20 Questions

Bobby Lee – Building a Career in Cleveland Country Music


20 Questions is our opportunity to talk with various people in the country music industry.  Everyone from musicians and singers, to record producers and DJ’s.

This month we talk to Bobby Lee of The Caliber Band, one of Northeast Ohio’s best local country acts.  Caliber plays at clubs all over the area, and has been on the roster for the main stage at the WGAR Country Jam for the past few years.  The group has also become the regular opening act for WGAR’s Afternoon Saloon.

     1. When did you start singing and performing?

“Started singing on-stage around the age of 20.”

     2. When was the first time you performed?

“The very first time I performed was at a house party at the age of 10. I played drums for my older brothers band.”

     3. How long have you been playing guitar?

“Since about 10 years old.”

     4. What other instruments do you play?

“I play Piano and I used to play drums, although I have lost my chops on drums from not playing enough.” (LOL)

     5. What is your choice for guitar and equipment for live gigs and recording?

“I prefer Fender Telecaster as electric guitar, and Martin and or Takamine for acoustic. I am currently using DR Z Maz Jr. which are built right here in Northeast Ohio.”

     6. What is your favorite part of performing?

“I think seeing the crowd enjoy themselves and having that moment on stage where nothing can go wrong. The more the crowd enjoys it, the more I enjoy it.”

     7. What is a good story from a live gig that you played?

“I don’t think you can print it!”

     8. Any strange things happen while on the road?

“I did a show in Nebraska, with The Curtis Brothers Band, and on the way home I was pulled to the side at the airport and they searched all my bags because I had my in-ear monitor system in my bag and they thought it might be a bomb. The whole band was laughing at me as well.”

     9. Besides your current group, The Caliber Band, what are some of the favorite bands who have played with and why?

Lonesome Chill back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. The line was made up of myself on guitar and vocals, Jay Wonkovich on Bass guitar and vocals, John Billings on guitar and pedal steel, Greg Brown on Drums and vocals, Jim Jarez on keyboards and vocals. The Curtis Brothers Band had a very long run as well. We were together almost 20 years. That line up was Jay Wonkovich, John Ivan, and Robby King and myself. Later on towards the end we had the opportunity to pick up Jerry Brightman on pedal steel guitar. He had played steel for Buck Owens back in the early 70’s and performed on Hee-Haw, as well. Jerry also used to play with Caliber and retired back in 2014. Unfortunately Jerry Brightman just passed away last year.”

     10. How do you think the live country music scene in Northeastern Ohio has changed over the past twenty years?

“I really don’t know how to begin. Country music itself has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. I think that the industry has focused on the younger fans, which led to the music changing. Some for the good, and some not. The music is not so much country as it is pop these days. I miss George Strait and Alan Jackson type music, but things change.”

     11. You play with many national acts.  Have you had a favorite to  work with and why?

“I think my most memorable moment was opening for Alan Jackson when he first came to Cleveland. He sold out The old Argon Ballroom on west 25th.  We were doing a sound check and our drummer had not shown up yet and his drummer Bruce Rutherford sat in with us to do the sound check. Bruce had played with the late Keith Whitley for many years. The most exciting thing was I got to do a sound check with Alan’s band as well. I think we did “Here In The Real World.””

     12. Are you booked for the WGAR Country Jam this year?

“I think we have been asked, but it hasn’t been confirmed as of yet.”

     13. What are your feelings on the venue change for the Jam this year?

“It’s like anything, there will be pro’s and con’s from the change of venue, but I suspect there will be a great turn out. I know I have played the venue they are holding it at and it is a very nice place for a concert. While I’m not allowed to disclose who is booked for the show, I think fans will be very pleased with who they are having on the bill.”

     14. Do you have a music hero, someone that you aspire to be like?

“I can’t say that I aspire to be like anyone in particular, but some of my favorites are George Strait, George Jones, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and all 3 Hank Williams’, and of course the Killer Jerry Lee Lewis.”

     15. Besides country music, who are your musical influences?

“Probably the Beatles have been my biggest influence in music, after all I grew up learning to play from listening to them, but I like a lot of different artist and musicians and types of music. There is just too many to mention.”

     16. You have seen a lot of local bands come and go…who were and are some of your favorites?

“I liked all the local country bands, but one of my favorites was the late Roger Martin and Pony Express.”

     17. How do you balance your family life with your music career?

“I have always tried to keep an even keel between my music and family. My family is number one first off, because without family you are a lost soul. But I can’t imagine myself without music.”

      18. Any big things on the horizon for family and music?

“Not anything that comes to mind.”

     19. If you didn’t play music, what else would you be doing?

“Living in a van down by the river!”

     20. What are your musical goals for 2016?

“To keep Caliber working, and to reunite for a show with The Curtis Brothers Band.”

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