Bob Pinson: 1934 to 2003
I first heard of Bob Pinson while devouring the first edition of Bill Malone’s Country Music USA in 1972. I corresponded with him three years later, seeking session info on some western swing acts. His reply was friendly, helpful and succinct. The first time he asked my help on a bit of western swing research, I felt like I’d arrived.
One of country’s master discographers, Pinson, who died September 4 at age 69 after a long battle with leukemia, was part of an elite group of non-academic scholars whose diligent passion earned the academic community’s respect. Texas-born, he began collecting Bob Wills and Bill Boyd records in adolescence; after hearing old-time fiddling, he expanded his interest into early, prewar country stringbands.
Moving to California in the early 1950s, Pinson worked day jobs and began researching Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys while they were still touring, sparking a lifelong friendship with Wills. Frustrated by a dearth of published data on pioneer artists, he accumulated thousands of rare country and western swing 78s. Collecting trips to the south connected him with many forgotten artists. Some of his research appeared in obscure publications such as Disc Collector.
His 15,000-piece collection attracted the interest of the Country Music Foundation, which purchased it in 1972 and hired him a year later. As Acquisitions Director, he expanded the CMF holdings exponentially and founded their reference library.
Pinson rarely wrote, unselfishly sharing his research, which he continued. He ably reconstructed Hank Williams’ recording sessions, and with British authority Tony Russell created a comprehensive database of pre-World War II country sessions. By the time I had the pleasure of working with him on San Antonio Rose, Bear Family’s exhaustive Bob Wills box set in 2000, Bob had semi-retired from his CMF position as senior researcher.
While his good nature was a given, the highly controversial 2001 firings of CMF librarian Ronnie Pugh and Journal of Country Music editor Chrissie Dickinson so outraged Bob that he severed remaining ties with the CMF. In January 2004, Oxford University Press will publish Russell’s book (Bob wanted only secondary credit) as Country Music Records: A Discography 1921-1942. In many ways, it’s a fitting epitaph for a true pioneer. All of us who work this side of the street, myself included, owe him a debt that’s beyond repayment.