Local Rhythms – Radio Bob

Born in 1956, the year Elvis Presley went nationwide; Bob Rivers’ life has spanned the arc of rock-era radio.  Legend has it that, barely a teenager, he built a 5-watt transmitter in his basement.  In his twenties, he worked at just about every station in the Northeast, ending up a huge success at WAAF-FM in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Bob was a national star in his thirties, with hit records and People magazine stories about his antics in Baltimore, and later Seattle.  He’s been the toast of that town for nearly 20 years, and with good reason.  In an era of shock radio, he’s funny without being vulgar.  His “Twisted Tunes” franchise is frighteningly prolific, with hilarious seasonal send-ups like “I Am Santa Claus” (done to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”) and “White Trash Christmas.”

At Bob’s 50th birthday celebration this weekend in Ascutney, we’ll recall his personal and professional triumphs.  Someone will undoubtedly roll out his Tom Petty remake, “You Don’t Know How It Feels (To Be Old).”  They’ll wonder if the line, “let me get a tube of ointment/let’s rub my achy joints,” seems less a parody than when he wrote it 10 years ago.

I’ll remember him as the man who brought me to Claremont, gave me a full-time radio job, and introduced me to my future wife.

He downplays his Program Director stint at M-106 (now Q-106) as the culmination of a successful campaign “to make every mistake possible” in the business.  Bob also (falsely) claims to be a management washout; he saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

On election night 1980, I had the inspiration to play “Show Biz Kids” by Steely Dan during my six to midnight air shift.  Ten seconds into the track, Bob called, telling me to fade it down early.  Not that he was a newly minted Reaganite – I’d forgotten the F-bomb in the final verse.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that a career in radio fed an ego better than a family.  This was partly due to the fact that the station’s money guy viewed the talent the way Barnum & Bailey does their elephants.

I received no severance pay until Bob intervened on my behalf with a few thinly veiled “suggestions” for his then-former boss.  I never learned the exact details (something about plausible deniability), but he proved himself a good friend and a creative manager that day.

It’s reassuring when a nice guy like Bob Rivers finishes on top.   What’s tops in terms of choices this weekend?

Thursday:  The Gully Boyz, Middle Earth Music Hall – The latest of several local bands, including Conniption Fits and Dr. Burma, to get a serious listen in this friendly room, located in Bradford, Vermont.  Well regarded for their layered jam band approach, they have a solid following in the Upper Valley.  It’s nice to see them moving up in the world.

Friday:  Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – He’s back from Florida, and ubiquitous as ever.  During his Murphy’s Deck Sunday, Pete was a one-man “Cheers” – he knows everybody’s name.  It’s an amazing thing to watch.  Tonight, he’ll play his first set in downtown Claremont in many moons.  Lots of boat drinks and sing-along songs will ensue.  Nothing says “summer” like Pete Merrigan.

Saturday:  Jay Ungar & Molly Malone, Windsor High School – A popular NPR favorite, this folk duo hosts a swing dance as part of Windsor’s Vermont Heritage Days celebration.   Tightly linked with Ken Burns’ “Civil War” miniseries (their “Ashokoan Farewell” was featured on the Grammy-winning soundtrack), they’re as real and honest as Americana gets.

Sunday: Basin Bluegrass Festival (Brandon, VT) – Day three of this down-home gathering features a who’s who of regional pickers, including Blistered Fingers, the Pine Hill Ramblers and Cabin Fever.  A short day today, running from 9 AM to 3 in the afternoon.  Friday and Saturday’s performances last from early in the morning to 10 PM.  Aspiring players can bring a banjo or fiddle for the workshops.

Tuesday: Ani DiFranco, Pines Theatre – The queen of DIY has a new record, “Reprieve,” due next month.  Two advance tracks – “hypnotized” and “half-assed”  -suggest the romantic smackdown attitude of her earlier work has mellowed a bit.   Maybe that’s because she started work on it last fall in New Orleans, but had to finish elsewhere when Katrina washed the studio away.

Wednesday: The Flames, Sunapee Harbor – A four-piece led by local stalwart John Lovejoy on keyboards and vocals.  They sounded quite polished at Claremont’s 4th of July bash, with searing saxophone solos and smooth three part harmonies for songs as varied as “Not Fade Away” (the chugging Grateful Dead version) and a fine little Motown medley right before the fireworks.  This show is part of the regular Wednesday night series at the Ben Mare Pavilion.

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