Violinist from Chicago, Illinois, who played fiddle on the vaudeville circuit with his mother and sister in the 1930s and went on to attend Chicago Musical College on a scholarship. Exaggerating his age of sixteen, he applied for membership in a local union of musicians and started his own band, which played the club circuit.
Uncle Sam came calling during World War II, and Bobby enlisted in the U.S. Marines. His tour of duty included stops in Guam, Iwo Jima, and Saipan. He was involved in most of the action in the Pacific Islands, and soon the legendary exploits of the fiddle-wielding fighter resounded in the top echelons of the military, and he found himself arranging and directing music for a stage show in Guam.
Once the war was over, Bobby joined Luke Wills and His Rhythm Busters, playing dances in the San Joaquin Valley and performing on a regular radio program. He stayed with them for about a year until Leon McAuliffe drafted him into his band in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His experience as an arranger in the military came in handy, as Leon utilized him as his principal arranger for five years, which was a challenge, considering few of the musicians could read a lick of music. Fortunately, most of them had an elephant’s memory when it came to hearing and remembering notes. They enjoyed a brief tenure on one of television’s early programs, The Helen Alvirez Show.
After his five-year stint with Leon’s band, Bobby moved back to California, where he was hired by none other than Bob Wills, whose Texas Playboys band he played for about half a year. Around this time, he also found work on the radio with Jimmy Wakely, who had his own weekly program on CBS. He switched to television shortly thereafter, as concertmaster on The Oran Tucker Show, which aired on KTLA, and as arranger for Country America, which featured all the big country and western musicians of the day.
In fact, television would be a very big part of Bobby’s career and life for years to come: Some of the programs he has worked on include The Barbara Mandrell Show, Bewitched, Green Acres, Highway to Heaven, The Lawrence Welk Show, Little House on the Prairie, Paradise, The Ray Anthony Show, and Roseanne. He is also credited with coming up with a lot of the sound effects used on those old Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows.
His early success in TV led to work in movies such as Funny Girl, Jeremiah Johnson, Oklahoma Crude, and The Sting. (He played the violin solo on Marvin Hamlisch’s arrangement of “Little Girl”, written by Scott Joplin.) In the mid-to-late ‘70s, he hooked up with Quincy Jones for the mini-series Roots, dubbing Lou Gossett’s fiddle playing and even penning part of the score.
Bobby’s studio work did not end in film and television, however. In the late ‘50s, he was in the studio with Chet Atkins for sessions that were later compiled on Mr. Guitar: The Complete Recordings 1955-1960. Between 1958 and 1969, he worked with Phil Spector on recordings that eventually wound up the album, Back to Mono. At the end of this period, he found himself working on Working!, by Bobby Jameson, as a member of the string section. In 1979, he appeared on Frank Sinatra’s boxed set, Trilogy, on which he is credited with playing the violin and the balloon!
Other artists with whom he worked include Susie Allanson, Bob Desena, Lowell George, Corky Hale, Jim Horn, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Bob Seger, Al Stewart, Mel Torme, and Ian Whitcomb, whose style suits the early vaudeville experience culled all those years ago, on albums such as The Golden Age of Lounge. It is hard to believe Bobby has found time to keep performing live, but he has kept his chops active with the likes of Noel Boggs, Barney Kessel, Joaquin Murphy, Herb Remington, Paul Smith, and Jimmy Wyble.
He was also active with Tommy Allsup in the Cowboy Symposium, which holds court in Rudioso, New Mexico, and the Valley Villagers.
In 2014 he was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.
Here he is on the violin and singing in a performance of “Sugarfoot Rag”…