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Two weeks after entering the army, Bobby Bare had his very first hit. Only nobody knew it at the time, because "The All American Boy" was credited to Bobby's good friend, Bill Parsons.
"I was living in California in 1958, and because of the draft I had to come back to Springville, Ohio, to join the Army," recalls Ohio native Bobby, whose eventual Top 10 hit list would include "Detroit City," "500 Miles Away From Home" and "Four Strong Winds."
With a week to kill back home, Bobby - already a dabbling songwriter - got together with his friend to put down some simple studio tracks. "With 20 minutes left in his session I said, 'Let me throw this down real quick.' I made most of it up as I went along," says Bobby.
When Bill took the acetate to Fraternity Records, the small label offered him $500 for it.
"Bill gave me $50 and we forgot about it," continues Bobby. "I went in the Army the next day and figured that was it."
It wasn't. Bobby went into the Army, and during basic training, he heard "The All American Boy" being played on a Nashville radio station.
"I said, 'Hey man! That's me!' And of course, none of the GIs believed me," he chuckles.
The song reached No. 2 on the pop charts, but Bobby didn't pursue his singing until he completed his Army stint in 1961. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to RCA by Chet Atkins and recorded "Shame on Me," the first of 58 Top 40 hits under his own name.
"Chet played me 'Shame on Me' and I said, 'Man if I ever got a hit, that's it," Bobby recalls. The single went on to be a pop smash. "It sold one million records," says Bobby, "although it wasn't country."
Bobby said his first Top 10 country hit was literally a traffic stopper.
"I was driving in L.A. and I heard Billy Grammer singing 'Detroit City,' although he called it 'I Wanna Go Home,' " Bobby recalls. "I pulled over on Sunset Bouvelard and tied up work traffic for three minutes while listening to the record. I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard. As soon as I got to Nashville, I recorded it."
Bobby's instincts were correct. "Detroit City" was a huge hit and won him a Grammy in 1963.
The momentum behind "Detroit City" and "500 Miles Away From Home" - which had also crossed over to the pop charts - translated into an acting opportunity. Bobby appeared in the movie A Distant Trumpet, spending the six weeks of the movie shoot in Flagstaff, Ariz., but yearning to get back on the road.
The movie company, Hollywood's giant Warner Bros., was impressed with Bobby's acting talent and tried to woo him away from his singing career. But Bobby wasn't interested. "Warner wanted to pay me $1,000 a week to leave RCA," he says. "I didn't even call them back."
Later that year, Bobby hired his future wife, Jeannie, as his female singer for a Reno, Nev., booking. They married in 1964. Was it love at first sight? Not exactly, Bobby chuckles. "It probably took a week to 10 days," he says with a smile.
Continuing to rack up the hits, Bobby embarked on a breakthrough European tour with Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves and Anita Kerr that made him an international star.
But his only No. 1 hit, "Marie Laveau," came almost a decade later from "A Boy Named Sue" songwriter Shel Silverstein.
"I wanted a great songwriter to write me a concept album," Bobby recalls.
1973's Lullabys, Legends and Lies, gave Bobby his two biggest hits: "Marie Laveau" and "Daddy What If," a song recorded with his son Bobby Jr. (now a Nashville-based rocker pursuing his own musical career as Bare Jr.).
But the career highs were tempered by a devastating family tragedy when Bobby's 15-year-old daughter, Cari, suddenly died of heart failure in 1976.
In the '80s, Bobby finally turned his attention to television, hosting TNN's "songwriter show," Bobby Bare and Friends, for a three-year run.
"I was the most unlikely talk show host ever," Bobby jokes. "I'm not a good talker, but I am a good listener. It was great - I brought all my friends to town and paid them to talk to me. I loved it."
It was during his TNN stint that Bobby and Jeannie also opened their Nashville retail store, The Bare Trap.
"We eventually ended up with three stores, but it became too much work for Jeannie," says Bobby. "The store became a big tourist attraction until they closed Opryland and tourists stopped coming to Nashville. Jeannie was getting home at 11:00 p.m., and I said, 'We're too old for this.' So we got out."
Today, when not at his Hendersonville home with Jeannie, Bobby spends most of his time fishing.
"I've jacked my price way up, and I'm still working more than I want to," he says with a grin.
He's also in no hurry to return to the studio, although he's been talking with a record company about re-releasing Old Dogs, the 1998 collection of Shel Silverstein songs he recorded with Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed and Waylon Jennings.
The album was originally issued on Atlantic Records, whose Nashville division folded into Warner Bros. shortly after its release, leaving the finished product in marketing limbo.
"I'd hate to see it sit and gather dust," Bobby says.
And his career highlight?
"Just being able to be a part of it for all these years," Bobby replies. "Just hearing a song, loving it and recording it, and having a lot of people love it in return makes you feel good."
-- Nick Krewen