Industry Profile: Bob Brumley
— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess) This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Bob Brumley, CEO, Brumley Music Company.
Bob Brumley takes enormous pride knowing that he and his family based in Powell, Missouri are keeping alive the music of his famous father, the late Albert E. Brumley.
Emulated by generations of gospel, country, rock and even rap musicians, Albert E. Brumley, who died in 1977, is one of the most respected and influential songwriters ever.
The Brumley Music Company catalog includes such American evergreens by Brumley as: “I’ll Fly Away,” “Turn Your Radio On,” “I’ll Meet You in the Morning,” “He Set Me Free,” “Rank Strangers To Me,” “Jesus Hold My Hand,” and “If We Never Meet Again.”
Thousands of artists have recorded Albert E. Brumley songs including: Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, George Jones, Alison Krauss, Mumford & Sons, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Jars of Clay, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Keith Urban, Puff Daddy, and Kanye West.
In addition, Hollywood music supervisors have long embraced the Brumley catalog for such films as: “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “The Apostle,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will,” and currently, “The Greatest.”
Available at the Brumley Music website are such vintage-styled songbooks as “The Best of Albert E. Brumley,” “Albert E. Brumley’s Book of Radio Favorites,” “Great Inspirational Songs,” “Olde Time Camp Meetin’ Songs,” and three volumes of “Songs of the Pioneers.”
Like most of his siblings, Bob grew up working in the family’s music publishing and songbook business that was founded by his father in 1944. As a teenager, Bob also played bass in a band with his brothers Al, Bill, Tom and Jackson that performed on local radio and TV stations as well at local music festivals.
In 1986, Bob purchased his brother Bill’s share of Albert E Brumley & Sons Music which also operates as the Brumley Music Company.
While working with his father and brother Bill, Bob helped launch the Brumley Gospel Sing festival in 1969 which still continues annually.
In late 2015, The Brumley Music Company launched a series of national programs and promotions to celebrate 110 years of Albert E. Brumley.
Among the company’s new marketing initiatives are an interactive website (brumleymusic.com), and the introduction of a life-sized caricature resembling Albert E. Brumley.
The affiliated I’ll Fly Away Foundation brings professional songwriters into schools and helps kids write songs. The foundation’s series of songwriting showcases are multi-day events at various rural schools giving students the chance to write music, express themselves through song, and create opportunities for creative learning.
Bob served as president of the Southern Gospel Music Association (2007-2009), and currently serves on its board of directors.
Other than the Brumley Music Company being a family business trying to keep your father’s music alive, it is also preserving American gospel musical history.
Well, that’s essentially is what I’m doing. Of course, with what dad did he was a part of American gospel history from a way back.
You operate from an office in Powell, Missouri built by your father. With the Internet, the location of a music publishing business is immaterial today. You don’t need to be based in Nashville, New York or Los Angeles.
No. Dad was never a fan of any town that had more that 10 people in it. He liked being out here in the country. It helped him to be inspired. It’s quiet and, comfortable.
You, of course, do have Internet.
We’ve got internet. We are in the future, boy. We’ve had internet since the ‘90s. With the telephone company here, we had hand-cranked phones up until ’67. Our ring was two shorts and a long. We’ve had Wi-Fi here for about 10 years too. When the phone company went digital in the ‘80s, they put broadband lines in. We don’t have the fastest stuff. We just have a digital service line.
How did you come to take full control of the company in 1986?
Well what happened is that when dad got ill health in the ‘70s, my brother Bill and I bought him out. Then, as we went along, Bill’s health began to deteriorate. He just didn’t feel like doing anything anymore so I bought him out.
Your father passed away in 1977 due to an abdominal aneurysm.
Yes in 1977. November 15th.
Music publishing is a complicated business and many families haven’t been able to successfully carry on dealing with the music publishing activities of a family member who has passed away. Was it a hard thing for you to get your head around?
