ANYTHING IS POZIBLE
With Bob Spencer’s upcoming solo album Saints and Murderers, writing and recording it is one thing; working out how many tracks to include on the album is a whole other ball game, a new challenge Bob is currently facing.
“The number of the songs is kind of an emotional thing. What journey do you want to take people on? Do you really want the journey to be an hour long? Do you want the journey to be 40 minutes long? Personally I think it should be 40 minutes. Having done a lot of coaching and training over the years I reckon 40 – 45 minutes is most people’s attention span. But if I do that and say you are only going to get 8 songs on the album, people are going to say ‘You’re ripping me off’. People do look at the numbers. I don’t but I know others look at it.”
“I have at least 12 I can put on the album but the problem for me is what number looks good. Because I am quite old, my memories of albums are you bought something that was pretty expensive and sometimes it had only eight songs on it because that’s all that could fit on vinyl with high quality. When I bought albums, the Led Zeppelin albums had 9 songs on them; the Free albums had 8 or 9 songs on them. Sometimes an album had one song on one side.”
Bob went on to explain that it had a lot to do with the quality of music on vinyl. The size of the grooves, therefore the number of tracks, would affect the quality of the sound. These days with digital recording that is not such a problem hence why people are now used to buying albums with 10 to 12 songs on them.
“In general, I don’t write really short songs. I guess that harks back to the stuff that informed me. The stuff that informed me as a lad was reasonably long because I didn’t do The Beatles. The Beatles weren’t my thing.”
Bob’s musical tastes, as I discovered, are very broad.
“Even though I have been in rock bands, it’s not really what I do. At home I will listen to John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, I’m a big jazz fan. I love Mongolian music and African Witchcraft Music. I love Indian music, I love Arabic music.”
“It turns out that most of my friends who are musicians have quite broad listening tastes as well. I think those kinds of things have helped inform them and have helped them become good musicians. It’s not just ‘I am a rock guitar player so all I listen to is Guns and Roses or AC/DC’. I think that is a pretty damn boring existence. I think if you are going to travel this path of being a musician, I think you owe it to yourself and other people to know what you are talking about and have a bit of a handle on all sorts of things.”
I suggested to Bob that listening to a broad range of music must help him to write and produce better music.
“I hope so,” was his response. “I am not a believer in just trying to impress on the public that they should just buy my music. I don’t do that. I say ‘Well, if you like my stuff, maybe you should go out and listen to Sly and the Family Stone or The Who or Joe Walsh. If you like me, that’s lovely. Thanks heaps. Maybe you should go out and listen to all this other stuff as well. That will be better for you. I like doing that. I think that is part of my job to expose other people to music they haven’t heard because that ultimately helps everybody and I am a believer in helping everybody, not just me.”
Bob’s other way of helping people has been through coaching and teaching. A part of his musical journey that he not only enjoys but finds very rewarding and soul satisfying. His intention is not to work with gifted children but all children and adults who are interested in music.
“I do teach and for a long while I ran band programs. I started that program called Weekend Warriors in Victoria for baby boomers. I started that in 2001 and I ran that until I started getting sick a few years ago. I also ran for the last few years of that, a program designed for children aged between 9 and 19. That was under my little business called Greater Groove Music and I helped lots and lots of kids. I coached them for a school term and then we would put on a gig at the end of the school term. It would have a couple of hundred people come and watch them and that was glorious. I really loved doing that.”
However it was very stressful and consequently Bob ended up having a mini stroke.
“I don’t like administration,” he told me. “But the rest of it, the actual coaching and dealing with the kids and helping the kids and helping the adults, I love all that stuff and one day I would like to get back to that. I just really liked doing it. It’s good for everyone. It’s really rewarding. These kids really benefit by being able to go out and play with other kids and strike up friendships and hopefully they just keep playing. I am still in contact with some of the kids that came through the program as 9, 10 and 11 year olds and they are now 16 and 17.”
“One day I would like to get back to doing that but the truth is I am shit at doing administration. I need to find an administration partner. I can do it. I am bright enough to do it. I just don’t like it. I do want to revisit the coaching because I adored doing that and it’s a really great thing to do.”
Bob’s willingness to help young people isn’t confined to teaching and coaching. He has recently employed a university student to help him with the online promotion of his music.
“I have found a young kid. He is 21. He is very good with social media. I am swinging him just a few bucks, not zillions of dollars, to see what can be done and I think he’s really helped. Because it’s his area of expertise, he studies social media, he has a better handle on how to target audiences and all that sort of stuff. I know how to in theory but I don’t really want to sit down for four hours and do it. He studies this; it’s his game so the more he learns about what to do in the real world, I guess the better his chances are at scoring a job in the real world once he completes his studies. I think that’s going really well; he’s extremely diligent.”
Diligence and dedication is something that Bob isn’t shy about either. He explained to me that he works for up to 12 hour stretches on his music and has weeks’ worth of riffs on his phone, as well as many, many more files on his computer and on cassettes from pre computer days. He also shared that he has some other recording projects he hopes to complete in his lifetime.
“I would dearly, dearly love to do an instrumental album because I really like pretty music. I love pretty melodies and delicate little guitar parts. There is a song called ‘Maroubra 1973 September 3pm’, it’s a really pretty song. I just love doing that stuff.”
This song can be heard on one of Bob’s YouTube blogs. It is a lovely piece of music worth listening to.
“Another thing I want to do is go back to another part of my roots which is Sly and the Family Stone and do an album which is primarily about the bass and drum groove and has very little to do with guitar. That’s always in the back of my mind. I have more bass riffs than I can possibly handle so that’s another little project that will probably attract an audience of four,” he says with a laugh. “That goes back to liking what I call funky music but when I say funky music I don’t mean KC and the Sunshine Band, I mean Sly and the Family Stone. That was a huge influence on me as a youngster.”
Bob has been heavily influenced by blues based music and unlike so many other musicians of his era, not influenced so much by The Beatles.
“I like The Beatles but they’re not my favourite band and they didn’t really influence me. What I got was the blues based music, particularly Free, Led Zeppelin. The pop things that I like are The Who and The Small Faces but not The Beatles. I prefer The Who over The Beatles any day of the week. When you grow up at 10, 12 or 14 years old thinking these things are good, they have quality and value, and those things stay with you.”
If my chats with Bob are any indication, then I am confident that the kids out there who have been coached by Bob will, in years to come, say Bob was an influence on them. The things, not just the chords and notes, that he has taught them will stay with them for a long time. I know just a few things I have learnt from Bob from our chats will stay with me for a long time.
This final quote from Bob is a beautiful way to finish this two part article. It pretty much sums up his sense of humour and dedication to the younger generation.
“My task is to stay around for as long as possible to annoy as many young people as possible. The older I get, I think ‘Yes, annoying young people is really frickin’ good fun.’ Give them grief I say. I take great delight in giving my step daughter a little grief and her friends as well.”
“I absolutely adore my little girl I think she is just wonderful. It’s really quite a journey and being a step dad coming in later in life [different] but it’s great I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It’s been wonderful.”
by Suzanne Bunker
Copyright © Suzanne Bunker 2016. All rights reserved