I first met Bruce Robbins just over 25 years ago. The band I was in was playing at a local, popular rock club in New Rochelle, NY and Bruce was half of a well-known pair of soundmen in residence there.
Bruce (along with Pete Herrmann – now owner of Motion Laboratories in Cortlandt Manor, New York) was well known by local bands, for they had local and national touring experience and were known to be real experts at their craft.
I only remember two things about Bruce from that day: One was his uncouth appearance, which never changed one bit in all the years afterwards. The other thing I remember was the way he treated me on that first day we met.
My band was no second-coming-of-the-Beatles (though I’m certain I believed we were on that day). I knew that Bruce had worked with much bigger bands, yet he treated my band and myself as the seasoned veterans we weren’t with much class, dignity, and professionalism – and he tried hard to make us the best sounding band in the world.
How often do you remember the way you were treated by a stranger on a day decades ago? I don’t remember all the details of that day, but I do remember that. What’s funny is that Bruce and I, years later, became friends and I never recounted the story of the day we first met. I doubt he remembered it at all, because treating people with respect, kindness, helpfulness, and professionalism was not a unique occurrence to Bruce, it was what he did repeatedly each and every day.
I saw Bruce constantly all through the 5 years I next worked at a retail music store. He was the good customer of another salesman, so we didn’t interact much, but he was always friendly to me.
After that, Bruce and I got better acquainted through a mutual friend, Simon Nathan (owner of Audio Production Services in Amawalk, NY), and then we got even closer when I worked for a loudspeaker manufacturer, where I often hired him to help with demos.
When I started running my own company a few years ago, Bruce was one of the first people to ask me, “What can I do to help your new company?” Unlike others who were looking for something in return for their service, he just sincerely wanted to help. He would’ve given his left arm to see my company succeed. He knew I was having a hard time and was truly sympathetic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t having nearly the hard time he was.
Bruce was sick for a while. He occasionally spoke of his ailments to close friends but never seemed to be seeking sympathy or help for himself. He was just stating what was going on in his life, perhaps venting a bit. I think he knew he was really sick towards the end of his days. His mood clearly worsened; he was often quite sullen, though never unkind to others. He never took out his bad days on anyone else and I always thought to myself how much of a better person he was than I.
Bruce and I were friends, though we both had better friends, and I debated whether I deserved to be the person writing this tribute to him.
Perhaps someone can write a better eulogy, but here’s mine: Bruce was the archetypal “soundman.” He wasn’t a front man, he wasn’t loud or boisterous, he was usually part of the crew behind the talent, and he liked that. His goal, on the job and off, was to help others be at their best. It’s easy to let the passing of someone like Bruce be cast to memory with the passing of time.
The thing here is that Bruce deserves to be remembered in perpetuity, and not for the long list of bands he worked with (I’m purposely not presenting his storied resume, because I don’t want that to define the person he was). I don’t know how many people truly have a good soul, have the desire to help others for the mere sake of being helpful. I believe this is a rare thing and Bruce was that person and more.
His name deserves to be put to print for others to read about. Though you may not have ever met him, I really hope you wish you had, because those who did know Bruce Robbins are the lucky ones. He will be missed.
John Krupa is an industry veteran and the president of Italian Speaker Imports.