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Things Change: Bobby Bare on The Opry, Mentorship, and Sixty Years in the Business

Bobby Bare

Cowboy hat will blow off in the wind

Women rule the world, not the man

And things change but then

You turn around and they change again

Bobby Bare is an unlikely legend in country music. A member of both The Grand Ole’ Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, one would never guess that many of his original songs charted on the Billboard Top 100 Pop charts before they’d cross over into the country charts. “The record industry have always gone for the younger audience. The younger a listener is better because they’re the ones who’ll spend money on music. When I started out I had a following of young people. All of my first records were way up in the top 100 Pop before they got into the Country charts at all. I was fortunate that all my records, even though they were country, cut in Nashville, worked their way up in the top 10, top 20, top 100 charts.” Today, with over sixty years in the industry under his belt, Bare is still making music and performing regularly at The Opry, and working with younger artists to give them a solid start; something Bare has done his entire career.

When asked what sparked his interest in music all those years ago Bare stated simply, “All I ever wanted to do or be was a country music singer. I grew up listening to Hank Williams and Webb Pierce and I wanted to be one of them. Eventually, I met Chet Atkins, who was a great music man. The first thing I ever recorded for Chet sold a million records. Chet was the greatest in the world – every musician on the sessions back then respected him. He gave me my chance to be one of those country music stars I always wanted to be.” Though Bare’s path to country music was simple, his rise to fame was anything but with his first major hit being mistakenly billed under Bill Parsons, not Bobby Bare. “The All American Boy”, recorded in 1959, became an instant hit for Parsons, though it was Bare’s song and voice. “Bill and I went into King Studio in Cincinnati to record a demo for him. Hank Williams cut all his first hits there. Bill was a long time friend of mine, my best friend really, so we went in together to record. He did one thing and there was about twenty minutes time left over. I brought up that I’d been working on something and asked if I could cut it real quick so I didn’t forget it. I jumped up, had the band go through it a couple times, and that was it. I didn’t even listen to the playback. That same day someone took our record down to Fraternity Records to get a master tape made. They heard “All American Boy” and wanted to put it out. A week later they did and they mistook me for Bill Parsons. Bill Parsons was singing on one side of the record, but the hit side was me. It became a monstrous hit pretty quickly and Bill called me up and said “What am I going to do? They want me to do the Dick Clark Show and I don’t even know the song to lip sync it.” But he did it. My thought was it’s only rock and roll; it’ll be forgotten in six months. Besides that, we all knew how difficult it was to make a hit record. Can you imagine trying to
stop a hit record? You can’t.”

Bare not only wrote and recorded the song, but lived the reality of the lyrics. His draft notice came two days after the song was recorded. “I went into the army right after that song was recorded. Everyone thought the song was about Elvis because he went into the army the same year, but it wasn’t.  After that song, I didn’t do anything for two years. Bill did one concert tour in that time. In fact, he was on the tour with Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly when they were all killed. Waylon Jennings was playing bass with Buddy Holly and Waylon says that’s the first time he remembered hearing my name. He went up to Bill during that tour and asked him if it was actually him on the record. Bill admitted it wasn’t and told him it was me, but that I was a GI in the army. It never really got out, though. Anybody that knew me knew that it was me, but that’s it.”

It didn’t take long for Bare to return to music when he finished his time in the army, and it was immediately obvious how meaningful his songs would be to the genre when he started recording again. Some of today’s biggest stars have re-recorded Bare’s biggest hits, including Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, and Chris Stapleton. “I’m always flattered when someone records a song I wrote or did. It’s a sign that the songs have staying power. Emmylou Harris started out with Gram Parsons, who did a lot of my songs, and you can hear her singing in the background. I called Chris Stapleton up when I was doing my most recent album and told him “Hey, you and me are going to do Detroit City as a duet, but you’re not singing harmony with Bobby Bare. We’re going to be the Everly Brothers. You’re Don and I’m Phil and we’re going to sing every line together.”

On top of making his own iconic music, Bare has been instrumental in the development of several famous artists, including Waylon Jennings. “I got Waylon his record deal with Chet [Atkins] and he became a big star. All the great writers that I’ve worked with have become successful. I guess, looking back, it’s good to be right about people. You think somebody’s got it and it turns out they do. How you know they’ve got it is your heart. You feel it in your heart. I first heard Waylon at JD’s out in Arizona, right outside of Phoenix, and I thought man that guy is great. I called up Chet and said “I know that Waylon is going to be doing basically the same things I do because he sings my songs in JD’s. I know I’m cutting my throat doing this, but you’ve got to sign this guy up. He deserves to be on a major label.” Same with Reba McEntire. Reba, I love Reba. I think that woman can do no wrong. She used to open for me when she was just starting out and I was flattered when she did “500 Miles”. You have to feel it in your heart that they’re going to go somewhere with the chance you give them, or it doesn’t matter.”

Bare has always followed his heart and, so far, it hasn’t led him astray. With an album out this year, his induction back into the Opry, and his brand new podcast with WSM, Bobby Bare and Friends, the veteran singer is keeping himself more than busy. “All of my friends are in the Opry. It’s like one big family, what’s left of ‘em. I was shocked when I was invited back in this year. I had no idea it was going to happen. I was up there in the circle, getting ready to go into another song and I saw Garth walking on stage. That’s when I really started wondering what was going on. I asked Sally, who runs the Opry, how she got Garth to come and do it. She said Garth wanted to do it more than anything, and it was his idea. So now I’m back at the Opry. I was a member for ten years, and then I got busy and drifted off. Now I’m back, and I’m probably the oldest one there! Now I’ve done everything I wanted to do and I’ve had fun doing all of it. All the years I got to work with Shel Silverstein were fun, fun, fun. Working with Chet was one of the greatest experiences in my life. The kids I’ve mentored are big stars. I’m still making music, and I’m still having fun. I can’t ask for more.”

Bare’s newest album, Things Change, is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify. To keep up with Bare’s shows and Opry appearances and to tune into his podcast, Bobby Bare and Friends, visit his website.

Things change, don’t blink your eye

‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by

About the time you think you’ve locked it in

Things change, then change again

As Bare states in his song, “Things Change”, things do change. This genre has changed tremendously as we hold onto youthful audiences and artists come and go as we try to keep up with a twenty-four hour news cycle. One thing we’re glad for? That Bobby Bare has never changed, and that he is still here, front and center in The Circle, rounding out his legendary career.

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