Little Bobby Peterson is the first person on the left in this portrait of Roy Orbison's Candymen
~ images courtesy of
Gary Gordon, jamming with renown keyboardist Bobby Peterson at Alachu-Aid I, New South Music Hall, Backstage Bar, 1987
Hi Robert - My name is Charlie and I came across your blog a while back when I did a google search for Robert Peterson in an attempt to learn a bit more about him. I've been meaning to get in touch for quite a while and am just now getting around to it. It shouldn't have taken me so long.
I read in your blog that you had heard two rumors about Robert - one from an ex-wife who said he had died of a brain tumor or something and another that he was living on the streets in Gainesville, Florida. Well, the second is correct. Perhaps he had someone tell his ex that he had died - I'm sure he wouldn't be the first guy to try that!
Robert was a well-known "street person" here in Gainesville for many years. He was in pretty bad shape. I was told that he did have some type of illness that had affected his brain, although I forget what it was and he never said anything to me about it. He drank quite a bit and was not too fond of bathing. One of the popular clubs here at that time was called Richenbacher's and he often stood outside there or outside some other clubs. Musicians and others, like myself, who were involved in one way or another with the music scene here had heard about his time with the McCoys. (I actually may have heard Robert back in the mid-60s since I heard The Candymen a couple of times at a local teen club called The Place) Club owners generally wouldn't allow Robert inside due to (trying to say this nicely) his lack of hygene, but occasionally a band would convince the owner to let him come in and sit in if there was a keyboard in the band and he wasn't too
rank. Despite his appearance, he was always completely lucid when I talked with him and was obviously intelligent. People would often give him some spare change but I never once saw him begging or bothering anyone - he would just stand there. He looked like he was crazy as a loon though - constantly scratching his head with one hand while chewing on the collar of his (usually filthy) shirt. So, not surprisingly, most people gave him a wide berth!
Well, despite his appearance, that sumbitch could still PLAY! If you hang out around any local music scene for a while there are always some moments that you will always remember because they were PURE MAGIC. Having read quite a few of your blog entries over the past year, I know you know what I mean. Well, one of those for me was the time I was at another club in Gainesville (which is still in business) called Market Street Pub. I was there to hear some friends, Britton Cameron & Jack Sizemore, who had a great duo and band. That night they were playing there as a duo. Well, they finished their set and someone convinced the manager to let Robert come in and play during the break between sets. They had an old, funky and somewhat out of tune, upright piano which was up against the back wall. Although it was still functional, I don't think it got much use. Robert came in and and proceeded to play jazz which was pretty much improvised and was some of the best jazz piano I've heard in my life! At first, not many people paid much attention but, as he continued, much of the crowd was in awe and sitting there with their mouths open in a state of shock. After the normal 15 minutes of break time had passed, nobody said a thing and Robert, who was obviously in a state of reverie, continued to play - probably for almost an hour in all. To this day I feel blessed to have been there!
Sadly, Robert also died on the streets, quite literally. Late one night he was crossing University Avenue to a beer store that was near where he was staying and was hit by a car. I'm not sure exactly when that was - I'm thinking about 1996 or ??? There was at least one article in the Gainesville Sun newspaper about Robert and a memorial jam or two. I've been meaning to try to get down to the public library and look in the newspaper archives to find it. If I get it together to do so I'll be sure to send you a copy.
A former Gainesville musician (who I've met but don't really know) named Gary Gordon (and former mayor - bet they don't allow hippie musicians to become mayor up in Alabama!) who is now out in California has a long section on his website about Gainesville bands. Naturally, much of it revolves around bands he was in and there are some gaps including details of things I was involved in. (I was part of a student group called Rose Community Center which put on shows on the University of Florida campus. This was back when Tom Petty was in a local band called Mudcrutch, which just released an album, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, from down the road in Jacksonville, played for us too. In fact the only time those two bands played on the same stage was for us. But I digress . . . ) I recently discovered Gary Gordon's webpage and there are two pictures of Robert jamming at a benefit show. Ironically, the show is Alachu-Aid (Gainesville is in Alachua County) which was a benefit to help the hungry and homeless. One is near the bottom of Part II and the other is near the bottom of Part IV.
Here's the link: http://garygordonproductions.com/great_gainesville_bands.html
By the way I've really enjoyed reading your blog. It really makes me realize that there have been great music scenes in lots of places, but especially in college towns it seems. I'm 56 and some of the bands you've mentioned were groups I remember from way back. The first band I saw play live was the Allman Joys at the American Legion Hall on University Ave and I've been hooked on music ever since. The local folks you write about are fascinating and I'm hoping to find some recordings of them. Every scene has its stories - the successes, the missed opportunities and the tragedies but through it all there is that MAGIC that shines through and for every musician who has some measure of success there are a hundred who were just as good who should have been well known.
Gainesville, FL (Home of the Gators, but don't hold that against me =8^)