Share a remembrance of The Speedboys
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Speedboys' drummer Rob (Bobby) Schmidt died on Monday, March 30th after a long battle with cancer. Rob was a great drummer for a songwriter to have. He didn't just keep the beat, he interpreted songs with his drums. He had very eclectic musical taste and many of the songs The Speedboys covered were introduced to us via Rob. He is survived by his wife Amy & daughter Linda and many good friends....
The Speedboys - A Love Story by Robert Bobby
What can you say about a 7 year old band that died? (The Speedboys 1978-1985)
Well, for one thing, The Speedboys released 2 independent albums on their own I Like Mike label - That's What I Like (1982) and Look What Love's Done To Me Now (1983). We sent them off to various publications & crossed our fingers for a review. To our delight, Robert Christgau. then of The Village Voice, reviewed That's What I Like and gave it an A minus. He also included our album on his annual Pazz & Jop top 100 albums of the year. In 1983 he reviewed Look What Loves Done To Me Now and gave it a B plus. In the almost 30 years since we broke up the band, The Christgau reviews have continued to generate the occasional interest in The Speedboys. In fact, those reviews are what brings me to write this today.
• That’s What I Like [I Like Mike, 1982] A-
• Look What Love’s Done to Me Now [I Like Mike, 1983] B+ Consumer Guide Reviews:
That’s What I Like [I Like Mike, 1982] Harking back to a time when pop and boogie weren’t mutually exclusive, Robert Bobby recalls such unlikely influences as Dino Valenti, Roy A. Loney, Marty Balin, and George Gerdes on tunes that are neither speedy nor boyish enough for ‘80s cool. Cheerfully regressive in more ways than one, his gift for the pungent phrase is inspired mostly by the Colorado resident celebrated mostly by the Colorado resident celebrated in “Little Bit Nasty, Little Bit Nice.” “My baby’s mean as she can be/But she’s only mean to me,” he exults; “I knew something was cooking/When you took your matte knife to my back,” he realizes; “Come on home and/Treat me wrong again,” he pleads. Guitarist Bobby Blue Blake adds off-color chords. A-
Look What Love’s Done to Me Now [I Like Mike, 1983] I don’t often wonder what the world is coming to because someone can’t get a record contract--after all, life is unfair--but here I’m tempted. A sharp, witty bar-band-blues LP like the first is one thing, but the mid-tempo stuff on this entry could fit in right next to Tom Petty and Bob Seger if only some hotshot producer would oil Robert Bobby’s voice up a little. That’s no advantage as far as I’m concerned, but uncommercial it ain’t. What could be the problem? Surely not the antinuke overtones of “Hearts Like Atoms Split.” Maybe somebody noticed the chorus of “Anna”: “Anna, anabolic steroid/Oh Anna, you made a man outta me.” B+
The Speedboys formed around 1978 in Lancaster, Pa. It consisted of Robert Bobby on vocals, Bobby Blue Blake on guitar, Bobby Sheehan on guitar, Bobby Lawson on bass & Bobby Schmidt on drums. We played an eclectic mix of originals, blues, rhythm & blues, English wave like Elvis Costello & Rockpile & most anything we wanted to play. A typical set might include Commander Cody, Mitch Ryder, Ray Charles, Fabulous Thunderbirds etc. The original name of the band was The West Philly Speed Boys - later shortened to The Speedboys. We started to gather a nice little following in the Lancaster area. The first personnel change was the addition of Bobby Lowry on piano & harmonica. He played a real console piano which we had to haul from job to job. Stories of hauling the piano would warrant their own website. The piano gave the band a real boogie woogie element. The second personnel change was when Bobby Sheehan left the band & was replaced by Bobby Kinsley. This really changed The Speedboys into basically 2 bands in one. The main band being fronted by Robert Bobby and the alternate was when Robert Bobby took a much deserved break (can you tell Robert Bobby is writing this?) and Bobby Kinsley took the helm. With the addition of Bobby Kinsley, The Speedboys now had 2 singer- songwriters and the original music really took off.
Sherman..set the wayback machine.
Anyone who has ever been in a band, is walking around with a head full of band stories. We were a bar band. If we were from England, we would have been in the Pub Rock category, like Rockpile. The history of The Speedboys can be measured in empty beer bottles, untold hangovers, & waiting for Godot to show up at a showcase & make us famous. We are still waiting for Godot.
