Saturday, January 9, 2010

Smiling Bobby West Side Great

Sunday Night in the City

Any night of the week you can hear the blues on the west, the east, the north and the south sides of Chi-Town. In any one of those city-spots there are blues artists, some on stage and some not.
Robert Schmidt (AKA) Smilin Bob is his name. I met Bob in September of 1977. I had just completed a tour of active duty in the US Navy prior to that encounter. I went to work in a west side heavy equipment manufacturing plant. The union assigned me to this particular company. It was my first regular day job and my last. The place was huge, employed about 1,200 workers and encompassed almost a half mile of land.

I started playing guitar in 1960. Bass has been my main instrument and I had thought I held my own in many different situations. The guys I worked with found out about my "guitarmanship." Word spread quickly throughout the plant.

Bob was the plant oilman. He could go anywhere in the plant without suspicion. No one would question what he was doing. His job was to make sure all the machinery had the proper oil levels. It wasn’t too long before Bob walked into the shop. The reason they call him “Smilin Bobby” was immediately apparent. He had the biggest smile I had ever seen. He came over to me and said, "You the guitar player?" I said, "Yes". " You got a PA system?” he asked, through a mile wide grin. "Yes", I said once again. "You want to jam with some friends of mines?" "Sure," was my response. He then proceeded to give me directions and a time. Then off he went pushing his oil cart ahead of him. He looked back and said, "Don’t forget the system."

The place we were to meet at was called Del Morocco II. It was located on the corner of Lake and Halsted. This was in the area of the city’s restaurateurs’ market. Sunday night from six to midnight he had the regular gig. I arrived in my red corvair. The car was loaded. PA system packed in the back seat, my bass amp in the front seat. The guitar just fit on top of the speakers in back. I often wonder how I avoided getting a ticket. There was no way to see out of the back window.

I walked into the club and to my surprise; I was the only white person there. I did not think much about the race thing back then like some of those other idiotic morons. Don’t let me get started about those clowns. I didn't have much experience with that sort of thing. That first Sunday my experience was enhanced when someone yelled out, “Who let the M****** f***ing Police in here.” Bobby yelled out, “Leave my Brother alone y’all.” He meandered over to me and said, “You bring the PA?” I told him it was in the car. We walked outside to fetch it. When he saw my bass amp, he told be very diplomatically that he had a bass player. He then went to his car pulled out a beat up Ibanez guitar. He handed it to me and said, “You can play this.” I admit that I knew the basics of the blues I-IV-V, but I really never really played it in a band before. I played the guitar through my Peavey 400 bass amplifier. Those six hours were the greatest six hours I had ever spent. Man, oh, man the sound that came out of that little beat up joint was incredible. I learned more that night then some do in a life time. Sunday night for the next two years found me there. You see that was my Sunday church. That’s where I was baptized in the blues.

I remember one night I showed up there and the police had the whole place surrounded ,,,,,hmmmmmmmmm. Stay tuned for more upcoming stories and interviews.

Terrance “Gatorman” Lape

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If you’d like to see a similar place like Del Morocco and what Bobby sounds like watch this early video, circa late 70’s early 80’s at:
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