It was. I bought him out, and I will be honest, that I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew that something had to be done. It’s like anything, Larry. You just wade into it, and learn the things that have to be done, and grow it. When I took it over, it wasn’t doing really well. I just worked at it, and kept making sure that the things that I did were in small steps, and not try to get ahead of myself. Finally, it worked out. It took me three or four years but I finally got it back on its feet.
Still, not everyone can take on such a complex business as this, and cope. It’s like a garden. You have to continually weed it.
Years ago, before I was married, I was up getting my car repaired at Griffith Motor Co. in Neosho, Missouri. They had put these machines in there where you could test engines and things. This ole boy had a van, and on back of the van he had a little sign that said, “TODD KEEPS THIS LITTLE TRUCK, AND THIS LITTLE TRUCK KEEPS TODD.” That impressed me so much. I know exactly what it means. It means that if you take care of your business, your business will take care of you. That’s just the way that I have worked all of my life.
How did you come to have your daughters Elaine and Betsy involved in the company?
Well, they have always kind of wanted to be involved but I didn’t have place for them until I really got this thing going.
Publishing is a hard business to get involved in.
It is a hard business. Dad always said it is probably the most competitive business in the world because there’s probably a million songs written every day. It’s a different matter of how many get cut (recorded) or get used.
Your son Bobby didn’t take an interest in the family business?
No, he’s always been a military guy. When he was five-years-old he made the statement that he was going to go to the air force academy. That’s what he worked his entire life for, and that’s what he did. He was in the air force for 22 years, and he retired as a colonel.
Was the company a one-person operation after you took control?
Well I had a couple of people that worked for me but it was kind of a one-man operation for awhile in order to get it back to working right, and to sustain itself. After that they went by the wayside, and I got Betsy and Elaine in. They have done a really good job, and their husbands are involved too.
In the past decade have you had to reinvent the company to some extent?
I sure have.
Still the company is still putting out songbooks. How many songbooks has the company sold over the years?
It has probably been quite a few million. I know that we have some “Pioneer” type songbooks that have sold 10 or 12 million copies over the years. We had a company that shipped them all over the world, and we would sell a bunch of them every year.
Betcha never figured out you’d be in the commemorative T-shirt business.
Well, I don’t know if we really are. We will see how that works out.
Well, you are in the merch business.
Oh yes. I guess you can say that we are.
Gospel music goes through peaks and valleys of popularity in America. At one time on Sunday mornings, you’d hear gospel on hundreds of radio stations. With the passing of such gospel music icons as J.D. Summer, Brock Speer, and Glenn Payne in the late ‘90s, the popularity of gospel music seemed to wane. One of the few times you hear it anymore on the airwaves is Bill Gaither’s “Homecoming” programs.
Well, I still put on a good ole gospel sing. Sometimes I think that Southern gospel music is the best kept secret in the world. There are still a lot of people that still go out to it.
[The 48th Annual Brumley Gospel Sing will take place Aug. 3-6, 2016 at the Mabee Center in Tulsa Oklahoma. Among the acts performing are Karen Peck & New River, Great Vision, Aaron Wilburn, Booth Brothers, Chuck Wagon Gang, Mark Trammell Quartet, Blackwood Brothers, the Perrys, and Diplomats.]
The Brumley Gospel Sing concerts started in 1969. Another way of keeping gospel music alive?
It helps tremendously keep it alive. It keeps our name out there, and it keeps dad’s name out there. The one thing is that I just cannot let dad’s music die. There are things that you have to do to take care of that which I want to do.
And not just for financial reasons, of course. It’s also about keeping both a name and a tradition alive.
It has never strictly been a financial thing with me, Larry. As I said earlier, I found out that if you take care of business that business will take care of you. It has never strictly been a financial thing. It’s been mostly to keep dad’s music, and the Southern gospel genre of music alive.
Another way that is being done is with the I’ll Fly Away Foundation.
