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December 13, 1997

Meeting with Bob Dorough
Jerry Atkins

I've been trying to cross the path of jazz pianist/song writer/singer Bob Dorough most of my adult life. I knew that he made his singing debut at the age of four, as part of an amateur show in a local theater in his native Arkansas. I read that on his famous Bethlehem recording "Devil May Care" that I purchased in 1956. Just a few years prior to that I became close friends with a saxophonist, Fred Schubert, who had been at North Texas State University with the earliest of jazzers seeking a place to add academic experience while melding swing and bop together. Also among that select group were Bob Dorough, the world famous guitarist (now living in Arkansas) Herb Ellis and Jimmy Giuffre of "Four Brothers" fame.

Dorough has always been a solid member of that fraternity of witty American singers, songwriters, and pianists that would include Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Mose Allison, Dave Frishberg. I believe he is the only singer ever to work with Miles Davis, but it was his duos with Blossom Dearie and other unique vocalists that have held my attention through the years.

I knew that he had a new release for Blue Note records "Right on My Way Home." It's time because it's been forty years since the previously mentioned "Devil May Care" and "Just About Everything" albums that contained his songs still performed by jazzmen and the likes of Tuck and Patti. I also knew that Dorough was once again resurfacing as a major contender in the field of Interesting People.

Arkansas Hall of Famer and historic jazz bassist, Buddy Jones, said "I'm extremely happy about this" when I told him he had been inducted. He continued, "what about my old buddy Dorough?." I suddenly remembered that he was born at Cherry Hill just about 100 miles from me and that he was supposed to have attended elementary school in Texarkana, AR. His diversified and "one of a kind" biography can be read elsewhere. I want to concentrate on my meeting with Bob just a couple of weeks ago.

I signed up to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the jazz degree program at what is now the University of North Texas in Denton. I met my long time saxophonist friend, Fred Schubert, and we hoped that Dorough might come. He was absolutely the first person we saw at the Friday night gathering. He was wearing his straw hat, overcoat, and smiling like a Cheshire cat. I really don't think many immediately knew who he was but my friend sees him often in Houston where Bob's daughter is the principal flutist in the Houston Symphony. He was exactly as I knew he would be and he made me his instant friend as we talked about early days in Arkansas and a few remembrances he had of Texarkana. There were other musician names besides Buddy Jones but they went by so quickly that I'll have to call him to recall them. I asked for a business card and he fumbled in his wallet as he muttered, "this is the cheapest card you'll ever have." It turned out that he had photocopied his address from his wallet size checks and simply cut them in strips. Then I realized that he lives in the Poconos and I remembered that he has a catalog of cassettes and a mass of what he calls "intellectual properties." It is indescribable. Trademarks claimed are Laissez-Faire Records, 2-Faced Greeting Cards, Tenth Life Cat Collar, and Somewhat Permanent Records.

Bob D. was everywhere, spreading cheer, and wound up on the piano stool at Saturday's sessions. He brought genuine applause from one of the toughest jazz audiences anyone would ever face. He was back with us afterward and we talked about his long time bassist, Bill Takas who had a musician brother living in the Arkansas area.

I knew that today, Dec. 12, was Bob's 74th birthday. I was listening to National Public Radio this morning and suddenly there was Bob D. being interviewed. He talked about his long running ABC "Schoolhouse Rock" project that produced such educational kids tunes as "Conjunction Junction" and "3 Is A Magic Number."

Then it was Hoagy's "Baltimore Oriole," "Blue Christmas" with Miles Davis, "I Get the Neck of the Chicken," and "Walk On" included in his new album. The interview concluded with the title track "Right on My Way Home."

One writer said, "the first thing that strikes you is his voice, with its southern twang that's part country charm and part country bumpkin, but in a flash he can convey the insouciance of being HIP."

Finally, this is going to be Dorough's year.

[Webmaster note: There's a page with pictures covering the kickoff of his tour at the Jazz Bakery. The All-Music Guide has posted information on his latest album as well.]

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