Bob's auto-bio. |
I'd occasionally tried writing a short yet informative CV for websites or gigs, but never got around to it until late 2019, when I finally gave up asking Wikipedia to update and correct their entry about me. To make a long story short, they wouldn't, so rather than let unknown editors who don't even know me make up their version of the story from other sources, I got busy and started writing my own, but didn't know when to stop, or to start for that matter! So I guess it's becoming an auto-biography, which will be amended as things of potential interest come to mind. I hope some of the story might be inspiring to other, perhaps younger, hungry artists and misfits to keep at it no matter what.
Last update January 2023
NOTE January 20th 2023 - I know there are some broken links, as websites change and come and go, I'm working on that!
I was born in Cleveland Ohio, in December 1957, nicely timed for the December's full moon. Growing up there in the early 60's the music I heard was rock 'n roll, Motown, and other crafty pop music on the radio. At home it was mostly the Beatles because my mother was crazy about them. The first record I remember asking my parents to buy for me was Surfin' Bird by the Trashmen, in 1963. Even as a small child I was very interested in how records sounded, how on some records the sound of the room was very noticeable but not on others, wondered why some records sounded 'clear', others 'cloudy'. I remember being just tall enough to stand on a little stool in front of my parents' wooden radio / record player cabinet and look inside at the record turning as I listened, enjoying the music on its emotional level while simultaneously dissecting the sounds and wondering about them. I knew what records I wanted to hear by the way the grooves looked, which mystified my parents and other adults, but it's obvious if you look and listen enough! I also spent many hours slowly turning the dial on the shortwave radio bands, which in those days were dense with otherwordly, ever-mutating noises and voices sounding like they came from other planets.
I don't know what it's like now, but as this old photo of Cleveland's Standard Oil refinery shows, in the early 60's there were large areas of refineries and chemical factories. Not yet old enough to understand the environmental damage being done, I used to love it when riding in the car with my parents to go shopping or visit a relative, we would pass these endless, desolate industrial landscapes: regions of dead grass and barren empty lots, rows of decaying tanks of unknown substances, corroded steel chimneys topped with thick, unnaturally coloured flames, indescribable weird odours, and I remember seeing one of the fires on the Cayahouga River, when clots of oily debris and nameless industrial effluvia floating on the severely polluted river caught fire. I thought it was amazing, like something from the science fiction films I loved!
I was a devoted fan of Ghoulardi, the host of Cleveland TV's Shock Theater which ran from 1963-1966, showing B (even Z) grade sci-fi and monster movies, but the best parts were his live, improvised interludes, brilliantly funny and shambolic. He would show and make funny comments about the things his viewers sent to him, and I sent him some drawings, and a badge he wore on his lab coat.
I gravitated towards all kinds of ghostly or weird movies, art, books, and especially loved The Outer Limits television show. Its visuals, music, and frequent suggestions of the awesome power of electricity and electrical devices made a huge impact on me, and the work I would eventually do. My mother loved spooky films and TV shows too, and I give her credit for having let me watch them from a very early age. My favourite science fiction films of the era often took place in lonely desert regions, to mention just a few: It Came From Outer Space, Brain From Planet Arous, Them!, The Monolith Monsters....and these also contributed to my fascination with deserts and geology.
With my older sister Rose I'd go on expeditions to abandoned houses in the neighborhood, explore the sewer systems, mysterious, green ravines, distant parks whose names we didn't know, we often felt as if we were on the verge of some unknown, unimagined discovery. I still feel that way!
