I first met Bob around 1999 or 2000 when Frederick’s Music Lounge was re-opened for south city bands to perform nightly. He would be either performing himself or working the door or just hanging out. Back then I didn’t know anyone having just moved to the city in 1997 from Northern California, I was the weird quiet dude who had the weird drum machine band. But I lived mere blocks from Frederick’s and I was attempting to fulfill my childhood dream of being a part of the city of St. Louis. I watched in awe of Bob performing his tunes, usually on an acoustic guitar and generally wondered who this amazing old guy was. Then I saw his photography work and was blown away. His grainy black and white photos of the people and places in St. Louis looked exactly as I imagined St. Louis should look. At that time I made a mental note in the back of my mind about what Bob was doing and how he was using the city as his subject. It wasn’t obvious nor was it obnoxious, it was real, it was honest and it was inspiring. It was the St. Louis I wanted to live in and contribute to.
From there I would gradually get to know Bob. I’d see him at Fred’s or CB’s or Mangia or The Way Out Club or at the City Diner (at its old location). Just passing ships in the night. He didn’t really approve of my band at the time with my bad singing and our use of distorted electronic beats and sounds but that didn’t really bother me. Later he’d see me playing drums in various bands and we’d get to know each other a little better. One night he witnessed Jason Rook carrying me out of Mangia as I was puking. When I next saw him he ribbed me saying, “Last time I saw you, you had yellow stuff coming out of your mouth”. Then he’d talk about how he hasn’t drank alcohol in years and how I should do the same. Over the years I’d watch him move from band to band, from Kamikaze Cowboy to solo, to Palookaville to solo, to Thee Dirty South to solo, to Lost Monkey to solo, and finally Alley Ghost.
I realized early that Bob was poor and it was one of the things that drew me to him. I’m very familiar with poor people, coming from a teenage single mother in a tiny town located in Southeast Missouri, you become very familiar with being poor. It was one of the things that made me want to get to know Bob better. I had seen and known guys like him growing up and I understood where he was coming from. There’s an intense yearning that there’s more to life than simply going to a mind numbing job every day. There’s also a lot of stubbornness and pig headed self inflicted destruction that goes along with the territory that I’m all too familiar with and guilty of myself as well. I suspect most self-made artists have this trait but it comes from something deeper as well. Comes from literally starving because you have no food or freezing while you sleep cause you can’t afford heat. You either learn to live happily in a cage or you roam free, uninhibited. Bob chose the latter.
Around 2003 or 04 I was starting to get back into painting. I had taught myself to paint sometime around 1994 and always did it on and off without much direction of focus. But in 03 after being around Bob and seeing what was going on in St. Louis, I decided to get back into painting and to exclusively focus on the people and places of St. Louis. This decision was a direct result of seeing what Bob was doing with his photography and knowing all the cool things the city has to offer that wasn’t getting exposure. Of course Bob was clued in on all of this long before I was around but his influence and encouragement set me on the path I’m on today. And for this I’m greatly in his debt.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing when it came to Bob. There were many times I saw him and he’d flat out ignore me or say something very harsh and unnecessary to me. I’m sure he had his reasons and I’m guilty of the same type of behavior. But I learned long ago that it’s very important to accept artists as they are whole stock and barrel. What makes an artist great is the same exact thing that makes an artist not so great. You can’t have one without the other. And this is how I thought of and treated Bob. However, and I say this with all the joy in the world, the last few years of his life were truly happy for him. Anytime I saw him he was happy, always interested in talking about what he was up to, asking what I was up to, always engaging and encouraging. I think this had a lot to do with his surgery but also with the new band he had, Alley Ghost. These kids not only took care of Bob but they also took care of Bob’s photographs and his music. It’s because of these young musicians that Bob’s last few years alive could very well have been his happiest and I’m personally grateful to them for doing that for Bob. He deserved it.
It's always tough to write about these kind of things cause you ultimately end up talking more about yourself than the person who you're trying to honor. There are a ton of people out there who knew Bob better than I ever did. That was another great thing about Bob, he affected and influenced such a wide variety of people from all walks of life. He definately touched my life for the better. St. Louis has lost another one of it's most important artists on the same magnitude of another great St. Louis artist whose life was taken by a tragic accident, Bob Cassilly.
On Sunday Sept 8 Bob’s close friends are having a memorial in his honor at the Casa Loma Ballroom. There will be speakers and musicians reading Bob’s words and performing his songs. There will also be a silent auction of many items with all proceeds going to the new foundation that was set up at Bob’s request, Cowboy Angel Foundation. I was invited to donate a painting for the auction and it’s a great honor for me to give them the painting above of the Buttery with the hope that it and all the items available raise as much money as possible to help keep Bob’s dream alive.
now playing - Alley Ghost