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Author Topic:   Bobby Koefer
Jeff Strouse

From: Jacksonville, Florida, USA

posted 02 July 2002 10:12 AM     profile   send email     edit
I've never had the privilege of meeting or seeing Bobby Koefer live, but have seen many pictures of him. Given his "unorthodox" way of holding the bar, does anyone know if he incorporates bar slants in his playing?

Below is a link to a live CD I just got featuring him with the Playboys. I can highly recommend this disc to any fan of western swing and steel guitar.

Jerry Horner

From: Tahlequah, OK, USA

posted 02 July 2002 12:22 PM     profile   send email     edit

Having been freinds with Bobby for over 40 years and watching him play so many times, I can rest assure you that Bobby does use some bar slants although he does not make a habit of it. His style of playing combined with the fact that he seldom looks at his guitar does not lend itself to a lot of slants. Another thing, if you have never heard him chime, you have realy missed something great. No one and I do mean no one in the steel world can do it like the Koff. He is one of a kind, not only steel wise but also person wise.


Dave Mayes

From: Piedmont, Ca.

posted 02 July 2002 04:32 PM     profile   send email     edit
There is a resently released double CD that covers the Bob Wills MGM label years - all of Bobby's recordings with Wills as well as a lot of great stuff by Herb Remington and Billy Bowman.
Kevin Macneil Brown

From: Montpelier, VT, USA

posted 03 July 2002 10:27 AM     profile   send email     edit
The CD that Dave mentions is called BOOT HEEL DRAG-THE MGM YEARS.It is rich indeed with great steel playing.
Those guys like Bobby Koefer, Herb Remington, and Billy Bowman packed a lot of musical excitement into their short breaks and backups!!!
posted 03 July 2002 08:50 PM           edit
Just how does he hold the bar?!?
Dave Mayes

From: Piedmont, Ca.

posted 04 July 2002 08:15 AM     profile   send email     edit
Bobby uses an old style flat bar. He appears to make a fist and hold the bar between his thumb and first finger. The strings are muted behind the bar by the top side of his fingers.
How'd I do ?
Dave Mayes

From: Piedmont, Ca.

posted 04 July 2002 08:25 AM     profile   send email     edit
I still can not... for the life of me... understand why Bobby Koefer is not yet in the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame ?!
Jeff Strouse

From: Jacksonville, Florida, USA

posted 04 July 2002 12:41 PM     profile   send email     edit
Dave, I agree with you about him not being in the steel guitar hall of fame...yet (hint, hint, Scotty). He definitely has carved his place in steel guitar history and deserves the recognition of being the innovative pioneer and influencer that he is.

He does use the old flat style bar, and rather than having his index finger on top, he holds it just like you describe...between his thumb and first finger. I've tried to experiment with this for the fun of it, and find slants virtually impossible (but, I'm not that good at them anyway ). He also doesn't use finger picks!

For those of you not familar with Bobby Koefer's history, here are the liner notes from Tom Morrell and the Time Warp Tophands "How the West Was Swung" Series (Vol 2 & 3). He and Bobby played twin steels on that CD. I thought you guys might enjoy a little biographical information on him:

These sessions mark Bobby Koefer’s return to recording after a hiatus of more than 30 years. In the decade previous to that, he’d carved out an impressive and influential career playing with a virtual Who’s Who of Western Swing, from Bill and Jim Boyd and Bob Wills to Pee Wee King and Billy Gray. Though Bobby’s credits may be slightly more widely-known than Tom’s, he has – like Tom – received far too little attention outside musician’s circles.

Bobby was reared in relative isolation and was almost by necessity a self-taught musician. This self-education resulted in his development not only of a very singular sound but also a quite unorthodox technique, including use of an odd bar angle, a single thumb pick and liberal (and amazing) use of his bare fingers.

Bobby’s earliest memories of the steel guitar are of Hawaiian players he heard on the radio and Bobby still bears the stamp of that influence, especially in his ballad playing. He also recalls a self-accompanying steel player he heard on a Mexican border station, Lew Childre, and cites this as first putting into his then very young head, the idea that the steel had possibilities that extended beyond soloing and melodic accompanying. Later, he began to hear the great Western Swing players – Noel Boggs, Joaquin Murphy, Leon McAuliffe, and others. He learned from these men, of course, and also fell in love with the music, but from the start Bobby Koefer has sounded like no one else.

Bobby’s first recordings were on the Dallas-based Bluebonnet label with guitarist Sonny Hall. They recorded a particularly memorable version of an old dirty blues tune, “Operation Blues,” that has to be heard to be believed. He played with Boyd’s Cowboy Ramblers and also landed a gig with a racially-mixed pop combo in Iowa that looms large in retrospect: he played nothing but rhythm, honing his now-considerable chops in that area.

Bobby was working with Tex Justice in Indiana in 1950 when he heard Bob Wills was looking for a steel player to replace Billy Bowman, who had been drafted. He called Bob and soon he was a Texas Playboy. He adds immeasurably to the excitement of Wills’ recordings from the period and being a Playboy was also an important formative experience. “Working with Eldon Shamblin every night for two years on the Wills band was probably the most valuable experience I ever had,” he says. “I learned a lot about harmony, as well as his style of rhythm. I try to do a little of it on steel if I’m not playing a chorus.”

