Last week, country music veteran Bobby Bare released "Darker Than Light." For the 77-year-old singer, the album sums up his laid-back, down-home yet believable style that has entertained audiences for over four decades.
"I am what I am. I have never tried to be anything but that. I just go out and do my songs," Bare said in a phone interview.
For the new project, that is exactly what Bare did. He returned to famed Studio B in Nashville, where he recorded his first album. This is a collection of folk songs, many of which containing dark themes and visual story lines. Standout tunes include "John Hardy," "Farewell Angelina," "Banks of the Ohio" and "Tom Dooley."
"I think for the last 20 or 25 years, I have wanted to do an album of folk songs," Bare said. "These folk songs were the CNN of their day. If something really bad happened, a songwriter would write a song about it.
"I like dark songs because they get my attention," he continued. "When I sing a song, it is always a song that I personally love. Every song that I sing is like a movie running through my head."
Born in Ohio, Bare grew up in very difficult times. His mother died when he was 5 years old, and the family was divided when his father became unable to earn enough pay to feed and clothe them. At the age of 16, Bare built his first guitar and decided to focus on a career in music.
"I spent two years working on a hillside farm about 12 hours a day," he said. "I realized by then that I wasn’t all that fond of manual labor and the only way out of it, other than stealing, was to grab that guitar and see what you could do. And that’s what I did."
In 1953, Bare moved to California, where he spent the next few years performing at clubs in and around Long Beach. In 1958, he recorded a novelty tune, "All American Boy," under the name of Bill Parsons. However, Bare was drafted into Army just as the song was being released. While serving his country, the record label put another artist on the road using the same fictitious name.
Once out of the service, Bare again looked toward a career in music. In 1962, Chet Atkins signed him to a recording contract with RCA Records. That same year, he scored a Top 20 hit with "Shame on You." A year later, he recorded "Detroit City." The tune won a Grammy award and immediately became his signature song.
"That was the first song that gave me some identity as an artist," Bare said. "I had to wait a little while to record it. I finally did, and it was huge for me."
Between his recordings for RCA, Mercury and Columbia, Bare placed numerous songs on the charts over the next two decades. His list of hits includes "500 Hundred Miles Away from Home," "The Streets of Baltimore," "Come Sundown" and "Marie Laveau."
Bare is as humble and easy-going as they come but when it comes to recording straight-ahead, country music, he has always been at the forefront. Therefore, it is easy to see why his music has remained fresh and innovative for more than 40 years.
Beebe writer Charles Haymes is a member of both the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at email@example.com.