I was the youngest of three brothers. My mother, Edith, always had a piano in the house, having played in church since childhood. My father, Travis, played trombone in his High School band and liked to croon ballads. Naturally, they encouraged their boys to play music. My oldest brother, Travis Jr., played guitar and my other brother, Mark, played drums. When I turned nine, my father asked me if I'd like a guitar, but I chose the bass. This way my brothers had a band. Travis didn't stay with the guitar, but, Mark and I played in local garage bands in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It wasn't until our father retired from the Army and the family moved to North Little Rock, Arkansas that we really started playing gigs.
That first summer in Arkansas, Mark and I were jamming in the basement on bass and drums when a guy from Pittsburgh named Mark Nelson walked past the house and heard the music. He came to the door and asked our mother if he could meet us. Then he went home and got his guitar so he could jam with us. Nelson turned out to be a fantastic guitar player. When he started playing, it was as if Eric Clapton had walked into the room. Mark and I could not wipe the smiles off our faces. We went on to play for the next two summers, when Nelson was in town and recorded our own original material twice in a commercial studio. It was during this time that I started to write my own songs. My parents gave me a guitar for my sixteenth birthday because they thought it would be nice if I could sing and accompany myself on guitar.
During my ninth grade year, I was invited to play bass in a local rock group called Gibraltar. I would stay with this band for the next six years. We went from garage band, to playing High School proms, to playing all original material and doing shows with big name acts like Pure Prairie League, Pat Benatar and Styx.
I had the opportunity to play with some really good musicians during my tenure with Gibraltar including: Kathy Cooper (keyboards), Davis Hendricks (vocals, perc.). Steve Hackler (drums, guitar) and Keith Stuart (guitar, vocals). Many drummers and guitarists came and went over the six years I was in the band including: Mike Baker, Mark Johnson, Tony Abrams, Robert Dobbins, Wes Sosamon, Gil Colaianni, Bill Ramsey, Mike Carrigan and Mike McGowan. I mention all these musicians (and will name more) because I believe that, in one way or another, they have been my benefactors and have helped me to become the person and musician I am today.
I thought that if the band was playing original music in concert I would be happy. When we achieved this milestone, however, I found touring to be grueling and boring. We would travel all day and then just sit around until it was time to play. When we hit the stage to warm up the crowd, as an opening act for the headliner, we would play for forty-five minutes, maybe an hour. We'd just be getting warmed up and have to quit. The band was playing the same tunes, the same way every night and it started to drive me crazy. I had a lot of good times with Gibraltar, but, I needed something else.
I began to formally study music at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and took private voice lessons, sang in the concert choir, madrigals and the jazz choir. I also played bass in the jazz ensemble and classical orchestra. My interest turned toward Jazz and Classical music. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor of Music degree at UALR. I had lots of great teachers including: Ron Boswell, Ned DeJournette, Art Arney, George Antolik, Dorothy Sawatski and Martha Ann Edwards.
I decided to leave Gibraltar and pursue my interest in jazz. It was hard leaving the rock band because we were like a family. I saw them practically every day. If we weren't playing, we were practicing or just hanging out.
Shortly after I left the band I got a call from a local drummer named Dave Rogers who asked me if I could play jazz. I said "sure", even though I had never played a jazz gig in my life. He told me to come to this club and play with him, on drums, and Tom Cox, on piano. I was going to fill in for their regular bass player, Rick Russenburger. That first night was like I walked into a different country. They were speaking jazz and I didn't know the language. I was completely lost. Tom kept putting charts in front of me and telling me what to play and expecting me to get it right away. It was very stressful. After four hours of this torture I went home with a splitting headache. I didn't know it at the time, but, Tom was a graduate of the Cleveland Conservatory of Music and had played with some heavy jazz musicians like Cannonball Adderly and Freddie Hubbard.
The gig was six nights a week for four hours a night. Every night I tried to play the right notes with the right feel. Every day I practiced for hours trying to figure out what they were doing. After a couple of weeks I didn't really know what I was doing but I was starting to swing. Tom and Dave pulled me aside after we finished playing one night and asked me if I'd like to be their regular bass player. I was excited and scared at the same time. Thus began my tutelage under the guidance of two really great musicians. Over the next two years I listened, practiced, rehearsed and played a lot of gigs with the Tom Cox Trio. Jerrie Lindsey sang with the group most of that time. I think I earned the equivalent of a masters in jazz on the bandstand.
