Iowa music man Bob Dorr turns 70, reflects on life, career milestones

Multiple in-camera view of Bob Doerr performing on Wednesday during the “Big Pop Birthday Party with Bob Doer and his Friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

Bob Doerr, a member of the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, brought out a piece of cake on Wednesday and thanked the audience during his “Big Pop Birthday Party with Bob Doer and his Friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

An in-camera multi-exposure of Bob Doerr performing on Wednesday during the “Big Pop Birthday Party with Bob Doer and his Friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

Bob Doer performs Wednesday during “Bob’s Big Birthday Party with Bob Doer and Friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

Blue Band guitarist Jeff Petersen plays a musical Wednesday during “Bob’s Big Birthday Bash with Bob Dorr & Friends” at the Riverside Casino Show in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

Fans come out to dance Wednesday during “Big Bob’s Birthday Party with Bob Doer and his Friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

Fans dance Wednesday during “Big Bob’s Birthday Party with Bob Doer and his Friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

An in-camera multiple exposure shows Jeff Petersen’s performance on Wednesday during “Bob’s Big Birthday Party with Bob Doer and his friends” at the Riverside Casino Showroom in Riverside. (Jeff Stiles/The Gazette)

A staple of the Midwest music scene, Bob Doerr gathered a few old friends to celebrate three milestones with a concert Wednesday night at the Riverside Casino Showroom: turning 70, serving 50 with Iowa Public Broadcasting and spending 45 years as a band. Leader, mostly with various iterations of The Blue Band, which ended four years ago.

Inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 for radio and 2007 as a musician, and the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 2005, he made the first rock and roll show on Iowa Public Radio on October 2. , 1972.

He is now the host and producer of “Backtracks”, “Blue Avenue” and “Beatles Medley” for Iowa Public Radio, and plays in smaller formations of bands, usually duets and trios, but not multiple musical groups such as The Blue Band or its predecessor, The Little Red Rooster.

Technology has changed some aspects of his work, and age has changed others. He still kicks some old-school stuff, eschews cell phones for his land line to maintain some digital privacy, and produces his radio shows outside the garage at the Cedar Falls home he shares with wife Caroline Dorr.

Born in Chicago, he spent kindergarten through second grade in Madison, Wisconsin, as his father “followed the company ladder,” then returned to Chicago until mid-eighth grade, when the family moved to Davenport. A graduate of Davenport Central High School, he is also inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame. “I was a jock. You were really a good football player,” he said. The star quarterback also has lettering in baseball.

He made his first money playing drums in the band he formed in high school, Tortoise and the Hare, at age 14, then played at Raggs Revue in Cedar Falls in the mid-1970s, followed by Little Red Rooster from 1977 to 1980, slipping into The Blue Band in 1981.

In his youth, he went the way of the band “because it was mostly a way to get girls,” he said. Then in the ’70s I realized it’s easier to get girls if you stand in the front instead of sitting in the back. So I set out to teach myself how to play the harmonica so I could stand up front, isn’t that awful?

“I wish I was motivated by something else, but it needed personal flattery. … It didn’t really work out for me, but it was an attempt, and I ended up with a great girl.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in radio/television discourse from the University of Northern Iowa, got his first radio gig at the age of 19, and has since started his career in radio, television, and music.

“My dad always said, ‘Well, Bob, your problem is that you love what you do. “My dad was trying to make a living, make a profit. I guess that’s the problem. … I love what I do, and I’ve been able to put three or four sources of part-time work together to make a living. I see no reason why I should stop as long as I like doing What I do, except for material demands only.”

Q: You turned 70 on January 12th; 50 years with public broadcasting in Iowa; 45 years as a bandleader. What teacher would shock 15-year-old Bobby the most?

a: Reaching 70. Reaching 50 and reaching 60 wasn’t even close to an emotional and mental experience, but facing 70 is definitely an eye opener – let’s put it that way. When you start to realize that the actuarial tables say that a white American man, he’s going to die at the age of 78 and a half – I’m healthy, I don’t expect that, but you know, the percentages say I’m going to have it another eight and a half years, and that’s really realistic. And it’s not like you’re finally getting the vital years.