My daughter Betsy started that in the Fall of 2011. She’s really worked at it. The goal there again is to keep that music alive. One aspect which is really impressive to me is that when they go into these schools, and they teach these songwriting classes to kids that–a lot of these kids are so backward, and unresponsive to things–but when they get into this, it’s like it opens up a whole new world to them. They come out of their shell. They start writing music, and getting involved in singing a song. All that kind of stuff. It is just like magic watching it come alive.
If you can reach kids with music, you can likely reach and inspire the next generation.
That’s right. The one thing about music is that it is kind of a unifier, and it’s kind of a universal language. It’s like I always say, “Have you ever seen anybody singing and fighting at the same time?” For the most part when people start singing there’s something about it that brings people together. It is just a language that everybody understands. I don’t care what nationality you are, or what language you speak.
Your father studied and wrote music at the Hartford Music Institute in Hartford, Arkansas in the 1920s. He founded his own company in 1944, and purchased the Hartford Music Company catalog in 1948 in order to regain his copyrights. He must have been very aware of the importance of the copyright.
Dad was an expert in copyright. An absolute expert. He knew everything that there was to know about copyrights.
How did he become such an expert?
Well dad only had a tenth grade education. In fact, he didn’t quite finish the tenth grade. But he made it his purpose in life, or whatever you want to call it, to study. Two things that he did. He studied word dictionaries, rhyming dictionaries, and he studied Roget’s Thesaurus. He did all that to learn words, and to learn what they said, and what they meant. He did the same thing with copyright. He studied that to a point where he understood every bit of it. Dad was one of the shrewdest guys I knew in the ways of how to apply his knowledge.
The Hartford Institute was both a school. and a publishing house?
Well it was a publishing company and a singing school. They had what they called “ten day normals.” For two weeks, they would study music. They would study the rudiments of music, harmonies, and all that kind of things. Dad, when he was 16-years-old, he hitch-hiked to Hartford, which at that time wasn’t that far. It was only 16 miles from where he was raised. He was raised in Spiro, Oklahoma, and then in Rock Island, which was just across the line from Arkansas.
Dad went down there (to Hartford) with $2 in his pocket. When he got there he didn’t have anything left. So (Hartford founder) E.M. Bartlett put him up in his house. For some reason, E.M. just took a liking to dad, probably because of dad’s determination. Dad was determined to learn all he could about the business, and he studied every aspect of it.
Was it at Hartford that your father learned how to write music?
Well, he did. He actually wrote songs before he learned all that but he learned more about writing and he learned harmony, and he learned music.
Who wrote out the music for his numerous music books?
Dad did all that. Let me tell you that dad was a genius with that stuff. It was just amazing to watch him. He wrote all four parts at the same time when he wrote the music too. That was another thing. I’ve seen him write the leads, the alto and all of those four notes at the same time.
It is incredible.
Meanwhile, he and his wife were raising six children.
He was doing that too.
You and your brothers played in a family band.
Yes, we had a family band for awhile.
Your brother Tom was a steel guitar player?
He was (later) with some big stars like Buck Owens, and with Rick Nelson. He was with Rick Nelson for 12 years. He was also with the Desert Rose Band.
[Bob played with his brothers Albert Jr., Bill, Bob, and later Jackson in a family band that performed on local radio and television stations, and at local music festivals. His brother Albert Jr. was signed by Capitol Records in 1962. When Tom played steel guitar on Albert’s 1962 recording session in Los Angeles, country recording star Buck Owens heard him, and told him he’d hire him if he ever had the chance.
Performing with Buck Owens’ Buckaroos 1963-1969, Tom was featured on such signature Owens’ recordings as “Act Naturally,” “I’ve Got a Tiger By The Tail and “Together Again.” After Rick Nelson hired Tom to play on his album, “In Concert at the Troubadour, 1969,” he stayed with Nelson for 12 years. Tom next spent three years with the Desert Rose Band. He performed or recorded with such artists as Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Chris Isaak, Waylon Jennings, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Ray Price and Rod Stewart. He died in 2009.]
