I’m Bob, a heldentenor, which is a baritone with the full tenor range on top. That piece of information is pretty useless, by the way. My roommate, Bruce, and I decided to start a band and wrote a piece for it, Rocket Rolls, about the first moon landing. Yeah, it was cheesy, but it was the late sixties and we were barely out of our teens. We were voice majors, so each of us thought he’d be the front man. We needed instrumentalists, looked in the mirror and found our first two. I played piano and some other stuff; Bruce was a guitar player. He was no Eric Clapton, then again, I was hardly Elton John. We were good enough, it turned out.
That first summer we stumbled our way through a tour of festivals and stadiums. We recorded a couple of EPs and almost made money. The second summer the tour was more successful, just not successful enough that we could all make a living at it. We wound up with all voice majors playing instruments, and the front man was a piano major. Why not?
Like the rest of us, I trained to sing opera but never had the discipline to do the hard work necessary to succeed. I was too busy drinking, chasing tail, smoking weed, and in general having a good time. I suppose I could have auditioned for the Met, but few houses have more than one Heldentenor on contract at any given moment. If any at all. Europe had a lot more opportunity and a lot less money. You pick ‘em, you win some, you lose some.
Four years in Cumberland Conservatory taught me technique and a portfolio. Two summers on the road taught me life. No way to tell what might have happened if I’d tried earlier to make a go of it as a rock band member. Probably I’d have been like a cow without milk, an udder failure. I’m a nerd and never looked like anything else. It came in handy, because while Joe, Bruce and the rest of the guys were out screwing around I was practicing composing and arranging. I’m actually pretty good at it, maybe better than as a singer.
I grew up in Nebraska, moved to Virginia after college. My family bought a farm, which was meaningless to me. It was just a place that needed a lot of work. I got to meet some interesting characters through the band and afterwards as a session musician, composer and arranger.
I would never be the smartest one in the band, but that’s OK. I sure wasn’t the most attractive one; there was a reason I was in the back row. I was hardly the most successful one, either. But I learned to value experiences and friendships more than things, and collected those throughout my life. This is my, and our, story.