There was a period of time in my 30s and 40s when some of my behavior suggested I would never reach 70. I stopped drinking 22 years ago on New Year’s Eve and it helps a lot, but I didn’t really make a big plan to get to 70 and beyond , so it’s a new and stressful area. I know I can’t physically do what I did 30 years ago.

Q: What are some of the changes you’ve experienced in band playing over the years?

a: The biggest change is just seeing the demographics of your audience change, and what is important to you as a musician.

For the longest time for me, the important thing was to do whatever it took to attract the audience. Which sometimes was 15 shots a night, which led to other bad decisions.

And then it became more than just a business.

But all the time, as you get older, so are the people who follow your band, if you go back to 15 years on your sides. So when I was 28, there were more ways to get into trouble and more people urging me to get into trouble or do foolish things than there is now.

Also, the biggest difference for me is literally the people who come to follow the band, the people who watch the band, the places themselves. On my own suggestion, your playing time is no longer 10 until 2 am. It’s regularly 7 to 10 kinds of things, early at night. At Riverside on Wednesdays they do their work from 5:30 to 9 – perfect for 70-year-olds.

It’s really not a musical change for me. I closed off playing the blues, and got more and more locked into just the traditional blues. The blue band was all over the place – blues, soul, rockabilly, reggae, percussion band, right? But the older I get, the more I want to play simple three-string blues and try to get into the emotion of that thing. So there was some kind of evolution or transition to music for me. It’s either blues or nothing.

Q: How did you switch to blues music?

a: I’ve answered the same question multiple times, pretty much the same. I loved the era of the British invasion. That was the biggest musical and cultural impact for that matter, in my entire life. That period from 1964 to 1968 is the stuff of the British invasion.

At the time, I didn’t know the Yardbirds song Yardbirds was written by Bo Diddley. Or “Reelin’ and Rockin'” by Dave Clark Five was actually done by Chuck Berry. Many of the British invasion squads wanted to be the blues too. And I didn’t know all of these songs were by these guys until I grew up and started to understand that it was the covers of British Invasion that I was drawn to. …

I don’t know how it happened. I wish I could say, “Okay, I grew up in Chicago,” but no, I grew up on WLS Radio with British Invasion bands, and those songs just drew me in. The pursuit of this style of music has been forever.

Q: How has technology changed the way you do business?

a: Fortunately for me, I have a small radio production studio in my garage and have been presenting radio programs in my garage, at my own pace, with my own technology that has slowly evolved into today’s technology.

But I went kicking and screaming every inch of the way to the new technology. I’m one of those humans who think the greatest records ever were 45 rpm single-track.

In the early days, if you were going to score a show, it was rarely at that point in the game. It was all live, so 40 hours of live radio. This is a very big difference. And if I scored anything, it was on giant 12-inch reel-to-reel tapes that lasted for an hour. Even if you go and leave the tapes, there has to be someone to change them and start playing them, and all that. Then that became a digital audio tape so that two hours of the show could be played on one small thing that looked like a cassette. It is now on an 8-pair thumb drive.

So the digital world has allowed me to do entire weekend radio shows in 8-8 mini gigs, and leave it to the technically advanced. They do some kind of sonic massage here in Cedar Falls, and then they electronically transmit it to the IPR office in Ames, which does all the automation. And I could be anywhere on the planet and those broadcasts would happen simply because they’re in the automation system. Someone has walked her in during the week and she’s off just by the time she’s supposed to. And that’s all wonderful. I am also lucky to have married tech support. Caroline has a master’s degree in educational technology. …

People’s listening styles are completely different, and the fact that they can get their playlist on Spotify or some other streaming stuff on the smartphone. But having this resource in my mind, makes having a radio personality more important, not less, because that makes it different from all the playlists and online music services. …

I know what works for me, anyway, and life is too short to start over, to reinvent yourself. Maybe that’s sad, because I’m not curious or want to move on to the next thing. But in the end, for me, this is the pursuit of happiness, and I am very happy.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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