You know, I just made the link. Tom was one of the greatest steel guitar players ever in country music.
He was. To me he was one of the best that there ever was. Tom got his start in big time country music with Buck Owens. He actually formed the Stone Canyon Band for Rick.
The Stone Canyon Band was a heck of a band which expanded the parameters of country music, and its bassist/singer Randy Meisner was a founding member of the Eagles.
Tom was an innovator. One of his first record with Buck Owens was “Together Again” (1964). (Famed steel guitarist) Buddy Emmons told him, “Tom, I never buy records, but I went out and bought that one.”
How come you didn’t follow your bothers Albert and Tom into professional music?
I don’t know. I got involved in the publishing side pretty early on. I traveled with a band out of Springfield, Missouri for awhile. We didn’t call it a name. We just went around and played. It was a house band for all types of acts. We went to places where they didn’t have their own band, or didn’t have a band for everybody. I did that for three or four years. I nearly starved to death doing it because we weren’t making very much money. So I came home and went to work with dad and began manufacturing songbooks. Then as things progressed I got involved in the publishing with my brother Bill. My brother Bill and I bought out dad in 1976. Then I bought out Bill in ’86.
You started another company at that time Country Gentlemen.
I still have that.
Brumley Music Company owns the earlier Hartford songs your father wrote?
Yeah, and songs by all of the Hartford writers. There’s a bunch of them. There are probably four or five thousand copyrights in the Hartford Company.
Brumley Music Company has two songs featured in the current film “Greater,” including your performance of “I’ll Fly Away.”
That’s right. That’s me. I’m playing a 1937 Gibson guitar.
Also featured in the film is a song written by your father’s Hartford mentor, E.M. Bartlett.
Yes. They’ve got his song “Victory In Jesus” in that film.
Is “I’ll Fly Away” the most popular song in the Brumley Music Company catalog?
I’m not sure, but I would say that it is the most played and copyrighted song in the world. That’s my opinion. Every day we get copyrights. Every day we get licenses. It is just amazing.
Certainly the Coen brothers’ film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” in 2000 re-introduced “I’ll Fly Away,” performed by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, to a mainstream audience. The landmark soundtrack, which won a Grammy Award and a CMA award for Album of the Year, sold 9 million units. The 1956 version of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ by the Kossoy Sisters wasn’t in the film, but was featured on the expanded soundtrack released later. Obviously, “O Brother Where Art Thou” was a big boost to the popularity of your catalog.
It was. At the time it was just one of those things. You know that catalogs have ups and down. I was trying to get involved with the country music side with Country Gentleman with some writers like Jerry Salley. At the time I wasn’t pushing the gospel side as much. But then that came along.
Pitching gospel songs to artists and managers must be challenging. Have you sat in offices and played music to managers and label executives?
Oh yeah. But the thing about “I’ll Fly Away” is that you can’t pitch that song to anyone. You can pitch it to them but they are going to record that song sooner or later. Do you understand what I am saying? Pitching that song is just unfruitful. I have never been able to successfully pitch it but, at the same time, I get calls all the time from people wanting to use it. I’m not sure you understand what I’m saying.
I think I do. If you want to evoke an earlier era of America that is a song you use as well as, perhaps, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” (1932) or “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (1933).
Yeah. It’s like when they are onstage and someone says “Let’s sing something that everybody knows.” What do you think that they are going to sing? They are going to sing “I’ll Fly Away.”
Does it compete in popularity with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?”
It does. That’s another one of those songs that is the same thing. It’s going to be one of those two songs that they do.
What was your reaction when you saw the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” film? And how did I’ll Fly Away” get in the film? Probably it was a choice made by T-Bone Burnett.
Yeah, T-Bone was the one that did it. I enjoyed the movie. I liked it. I think a lot of people didn’t get it. It is pretty strange, but you’ve got to know the Coen brothers and how they work. Every film they do you can tell that it’s a Coen brothers movie.
