“You Can’t Close the Door on this Rock n Roll Moron” by Chrissy Wilmes
If you tune in to 88.1 KDHX on a Friday afternoon, you will encounter some scratchy rock n’ roll records, and a voice spouting what some call brilliance and some call nonsense. You’ll be listening to Bob’s Scratchy Records, and you’ll be meetin’ Bob.
Although, you two may have already met. Between his presence on the cover of CD’s and 45 sleeves at the record store, on stage with his band (Bob Reuter’s Alley Ghost), and in his photography (which is on display in bars, coffee shops, and galleries all over the city), he kind of gets around.
“I already know who you are” is the response he often gets upon introducing himself. He’s well known throughout St. Louis, but there’s no single reason why. He’s not locally famous for what he does so much as for what he is- an unwavering presence in the arts community.
“I started playing out when I was 14 years old, and I’m 58 now. It’s something like Superbowl 49, and at the very first Superbowl I was having band practice. So, however many Superbowls there are, that’s how long I’ve been playing.”
“I mean you think of T.S. Eliott, Miles Davis, Ike and Tina Turner-everybody who’s made it. There are very few who’ve stayed here. Chuck Berry may be the one exception.” Bob Reuter isn’t going anywhere. He’s determined to find a way to make ends meet doing what he loves, and he wants to do it right here. “I’m proud of it here. Maybe that’s just cause it’s all I know, but that’s good enough reason right there.”
Bob has reinvented himself a few times. 1997 was a rough year. He lost his job, his girl, and his house; he then found himself in the hospital being treated for blood clots. He very nearly died. “I felt like I was reborn, like I was given a second chance. Even though I had lost my house and everything, I had discovered photography, and kind of just felt like the universe had clean cut my life. I lost everything. I lost my house, I lost my girlfriend I had to give away my dog, ya know. But I gained a new talent and a new reputation.”
In 2008, Bob found himself in the hospital again. This time, it was for quadruple bypass surgery following a heart attack. He didn’t feel like the universe gave him a new start this time-he just felt “beat up and old”. He’ll show you his scar- a thick, jagged line segmenting his chest vertically.
Bob swears that this time, he didn’t reinvent himself. Some might say he just doesn’t want to admit it. His trip to the hospital inadvertently introduced him to Mat Wilson of the Rum Drum Ramblers, a local blues group. Mat got to know Bob, and they began throwing around ideas for making music. These ideas came to be Bob Reuter’s Alley Ghost.
“When you’re 58 and you’re getting up to a set on stage with this whole band of young guys in their early 20s you feel like you must look like you’re 110 years old. And you kind of feel like it.” Bob glows a little when he talks about those guys, though. He seems deeply, genuinely happy discussing the music they're making. “Because we’re doing my songs and my songs have gotten all that time behind them, it’s like the best of all possible worlds. You’ve got all that energy behind songs of substance. It’s pretty cool.”
Bob’s sticking with Saint Louis, even though he can’t seem to make ends meet here. He loves this city, and he loves that it’s a good environment for active artists, but not necessarily for financially successful ones. “I don’t seem to be able to make much money, you know. I still do this art thing, and everybody loves these pictures, but nobody’s interested in buying ‘em.”
Luckily, local artist Tom Huck (who has recently seen success designing album covers for recording artists such as The Roots) has taken Bob under his more commercial wing. He’s let Bob set up his darkroom in his studio, and has given him a place to keep creating his art, which keeps him going.
Even though Bob's a little melancholy as he talks about the current state of things (such as his recent eviction and surgery), he’s still optimistic and playful. He gets a bit giddy as he talks about his current love interest, who he met through his radio show, and who is often featured in his beautiful, softly lit, high-contrast black and white photographs.
And the future? Bob recalls a telephone conversation he had earlier this week with his ex-wife. “She said she was worried about me, and asked if I have a backup plan. I told her I did, but she wouldn’t understand. She said, ‘Try me.’” Well, let’s just say Bob’s plan involves having known and loved a lot of people, and having made lots of connections. He’s hoping that having shared his stories, talents, and passion with all of those folks will have made an impression, and that when they need someone to fill a role (for example, “riding a donkey across the stage on a game show”), they’ll call Bob, and that will be his lifetime achievement award!
All in all, it’s a pretty solid plan.