Bobby Bare Jr. was famous before he even knew what famous was. At age 5, he stepped onto the stage bathed in the bright lights and rapt attention of thousands of his father's fans, and in a quavering voice sang a duet with his dad called "Daddy What If" that was nominated for a Grammy. On a live recording of the song, you hear Bobby Bare Sr. say of his son, "[One day] he and all of his friends are gonna be sittin' around stoned and say, 'Look what the old man made me do.'" More than 30 years later, Jr. gets a chance to return the favor.
These days it's Bobby Bare Jr. who's making headlines with his quirky, exhilarating blend of country, folk, and rock, but in the '60s and '70s it was Sr.'s name on America's lips. He had a string of hits as he worked, drank, and played cards with such Nashville luminaries as Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller.
His album of Shel Silverstein songs (yes, that Shel Silverstein—the author of such classics as Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree was also one of Nashville's most respected and most loved lyricists), Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends, and Lies has been called the first "outlaw album," paving the way for artists such as Willie and Waylon and Merle to reject the mainstream country sound, go their own ways, and make the enduring records that have made their names. But somewhere in the '80s, Bobby Bare fell out of the spotlight. People stopped buying his albums and, except for a collaborative full-length in 1998, he stopped recording. Until this year.
I ask Bobby Sr. what got him back into the studio to record his new album, The Moon Was Blue, produced by his boy and Lambchop's Mark Nevers. He replies simply, "Bobby Jr. He kept asking me to come into the studio and do some stuff, and I could see that it was important to him that I did. And so I went in with him and his musicians and did two or three things and I loved it."
Those two or three things soon became a whole album full of songs ranging from the early-20th-century standard "Shine on Harvest Moon" to the classic country torch and twang of "Are You Sincere?" Along the way he makes stops in the '50s with the wistful "Love Letters in the Sand" and the '60s with Fred Neil's AM-radio staple "Everybody's Talking." Throughout the eclectic album, however, two things hold true: Bare's wise and wry voice, and his son's amalgam of early-'60s Nashville arrangements (think luxurious strings and acres of background harmonies) and contemporary touches such as drum loops, reverb, and more of what dad calls "that goofy shit."
Bare Sr. remembers recording when postproduction was minimal and a good album mixed equal parts preparation, spontaneity, and collaboration. Working with people like Miller, Kris Kristofferson, and Billy Joe Shaver, he says there was always magic in the studio, a sense that anything could happen. I ask him if he felt that working on his new album. "Absolutely," he says. "We were putting it down. I was singing and they were playing with me. Opposed to going in and the last thing they think about is getting the vocals. And that's wrong. You miss all the spontaneity, you miss all the magic—you miss it all."
In order to capture that magic, Bobby Jr. brought in some of his regular collaborators to work on his dad's album. Members of My Morning Jacket, Lamb- chop, and Silver Jews came together to form what both father and son view as a similar community to the one Bare Sr. had in the '60s. The elder Bare says, "With Bobby and the musicians here, the fellowship, admiration, and the energy are the same as if you jump back into the '60s with me and Willie and Roger Miller."
Bobby Jr. agrees. "I can compare [my community] to my dad's. Most of the music that I love with all my heart is My Morning Jacket and Silver Jews and Andrew Bird. You know, my friends' music." And that sense of respect, enthusiasm, and, yes, even magic is evident throughout The Moon Was Blue.
And it's not just dad who's working hard. Bobby Jr. has been busy lately, too. In addition to producing his pop's album, he's just finished recording one of his own. He calls it "the most fun I've ever had in one day." With help from some of the usual suspects, Bare Jr. "went into the studio at 11:30 and was done by 10:50 that night."
His dad, at first doubting that his son could accomplish so much in just a day, said he called his wife after the session and said, "By God, he's done it."
If you get the idea that the Bare family is a mutual admiration society, you're on the right track. Both Jr. and Sr. seem genuinely excited about the other's music, and about the opportunity to go on tour together.
The Bares will be coming to Seattle in the middle of a mini-tour that finds them playing together again for the first time since Bobby was in kindergarten. What do they expect? Well, Bobby Sr.'s not sure. "Adventure, I guess. All I know for sure is that me and Bobby's gonna have some fun."
Bobby Jr., for his part, calls the tour "show and tell... it's mostly like, I have this dad and he's really talented, I swear, so come check him out."
Seattle's been good to Bobby Bare; it's where he had his first number one song, "Shame on Me," in 1962. A lot has changed since then, but the Bare family is still going strong. And they can't wait to play together again, even if this time it's the son who introduces his father, and the father who's thinking, "Look what Junior made me do."