It’s a heavy-eye-lidded late-morning in Maumee, Ohio, when Bobby Bare Jr. telephones and apologizes for missing by an hour-and-change a mid-morning interview.
“Sorry I’m late. Do you have time to talk now?” the affable music-maker asks the writer who has left several voice mails responding to Bare’s recorded message, a direct rip from an old Doors song. “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name,” says the world-weary, somewhat drawling message.
“Hello, I Love You,” The Doors’ only number one hit (from 1968’s Waiting for the Sun album) is well-suited as the recorded message for this guy whose classic rocker’s heart perhaps is heavily flavored by a youth spent living in the home of one of country’s best vocalists, living next door to George Jones and Tammy Wynette and appearing on Hee Haw.
Bare, who lives in Inglewood – “I love East Nashville,” he says –is calling to talk about two things: his bitter-edged new album, Undefeated – done with the shambling accompaniment of his loosely allied Young Criminals’ Starvation League – and that album’s release party at 8 p.m. Saturday (May 3) at Mercy Lounge. Tickets for the 18-and-over show are $10.
While the Mercy show is the official unveiling and celebration of the new recording by the son of Country Music Hall of Fame member (and genuine nice guy) Bobby “Detroit City” Bare, the younger Bobby has been busy working out the kinks while on an extended club crusade.
Which is why he’s calling late and exhausted from Maumee, Ohio.
“We’re out on tour right now,” he says. “It’s just so much fun doing some of these new songs. I can’t wait to play them at the Mercy Lounge.”
The new stuff has been worked into the free-form rotation that makes up Bare’s set list. “I have a big list (of songs). It’s not a set list. I usually try to group the first three or four songs together and we go from there. … Yeah, we go from there.”
There’s a smile in his voice when he talks about the disorganized organization that makes a Bobby Bare Jr. show a fun event. While there will be those three or four songs from the new album, he can — on a whim — choose from his catalog of seven albums.
And, when he’s doing that “line-of-scrimmage” song selection, he also has another new and very deep catalog from which to choose.
Now that he’s 47 and far-removed from any claim folks might make that he’s riding his pop’s coat-tails, the Nashville rocker finally has begun to sample songs that Papa Bare sang to the top of the charts.
“I did a cover on ‘Shame on Me’ for a seven-inch I put out in January. I’d never recorded any of his songs nor played them live,” he says.
The time was right, though, to go ahead and reaffirm his personal connection to the man some regard as the best country singer ever (perhaps just short of his pal Waylon Jennings) by recording his own version of dad’s first single. “Shame on Me,” released in 1962.
Those who don’t know that song surely will recognize its follow-up, 1963’s “Detroit City,” a top 10 hit that earned Hall of Famer Bare a Best Country and Western Recording Grammy in 1964.
The younger Bare is obviously proud of his father, the man who introduced him to the charts by singing the father-child song “Daddy, What If”—penned by the elder Bare’s late, great chum Shel Silverstein — in 1974.
“I haven’t sung that song with my dad since about 1975-1976,” says Bare Jr. He has, however, sung the song with his daughter, Isabella, an event that turns up at the end of the current documentary “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost)” that spotlights his unique music career.
His family is much on his mind these days. First of all there’s his pop. And then there are “my three babies,” who live with their mothers in Hendersonville. It’s his feelings about being separated from those kids and their moms that flavors much of this album.
But first there is his dad. Senior is not on this album, but he will be at the Mercy Lounge show. It will be the first time the two Bares have shared a stage in Nashville.
The time was right, he says, “’Cause he’s bad ass,” says Junior. “He loves this album, and I never have played in Nashville with him other than a thing we did at the Bluebird a couple months ago.”
The younger Bare was schooled at Nashville’s music parlor that’s known as a songwriter’s mecca … and as a place where a good ‘shhhh’ or two scolds those who are not listening quietly enough.
“The problem with the Bluebird show is that my dad did nothing but hits and I don’t have any. It’s just kind of not fair. At some point in the Bluebird show, we were switching songs, and I asked him not to do any more hits. But he kept doing hits.”
Of course the prolific country hit-maker has an immense catalogue from which to draw. And that’s just what he’s likely to do when he climbs on the Mercy Lounge stage.
The only thing that will keep the big and booming voice of the elder Bare from stealing the evening is his age, his son reckons.
“He’s probably going to go on at 9 or 9:30. He goes on early, ‘cause he’s an old guy and he loves to go to sleep,” says Junior. “He’s all right.”
He notes he has taken his dad out onto the road with him, trying to introduce pop to places in Seattle, Portland and Chicago where Junior knew he’d have at least 1,000 tickets sold thanks to his own fan base.
“It was kind of like show-and-tell,” says Bare Jr. “A lot of my fans don’t have any idea what my dad does, so it was like me saying: ‘This is what my dad does. He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he?’”
“My dad loved it. He loves the energy of a young crowd. He’s good and it’s fun,” he says.
He figures his dad’s embrace of younger-generation fans – the 35-40-year-olds who have been following Bobby Bare Jr. forever – will also make the show at the Mercy Lounge special.
“I figured it is OK, now that I’ve put seven albums out, to do it with my dad. It’s obvious I’m not coat-tailing. There are a lot of children of entertainers who just ride their parents’ coat-tails. I didn’t want to do that.”
Now he’s established his own persona as the singer of rock, Americana and country who conducts a loose stage show and leaves his audience smiling: “So I’ve proven myself.”
And he proves himself anew on this album that was birthed out of psychological wear and tear encountered since his last solo album, A Storm, At Tree, My Mother’s Head in 2010.
“I’ve had babies and divorces and everything since then. Got three babies, 3, 7 and 9. Got a divorce from the mom of the first two and had a breakup with the youngest son’s mom.”
He laughs, despite those circumstances ,when he says “It’s basically a ‘getting-dumped’ record. It’s not a breakup record.
“It just helped me by getting it out. The same way writing a letter to someone, but never sending it, helps.”
Here’s a track from Undefeated:
*Photos by Joshua Black Wilkins courtesy Bloodshot Records.