The interest in springs, small fountains, and formal gardens was in place from my earliest memories. In the early 60's the family took a few vacations at Niagara Falls where I was captivated by the modest water features in Oakes Garden, which we'd pass on walks to the falls. My favourite there was the ivied wall down which a slight trickle of water dripped into a basin. You can just see it at the end of the walk in this photo from an official Niagara Falls website. I would have gladly spent the day there rather than looking at the falls.|
A spring that frequently returns to my mind's eye which I last physically saw in the early 60's was at Squire's Castle, a park in a wooded area outside Cleveland. Along the path through the woods behind the castle was a small, curved stone wall built into the higher bank of earth on one side of the path. From a rustic stone spout ran a small rivulet of iron-rich water which stained the spout and the stones it fell upon a rusty orange. This little spring stirred in me such a sense of wonder and mystery I can hardly account for it. I'm hoping to find a photo. Meanwhile here are some of my own photos of springs and fountains.
As far back as I can recall I was decidely enamoured of
anthrophomorphic animals, more apparently so than other people I knew. I didn’t think werewolves or
other big, snouty beasts were scary, they intrigued me...the monster, when it finally appeared at the end of the 1957
Night of the Demon film was kind of hunky...|
I loved Cecil the Sea Serpent, and other big, dumb, friendly cartoon animal characters - Rags the Tiger from Crusader Rabbit, Dum Dum from the Touché Turtle cartoons (my mother even made me a little statue of Dum Dum out of Play Doh), Breezly Bruin, and at age ten in 1967 I hopelessly fell for Baloo the bear in the Disney Jungle Book film.
The second of 9 children, no surprise: Catholic parents! Though I never believed the dogma and hated wasting Sunday mornings being dragged to church, which was a bizarre social game as far as I was concerned, what did appeal to me in a big way were the trappings and the mysterious side of it all: silence, candles, incense, statues and objects which were treated almost as living entities, hearing distant chant echoing through an empty church from some unseen chamber, and in those days they still said the mass in Latin and the priests kept their backs toward the congregation, which made it even more mysterious. It was a large, ornate cathedral there in Cleveland, with roaring pipe organ...all that was right up my street. I'm grateful for having had that Catholic upbringing because I am sure it gave me a special appreciation for certain kinds of spiritual weirdness and fantasy. I recall my old grandmother, who was practically Puritain, telling me, quite seriously, stories about people she’d known who were followed home at night by something leaping from treetop to treetop, which turned out to be the devil, or stories about demon-possessed houses where she saw holywater sizzle when splashed on the walls. She'd tell these stories again and again, I loved it...
In 1968 when I was 11 years old, the factory my father worked at in Cleveland was to be closed. The company had another factory in Watseka Illinois, a small (pop. 5000) rural community 120 miles south of Chicago, so we moved there. This small, quiet, dusty town in the cornfields suited me and my solitary nature, and I loved taking long rambling walks along the old train tracks and alleys, the lumberyard, the muddy, brown, Sugar Creek with its band of dark, mosquito-infested, poison ivy-rich woods on either side where I’d catch glimpses of raccoons, the dry, dusty old courthouse museum, where no one but me ever seemed to visit. I felt a haunting sense of time and suggestion of undefined mystery in all of it. One place I frequently explored was hidden in a patch of woods at the edge of town: the ruins of a factory which had burned down, or been otherwise partially demolished decades earler, twisted heaps of rusting machinery, the concrete floor buckled and cracked by trees and weeds. One day I followed the grassy storm drainage ditch which ran across the whole town, and when I got to the end where it simply opened out into endless fields, I felt a strange, immense sense of awe which the actual situation could not fully account for. This is still something I often feel with landscapes and gardens, even an old stone wall...
At home, I spent plenty of time in the basement, making
Another thing I liked about the church - I was an altar boy, and considered that as a performance, playing a character. I took it quite seriously from that angle, which made me very good at it, so I was a first choice for funeral masses, burials or weddings, which were often lengthy affairs...which meant I could be officially excused from school for the day to perform my sacred duties!Around 1969, my best friend in Watseka lived a few houses down and had an electric guitar and amp he never played, and though I had no idea how to play or even tune it, loved making sounds and feedback with it, much to his mother's dismay. I borrowed a drumkit from another friend, and found, as I had suspected, that I could play really well, in my simple style, right from the start. My best friend Steve Courtright played guitar, and with me on drums we would jam for hours in the garage.
