Bobby Bare Jr. – Look what the old man made me do
It’s impossible to imagine a circa 2004 mainstream country artist joking onstage about his or her 5-year-old getting high, but that’s another topic altogether. The point is that a little Bare kid was nominated for a Grammy, given the opportunity to perform with his father on the Grand Ole Opry, and allowed to be around during the recording of a classic country album that starred his own dad.
Though it doesn’t differ substantially in sound from some works that were already on the market, Lullabys, Legends And Lies is sometimes called the first “Outlaw” record, because Bare’s decision to produce the thing himself inspired Waylon and Willie to do the same.
“The music these fellows recorded after the rebellion had a hell of a lot more energy, imagination, musicality and emotional connection to listeners,” says Lloyd Green, the Nashville steel guitar legend. Green was a top session player during the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley-dominated “Nashville Sound” era, and he quickly ascertained that what he was playing, hearing and seeing during the Lullabys recording signaled a shift in both protocol and execution.
Silverstein’s wild-eyed demeanor in the studio only added to the mayhem.
“The presence of Shel was palpable,” Green said. “He influenced the way we cut those tunes, and he had a lot of input with Bare. He was a force, and a charismatic figure to be reckoned with.”
After the Grammy hubbub died away, Jr.’s parents decided to halt the boy’s ascent into country stardom.
“He and I had that big hit, and were nominated for a Grammy,” said Bare Sr. “Then Hee Haw tried to hire him and my other son to be on that show, ’cause they were cute little boys. I wouldn’t let ’em do it, though. We wanted them away from the business when they were small, because we wanted them to be regular kids. All that attention makes kids crazier than shit.”
Even with his parents’ conscious decision to take him away from the spotlight, the young Bare’s proximity to his father left him in some heavy company. Years removed from all of that, he looks with — yes — wonder at the world of personalities and artists to which he was privy. Aside from his star turn on the album, he was there to witness Bare, Hall, Silverstein, Kristofferson, Jerry Reed and others as they spewed bullshit and poetry and sought inside straights.
By osmosis, Bare learned lessons that would seem to ill-serve him today: It is possible to live in Nashville, write stupendous songs, break rules, be irreverent and hilarious and collegial and bull-headed and independent and crazy as hell, and make money.
“I would do anything to somehow go back and be Kristofferson’s buddy, back then,” Jr. says. “I was around all that, but I was a kid and it was like, ‘Bobby, go get us a beer.’ They had poker parties, and I got to go get the beer and bring it back to the table. Everybody was larger than life. And everybody was just insanely talented and charismatic and real and artistically motivated.”
Flash forward three decades from those poker party days, and the grown-up beer-bringer is often described as talented and charismatic and all the rest.
“He’s exactly the way they were — the way we were — back then,” says his father. “If he could jump back right now with them, he’d fit right in with Kris, Billy Joe, Tom T., Waylon and the whole bunch. You know, Bobby sees things from a different viewpoint, just like Shel always did. With Shel, it was like he was sitting up in a tree or something, looking from somewhere else. Bobby views things from a different place, and he’s not afraid to take chances. I don’t know whether that would further someone’s career or not.”
As a young adult, Bare Jr. worked at a bicycle shop, ran lights when he could get the work, and fronted a cover band. He marveled at cowpunk originators Jason & the Scorchers and other Nashville-based rock acts that drew from hillbilly roots but managed to color completely outside the Music Row lines. He schlepped around, fell in love a couple thousand times, and was fortunate to find a musician roommate in Mike Grimes.
“We got to be roommates in, like, 1995,” recalls Grimes, who went on to play guitar in the Bare Jr. band and guitar and bass with the Starvation League. Excepting a contentious but since-rectified falling-out in the late ’90s, Grimes has also been Bare’s best pal.
“I don’t know if he was writing songs when he first moved in,” Grimes continues. “He had a cover band, doing the grunge-rock hits of the day: Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and that stuff. He loved that music, and he had a real presence onstage. Loved to play loud, jump around and get the crowd into it, just like what he did when he started to do his own songs.
“A year after we’d been living together, one day he goes, ‘Check this out,’ and he played this song. I said, ‘Man, that’s great. You wrote that?'”