When Tom reformed the trio with Joe Vick on bass and drummer Brian Brown, I got lucky and found a gig at Cajuns Wharf with Joe Holland's Good Times Jazz Band. It was six nights a week from six to nine in the evening. This left me time to play a later gig occasionally. Joe led the band on drums and Sissy Shane was the girl singer. We had two horns up front. T. Roy Benton on trumpet and Charlie Williams on tenor sax.
To my great fortune, Charles Thomas was on piano. Sir Charles, as we called him, was from Memphis and considered to be one of the top jazz pianists in the country. The first time I played with him it freaked me out. He would 'comp' with his left hand slightly behind the beat while his right hand played, melody and flawless runs up and down the keys, at a pace that was slightly ahead of the beat. If I followed his left hand the tune would drag and get slower. If I followed his right hand the band would rush and get faster. I finally figured out that I had to lay the bass line right down the middle and, when I did, everything fell into place and the band started to swing hard.
I also got to play with another great pianist, Art Porter, who would sub for Charles from time to time. For a bass player, every pianist is different. They each have their own idiosyncrasies. They play different chord changes for some standard tunes. Their turn arounds, introductions and endings all have their own originality. Art was one of the easiest and most generous pianists I ever played with. When he played, everything was so clear and, if he heard you straying from the changes, he would lay it out for you with his left hand. Sir Charles, on the other hand, rarely offered any assistance or said anything. If I asked him what the changes were for the bridge to a tune he would say, "Oh, just listen and you'll figure it out."
The Cajuns Wharf gig lasted for about nine months and then I started playing with Joe Holland (drums) and Bob Flowers (piano) at the Pleasant Valley Country Club every Friday and Saturday night for about three years. Most of that time we had Ginny Becton singing or Joe Falcone on trumpet.
Joe Holland was a great friend who kept me working and taught me a lot about the business side of music. Sometimes we would be playing and someone would come up to the band stand to say hello. Joe would just stop playing and stand up from the drum set to shake hands and talk with them. The rest of the band would keep playing until he came back in. The first time he did this I was appalled. How could anyone just let the music go like that? But after watching how he worked the crowd and kept us gigging, I came to a realization. Most people that came to the club didn't come to hear us. They came to have a drink and be with their friends. They didn't care if we were the baddest players on the planet as long as we could play their song. And we took lots of requests.
I played a short stint with an all black, except for me, Rhythm and Blues Soul band called Portrait. This was a great group with some fine musicians. The horn section consisted of Donny Logan on alto sax, Danny Fletcher on tenor sax and Ron Collins on trumpet. We had Kenny Nelson on piano, Eric Ware on guitar and J.T. Talbert on drums. David Ashley was the male singer and Cheryl Sharp sang the girl songs. I played bass and also sang.
Everywhere we played, the predominately black audiences were really nice to the white guy on bass. There was only one time I remember when there was a little racial tension and that was when we played the Hope Country Club #2. This place was out in the middle of nowhere. When I stopped to ask for directions at a Ramada Inn, the desk clerk told me, "You don't want to go to Hope Country Club #2." I explained that I was playing in a band out there and she just rolled her eyes and gave me directions. I didn't worry though, because the rest of the band had my back and they made sure to intercept any trouble before it came my way.
I started playing with El Buho (the owl), Gary Gazaway, around this time. Gary is a great trumpet player and band leader. He can get a band to blast off the band stand and play some incredible stuff. The quartet personnel would shift around, but when he had me on bass, it was usually Darren Novotny on drums and, either Lee Tomboulian on piano or Eric Struthers on guitar. Gary had the great fortune of playing with some fantastic Latin musicians like Hugo Fattaruso, Flora Purim and Aierto Moriero, to mention only a few. He introduced me to a whole new world of beautiful music from South America. I came to love this style and borrow a lot of ideas from this genre when I write my own music.
