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Robin Tolleson, drummer, music journalist and mentor, dies suddenly

Rob Tolleson looks at one of hundreds of LPs in his collection while working on his ‘Spin-terview’ show. Rob Tolleson looks at one of hundreds of LPs in his collection while working on his ‘Spin-terview’ show.

Robin Tolleson, a drummer, music journalist and generous sharer of his musical gifts through his church and programs to nurture young talent, died suddenly on Friday after collapsing on stage during a performance at Asheville's Downtown After Five concert series. He was 62.

Tolleson, who had lived in Hendersonville for more than 20 years, was performing with one of his many jazz/rock/fusion groups, the Secret B-Sides, when he collapsed, the news site Ashevegas reported.

Besides, the B-sides, Tolleson, who grew up in San Francisco, organized or played with bands in the Hendersonville and Asheville area and on the West Coast, including the Cabo Verde trio, the Hip Bones and Big Block Dodge.

The son of a musician, Tolleson was exposed at an early age to some of the seminal performers in rock'n'roll and jazz.

"They would have these great concerts and I'd just run out the door," he said in an interview with the Hendersonville Lightning in 2014. "I'd tell my mom, 'I'm going to the park to a concert.' And she'd say, 'OK, be back before dark.'"
The concerts at Golden Gate Park attracted the up-and-coming greats of the rock'n'roll and jazz scene. Walking behind the stage, he spotted a cluster of shaggy musicians.
"I said, 'Hey fellas, what are you guys doing?' And Jerry Garcia looks up at me and says, 'Oh, we're just sitting around smoking bananas.'"

Besides playing music himself, Tolleson had a parallel career interviewing and writing about musicians, drawing out portraits of their inspiration, their mentors and their style. He wrote for Modern Drummer, Bass Player, Guitar Player, Wind Player, Strings, Downbeat and Mix, which covers the recording industry.

He was born in San Francisco on Aug. 18, 1956, to Molly Sudduth Tolleson and Bay Area big band leader Walt Tolleson. He learned to play the drums at an early age. Robin moved with his siblings and mother to her native Hendersonville, graduating from Hendersonville High School in 1974. At Appalachian State University, he met his future wife, Jocelyn Clayton, then returned to San Francisco to pursue his music and journalism career. The couple married in 1982 and lived in San Francisco, where “Millie” was born in 1986. They moved to San Rafael, California, where James was born in 1991. Robin was a devoted stay-at-home dad by day and musician/journalist by night.

The family moved back to Hendersonville in 1999, where Tolleson became a pillar of the Western North Carolina music community and Trinity Presbyterian Church while continuing to write for national and local publications. For the last three years, Tolleson also served as director of the Hendersonville Community Music Center. He also started a music education program at the Henderson County Boys & Girls Club and for several years volunteered to run percussion clinics for the Hendersonville High School jazz band.

In a Facebook post, fellow musician Jason DeCristofaro called Tolleson “a pillar of the Western NC musical community, who selflessly gave so much back to so many people. He was a musical ambassador, writer and drummer of caliber, a family man, and one of the kindest, gentlest souls who never hesitated to use his time, energy, and knowledge to support others. I will miss him greatly, and wish his family the deepest condolences during this time.”

DeCristofaro, Bob Strain and Connor Law were scheduled to perform in honor of Tolleson at Barleys Taproom in downtown Asheville at 7:30 Sunday night, Ashevegas reported. In lieu of tips, they're accepting donations for the Hendersonville Community Music Center.

Besides giving of himself to teach and inspire young people, Tolleson had been active for many years in the annual Hunger Walk in Hendersonville and organized an annual "Instruments for Peace" concerts at Trinity.

Tolleson’s passing is a devastating loss to his wife of 37 years, Jocelyn Tolleson; daughter, Millie Tolleson, and her husband, Jacob Herson, of San Francisco; son, James Tolleson, and his partner, Sabrina Poms, of New York City;  two sisters, Susan Tolleson Bufano, and her husband, Jim Bufano, of Greenville and Juli Tolleson, and her husband, Matt Nycz, of New York City; brother, Wally Tolleson of San Francisco; and a great many other family members, friends, and community members in both Western North Carolina and the San Francisco Bay Area.

A service for Robin will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville with the Revs. Mark Stanley and Reverend Dwight Christenbury officiating.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Hendersonville Community Music Center (, click “Get Involved”) or North Carolina Peace Action ( The family thanks everyone for the love and support they have received.