Due to the profanity you might not have liked their 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.”
I didn’t care for that myself.
Do you have the problem where people think your father’s songs are in the public domain?
You can go out on the internet, and just see how many (unlicensed) songs there are. “I’ll Fly Away,” for instance, has been used so many times without licenses that it’s pathetic. I have been in several lawsuits with the Dixie Chicks, and Puff Daddy or whatever his name is. They felt that the song was PD and they tried to prove that it was. Then they tried to say that it was “fair use.”
[In 2002, the Dixie Chicks’ sophomore studio album, “Fly” was certified “diamond” for sales of 10 million units. “Fly,” however, included “Sin Wagon” which allegedly sampled “I’ll Fly Away.” Albert E. Brumley & Sons filed a suit against Sony Music Entertainment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in Joplin, Missouri, claiming that Sony had not received clearance to use the song, and sought damages of a minimum of $500,000. The suit was settled. Due to agreed confidentiality no other information is available.]
“I’ll Fly Away” was sampled without permission for the Grammy-winning song “I’ll Be Missing You,” recorded in 1997 by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans. In 2000, Albert E. Brumley & Sons settled a copyright infringement suit filed against Arista Records, Faith Evans, Illegal Songs, Chyna Baby Music, Janice Combs Publishing, Magnetic Publishing, and Bad Boy Entertainment. In the settlement, the defendants acknowledged that Albert E. Brumley & Sons was the rightful copyright owner of “I’ll Fly Away,” and compensated the company for an undisclosed amount.
“I’ll Fly Away” was created by Albert E. Brumley and copyrighted in 1932 as a compilation, then renewed with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1959 as an individual single.]
Monitoring unlicensed use of copyrighted songs can be like playing whack-a-mole at the carnival.
It’s amazing that people think that a song hasn’t got a copyright. They say, “Well, that song, it’s ancient.” Well to people in their 20s it is ancient.
You were one of the co-founders of the Integrated Copyright Group in Nashville in 1990. Was it formed because of music infringement concerns?
That’s right it was. The main reason I started that was that we had SESAC. They used to do royalty collections, and they did a poor job of it. So I met with John Barker (VP of Copyright Administration at EverGreen Copyright Acquisitions) down there. I was looking for somebody to help me get started with the company to do this because it was something that was desperately needed at the time. That’s why I started it. There were so many of our songs being cut without a license. When we first started, we found money that people hadn’t either paid us or found that they hadn’t licensed (our copyrights).
You must have had difficulties with collecting from overseas sources as well.
We did. That’s why we are affiliated with people overseas. Universal Music Publishing or someone to help us do all that.
For decades It was the Wild West for music copyright owners
It was. It still is to a certain extent. Some of that stuff still goes on. People see a song that is listed (online as) traditional and the next thing everybody see that it’s traditional, and they go ahead and cut it. And that’s it. They don’t check about licensing or anything.
At the same time, you have to keep abreast of copyright terminations and other copyright matters.
The reason that I have that company down there is to help me keep track of all of that stuff.
Do you worry about when these songs fall into the public domain?
I do. “I’ll Fly away” will be the first one. It goes out in 2027.
That’s not far off.
No but I’m not sure that it will bother me any by then.
Yes, but what about your children?
Well, that’s the thing. That’s why we are trying to build up the rest of the catalog. We are doing things to try to see that other songs in the catalog become more viable. Dad wrote some songs later in years like “I’m Bound For That City” that is pretty popular.
Your father wrote some 800 songs, but Brumley Music Company doesn’t own all of them.
Yes, he wrote about 800 songs. I only have about 300 of them. Most of the songs that he wrote were for the Stamps-Baxter Music Company back in the ‘30s. He worked for the Hartford Music Company until 1937. Then he went to Stamps-Baxter in 1937. He had a contract with them for about 12 years starting somewhere in the mid-40s. He wrote a song a month for them. So he wrote a bunch of songs for them. They are all works-for-hire so they can’t be terminated.
