Bobby Lounge, Wild Man of JazzFest When Bobby Lounge played at last year's New Orleans Jazz Fest, he made a powerful impression. Bobby Lounge is, in fact, a pseudonym for a reclusive, middle-aged art teacher from rural Mississippi. His lyrics conjure the weirdness of Southern gothic writing. Reporter Adam Burke visits Lounge.
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Bobby Lounge, Wild Man of JazzFest

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Bobby Lounge, Wild Man of JazzFest

Bobby Lounge, Wild Man of JazzFest

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Thousands of people have turned out today for the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This year's post-Katrina shindig has attracted big name supporters such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Hometown musician Fats Domino will close JazzFest on Sunday, but tomorrow it will be Bobby Lounge's turn at the ivories.

Lounge was pretty much an unknown until he delivered a sizzling performance at last year's festival. From New Orleans, Adam Burke has this profile.

ADAM BURKE reporting:

When you see Bobby Lounge play you have that we're not in Kansas anymore feeling right from the get go. A nurse in blue hospital scrubs wheels the artist on stage in a silver box with just his head protruding from the top. He calls this contraption his iron lung.

(Soundbite of Bobby Lounge talking about his iron lung)

BURKE: Once Lounge starts pounding the piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis, it's clear that the nurse and the silver box are part of an act.

(Soundbite of Lounge playing piano)

BURKE: When Bobby Lounge played at last year's JazzFest, it was his first live performance in over 15 years due to a long struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome. And before that he'd only performed publicly a handful of times. But his energetic piano style and colorfully weird sounds had grown a cult following through cassette recordings made at a few rare performances back in the 1980s.

Mr. DAVID EAGAN (Jazz pianist): We were passing around these bootlegs of him and we thought he was the biggest secret in the world. Maybe at that time he was.

BURKE: Pianist and songwriter David Eagan from Lafayette, La. says Bobby Lounge tapes became pieces of insider currency for a small but obsessed group of fans who couldn't get enough of Lounge's odd stories.

(Soundbite of Lounge song)

BURKE: But Eagan says the recordings also revealed a gifted piano player.

Mr. EAGAN: Just that old timey church lady piano playing but with a real flare to it. You know, the church lady who really kills you.

(Soundbite of piano playing)

Mr. EAGAN: And then the twisted, like, the piano's been drinking kind of on purpose, wrote notes and everything, but just in a way that scratches your itch. There's a lot of perfectly wrong notes. These runs and arpeggios that shoot up the keyboard out of nowhere while he's keeping the rhythm going and while he's singing.

(Soundbite of Lounge singing)

BURKE: It was Bobby Lounge's old cassette recordings that opened the JazzFest doors to him in 2005. For a handful of long-time fans, it was a comeback show. For most, it was his debut. Music writer Cynthia Joyce says Lounge's show on the blues stage was riveting stuff.

Ms. CYNTHIA JOYCE (Music writer): The way he addressed the audience. The way he sort of paused between phrases that he wanted to kind of hang there. And a lot of it is comic timing.

BURKE: The show received nods from Rolling Stone and the New York Times, and according to Cynthia Joyce, had that coveted insider sizzle among those who had witnessed it.

Ms. JOYCE: People who came out of there were eager to run into people who had just missed it. To be like, oh did you catch this show? No, you didn't? Oh you should have? Oh man, too bad.

BURKE: Even with all that attention, no one knew exactly who Bobby Lounge was or how to get in touch with him. His bio was short on clues, he wouldn't do interviews and his manager, John Preble, says there are severe limits on Lounge's availability.

Mr. JOHN PREBLE (Bobby Lounge's manager): He only plays on a real piano. No electronic thing at all. He'll only play on Saturdays and he only pays in the key of C.

BURKE: But last summer, a local newspaper revealed that Bobby Lounge is a 56-year-old community college art teacher by the name of Doug Brock who happily lives a quiet small town life in McComb, Miss.

Brock guarded his privacy because he worried what family and friends might say about his raunchy alter ego. People in McComb know him as a mild-mannered painter and folk art enthusiast who, among other things, like to drive around town looking at stuff.

(Soundbite of Doug Brock speaking)

BURKE: At the helm of his minivan, Brock navigates the back roads outside of town. The impenetrable green woods open periodically to reveal a jumble of trailers or a tired antebellum two story. We slow down to check out lawns with homemade art or a particular interesting trailer.

MR. DOUG BROCK (Bobby Lounge, jazz musician): I think people that live in real isolated places or far out places feel the absence of any kind of authority. It's a little bit lawless, you know.

(Soundbite of piano playing)

BURKE: It's these rural environs, isolated pockets of oddity and colorful Southern characters that inspire his songs and paintings.

Mr. BROCK: I used to do trailer schemes. Beautiful trailers in all kind of different situations. When dish receivers first came out, I did a dish receiver series.

(Soundbite of Bobby Lounge singing)

BURKE: Sometimes the muse strikes Brock on somebody's back porch, which is how this song about the king of rock and roll came into being.

(Soundbite of Bobby Lounge singing)

Mr. BROCK: I was sitting around with some friends. We were drinking and I said if I had been Elvis--you know we were just talking and cutting up--and somebody said, oh Doug, Doug, Doug, that's a song. He said if you don't write it, I will.

(Soundbite of Bobby Lounge singing)

BURKE: Bobby Lounge fans often wonder what would had happened had the artist embraced his musical career more intently, if he hadn't so bowled over by illness and if he'll ever pursue music full time. But within the context of Doug Brock's life in McComb, it's easy to see why he's such a reluctant performer. His life is rich and fulfilling and Bobby Lounge just one of many creations.

Mr. BROCK: I still kind of don't believe all of the hoopla that's happened, you know, since I played at the Jazz Festival. I'm really grateful and I really like it, but I don't know if - I just don't know if I quite believe it. I do like to perform sometimes and I think at this point the way I feel about it is we'll see.

BURKE: So in the foreseeable future, Bobby Lounge will perform infrequently and only on Saturdays and only in the key of C.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Burke.


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