A performer's 10th anniversary anything in show business is an important
career milestone. From sweeping out the theatre after the show to making
hits records, ten years is long time to be doing it in this very transient
field; in the most basic sense, it's an indication of success. For Bobby
Goldsboro, a young man from Marianna, Florida ( and later Dothan, Alabama
) who grew up wanting to play second base for a major league baseball team,
ten years means this and more. In ten years, Goldsboro has been a consistent
success on record, on stage, on television, as a performer, writer, personality.
For ten years now, he's held the confidence of his record label, United
Artists, who've worked with him to deliver the goods when the going got
tough. For all of these ten years he's been a husband and father, building
a home for his family in Nashville, where his thriving business interests
are based. Bobby Goldsboro's ten years, then, mean that he's run his own
life, developed his own talent, staked out a permanent place for himself
in a world where names and faces are learned and then fogotten in less
time than it takes for a Major League second baseman to make it through
one season. And after ten years, this ballplayer is really just hitting
his groove for the first time.
"I used to love and breathe baseball," recalls Bobby Goldsboro relaxing in a Los Angeles hotel room. He's in town doing the kind of work he's become famous for, playing concerts, taping his television show. He's far away from the time when he dreamed of joining the Cleveland Indians, confining his athletic participation to golf these days ( through on a lofty plane; he can get in there and swing with the pros, and often does ). "I played all the way through the summer after I graduated from high school," he continues. "First as a pitcher and later at second. I was doing all right, and I really thought I had a chance at the big leagues. But I was too small, and I probably wasn't that good either, you know."
Good or no, Bobby 's "last campaign" was on a semi-pro all star team whose luck only ran out when they lost to a rival which featured John "Boog" Powell in the second round of the championship tournament. Bobby was soon off to Aurburn University, where his size and other time commitments didn't allow him an opportunity to continue with his obsession: music.
Believe it or not, Bobby Goldsboro, accomplished writer, singer, guitarist, never played a guitar until within a year of time he was out making money as a guitarist. Between the baseball diamond and the remaining time he found to devote to his studies, a formal interest in music never had a chance. Still, the seeds had long since been planted; Bobby's ears had always been open.
"When I was about twelve, a neighbor of mine got a ukulele for Christmas," he remembers. "I was over visiting, checking out his presents while he and his family were eating a meal. I found the uke, equipped with an Arthur Godfrey gizmo to make chords; one of those push-button things to hold the strings for you. Now, I'd always been good at remembering music, though I'd never thought twice about it. I'd hear something on the "Hit Parade" TV show and be able to remember not only the melody but the instrumental arrangement. So here I was with this ukulele, fooling around, trying to play something. As it turned out, I found a song first time through, and everyone in my friend's family ended up standing there staring at me, wondering where I'd learned to play."
A short time later, the friend "permanently loaned" the uke to Bobby, who promptly figured out how to play it without the chordmaker and continued to teach himself things.
"Over the next few years," he explaines, "I got a series of improved instruments. Finally, I was looking through the Sears catalogue at the stuff they had; I thought a bass guitar was a big ukulele, and I'd a bought one if I'd had the money. Finally I chose a guitar, which I played like a guitar, which I played like a ukulele for a while anyway. Left the lower strings untuned and strummed very carefully. When I finally decided to get serious, I went whole hog. I bought a guitar manual, but got bugged when I saw chord diagrams with seven note listed. I don't know anything about bar chords, and I stopped using the book; I was sure it was printed up wrong. So I was teaching myself chords and stuff, and I went out and bought sone records to steal licks from. One of the first was "Maglaguena" by Chet Atkins, I must have have been out of my mind."
Because of his ukulele playing, Bobby played guitar a little differetly than most, fingering the chords however he figured them out. But it served him well enough. He learned songs off records and the radio, practicing whenever he could.
"I bought a little $60 tape recorder, "Bobby says, "and I had to work part-time to pay for it. It was the first thing I ever bought on credit. I'd record my guitar and then hear it back so I could play along with it. I eventually fingured out how to record two separate tracks....overdubbing! I realized those Chet Atkins records had fogoled me a little. He didin't really have four hands. What a relief that was."
The spring of Bobby's senior year in high school rolled around along about this time, and one day he found himself sitting in the school cafeteria eating lunch. Word had gotten around that he was doing some picking ( not many high school kids were doing too much picking those days, especially the all-star baseball players ), and the guys in the school's "big gest" rock and roll band asked Bobby to come jam with them one afternoon.
