I have known Bobby for many years and was lucky enough to have photographed the last UK Blackfoot tour for the band. Recently Bobby took time out to have a quick trans-Atlantic chat.
For those new to Bobby he is best known as the voice of the Southern Rock Legends Blackfoot and of course his own band AXE.
So sit back, put up your feet and sip on some good old southern charm.
First Bobby I’d like to thank you for taking the time to do this for us at Planetmosh.
Sam H – Bobby you have had an amazing career 50 years plus I think I’m right in saying, how did it all start.
Bobby B – I started as a drummer, in the pre beatles years, then got hooked for real as they became popular. My step father played a little guitar, so I was messing with it a lot, but playing gigs on the weekends on drums. Those were the days of weekly battles of the bands and gigs at roller rinks, teen clubs, you could stay pretty busy. I was living in
Chiefland Florida, playing drums in a little band, when one of the guys asked me if I wanted to go see a great band. I went and that’s the first time I met Jak Spires, I don’t remember the year, but they were a drummer, a guitarist and a keyboard player, 3 piece called Tangerine. They were awesome, so I made up my mind I was going to make this my living. I didn’t see jak again for well over 10 years. It took me a long time to put it all together, that jak was the guy I had seen that blew me away.
SH – Do you still own your first guitar.
BB – No I have had a lot of guitars stolen over the years. My first real band was Wakefield, in Colorado. A friend of a friend introduced me, as a “great musician”, I’m still 15 or 16 at the time, I don’t have a clue what anything is about. They had a drummer, so asked if I could play guitar, as they wanted my voice more than anything. I lied and said sure. But I picked up a used guitar at a pawn shop, and picked it up, and could play. Guess those years of screwing around with it had paid off. It was stolen, I then bought a gold top 1968 or maybe 67, then bought another, the same year. They were stolen out of my house, while I was standing on the front porch, I got so pissed off, I threw the cases out on the lawn and screamed you might as well have it all, they were gone in 2 or 3 minutes. I then moved to an L5S Gibson, the solid body of the LA jazz guitar, but ended up with my favorite guitars 1961.5 les paul juniors, they look like an SG but are a Les Paul. I stayed with those until I started to get real endorsements, first BC Rich, then Gibson, a few smaller companies, then ended up with Hamer, for many years. I’m a guitar junkie, so I have had about everything. The last 10 plus years I have been with Dean USA. The Soltero is my favorite.
SH – Do you remember your first live show, and can you tell us about it.
BB – It was at a roller rink on a Saturday night. The lead singer took all the money and bought a gold plated mic. Asshole, I left and drifted from project to project.
SH – Your style has seen you play with some great bands including Blackfoot do you remember how joining Blackfoot came about.
BB – We were managed by the same manager and shared a rehearsal space with them, so we became friends. Years later in the early 80’s I started to write songs with them, with jak mostly. Then when I could, I would go to the studio with them. It’s a pretty common practice to have a few songwriters in the studio working together to come up with records.
SH – I was lucky enough to do photos for Blackfoot a few years back when you returned to play the UK, what memories of that time do you have.
BB – I have always loved the uk, I had a very good friend who was from south of the city (london) and spent many a night roaming the streets looking for fun. We spent too many years away from the UK, not touring, I have spoken to many people who said why don’t you ever come back, when the answer is, we have, a few times. But without the underground word to mouth adverts and the old magazines. You can play in London and most of the fans don’t even know you were there. Different business now.
SH- Southern Rock has always had a huge following in the USA and a devoted fan base here in the UK what do you think makes it so special
BB – It was the melding of hard rock and blues, not the way it was done in other countries, but by kids who had grown up listening to blues, country, blue grass, and then discovered marshalls. It lead us into a cool time in music.
SH – Blackfoot’s legacy seems to have faded of late what’s your take on that
BB- Trying to get me in trouble huh?
When the original band broke up, southern rock was on the decline. As some know, I stayed on with Medlocke for a couple years, but I also had Axe , and a solo record on Atlantic, so I moved back to Los Angeles and started a version of Axe with Andy Parker from UFO, I think we ended up changing the name, can’t remember, we opened a studio as well. Somewhere in the late 80’s, Angry Anderson and I had became close friends, I started working with him on the blood from stone record, I got fired, except for backing vocals. Lol, but when it came time to tour, I got rehired, so off to Australia, we had two top 10 singles from that record, then it just sort of petered out. So back to America. Cut out the rest of those years, it would take a book. But in 2004 Greg T. Called me and asked if I would want to come back with Blackfoot, Ric was playing with Skynyrd and they needed a singer guitar playing frontman, I spent most of my life in that position, so since i had played with all the original guys, we were off on the road again. I brought a more mature soulful sound to blackfoot and we had good sucess until around 2010 when I had to have spine surgery, they got Mike Estes to fill in, by the time I was ready to come back, our contract was close to over, so I just went on with other production work. I don’t really know what happened after that, I’ve heard different reports. The thing to remember, is its the chemistry between people. Not necessarily the most monster player or singer. It was easy for me to step in, as I had always been a lead singer in my band on MCA and Atlantic, I played with all the guys full time starting in 1984, so a few modifications and a new Blackfoot.
SH – Which Blackfoot album is your personal favourite and why
BB – More trouble. ..huh.