Here are a few of my Speedboys' remembrances:
Bobby Lowry's piano. We had a piano player who played a console piano which we hauled around to every gig. He didn't think a Fender Rhoads sounded enough like a real piano, so we hauled a real piano to the gigs. He rigged up 4 wooden handles which were hinged to fold out when the piano was being moved or lifted. The most memorable load in was a wedding we played in Ephrata, PA in January. We pulled the truck around to the back parking lot where we saw a fire escape going up to the 3rd floor. We joked that we probably had to use that fire escape to load in, while our bass player went in to see where they wanted us. Sure enough, when he returned, we were loading in up the fire escape to the 3rd floor. As if hauling a several hundred pound bulky piano wasn't bad enough going up the fire escape, coming down was even more of an adventure. By the time the wedding was over and we had packed up our stuff, we were all drunk on champagne. It is a wonder no one was killed getting that piano down the fire escape & into the truck.
The Bobby Question: We were sitting around one evening trying to come up with some brilliant marketing ideas to make us stand out. Somehow we hit upon the idea to call everyone in the band by the first name of Bobby instead of their real first name. Since I was the "front man" of the band, I decided to take Bobby as a last name instead, to which I added a first name of Robert to come up with Robert Bobby. So if you joined our band, you would be Bobby Jones or Smith or Rosenberg, whatever your last name is. I have continued to use the name Robert Bobby since around 1979.
The Potato on Bobby Schmidt's head: We were playing a high school class reunion which was a picnic style event at a local park. They had us set up under this open sided pavilion on a sunny afternoon. They had food like hot dogs, burgers, corn on the cob & baked potatoes in aluminum foil. We were in the middle of the set and we began to play Elvis Costello's great song "Allison". Since it was such a beautiful love song, I decided to sing the song to one of the foil wrapped baked potatoes. I held the potato in front of me and sang to it. There is a line which goes "sometimes I wish that I could STOP you from talking when I hear the silly things that you say". When I sing STOP , the drummer hits his snare hard & the whole band stops for a brief moment before continuing on. Just as I sang STOP I threw the potato I was singing to over my head, stopped for emphasis and continued except the band hadn't started up after the dramatic pause. I looked back to see both guitar players rolling on the concrete floor laughing and upon looking further back to our drummer, saw that the potato had landed on his head & stuck. A lasting band memory.
Speedboy's luck: This was a term we coined to describe the kind of luck that seemed to follow the band. Things like: we played a bar in downtown Philadelphia. They said they liked us & would book us back. The bar burned down the following week, we played the Khyber Pass in Philly also one
frigid January weekend. At the end of the night our truck wouldn't start, we found places to stay overnight with friends & relatives & came back Sunday morning to deal with the truck. We had it taken to a garage which said they would try to get on it and hope to have it working by 5 PM when they closed. While the truck was being fixed, we waited inside the Khyber Pass but their heater broke & it was freezing inside. Just before 5 PM we realized the truck would not be done. Bobby Kinsley & I went to rent a van to get us & our equipment home. We rented the van just before they closed & drove back to The Khyber to get the rest of the band. By the time we pulled up in front of The Khyber, smoke was pouring out of the steering wheel of our newly rented van. The rental place was closed so we couldn't get a replacement. A policeman was walking by & we told him what happened. He said if it were him, he would lock the keys in the van & leave a message for the rental company to come get their van when they reopen on Monday. So we abandoned the van & borrowed my parent's car to drive back to Lancaster. These were typical but not isolated incidences. Speedboy's luck still follows us 30 years later.
Showcasing in NYC: Being from Lancaster. PA we jumped at the chance to play a gig in The Big Apple. We would get our hopes up that someone from the New York scene will see us & we will take off. Invariably, it didn't exactly work out that way. This was back in the pay for play era of TRAX where they would "hire" 3 bands on a given night & ask anyone who paid to come see the show which band they came to hear. Then, that band was supposed to get $5 from each $10 ticket. We paid our sound man $50 whether we got paid or not. We didn't come close to making $50 to pay the sound man. The Trax guy said most people came to hear one of the other two bands. He probably told each band that. We played at a small club called RT Firefly's. Their deal was each band was to hand out free tickets with that band's name on it & the band would get 50 cents from each free ticket turned in in their name. We made $3.50 that night and had to pay $3.50 for each beer the band drank. You don't have to do the math to know our bar tab far exceeded our pay. Also, we were never discovered and didn't become famous. Imagine your surprise!
Well folks, as I said, if you've been in a band, you have your own war stories. It is a definite bonding experience but also most bands end up disbanding as eventually familiarity builds contempt. It is hard to keep a band together and the older one gets, the harder it is to start a band, let alone keep it going. It is interesting that almost 30 years after we broke up, I still get the occasional inquiry about the band, usually by some Christgau follower who wants to track down this highly rated, but obscure, band.
Keep on Choogling as John Fogherty would say.