"Somewhere they got the idea I was pretty good," laughs Goldsboro. "I mean, I was trying to write some stuff and working out rhythm parts, but I was mainly good at figuring out the chords to songs right off. So I go over to where they were set up and watch their guitar player do Chet Atkins picking. He was sloppy, but it was recognizably ambitious, and I was real impressed.
"They were trying to work out some old Rick Nelson hit; something like 'Poor Little Fool'. It had a real straight progression, but they couldn't get the minor chord. So they asked me and I knew it right away. Played along with the record, and they were impressed. A couple of days later, I got a phone call from one of them, a deep-voiced kid named John Rainey. He asked me if I 'wanted to make $10 this weekend playin' at a teen dance.' their lead singer was going out of town and they needed an extra guitarist so Rainey could sing. I figured 'why not?' Playing guitar was a lot of fun and if someone would pay you to go someplace and do it, who was I to refuse? "
A rehearsal or two later, Bobby was ready. The band had him memorize a couple of Rick nelson's hits, including the aforementioned "Poor Little Fool," and told him he'd have to sing those at the gig. His attempts to beg off failed, and he went into his first job as a guitarist technically, if not mentally. prepared to make his singing debut as well.
"I kept stalling around," he says, "finding some other song to play every time Rainey asked me to sing one of my numbers. Finally, in the middle of the second set, we ran out of alternatives. So I moved my microphone over behind a pillar and hid while I sang. Right in the middle of the song, Poor Little Fool, some girl stuck her head around the post to see who was singing and nearly scared me into forgetting the rest of the song. That was my first public singing experience."
By summer, he was in this band, called the Webbs, fulltime, wearing his haird greased back, dressed in a sport coat and tie decorated with spider webs. They were just about the only truly competent band in the area of Dothan and it was paying off in terms of employment.
"When I went off to Auburn, I stayed with the band," explaines Goldsboro, "I'd borrow my brother's car or take a bus and go back to Dothan for weekend gigs. I was majoring in Business Administration and doing okay, but I was really beginning to think about music a lot. My second year, Rainey and the bass player came to Aubrun too, we found a new drummer and became the hot band on campus.
"Being the campus rock and roll band was pretty good," he continues. "I wasn't the coolest guy around, my hair all slicked back and being so short and all, but all the fraternities were rushing me, inviting me to parties and being real friendly. I took everything I could get but never joined a one of them. I figured they thought they'd be getting a free band for all their parties and I wasn't buying that."
Bobby remembers one big weekend when adjacent frat houses threw competing parties, one hiring an equally renowned band from Florida State; these two bands dominated the college dance and party scene in the Southwest that year, ans the overflow crowds at the two parties poured out into the street all night.
"Those parties were really wild, " he says, "everyone hot and sweaty, dancin' in that humidity, while we'd be up there in our outfits, cool as you please, playing away. Our big number was 'Walk Don't Run'; we had the Ventures down cold."
Between the weekend gigs at school and the vacation dates around the South, the Webbs were beginning to build uo a widespread reputation. Their travels took them from Florida all the way to Missouri, with each musician earning up to $100 a night.
By the end of Bobby's second year in college, an old high school friend named Bubby Buie had become more or less the manager of the Webbs. Buddy, now a prominent producer and writer in Nashville, had notions of becoming an enterpreneur as well, so he began to book concerts. The Webbs, of course, always managed to be on the bill.
"He was trying to get Conway Twitty for four gigs in different cities," explaines Bobby. "Twitty had had a couple hits but he was overpriced, so Buddy went after Roy Orbison, whose last four records had all gone top ten. He was nearly the hottest thing going, yet his price was real reasonable. He'd just fired his band, so Buddy promised him a backup group that was really hot. that turned out to be us; we went out and bought some Orbison records and copied the arrangements, and it worked out surprisingly well. Orbison asked us to become his permanent group."
This unexpected offer placed Bobby and his colleagues at a threshold of decision; should they run off seeking fame and fortune or stay in college?
"I wasn't too sure of what I wanted to study," recalls Goldsboro. "My main interest was now music, I was making good money at it, beginning to wrote songs, and the band was sounding good. We thought we could do it, so we accepted Roy's offer. It was, looking back on it, pretty daring, especially by today's standards. I'd never do it again, but I'm glad I tried it once."
What Bobby and the Webbs tried was the road, for two and a half years with Orbison. Roy would fly between cities while the Webbs would travel by car. They went through all kinds of hassles, from freezing in blizzards to sleeping five to a room to earn their baptism by fire.