One night I was playing with El Buho. The club was packed and the band was smoking on an up tempo version of Miles Davis' tune "Four". We began to take 'fours' around the band. In other words, trumpet only for four measures, then the band would come screaming back in. Then drums alone for four measures, then the whole band, and so on. Everyone was playing hot and intense. When it got around to Lee Tomboulian, at the piano, he held a laughing box up to the microphone. It was so unexpected that the whole place cracked up laughing. The band then started taking 'fours' with this laughing box until everyone in the club was literally rolling on the floor laughing.
Another time, I was on the band stand at the old Ice House in Little Rock with El Buho. We were jamming on a funky version of "Feel Like Making Love' when suddenly this guy walked into the bar in a hat and trench coat. Eric Struthers was on guitar that night so there was no keyboard on the stand, but, an old upright piano was up against the wall on the dance floor in front of the stage. This guy walked over to the piano and started to play. The band got real quiet so we could hear him. Man, this dude started tearing it up, playing the funkiest, nicest stuff we had ever heard. After he finished his solo he stepped back and looked up at the stand and I recognized him. It was Sir Charles Thomas. The place went nuts.
Gazaway also introduced me to C. Dell Davis, a great blues musician from Tunica, Mississippi. C. Dell didn't just play the blues. He was the blues. He carried his guitar in a denim sack and played slide guitar with the handle of a butter knife. He had a strong singing voice and played harmonica as well. Gary would mix latin rhythms with the blues and it was an interesting sound. Once, when we played the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, C. Dell forgot his butter knife so we had to send someone to find one for him before we could play. Later, I was asked by Sal Bonner to put a group together with C. Dell to warm up shows in Little Rock for Bobby Blue Bland and B. B. King.
I got back together with some of my old Gibraltar buddies for a short time in a different setting. Bill Ramsey was marketing director for KSSN 96 FM radio, a local country music station. He got the idea of putting a band together called the KSSN Bandits and playing country hits as a marketing arm of the station. It was a great idea and we played a lot of gigs. Guitar duties were shared by Bill Ramsey and Chuck Gilbert. Jonathon Joyner played the piano. Besides Bill Ramsey, two other former members of Gibraltar played in this band. Davis Hendricks on vocals and Mark Johnson at the drums. We sounded great and got to play some prestigious gigs. The highlight was opening a show for Reba McEntire.
My next long term gig was with pianist, John Puckett and my old friend Dave Rogers on drums. We played every Friday and Saturday night at the Country Club of Little Rock for about three and one half years. John is another great pianist with his own unique style. He would rarely say anything. He wouldn't tell you the name of the next tune. He would just start playing. Dave and I had to listen and fall in, which we learned to do seamlessly. We had a great quiet jazz trio that kept the club members happy and that's how we stayed working for so long. John decided to change up the personnel of the group and hired another bassist and drummer, so I was looking for another gig.
During this time the music director at Unity Church of Little Rock quit and the ministers, Doug and Garnet Quimby, asked if I had any ideas about the music for worship. I told them I'd like to have a trio in the church playing really up beat, happy music and swing the 'Hell' out of that church. They told me to go for it, so I hired Bob Boyd to play piano and Randy McDonald on drums. I played bass, led the singing and decided what we would play. Every Sunday for the next six years Bob and Randy would come in at 10:30 AM. I would hand out charts and we would do a quick run through before playing the 11:00 AM worship service. A typical service would include an up tempo opening song like "Put On A Happy Face". We would sing a couple of hymns that were jazzed up to swing or played with a latin feel. We usually sang the "Lord's Prayer" and played a special song after the talk. Then we did an up tempo 'chaser' (or should I say recessional) when the congregation got up to leave.
Having to come up with new material every Sunday caused us to learn a lot of music that we would never have encountered. Nothing was off limits as long as it was positive and up lifting. We used Pop tunes, Show tunes, Religious songs and even wrote a lot of original material for the worship service. It was a great learning opportunity and I thank the Quimbys for giving us creative freedom.
