expect very high energy.”

Tickets start at $22, and the show includes performances from Saving Abel and Taddy Porter as well.

But one thing you won’t see at the show is Robert’s first guitar.

That’s because Gibbons’ gift “is in my room hanging up,” said Robert.