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Seven Years After a Devastating Brain Injury, Legendary Songwriter Rick Roberts is Back

Rick Roberts and Winter Rose will play Buffalo Rose on Friday
Rick Roberts and Winter Rose will play Buffalo Rose on Friday

All told, the entire incident was more embarrassing than scary.

In 2006, Rick Roberts, songwriter and singer of the country-rock-blues sensation Firefall and the Flying Burrito Brothers, stumbled on a rug in his home, sending him head-first into a kitchen island.

"It bled for couple minutes and stopped," says Roberts. "I didn't think anything of it."

But weeks later, on Mother's Day, he noticed a blood blister forming on his head that began to bleed and wouldn't stop. For three hours, the tiny wound poured blood, soaking three bath towels and scaring Roberts's wife, who begged him to see a doctor. Roberts thought the sudden bleeding was odd, but still wasn't concerned.

"My wife was saying, 'Rick, you've got to go to the hospital,' says Roberts.

Although the bleeding eventually stopped, Roberts relented and went to the hospital. What doctors found upon examining him was serious: a subdural hematoma, commonly known as a brain bleed, that had been slowly trickling inside his skull for months after the accident in the kitchen. Showing no signs of brain trauma, Roberts was dubious about the doctor's prognosis.

"The doctor says, 'Well, Rick, here's what I'm going to tell you: You're going to lose your ability to walk.' I said, 'Nah.'"

But the doctor was right. Within a couple of months, Roberts started to lose motor control. Within eighteen months, he was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk.

"It took me a while to accept that it wasn't going to get better," says Roberts.

Roberts, who had never before ceased writing and performing music, was for the first time forced to give up his life's work to focus on recovering from the accident. Month after month, he did nothing but work on rehabilitation, moving slowly from his wheelchair to his feet, and, eventually, to walking again. After three years, he was almost completely back to normal, despite being less graceful than he once was.

But now he had another hurtle to overcome: relearning to be a musician. The accident hadn't affected his ability to play the guitar or sing, but the years of musical inactivity had taken their toll. This musician, who had a handful of Top 40 hits and had spent most of his life playing music, had to accept that he was no longer the songwriter he once was.

"I discovered that your voice is not like riding a bicycle," says Roberts.  

So after nearly four years of intense physical therapy to relearn how to walk, Roberts began the arduous process of learning to sing again. Things started to come back to him slowly, he says, but it was at a performance of his former band that he really got inspired to make restarting his music career a priority. Everyone, it seemed, had counted him out, and it affected him deeply.

"I was at a Firefall show," says Roberts. "I'm usually invited up on stage to sing, but I wasn't this time. It kind of hurt my feelings."

Then and there, Roberts said he decided to form Winter Rose, a band showcasing some of the area's greatest musicians, including guitar prodigy and 1995 LA Music Awards Guitarist of the Year nominee Michael Reese. The band makes its debut Friday at the Buffalo Rose in Golden, and Roberts is more excited than you'd expect a veteran musician to be. The music is different than fans might expect, he says, so he's curious to see how it's received.

"I never set out to form Firefall Revisited," says Roberts. "It's rock and roll, but [keyboardist] Bob Schlesinger has played a lot of jazz, so there's a jazzy edge to it. I'll leave it for people to decide."

Still, Roberts says fans of his classic sound won't be disappointed.

"I wrote eight of eleven charting Firefall songs, so we'll be doing some of those," says Roberts. "It's a mix of old and new, some familiar and some we hope to make familiar."

Rick Roberts and Winter Rose play Buffalo Rose Friday, August 15. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

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