And no way to get that catalog back?
There’s no way to get that back unless you buy it, and I don’t think that you can buy it.
Your dad had many unfinished songs. In 1981, it was announced by Prime Time Music that songwriter Aaron Wilburn would try to complete some of your father’s songs. Did anything come of that?
No. I can’t really tell you what happened there. We worked on it for awhile, but just like a silent agreement, everybody sort of went their own way. I don’t know what became of it.
But there are a number of unfinished songs by your father?
We do have some of his unfinished songs. I don’t know if I want anybody to finish them, Larry. It just wouldn’t be the same. Dad had his own style of writing, and I don’t know if anybody can tap into that or not.
You were pivotal in the founding of the Southern Gospel Music Association in 1994.
The main reason for the Southern Gospel Music Association was to get a Hall of Fame established.
The pioneers of gospel music were then being overlooked in the music industry?
That right. They were being overlooked. Let me go back a bit. I was also involved in the formation of the GMA (The Gospel Music Association). Back in 1963, dad and I met with Dad Speer, Hovie Lister, James Blackwood and J.D. Summer, Jim Myers from SESAC, and (Southern gospel music promoter) Lloyd Orell. A bunch of people that were the who’s who in gospel music at the time, to start the GMA. We had people from the Country Music Association come in, and tell us how they did it, and what was going on. We started with that to help keep our music alive. It was another thing to get another Hall of Fame going there but that never happened with that organization. Then in the late ‘90s, the SGMA started. I was involved in that. It was mainly to preserve gospel music, and to get a Hall of Fame so we would have a place for people to be remembered in museum that people could come and look at.
Gospel was being sidelined at the Opry and elsewhere. It was like, “We love the music,” but no existing organization stepped up to represent the genre.
You are right.
They wouldn’t take ownership.
No, they wouldn’t
How many gospel pioneers are in the CMA Hall of Fame?
Well, that’s true.
And how is gospel music represented at the Country Music Hall of Fame?
Well it isn’t and that’s something that we are working on now with the Country Music Association because they are very interested in getting dad’s stuff displayed. You know that dad is in the Nashville Association of Songwriters International’s Hall of Fame? When he was inducted, he was the only gospel writer there.
In truth, he’s probably the only gospel songwriter people can name.
Yeah, that’s true.
People know gospel singers more than the songwriters; other than, perhaps, Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of Afro-American gospel music.
I know that most people, even in the country music field, can name Albert Brumley. I know on “Country’s Family Reunion” one time they were talking about songwriters. They were talking to Ray Stevens, and someone said, “You did an old Brumley song.” That is just such a natural off-the-tongue thing.
What are your memories of your father?
To me for a long time he was just dad. I never considered him being a famous man until people started coming by and seeing him once in awhile that were famous at the time like the Delmore Brothers and some of those guys. Dad was smart man, and a shrewd man. He would play baseball with us. He was fun to travel with. He was just an all around great guy.
His songs clearly indicate that he was very much a family man.
He was very much a family man. He wrote a lot about his childhood and wanting to go back to that.
Did his parents have music in the home?
Oh yeah, they did. His dad was a fiddle player. In those days, and i don’t know if it’s still that way where you are, but we still have music parties. We had what they called hootenannies. But anyway the whole family played music. That was just part of it.
Was he part of a big family?
No. He only had two brothers. One of them died when he was 8-years-old. The other one got killed in a coal mine in 1943.
One of my favorite songs written by your father is the nostalgic “I Would Rather Live By The Side of the Road.” He also wrote many songs about his mother including, “Dear Mother She’s Gone.”
He did. He had a song called “My Song of Memories” that was all about what he was going through during his childhood. That was kind of his sentimental side.
Were you raised within a religious family?
Yeah, pretty well. Mom was pretty religious. So was dad. They were church goers.