From the Playboys, Bobby moved to Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys, remaining throughout that long-lived band’s most musically satisfying years and contributing to some classic recordings (listen to the great “Swing West” album). He then worked with Billy Gray at his band’s creative height, recording such classics as “Curtain Call” and “Bandera Shuffle.” After giving notice, he remained long enough to break in his replacement, 18 year old Tommy Morrell…

Bobby spend over 5 years leading the house band at the Hi-Ho club in Wichita, an always hopping place where according to Bobby, “Every night was Saturday night.” Afterward, he sort faded from the scene, settling in Alaska. He played some music jobs over the years, but made his living mainly from the booming construction industry. He also indulged his life-long interest in primitive culture (which helped him get along with the Time Warp Tophands) and nature by immersing himself in isolated Eskimo societies during parts of the five winters he spent on the island of Little Diomede in the Bering Strait. He continued to travel widely, to seek out new and exciting adventures that would soon tax anyone without his incredible energy, optimism, and stamina.

During his lengthy absence from the Western wing scene, Bobby was sorely missed, especially by the other players among whom his prowess on the steel and his reputation as a somewhat singular character elevated him to near-legendary status. Musicians swapped stories about Bobby’s antics and his preference for the sound of old, rusty strings. There was even a rumor that he had given up playing for good and had literally buried his steel.

Fortunately , this proved untrue, and Bobby returned to the Western Swing scene in the late 80’s, playing better than ever. His command of his instrument has increased to a remarkable level and the relative isolation has further crystallized the singularity of his style. In the studio his playing left his colleges amazed. At one point, Tom emerged from the studio shaking his head, saying he’d never seen anyone with such total command of his instrument. Bobby also sounds eerily similar to the way he’d sounded nearly 40 years ago, playing with Bob Wills, prompting one bystander to compare him with a time traveler, as if he’d just stepped out of a time capsule.

I've heard from a couple of players of what a fun "character" he is to be around. If anyone has any stories or personal memories to share, please don't hesitate to post...after all, that's what the forum is all about!

[This message was edited by Jeff Strouse on 04 July 2002 at 01:41 PM.]

Michael T. Hermsmeyer

From: Branson, Mo 65616 USA

posted 06 July 2002 12:55 AM     profile   send email     edit
I remember seeing Bobby Koefer and the Playboys Band several years ago at Scotty's ISGC in St. Louis. I don't remember what year it was, but his performance has always stuck with me. I remember, after his set, I was in the hallway just outside the ballroom as Bobby carried his steel through to pack it up. It was the first time I got to see a Fender stand up steel up close. It was a triple 8 custom, I believe. I remember it only having 3 legs, and he had an interesting way of wrapping his right leg around his steel leg to use his volume pedal. Seemed strange to me at the time, but nobody could ever dispute the handle he had on the instrument, or his crystal clear tone. I think that Bobby Koefer's performance that evening (as well as Leon McAuliffe) has had a profound effect on me finally making the decision to buy a Fender stringmaster earlier this year. Thanks Bobby! It was also the only time I got to see Eldon Shamblin perform while he was still alive. And what can I say about Mr. Eldon Shamblin that hasn't already been said a thousand times! What a genius! Thank you Scotty, for giving us a chance to see and meet steel guitar history face to face. You're my hero and friend. And thanks to you Bob, for the forum so that we can share these little stories along with solving problems and making new friends. Thanks to you too Jeff for the great Bio on Bobby. Michael T.

'7? SHO-BUD PRO I S-10, '85 60DS DOBRO,

[This message was edited by Michael T. Hermsmeyer on 06 July 2002 at 12:57 AM.]

Jerry Horner

From: Tahlequah, OK, USA

posted 09 July 2002 08:59 AM     profile   send email     edit
Eldon Shamblin told me this story about Bobby several years ago.
Bobby had not been with the Bob Wills band but just a short while when one night on the bandstand during some song Wills walked over to Bobby and said "your time is coming up kid, do something exciting". Bobby's amp had been cutting out on him and sure enough when it came time for Bobby's solo, his amp cut out on him again. Eldon said Bobby picked up his steel and threw it out in the middle of the dance floor. Wills walked over and said "Now that's excititng".
Another time I walked into the Hi-Ho club where he was playing. He had a pillow under one of his steel guitar legs. I asked him what the pillow was for thinking he had some good reason for it being there like tone or something. He said "No, my leg was just tired".
Bobby is truely one of a kind.


Winnie Winston

From: Tawa, Wellington, NZ

posted 11 July 2002 12:20 AM     profile   send email     edit
The only time I saw Bobby was at Scotty's. I was up front. But further in front, reclining on the apron in front of the stage was Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day. And every so often Bobby would do something, and Emmons or Day would slap their foreheads and start laughing. It was wonderful seeing those two being blown away by a guy who held his flat bar in his fist and had only a thumbpick.
Quite the memory.


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