A Few Minutes With… Bob Girouard
Interview and story by Don Wilcock
Photographs by Joe Glickman
“I’d never had a sick day in my life,” says drummer/vocalist Bob Girouard. “All of a sudden, I got on stage at Siro’s, August, 2003. It was with Jimmy (Anderson) and (his wife) Trish in Bluz House Rockers. My right hand just froze, wouldn’t even move. What is this? They misdiagnosed it as carpel tunnel syndrome.”
It turned out to be Parkinson’s Disease.
Eleven years later, the benefit concert “Boogie for Bob” at The Linda in Albany on Sunday (September 28) will bring together many of the local musicians who are the backbone of the area’s vibrant scene to honor Girouard. Hair of the Dog, Aged in the Hills, the Ernie Williams Tribute Band, the Bluz House Rockers, Diva & the Dirty Boys, Urban Gumbo and the Massachusetts-based band Forest are all bands that vocalist/drummer Bob Girouard has either played with or been involved with as the concert and corporate sponsor coordinator for the City of Albany Office of Special Events from 1990-2003. The 11 years since he was diagnosed have shown Bob that he doesn’t have to deal with this disease alone.
He remembers Christmas Eve 2005 when Levon Helm of the Band phoned him. “We used to call each other Brothers of The Drum,” Girouard explains. “Levon had an expression all drummers are a brotherhood. Drummers are a special bunch of people. We’re the quarterbacks. Without us, the bands would sound like shit, and he says if you’re a bad drummer, the band sounds worse than shit.
“But he said, ‘We’re the brotherhood. I’m calling to make sure you’re alright. I don’t want you to get down. I know you’ve got some issues. You do not want to get down. I’m just checking on ya.’
“I mean this is Levon Helm. He’s a God. He was a God to me.
“So I said, “My God, thank you for calling. He says, ‘What do you need? What can I do?’ I said, ‘Just your call. This is it.’ I said, ‘This is fantastic.’ That’s the kind of guy he was. At the time, I don’t know if I knew it or not, but he was fighting his own hell with throat cancer.” Throat cancer would eventually kill Levon Helm.
That call from Levon was but the first shoe to fall in a sequence of events that let Girouard know he wasn’t going to have to face this disease alone. As one of the architects of Albany’s Alive at Five concert series and a ubiquitous drummer and vocalist, Bob had friends. His support network also included members of the many bands he’d played in including Urban Gumbo, Aged in the Hills and Bluz House Rockers. One of those friends was Dino Danelli of the Rascals, who plans to attend Sunday’s benefit.
“Dino Danelli stepped up to the plate. He said, ‘I remember a paper you wrote a few years ago on me that was impressive. Why don’t you become a writer?” I said, ‘Oh, come one. Are you kidding me?’ I poo-pooed it. He said. ‘No, why don’t you become a writer?’ I said, ‘Get out of here.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna make this happen.’ So I didn’t think anything of it. But a couple of weeks later I got a call.
“He said, ‘I want you to come down to New York and interview Sandy Gennaro, who at the time was playing drums with or who had just got off the road with Cyndi Lauper. He says, ‘I’d like you to interview him and write about it.’ He played with Bo Diddley for a long time until Bo died. Great drummer, great guy, friend of Dino’s. We sat down over dinner in New York City. That was my first article for Classic Drummer magazine in 2005.
“It must be the Lord has a strange sense of humor. He gives you things and takes things away. What happened was the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since 2005. I’ve gone on to become sort of a pretty good writer.
“Dino really believed in me and said, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna accept this.’ He says, ‘I think you deserve an opportunity to show other talents, and you’re gonna need these other talents
because this disease is not going away.’ And I think it was the harsh reality that Dino brought to me in my mind that helped me make the transition, and in September, 2012, I had the brain surgery.”
It took Jim Anderson more than a decade to convince Bob to permit him to organize Sunday’s benefit to help defray hospital expenses and bring his friends together.
“Jimmy’s been after me since I had to leave Bluz House Rockers in like 2010, and he said, ‘Look, man, we’ve got to have a benefit. We’ve got to have a benefit.’ I said, ‘I don’t want a benefit. I’m not the benefit type. I don’t care if it’s somebody else benefit, but I’m not dead. I’m not ready to die.’
“Jim said to me, ‘Bob, you helped a lot of people on the way up in this town. Why don’t you try to enjoy something for a change? Sit down and enjoy it. This is for you, Think of it as a party where all your friends get together, and you’re gonna have a great time, and for once you can enjoy it because sand is going through the hourglass. You’re gonna need the time. You’re gonna need the time to look over everybody and thank everybody, embrace everybody because your time is limited.’ For once, instead of me deflecting it and saying. ‘Forget about it,’ I said OK.
“Jimmy said, ‘Look, you can program it. You can surround it with people you care about.’ And that’s what I did. It’s overwhelming to me. The spirit and camaraderie and kindness and graciousness of the Capital District music community, not to mention The Linda who actually are involved. They actually let us use their venue, Graeme [McKenna] and Dona [Frank] and those people. I mean, nobody flinched.
“I think this is the right time for the benefit because I think I’ll be able to enjoy it and see my friends, hug everybody and say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and go on from there, but this disease is like a boa constrictor. Slowly but surely, it just kinda takes the life out of you, and it’s been a struggle.”
WHAT: Boogie for Bob Benefit Concert
WHO: Hair of the Dog, Aged in the Hills, the Ernie Williams Tribute Band, Bluz House Rockers, Diva & the Dirty Boys, Urban Gumbo, Forest
WITH: A sneak preview of Joel Patterson’s upcoming documentary film, “About a Band”
WHEN: Sunday (September 28), 3-7pm
WHERE: WAMC-FM’s Performing Arts Studio The Linda, 339 Central Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: $10 at the door
NOTE: Donations payable to Bob Girouard can also be sent to Willjam Productions, 83 Harvard Rd., Watervliet, NY 12189.