My older sister Rose had an acoustic guitar, which she played a bit (Red River Valley, Kumbaya...) and I began trying to learn how to play it too. Unlike the drums, it seemed impossible, but with a Mel Bay "Guitar Chords in Photo Diagrams" book, with pictures of where to place your fingers, I learned a few basic chords which quickly unlocked its secrets, and was soon playing along with records.
In 1971, I bought the Scholastic Books edition of The Shadow over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror by H.P. Lovecraft. That was my first taste of Lovecraft and I adored it from the first lines of the book's first story, The Colour Out of Space:
"West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight."My kind of stuff. Thus began my further search for similar writers, soon discovering the world of classic weird fiction: E.F. Benson, M.R. James, Vernon Lee, Ralph Adams Cram, Robert Aikman...just to name just a very few.
On the decidedly less literary side of weird fiction, I devoured just as avidly the garish horror comics of the day like Creepy and Eerie, though I often found the frequent werewolf-and-vampire fare in these a bit too "normal", and never missed an issue of the trashier, more cartoony and lurid ones like Horror and Weird. My parents however, did not approve of any of these items, and the first time I brought one home I was told to burn it! From then on I just kept them hidden in the attic, appropriately enough! I did recognise and appreciate the difference between the subtle and well-written tales of, say, M.R. James or Arthur Machen and these lurid, cheap comics, I enjoyed both.
In 1972 my sister Rose handed me an album she said I ought to listen to: Fragile by Yes. By the time it got to the end of side one, I knew I had to get a bass guitar and learn to play it like that. (It was the one-note part in the verses on this song that done it!) The photos inside the album included this one of the bass player, Chris Squire. I asked an older friend in town who knew a lot about guitars what kind of bass that was, he told me it was a Rickenbacker 4001, so I knew I had to get one of those too! The local music shop had a couple of Fender basses, but the only one I could afford was a 40-dollar Teisco bass and amp combo, so I started with that and, though it didn't sound the way I wanted, I started learning the bass parts from Fragile and other records. A few months later I managed to buy a slightly better Electra copy of a Fender Precision, then finally in 1974 chanced upon a second-hand Rickenbacker 4001 and a Kustom 250 bass amp, and with the money from my job at the local pizza joint and a small loan from my parents, who saw by now this wasn't some passing interest, I bought them both - the same bass and amp I still use to this day. I loved playing bass and soon was quite proficient on it, playing in cover bands at school dances, the local VFW or bowling alley, county fairs, doing the rock tunes of the day: Aerosmith, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple..
In 1974, riffling through the LP racks at a local record shop , an album caught my attention: Unrest by Henry Cow. I'd never heard of them...a funny band name, odd cover pictures, and blurry photo of (presumably) the band inside, it all added up to “auto-buy” as they say today. I took it home and put it on - loved it from that first snare hit and piano chord. I didn’t find it "strange" or weird at all, in fact it felt very familiar, more like the definite confirmation that, yes, there ARE people who can and do make this kind of music. But how to meet them? They were so unimaginably far away from a teenager in Watseka Illinois they might as well have been on another planet!
|Upon (barely) graduating from high school in summer of 1976, I lived at home, desultorily working at the factory where I was expected to spend the rest of my life, with occasional fruitless forays to college towns like Kankakee and Champaign hoping to meet like-minded musicians. I worked at the factory for another year and half and in Summer of 1978 bought a little Datsun pickup truck and had a plan: a couple of my oldest pals I'd played in bands with over the years had recently moved to Denver, and said I could crash on their couch while I tried to get something going. If nothing materialized there after a few months, I’d go back home and try somewhere else. In October 1978 I packed my suitcase, bass and amp into the Datsun and headed west. I was excited. Here's a photo I took as the Sun set on my first day on the road to unknown adventure!|