Bob Gibson (musician)
Bob Gibson, circa 1960
|Birth name||Samuel Robert Gibson|
|Born||November 16, 1931|
|Origin||Brooklyn, New York, United States|
|Died||September 28, 1996
Portland, Oregon, United States
|Instruments||vocals, guitar, banjo|
|Associated acts||Hamilton Camp|
Samuel Robert "Bob" Gibson (November 16, 1931 – September 28, 1996) was a folk singer who was a key figure in the folk music revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was known for playing both the banjo and the 12-string guitar. He introduced a then largely unknown Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival of 1959. He produced a number of LPs in the decade from 1956 to 1965. His best known album, Gibson & Camp at the Gate of Horn, was released in 1961. His songs have been recorded by, among others, the Limeliters, Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds, the Smothers Brothers, and the Kingston Trio. His career was interrupted by his addiction to drugs. After getting sober in 1978, he attempted a comeback, but the musical scene had changed and his traditional style of folk music was out of favor with young audiences. He did, however, continue his artistic career with albums, musicals, plays, and television performances. In 1993 he was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). He died from PSP on September 28, 1996 in Portland, Oregon.
The road to Chicago
Bob Gibson was born on November 16, 1931 in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in various communities outside New York City - Tuckahoe, Yorktown Heights, and Tompkins Corners, Putnam County, New York. He had two siblings - an older sister, Anne, and a younger brother, Jim. His early interest in music was, primarily, vocal. He left high school in his senior year and hitchhiked around the country. Eventually returning to New York City, Gibson became a partner in a firm that taught speed reading where he was responsible for sales and public relations. In 1953 Gibson met Pete Seeger, helping Seeger to complete rebuilding his home. Gibson was so impressed with Seeger and his music, he "took the money I had set aside for rent" and bought a banjo. After deciding to leave his job, Gibson taught himself to play the banjo over the next year, became immersed in the study of folk music, and became a performer at the age of 22. After performing briefly in New York City, he traveled to Miami, Florida and played in various clubs. Next, Gibson performed from Cleveland to New York and was eventually hired at the Green Door in Michigan City, Indiana (50 miles east of Chicago). He then found an agent in Chicago and was booked into the Offbeat Room in Chicago.
Gibson was soon tapped as house singer at Chicago's Gate of Horn where he was often joined by partner, Bob (later comic actor, Hamilton) Camp. Shel Silverstein, then a cartoonist at Playboy, was a regular fan and captured Gibson's attention when he (Silverstein) completed lyrics to a previously forgotton Gibson tune. Gibson and Camp were such a resounding success that the owner soon decided to open a similar place in New York named The Village Gate. He discovered two brilliant young talents, later to be known as Peter and Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Art then asked Gibson and Camp to "sing with a girl." They refused and thus was born the legendary trio of Peter, Paul and Mary. Peter Yarrow said of his friend Bob Gibson: "When you listen to PPM, you are hearing Bob Gibson".
They (Gibson and Silverstein = "GibStein") became lifelong best friends as well as writing partners producing over 231 songs over the next thirty five years. Their last production was in Nashville in 1993 entitled "Makin' A Mess" for Kyle Lhenning at Asylum records. The last cut, "Whistlers and Jugglers and Singers of Song" is the only song that today gets air play and was a last minute substitution when Shel realized how ill his friend really was. It was written about the relationship of what Silverstein referred to as "The trio from out of our past" about a girl who always loved the singer and with whom he got together several years prior to his passing.
The glory years
Gibson first met Albert Grossman while performing at the Offbeat Room. Grossman had an idea for a folk club on the near north side of Chicago and, in 1956, opened the Gate of Horn. In the third week after opening, Grossman booked Gibson into the club. He began a continuous performing streak that lasted eleven months. Beginning as an opener for many of the acts, by the end of his eleven-month stay, Gibson was the headliner, closing for everyone.
Grossman had a knack for finding talent. This list of performers he booked into The Gate of Horn included Josh White, Glenn Yarborough, Odetta, Joan Baez (which led to Gibson's inviting the then unknown performer to join him at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival), Hamilton Camp, and Judy Collins. Grossman had "scouted" Bob Gibson for his club, but he could not imagine the headline act that Gibson would become. Bob Gibson was on his way to becoming a legend in Chicago in the early 1960s, helped along by a talented singer and songwriter, Hamilton Camp. In 1961 their debut album was released on Elektra Records, Gibson and Camp at the Gate of Horn. A watershed album, it influenced singers from John Lennon to Gordon Lightfoot to John Denver. Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was patterned more or less opposite to Gibson and Camp's "Civil War Trilogy".
Bob was an abuser of alcohol even in his teens. He had also experimented with drugs. By the time of his rise to success in Chicago he was a heavy user of speed. "Drugs were never recreational for me. My use of them from the beginning was abusive." His drug use escalated when he discovered heroin. Gibson was in and out of jails in Canada (which led to his hilarious Christmas carol "Box of Candy and a Piece of Fruit"), Chicago, and Cleveland for various drug-related charges. In the mid-1960s, Gibson began a three-year period of complete isolation where drugs were his only priority. From 1969 to 1978, Gibson tried repeatedly to restart his career, but his addictions made it impossible. During this period he tried often, but unsuccessfully, to get sober. He knew that he needed structure, but, at first, disavowing God he rejected AA. In 1978 he attended an AA meeting in Cleveland and learned to live a life without alcohol and drugs. He regained his sobriety through AA and became both an advocate as well as a sponsor to much of the young, upcoming talent across America. One of his proudest moments was receiving his twenty-year "chip" before he became too ill to comprehend the importance of that success.