"We didn't make a whole lotta money either," says Bobby. "I remember my last full year with Roy, 1963, I was able to travel all over the U .S. and Europe, with Roy paying the bills, but at the end of the year, when I filled out my tax form, I realized I hadn't made any money. I said to myself 'this is getting out of hand.' I had just gotten married, I was literally seeing the world and still I didn't have anything in the bank. My wife was putting up with a lot then, and she deserved better. We both did."
It was the Webbs's vacations that proved to hold the key for Bobby's escape. Back in Dothan, after coming in from Roy's tours, the band would find some gigs on their own or head off to Birmingham bought a couple of our master tapes and sold them to four different people simultaneously. Then he disappered off to Puerto Rico or somewhere. It was pretty funny, expect that one of the people who thought he was buying sole rights to our tapes was Jack Gold, then an independent producer. He apparently liked my voice and compositions.
Bobby, who had taped some intermittent local success with a couple of Webbs singles, was now lookong forward to the big time in a big way. To his surprise, however, Jack Gold had founded him a tune called " Molly", about a blind soldier returning from the Civil War.
"I looked at the lyrics he sent me in the mail," says Bobby, "and I really wondered. 'This is gonna be my first record in the big time? I was disappointed at first, but I learned that Jack had a pretty good ear for hit ballads. "Molly" made the lower part of the top 100, so it got me going. Two follow-ups bombed though, so I was essentially starting over again when Jack was hired by United Artists at the end of 1963."
Bobby had continued writing during this period, still touring with Orbison ( including one to Britain on the bill with the Beatles ) and working with the Webbs. But he was getting itchy, and began working on Gold to let him record some of his own tunes. Gold finally relented and along with a pair of nonoriginals, Bobby cut two of his own songs in New York in October, 1963. One of them was "See the Funny Little Clown".
"See the Funny Little Clown" rose into the national top ten during a turbulent period for the American culture. People were in shock over the recent assassination of President Kennedy, looking for ways to escape the memories. It was a time ripe for newcomers who could provide an outlet for the pentup emotions of the time. Bobby Goldsboro got his foot firmly in the door, followed closely by an enormous flood of British artists led by those same Beatles with whom Bobby and Roy Orbison had toured earlier in the year.
"As a new artist I was pretty much at the mercy of the record company," recalls Goldsboro. "They had me doing every TV show and record hop they could fit into my schedule. I had to stop playing with Roy and go out on my own, all alone since I couldn't afford to keep the band."
Bobby was doing as many as three apperances a night, usually the hops, where he would get up with a guitar and lipsynch to his single. Then into a car and onto the next one. Sometimes he would be joined by several other recoding artists on the same itinerary.
"There was one night in Pittsburgh where three of us were gonna fly in a private plane with a couple of DJ's to someplace. They were big-time DJ's, one of whom was the pilot. It was not a good night, and we took off into the darkness and all of a sudden I heard a voice over the radio warning everyone to keep an eye out for a plane in trouble. The plane turned out to be ours; it was sputtering all over the place because the oil line had broken. The pilot panicked and could barely keep control of the thing. As we were descending to try to make an emergencey landing at some little field in West Virginia, I could see we were barely missing the tops of the trees. When we hit the runway, we were going much too fast and we bounced a few times and had to taxi around a long time to slow down safty. Some guy came running out, helped us out and away from the plane and then told us he couldn't believe we'd made it down okey. 'That plane shoulda exploded fifteen minutes ago with all that oil leaking!' he said.
Most of Bobby's promo tours were not so traumatic. Usually he'd merely have to play musty little clubs with poor acoustics and jealous back-up bands who deliberately made mistakes to undercut the main attractions. He almost talked himself out of the business at the time.
"My records were doing progressively worse too," he explaines. "'Clown' made #5, the next one hit the forties, 'Me Japanese Boy,' which Burt Bacharach wrote and arranged for me, was swamped by the Beatles and only did in the seventies, and there I was thinking, 'gee, it was sure a short career.'"
"Jack wanted me to continue doing ballads," Bobby continues, "and we'd record all these ballads, then I'd fight to squeeze some of my other songs in at the end of the sessions. The upbeat thing like 'Little Things' and 'Voodoo Woman', both of which did very well, were things Jack did not take as active a role in because they were't his style. The arrangements were worked out by myself and Bill Justis."
Watching Bobby Grow 2