Sometime during this period I got a call to hire the local pit orchestra for the Broadway Shows coming into Robinson Auditorium. This sounded lucrative because I figured I could hire myself to play bass and also earn the contractors fee for hiring the rest of the musicians. It turned out to be a daunting job. I had to make hundreds of telephone calls, to line up the best musicians I could find, and handle all of the details that the touring company and conductor requested.
I also had to get an upright acoustic bass. I had played one in college, but had switched back to fretless electric bass and hadn't played acoustic in about ten years. I got my new acoustic bass about six weeks before the opening of the Broadway tour stop of 'Titanic' in Little Rock, so I had to get my 'chops' back really fast. I almost bit off more than I could chew, but, somehow I made it through that first show in the pit orchestra.
One of my most embarrassing moments happened during the run of 'Peter Pan' starring Kathy Rigby. The orchestra pit is right in front of and below the stage level so that the audience can see the musicians if they look down, but we don't obscure the view of the stage. I was right in the middle of the pit, in front of the conductor. My amplifier was cranked up so that all the pit musicians could hear me and stay on beat. Of course, I was also wired into the main sound system. There is a flight of stairs that goes down to the backstage area right beside where I was playing. With seventeen musicians crammed up in the orchestra pit, there wasn't a lot of elbow room. There certainly wasn't room to lay my bass on its side when I wasn't playing, so I had it leaned up against my amp during breaks.
During an intermission I had my back to my bass and was talking to the conductor. Suddenly I heard this loud sound, like an explosion. I turned around to see my bass falling down the stairs, as if in slow motion. The head of the bass hit a step on the way down and the neck snapped off and the tension from the strings sort of slung it down to the bottom of the staircase. The whole theater became silent and I felt as if everyone was looking at me. I went to look at the bass and saw that it was a clean break on the neck so I thought to myself it could be repaired. I looked at the conductor and his eyes were as big as saucers, his mouth wide open. Everyone in the orchestra pit was looking at me. I thought that this moment was pretty surreal. I could laugh or I could cry. I chuckled and smiled because it was so absurd and unbelievable. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and the show went on without me that night. By the way, the bass is fine, thanks to my very talented luthier, George Anderson.
During my tenure as music director at Unity Church, Bob Boyd, Randy McDonald and I started playing a lot of casual gigs together. We would work as a trio and sometimes add a fourth member on trumpet or saxophone. It's been a privilege to play with several great brass and woodwind players with this band including Pat Henry, Earl Hesse, Sim Flora, Barry McVinny and Seib Allen.
We began to frequently work with Pat Henry on trumpet. The chemistry between the four of us seemed to work well. We found out that everyone in the band could sing lead and, when one would sing, the others began singing back-up harmony behind them. Soon Bob Boyd started arranging four part vocal tunes for us. Many of these are in the style of the Four Freshmen. Thus was born, the Bob Boyd Sounds. You can hear a few examples of the Sounds at www.boydmusic.com.
A few years ago I called my friend, Dr. I.J. Routen, to ask if she could help me find a teaching position in the Little Rock School District. She helped me get hired and made it possible for me to go to graduate school at SMU in Dallas and learn the Orff Schulwerk approach to teaching music. This has opened my eyes and made me see how important it is to work with young people and help them create beautiful moments together through music. I had some great teachers at SMU including: Julie Scott, Paul Cribari, Beth Nelson, Matt McCoy, Rick Layton and Jacque Schrader. Dr. Routen also made it possible for me to study World Music Drumming and Dancing with Will Schmidt, Josh Ryan, James Mader, Paul Corbiere, Margaret Jerz, Nellie Hill, Walt Hampton, Ryan Camara and Kalani. All of this has broadened my musical universe.
Nowadays, I keep busy teaching and playing with the Bob Boyd Sounds. I still get calls to play with other groups for a club date or party. I keep my reading skills up by playing with the David Rosen Big Band. My day job is teaching music at Stephens Elementary in the Little Rock School District.
Sorry about the length of this bio, but I hope it gives you an idea of how varied and diverse my experience has been. I've played many styles including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Latin, Broadway, Blues, R and B, World Music and Country. Perhaps this explains why my musical taste is so eclectic. You can hear it on my CD, "This Is My Heart".