By Gary E. McKee
Bobby Flores was playing, on a Thursday evening, at the Farm Street Opry in Bastrop. This is a musician who very recently, was inducted into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame. Bobby is now in the company of Willie Nelson, Clint Black, Little Joe y La Familia, Bob Wills, Ray Price, Johnny Rodriguez and George Jones, just to name a few. He has a Grammy Award hanging on his wall; yet he was performing a solo show, at a homegrown venue for a crowd of approximately 140 fans who paid a five-dollar admission fee. Why would he do this, you might wonder?
The answer lies in the path of Bobby’s life. At the age of seven, he started singing gospel duets with his mother around the San Antonio area. In 1971, at the ripe old age of nine, he began playing guitar professionally with George Chambers and the Country Gentlemen, a popular Texas band. The crossover from gospel venues to honky-tonks was fairly easy, as his parents had frequented the family friendly icehouses with Bobby in tow.
The 1970s saw Bobby fronting his own band, playing any venue that would book them. His fan base began to grow and the “buzz” in the music industry was that this young man had the vocal and instrumental licks to move forward careerwise. Bobby, with different bands, began opening for stars such as Conway Twitty, Johnny Rodriguez and Tanya Tucker. By performing with different bands, styles and venues, Bobby was being exposed to many different facets of musical styles and learning the “music business.”
In 1980, Bobby was the show opener and fiddler in Johnny Bush’s band, the Bandoleros. When Bush’s band disbanded, Bobby headed in two different directions; one to spend several years in pop, blues and rock and roll bands. The other direction was to pursue his love of classical music. He began formally studying music theory and classical violin, while performing with the Trinity University Community Orchestra. Bobby’s love of classical music was evident when he was asked what was on his stereo when he arrived in Bastrop to perform Bob Wills and Western Swing music; his answer was Rachmanioff. Sergei Rachmanioff was a renowned Russian classical composer and pianist who died in 1943 at the age of 70.
Bobby Flores is the master of many instruments: fiddle, violin, guitar, mandolin, keyboard sequencing and bajo sexto (a 12-string guitar). He next is thinking of tackling the banjo.
The fiddle is his main instrument and when asked who living or dead he would like to play a duet with, he mentally went through the short list of great fiddlers and came up with Tommy Jackson, a session fiddler in the 1950s and 60s. If you ever heard a Hank Williams, Bill Monroe or George Jones recording, you have heard Jackson. Jackson also played in Ray Price’s band, in which Bobby filled his position for 14 years. Ray Price was Bobbie’s choice to be able to sing a duet with again.
During this time, Bobby’s prowess as a fiddler and his skill as a recording session arranger made him in high demand as a studio musician and producer. The demand for his talents reached the point where he was in three different recording studios a day. This demand, while financially and musically fulfilling, took its toll on his energy. The solution was to found his own recording studio, Yellow Rose Recording Studio, along with his own label Yellow Rose Records, which in 2007, was named Independent Record Label of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists.
One of Bobby’s most proudest accomplishments is not any of the numerous awards that have been bestowed upon him, but the music school he founded, Bulverde Academy of Music (BAM!). BAM! only accepts budding musicians that are disciplined and serious about growing their musical abilities. At the academy, top notch musicians, such as accordionist Joel Guzman work with students in an individualized flexible program (not rigid) while teaching them theory and musicianship with a focus on live performances. This fall BAM! took the students on a small concert tour around San Antonio to give them a taste of what it is like to perform in front of strangers. Bobby himself teaches fiddle, guitar, mandolin, steel guitar, Dobro and violin. This reporter had to ask what differentiates a fiddle from a violin? “The way the same instrument is played,” Bobby replied.
Interesting facts about Bobby: former instructor and owner of the Blanco Tae Kwon Do Academy; his last “day” job was a machinist in his dad’s shop, but he quit after realizing he could lose a finger or more; Bobby has had only one formal singing lesson approximately three years ago; he attempts to keep his personal spaces void of harmful chemicals; and he contributed heavily to the soundtracks of two movies featuring Tommy Lee Jones.
In a great example of life coming full circle, Bobby began his career singing gospel and now will have a Gospel recording coming out soon, that features both well-known traditional songs and highlights one of the best gospel singers, Dottie Rambo.
Bobby’s successful career has always been about giving a great performance to the people who have followed him through the years, and that is what he gave to the small crowd that night in Bastrop.