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The Bobs Are Vocal About Making Music With No Band

Fri., Jan. 13, 1995, midnight

So, the four Bobs are gathered together in a room and they decide to record an album of covers, including two songs identified with the Guitar Gods named Eric Clapton (“White Room”) and Jimi Hendrix (“The Wind Cries Mary”). No problem, you say, covers are rather big these days.

But, you see, the Bobs - Richard Bob Greene, Matthew Bob Stull, Janie Bob Scott and Joe Bob Finetti - are not just all Bobs (like the Ramones are all Ramones): They’re all singers. No instruments. Or, as Johnny Carson said to them after a “Tonight Show” appearance: “Good stuff. Next time bring the band.”

What’s an a cappella group to do?

Sing like a guitar. “It’s one of those things where if you have a falsetto you can do it,” explains Finetti, by phone. “It doesn’t really sound like a guitar - it’s just capturing that kind of feel. You need something high, above everything else, and I would hope improvisatory in nature.”

Do the Bobs aim to put people who play instruments out of business?

“That’s never gonna happen,” says Finetti, “because most people who play instruments are already out of business. This is from personal experience. I graduated as a trombone major. Unless you’re one of the best players in the city you live in you’re not gonna get a symphony chair, and there’s no studio work for horn players anymore.”

The Bobs formed in Berkeley, Calif., 13 years ago. They’ve released six albums, the latest two on Rounder. They are not, as Finetti is quick to tell you, your traditional harmony vocal group, though he has nothing but love for Take 6, the Nylons and Manhattan Transfer.

“What it is, is this,” says Finetti. “The music is quirky, a little bit funny, but not hilarious, offbeat and weird and I think seeing the show is the arena for the Bobs. People who’ve just heard a record and haven’t seen a show don’t really get it.”

Yes, there’s humor. The Bobs, who now mix originals and covers about half and half, have covered Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” and, on the new album, “The Bobs Cover the Songs of … ” the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Grateful Dead’s “The Golden Road,” Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” and the Trampps “Disco Inferno.” Surely, this is the first recording to package Cohen and the Trampps together. Which might lead some to consider the Bobs a novelty act, a term Finetti confesses he’s heard before.

“We don’t like it, but what are you gonna do?” he says. “We’ve been called a cabaret act in Europe. The songs are quirky and not mainstream and our whole thing is we go out and have a good time and have fun with the audience.”

Upcoming Bobs projects: Soundtracking a “wacky screwball comedy” directed by and starring Jason (George from “Seinfeld”) Alexander that may be called “Stranger Things,” or “Relative Insanity.” And a Bobs sitcom has been written and pitched about a vocal group struggling to make it in New York. “That’s a longshot,” says Finetti. “They make a million pilots.”

Basically, Finetti considers the Bobs a success. “There are so many better vocal groups out there,” he says, “but the Bobs is a different sort of thing. And the group is doing amazingly well for a vocal group. It’s so hard to keep a group like that alive.”

MEMO: Two sidebars arreared with this story: Carnival time The Bobs concert tonight at the Panida Theater kicks off the annual Sandpoint Winter Carnival. The carnival activities at Schweitzer Mountain Resort run Jan. 20-29.

The Bobs, tonight, 8, the Panida in Sandpoint Tickets: $10, $8 for Pend Oreille Arts Council members, $6 for students under age 18 (if you show ID that proves your name is Bob, you get $1 off your ticket price)

Two sidebars arreared with this story: Carnival time The Bobs concert tonight at the Panida Theater kicks off the annual Sandpoint Winter Carnival. The carnival activities at Schweitzer Mountain Resort run Jan. 20-29.

The Bobs, tonight, 8, the Panida in Sandpoint Tickets: $10, $8 for Pend Oreille Arts Council members, $6 for students under age 18 (if you show ID that proves your name is Bob, you get $1 off your ticket price)


 
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