Sobriety and comeback
|This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. (March 2010)|
In 1978 Gibson gave up drugs for good. A musical comeback, however, was not to be. In the early 1960s, Bob Gibson had been a popular and high-profile folk performer as well as an important influence on other musicians. By 1978, interest in Gibson's purely acoustic folk-styled music had waned significantly. Although many remembered Gibson, he was never again to capture the mass public appeal of his early 1960s period. He did embark, however, on one of the most productive periods of his career.
Starting about 1990, Gibson started to experience the symptoms of an illness that would not be diagnosed until four years later. Loss of balance and falling backwards were among Gibson's first symptoms. Later, his vision and then his voice were affected. Doctors throughout the country were unsuccessful in diagnosing or treating him. In 1994 he entered the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida where he was diagnosed with Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). With only 20,000 people in the United States with PSP, there was very little research money available for study of the disease. Bob moved from "my favorite place to live (Gibson, page 211)" to Portland, Oregon where some research was being done on PSP.
Failing from his illness, Gibson invited many of his friends to a farewell concert on September 20, 1996 in Chicago. His letter to his friends included this paragraph.
"This may be the last chance I have to see many of you. I am finding it increasingly difficult to do the simplest things and traveling is really a challenge. I won't be able to play and sing with you, but I'm really looking forward to being an audience of one!"
The concert was held. Gibson tired early, struggled to rise and say goodnight, and received a standing ovation. One week later, on September 28, 1996, Gibson died at the home of his daughter, Susan, in Portland, Oregon.
Legend: CD (compact disc); CS (cassette); LP (33⅓ long play)
- Offbeat Folksongs (Riverside, 1956) LP
- I Come for to Sing (Riverside, 1957) LP
- Carnegie Concert (Riverside, 1957) LP
- Folksongs of Ohio (Stinson Records, 1957) 10" LP - Note: Released without Bob Gibson's permission
- There's A Meetin' Here Tonight (Riverside, 1958) LP
- Ski Songs (Elektra, 1959) LP
- Yes I See (Elektra, 1961) LP
- Bob Gibson and Bob Camp at The Gate of Horn (Elektra, 1961) LP
- Folksongs of Ohio (Stinson Records, 1963 reissue of earlier 10" LP) LP - Note: Re-released also without Bob Gibson's permission
- Hootenanny at Carnegie (Riverside, 1963 reissue of Carnegie Concert) LP
- Where I'm Bound (Elektra, 1964) LP
- Bob Gibson (Capitol, 1970) LP
- Funky in the Country (Legend Enterprises, 1974) LP
- Gibson & Camp, Homemade Music (Mountain Railroad Records, 1978) LP
- The Perfect High (Mountain Railroad Records, 1980) LP
- Uptown Saturday Night (Hogeye Records, 1984) LP
- Best of Friends (1984, on CD, Appleseed Records, 2004), with Tom Paxton and Anne Hills
- Gibson & Camp, The Gate of Horn — Revisited! (B*G Records, 1986) CS
- A Child's Happy Birthday Album (B*G Records, 1989) CS
- Bob Gibson 5/91 - I Hear America Singing (Snapshot Music, 1991) CS
- Stops Along the Way (B*G Records, 1991) CS
- Gibson & Camp, The Gate of Horn — Revisited! (Folk Era Productions, 1994) CD
- Makin' a Mess, Bob Gibson Sings Shel Silverstein (Asylum Records, 1995) CD
- Joy, Joy! The Young and Wonderful Bob Gibson (Riverside, 1996) CD
- Perfect High (re-release of earlier album, 1998) CD
- Bob Gibson and Bob Camp at The Gate of Horn (Collector's Choice, 2002 - re-release of 1961 Elektra LP) CD
- Where I'm Bound (Collector's Choice, 2002 - re-release of 1964 Elektra LP) CD
- The Living Legend Years (Bob Gibson Legacy, 2008 - compilation with selections from Funky in the Country, Homemade Music, The Perfect High, Uptown Saturday Night) CD
- Funky in the Country (Bob Gibson Legacy, 2008 - re-issue of 1974 Legend LP) CD
- Homemade Music (Bob Gibson Legacy, 2008 - re-issue of 1978 Mountain Railroad LP) CD
- The Perfect High (Bob Gibson Legacy, 2008 - re-issue of 1980 Mountain Railroad LP) CD
- Uptown Saturday Night (Bob Gibson Legacy, 2008 - re-issue of 1984 Hogeye LP) CD
- Ski Songs (Collector's Choice, 2008 - re-issue of 1959 Elektra LP) CD
- Yes I See (Collector's Choice, 2008 - re-issue of 1961 Elektra LP) CD
- Gibson (2001) p. 3
- Gibson (2001) p. 90
- Gibson (2001) p. 239
- Gibson, Bob and Carole Bender. BOB GIBSON: I Come For To Sing. Pelican Publishing Company: Gretna, Louisiana 2001. ISBN 1-56554-908-2.
- Bob Gibson Legacy - Official Web Site
- Folk Era Records
- Liner notes from Gibson and Camp at the Gate of Horn
- The Music of America