Everyone loves Strikes, I also like the live in Kentucky, as it shows the more mature band. The 70’s blackfoot played everything very fast and if you listen, ric couldn’t fit all the words in, it was so fast. It was more of a venue for Ric’s skills as a frontman, the later blackfoot became more musical, not because of me, all of us had matured, our fans were older, we were older, we enjoyed playing in a different way.
SH – Is Southern Rock still as popular in the USA now as it was.
BB – The music business is so much different now than it has ever been, I don’t think rock of any kind is as popular. There are a few rock bands, very few that can tour the big venues now, except for Rap and Country and a few Pop artists. It used to be that you could see 3 or 4 concerts in a week. Now for rockers, it may be 3 or 4 a year. Depends on where you live. Ticket prices are like buying a used car.
What we know as Southern Rock is now modern country, a few blackfoot songs have been re-recorded by famous country artists. But there just aren’t the venues to keep any rock bands except a few, working. So no, it’s not as popular has it once was.
SH – You play a lot of styles including Delta Blues can you give us a break down of why this style of Blues differs from the rest.
BB – I was never really into delta blues until I moved to new orleans. I would see a lot of old timers playing delta style blues and I would say, I don’t get it. Then one day I just got it. It comes from a place where there are no rules, you might have 6 measures followed by 9. The slide playing is very rudimentary, if you over think it, you get lost in musical theory land. But if you just play it, it is great. The people who made it famous are not guitar virtuoso’s, they were guys who lived hard and fought to survive day to day. When you realize that you just open up your heart and it comes out. I play a very sad melodic style of slide.
SH – Bobby can you tell us about your current project
BB – My current project is to get my studio moved from new Orleans back to florida, then I have a solo record I want to do, a sort of southern Americana style. Then I’m retiring. Play a gig when I want, produce an artist I like, make the rest of my days ….happy.
SH – I know you live in New Orleans what is the music scene like there right now
BB – Since Katrina it’s not even worth talking about. All the real players moved out.
SH – Do you have a large collection of guitars at home
BB – I have about a dozen, each one has its own job. Been trying to talk PRS out of a new model, but I’m not cool enough for them. …lol.
SH – You have had well over 100 pieces of music released worldwide which tracks are your favourite and why
BB – Cds, I like Axe 5 and Jaded Heart 4.
Songs, I like no heros, it was the first song I saw what a real producer could do, since I had never had one, I had to become one. That was my first real try at production with the gloves off.
SH – Did I read right you did incidental music for the films Backdraft and Furn Gully
BB – Those and a couple others with Bruce Nazarian, he produced my solo record. And started me on my production career. That’s a tough group to crack, we only got in by being writers and players for hire. If you watch Don’t tell mom the Babysitters Dead, its me singing the old classic “as time goes by”
SH – You’ve toured with so many bands over the years, do you have any tour bus stories you can share with us.
BB – Have to wait for the book, remember, we didn’t have the awful diseases holding us back, so it was more of a daily thing than a story here or there. But I’m sitting with a few great ones on my computer. Mötley Crue beat me to one of my faves, but they left me out of the story in the book.
SH – Tell us a bit about working with Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo
BB – He’s a brother, he’s a great man.
I would do anything for him, even now. The world is a better place with him in it. I recently got back into contact with Rob Riley, so I’m looking forward to hearing from him.
SH – Axe have played a major part in your life when did you start with Axe and how are things going now
BB – Axe came out of an awful record from Babyface.
It was a pretty rocking record, but the producer thought it would be a good idea to remove the heavy guitars and put on the Minnesota symphony strings. We were horrified. But by the time we got off the road and we’re planning to beat his ass, one of those little songs was #17 on the charts. It was so lame, made worse by the fact ge sped up the tape, so I sounded like a fuckin chipmunk. So we finished out or Babyface dates to disappointed crowds of girls in dresses and guys in suits, thinking they are gonna see a band like “the carpenters”. Had to disband and started axe, with most of the same guys.
SH – Bobby can we expect to see you in the UK in the not to distant future…
BB – You never know, love to come, but have to book gigs first…
SH – If you could play with any musicians living or dead in a jam band who would they be
BB – Michael Osborne
Any monster fretless bass player
SH – What do you have planned for the near future musically
BB – An Americana record, all the songs are written, just waiting for the new studio building to be built.
BB – Over the years you must have played some awesome festivals which ones stand out for you
SH – Knebworth, I had played a lot of big shows, but there is something about the Knebworth of 85 that kind of broke my giant crowd cherry. I wasn’t sure what the mud was all about, until I saw a giant clod of mud and grass coming toward me during a guitar change, I took my flying V and hit it like a baseball, crowd went nuts and its still one of my favorite crowd moments. The other was with Axe in Germany in the late 1990’s. We had never played Germany and we started Battles a song from 1979. I started to sing, I have eye problems, so even when I wear sunglasses I keep my eyes closed, anyway I heard something very strange, I leaned back and told the monitor mixer, something is fucked up, he said “sing the next verse with your eyes open”. The entire crowd was singing every word, they had waited 20 years to hear us play that song live and still knew every word. It choked me up on stage.
SH – Bringing this to a close Bobby do you have any words of wisdom for young guitar players
BB – Try to keep your mind open to all types of guitar playing, even kinds of music you don’t like, you can learn from. In the 1960’s and 40’s, Nashville pickers were doing all the tricks that made Eddie Van Halen famous. I learned them from Phil Brown in 1971. So learn to Travis pick, mess with slide, do it all, because if you stay in the game long enough, you’ll need it.
Bobby thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me and the Planetmosh readers it’s been an honour.