Bobby Bare Jr. has led a wild life that could engulf a book. Instead, it fills his albums.
The Nashville native grew up in a celebrity household, his father – Bobby Sr. – a country legend in the 1960s and ’70s. Stars came in and out of their home; George Jones and Tammy Wynette were their next-door neighbors.
At age 5, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for a duet with his father on “Daddy What If.” Poet-children’s book writer-songwriter Shel Silverstein was his mentor, like a second father to him.
Still, the frontman for the rock-roots quintet Bare Jr. can pinpoint the exact moment he knew he had to have a career in music.
“I have a picture of my dad, Neil Young, Dickey Betts and Shel Silverstein all on stage at the Exit Inn, which is our main place to play in Nashville,” Bare said recently. “I’ve seen Neil play a couple times and cried all the way through every set. He’s so magical and so emotional and so soulful. The day that I really took my music seriously was when I saw him play at Farm Aid in ’94 or ’95 in Louisville. He did a song my dad had a hit with in 1965, ‘Four Strong Winds.’ I didn’t even know he had recorded it, but a year after he performed at the Exit Inn with my dad, he ended up recording ‘Four Strong Winds’ and it just wiped me out. That’s probably the single most inspiring moment I’ve ever had.”
No wonder why it wasn’t hard to talk Bare into doing a version of Young’s “Sugar Mountain” for the “I-10 Chronicles Part 2” (on Back Porch Records), out Feb. 8.
Bare had another epiphany: After a string of DUI arrests and stints in rehab, he scared himself straight.
“Three DUIs will do that to you,” he said. “That and not wanting to be in jail. This past millennium, I got back to drinking and I don’t know why, but it just seemed like the thing to do. I’m swimming with that and seeing where it takes me. It’s just hard to say no. I did eight years of drinking.
“I’m an alcoholic in that if I have eight beers with my friends, I end up blacked-out drunk and they don’t. I can’t drink; I’m just not a good drinker. I just had to focus on ‘I can only have two beers.’ I can sip on whiskey all night, but I can’t chug a whole bottle, like I used to do. I know my limits.”
Bare’s energetic, irreverent post-grunge group – featuring Tracey Hackney (dulcimer), Dean Tomasek (bass), Keith Brodgon (drums) and Teel (guitar) – opened its U.S. tour with Cowboy Mouth on Jan. 17 in Austin in support of its Immortal/Virgin album, “Brainwasher” (due Feb. 13).
The only regret Bare has is that Silverstein – author of the children’s classics “The Giving Tree” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” – isn’t around to enjoy it. Silverstein, who penned “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash and “Sylvia’s Mother” and “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ ” for Dr. Hook & His Medicine Show, died of a heart attack at his Key West, Fla., home in May 1999.
“It’s really hard to talk about him,” said Bare, visibly choked-up. “He critiqued every song I ever wrote until he died, so these are the first songs I’ve done without Shel. It’s tough. He’s with me every time I do anything, like walking around New York City. He used to live in the Village and he’d show me around.
“On my songs, I take the rhyme scheme from one of Shel’s poems. I know all his poems, and I’ll take a song that I’m wanting to write and I’ll recite a poem over it just to get a melody and a rhyme scheme, then I’ll go back and just rewrite the poem and plug it back into the song. So he’s with me on every song I write. He was an unbelievably giving person, a complete person. I miss him so much.”
Bare forged ahead with “Brainwasher,” conjuring up more rebellious anthems, rowdy melodies and self-deprecation on such winners as “If You Choose Me,” the title track and “Why Do I Need a Job?” Not unlike the band’s 1998 debut album, “Boo-Tay,” and the modern-rock hit “You Blew Me Off.”
“I wanted this album to be more artsy, more fartsy,” Bare said. “I don’t know if we accomplished it, but I just wanted to stretch out a little bit, and the producer we chose (Sean Slade), he did the song ‘Creep’ (for Radiohead) and he mixed ‘The Bends.’ Those are very creative records. A producer is really like a baby sitter or a hall monitor for the record company; they just make sure you don’t do anything really, really cool. A good producer can figure ways to let you do really, really cool things and still the record company’s not going to freak out, because it is their money you’re spending. Sean was all that for us.”
Bare is glad to still be in the game, particularly after Immortal Records left the Epic fold in 1999 and sought refuge with Virgin.
“The guy who runs our label was unhappy with his relationship with the person was running Epic at the time, I believe that’s what it was,” Bare said. “He had lots of ideas, and I don’t think they were listening to him. So he just wanted to take his toys and leave. He had to leave two of them behind, which was Korn and Incubus, but he was able to take us and The Urge with him to wherever he wanted to go. The unfortunate thing is that the day he decided to do that was the release day of our second single (off ‘Boo-Tay’), so that died a quick death.
“You know what? It’s sweet, because all that money we would owe, we don’t have to recoup that money. We’re starting from scratch here at Virgin, so it’s like a whole new record deal.”
More than anything, Bare is happy that Bare Jr. has dispelled the notion that Nashville is just country. Nashville knows how to rock, too, he says.
“I’ve been around country music all my life,” he said. “I was selling T-shirts on the road upon until my 20s, so I’ve been to every honky tonk in America a couple of times. At the same time, I’m obsessed with Built to Spill and bands like Ministry, Radiohead. I’m from Nashville, but you really can buy AC/DC records in Nashville, Tenn., I swear to God, and not many people understand that. Just ‘cuz we’re from Nashville, it’s really not against the law to have a rock band.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.’ I did ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ when I was a kid, and the Bee Gees were on there. All I knew was that they were a bunch of guys from England who knew Elton John, so I asked them every Elton John question I could and Barry Gibb leaned over to my dad out of ear shot and said, ‘I don’t have the heart to tell the boy that Elton John’s just a fat fag.’ Dad told me that as an adult.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I think I saw the Eagles with my mom in ’73 or ’74, but the first concert I wanted to see and went to was Kiss in the ‘Dynasty’ era in Nashville, when they had purple in their outfits, which was pretty lame.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Queens of the Stone Age, but I bought the wrong album. It was their first one, not ‘Rated R,’ which was what I wanted, so I have to find that one again.”