It’s been rare that someone has entered gospel music to work solely as a songwriter. And then write songs primarily with spiritual themes.
That’s all he wanted to do. Nothing thrilled him more. That’s where the song “Turn Your Radio One” came from. People turning the radio on and listening and hearing his songs on the air.
Your father had a signature way of writing songs. He sure knew a melody, and he kept the lyrics as basic as possible.
Dad always said, “Just keep it simple. Just keep it simple. If people can remember a song when they walk out of an auditorium after only hearing it one time then you have a hit on your hands.” That was his philosophy: To keep it pretty simple. He wrote some songs that had complications in them, but that wasn’t what he really wanted to do.
There are no wasted lines.
No. He was a master of words.
For a man who barely had a grade 10 education.
He could paint a picture with words. That’s just the way I felt about him all my life.
Did he make a full-time living writing songs?
That’s all he ever did, yes. We ran the publishing companies, and he wrote. That’s what he did. That’s all he ever did.
What sort of writing schedule did he have?
Dad wrote whenever, including when he woke up at night. Whenever something came to him. If he had a thought, he’d write it down right then, and start expanding on it. We’ve got scraps of paper that have all kinds of words on it.
He never said, “I’m writing, and I want you kids to be quiet.”
I never heard him say that, no. He wrote around us. I don’t know how he did it because we were always doing things. Once in awhile, he would sit at the piano and play a song to hear how it sounded, and then he’d go back to writing. One thing about dad was that he wrote laying on his back. He had a couch that he laid back on. He had a little thing that he’d put his lead sheets or staff paper and he’d write like that.
Did you ever write songs yourself?
I wrote a few. I just never felt that I was up to that level. It’s hard. I can tell you what a good or great song is or not, but I just never felt that my writing was up to that level. I’m not a great one for writing down what I feel.
Did you take music lessons?
I never took a music lesson in my life. I probably should have but I didn’t.
Do you still play music every day?
I do some. I don’t as much as I used to. My hands are kind of getting stiff and I can’t play a guitar like I used to. I sit down and pick on the piano once in awhile.
What reaction do you get from people when they hear your name, and what you do?
Most of it is that they really are in awe of who dad was. I don’t like to talk about myself much.
You are in your seventies now. You’ve earned that right.
They are really fascinated by that (history) and getting to know somebody that’s famous because our dad was famous. It’s a pretty positive reaction. I don’t really talk about that, really.
Still talking to you or with Ralph Peer II, it feels like having a link to something in the past that means something.
It does and it’s been hard for me to grasp that. When people talk to me they look at me. I don’t know if I’m famous and they are getting to talk to somebody like that. I have never looked at it that way. I’m just me to me you know. When I started getting these awards—you know that I have the James D. Vaughan Impact Award (from the Gospel Music Assn.) and I’m in the Hall of Fame with my dad—but I don’t see it from that other side.
What’s been the reaction of your neighbors to what you do?
Some of them don’t get it. They never even got it with dad. They could never understand how a guy could sit around the house a lot of time and still make a living. If you weren’t plowing a field or mowing a yard or doing something like that you weren’t working. Something making a living other than writing words or something like that.
In a rural community people wouldn’t think that writers or music publishers work.
That’s true. I get questions all of the time about what I do. This is kind of an old story, but I went to the post office one day and there was an ole boy sitting in there and he said, “Bob what in the world do you do down there? I don’t ever see you doing anything making money.” I said, “I’ll tell you what I do Gary, I’m just there, and make a hell of a lot of money.” And he never said another word to me about it.
How long have you and your wife Tudy been married?
It was 55 years this past September. Her real name is Delores, but she’s been Tudy ever since she was a little girl.
Did your father ever get to Jerusalem as in his song “I Walk in the New Jerusalem Way?”
No. I don’t think dad ever got out of the United States. I’ve been to several foreign countries, but I have never been to Jerusalem.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.