"Hey Joanne! It's Bobbeh Chahles from Nawlins! How are ya?" was the familiar Southern drawl I'd hear when I answered the phone. "Hey now Bobby! I'm good! How are you doing?" It was always such a treat whenever our client, Robert Charles Guidry, would call to talk to my boss Mal Burnstein, who was Bobby's lawyer. I had just started working for Mal, in San Francisco in the early 90's, when Bobby hired us to represent him. All I knew about him was that he was a musician in Louisiana. Despite the fact that he was in the deep south and we were in the Bay Area, word reached him that if he wanted the best entertainment lawyer to represent his interests, he had to hire Malcolm Burnstein in San Francisco. Bobby had been ripped off in the past and was wary, but took a chance on us. Thus began a long relationship with Bobby.
Bobby was a very reclusive musician who did not tour, and did not play publicly in New Orleans very often at all. The only thing I knew about him was that he worked with some famous musicians, but I was too young at the time to truly appreciate his impact on music.
We didn't do anything major for him; he was so low key that he had no lawsuit issues. He just needed a lawyer to read contracts and make sure he wasn't being taken advantage of if a band wanted to use one of his songs. Every February, he would send up 2 Mardi Gras King Cakes for our office.
One cake was the regular cinnamon flavor and the other was stuffed with cream cheese. Our office of 7 lawyers, 1 CPA and 7 support staff would kill both cakes by the end of the day. Oh how we looked forward to February every year!!!!
At Christmas one year, he sent up 2 variety packs of "gen-yoo-wine Looz-ee-anna" molasses and syrups. Imagine how surprised and touched I was when I discovered that one of the packs was for me, the other for Mal & Catherine. When he completed 1995's, "Wish You Were Here Right Now", he sent up a cassette and CD of it, one for me and one for Mal. I played it at a party we had and every single person not only loved it, but asked who in the world it was. I couldn't wait to call Bobby on Monday and tell him, and when I did, he was so humbled and appreciative of the positive feedback. Every now and then I'd ask Bobby if he ever planned on coming up to San Francisco because we'd all love to meet him, and he'd remain noncommittal, "Someday, maybe, Joanne, someday..." He seemed quite content to stay in Louisiana. I remember one time when I had to call him, and he answered and I asked how he was doing. He sounded soooo calm and content and told me he was great; sitting on his front porch, looking out at the water, just kickin back with a cold one.
I used to worry about him after every hurricane. Bobby split his time between Abbeville and Cameron, so we were never sure where he was at any given time. After Katrina in 2005, I emailed Mal to find out if Bobby was OK, and found out that he was living in Cameron, out on the bayou west of New Orleans, and was fine. Unfortunately, that same summer Louisiana took another direct hit from Hurricane Rita and Bobby did lose his home in that one. He'd already lost his home in a house fire during the time I was still working for Mal in the mid-90's.
Because there was no internet in those days, I couldn't research his biography. It wasn't till we moved up here that I found out who he was. I had no idea I'd had such a brush with greatness till long after I moved away.
Bobby Charles was born in 1938 and pioneered "swamp pop". I was stunned to learn that he wrote "See You Later Alligator" for Bill Haley & the Comets, and my personal fave, "Walkin to New Orleans" for Fats Domino. He also wrote songs for Joe Cocker, Kris Kristofferson, Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown (who, incidentally, was also one of our clients), Dr. John, The Band and tons of other singers covered Bobby's many songs. This article is really worth a read if you want the true scope of Bobby's influence on modern music (can someone please teach me how to do a link?). http://www.nola.com/music/index.ssf/2010/01/bobby_charles_louisiana_songwr.html
I've thought about Bobby often, during the years. Wondered what he was up to, hoping he was OK, enjoying life in the bayou that he loved so much, and making music. Yesterday when I got home from grocery shopping, Brian met me at the door and told me that he saw a crawler go by on CNN saying that Bobby had died. Brian wanted me to hear it from him and not be shocked if I heard it on the news. Another great musician, and friend, gone.
My friend Char is from Louisiana and she immediately knew which bakery Bobby sent his cakes from, when I described them for her. I put a link to Haydel's Bakery in my list of links on the right of my page. So, in Bobby's memory, I've ordered Haydel's 50th Anniversary cream cheese King Cake, for delivery this week, and when it arrives, I'll offer a toast to an amazing man and musician, who I was privileged to know.