DO SOMETHING, lieutenant. Right or wrong, do something!
He learned this lesson at a young age when he was an officer candidate in OCS (Officer Candidate School). It probably sums him up better than any other factor.
"Do something!" In Vietnam he sure did that! But, that was long ago. Over three decades ago, Bobby Ross' first record hit the airwaves and a legend in American folklore began. That song was titled: "The Ballad of Ira Hayes". A country ballad about a "brave young Indian boy" who fought to the top of a mountain on a small Pacific Island, infamously known to American Marines as Iwo Jima, only to return home to an America that despised him.
Bobby Ross sings about American veterans. In the early 1960's, a troubling time and a time America can not be too proud of, considering how she treated her Vietnam veterans, yet Bobby was out there in Berkeley, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, in Veteran hospitals, singing about his heroes, to his wounded champions: America's warriors. His music inspires, encourages, and most importantly; heals. An exciting and productive life he had led. Can he fathom his achievement of reaching an age old enough to join the Army in 1966? And then journey to Vietnam? He did. Why did he live through that war? It's a miracle. Many of his friends in Music City know he has been successful, right in the heart of Music Row. Bobby Ross lives there, the only Country Music recording artist who does so. He has taught many people in the music business there how to survive and prosper. His home overlooks most all of Music City's music industry, with his Webb Pierce guitar shaped swimming pool and Owen Bradley's Park out his window, he is Music Row's caretaker. He has watched Music Row grow up and around his swimming hole and his garden. This is his world! The fulfillment of a promise he made to all those unsung heroes who lost their lives under his command in a far away place. He pledged that he would live his life to the fullest. This word of honor has not been broken. A hollowed place is his on Music Row.
The late Gordon Mills was an old fishing partner of his, back when Bobby was a commercial crawdad fisherman on the California Delta in Northern California. Gordon discovered Bobby way out in that wilderness, as he had the likes of Tom Jones. Mr. Mills was one of the greatest music producers in the world. Bobby was his protege. He prepared him for Nashville. Gordon had been an officer in the English Army, stationed in Burma. He also fought communism. Gordon and Bobby had a peculiar relationship. Once, when Bobby and Gordon were at a "end of the world tour" party for Tom Jones at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas, they had knock-down-drag-out argument about ambush tactics in Southeast Asia. The whole party hushed as Gordon and Bobby conducted a yelling and hollering contest about who had the better tactics, the English or the Americans. Bobby kept concluding his portion of the dispute with a genteel reminder that if the English knew "anything" about ambush tactics, America would be flying the Union Jack instead of the Stars and Stripes! This especially agitated Gordon because Bobby ambushed that most sacred of English virtues: pride! In truth, Bobby and Gordon were entertainers. They were the best of friends. They just liked making folks uncomfortable around them. It was an act!
Bobby Ross has been a fighting man all his life. Born in Sacramento, California, his father had him hunting and fishing before he could practically crawl. Every generation of boys in the branches of his family tree bore the burden of battle for America's conflicts. His grandfather told him stories about his direct descendants, the Lamb Boys, who were the first two to fall at the Battle of Concord during the Revolution when that infamous shot was fired, heard around the world. His father was a Navy pilot in the Pacific in WWII, and one of his uncles was a SeaBee. Another uncle fought in General Patton's Army across all of Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, meeting up with Russia's Red Army in Berlin. Bobby was raised to bear arms.
This indirectly led to his long time friendship with Eddie Bayers, and his family. Eddie's father was a famous "ace" pilot in the Pacific Theater of World War II, and Mr. Bayers and Bobby's father flew together. Eddie befriended Bobby when he first came to Nashville, and helped him inspire many of Music City's greatest talents to record his unique music, dedicated to America's fighting men and women. Bobby's and Eddie's fathers made both their sons grow up hard. Bobby's father had him cooking in his cowboy honkytonk, The Rough & Ready Room, at Lake Tahoe, California, starting when he was eight years old. He had to stand on an egg crate to get his hands into the sink to wash the dirty dishes. He ran away from that restaurant shortly after he graduated from high school and joined the Army. He had to jump over Joan Baez sitting cross legged on the sidewalk singing "Kum By YA" on Clay Street in Oakland, California, protesting' the 'Nam War when he was inducted at age 18. Then the Army drove him in an old OD bus to Ft. Ord, whereby a buck sergeant jumped in and slung him out by the collar of his Madras shirt and stuck him in KP. He slaved there for two weeks. He didn't even warrant a uniform. He looked like a grease tramp by the time he was issued his first set of fatigues. He was so proud to be a lowly private. And, he found out his father and his honkytonk weren't so bad after all. He learned a valuable lesson: You can't run away from yourself. In Basic Training at the Army base at Fort Ord, he passed all their written tests because he basically cheated, filling out all those dumb test forms like they were Keno tickets. (Remember Lake Tahoe borders the gambling state of Nevada where he was raised.) They kept him too tired from KP to think, and plus, he wasn't that great of a thinker anyhow because he was more interested in playing his guitar. He was lucky, however. His test scores came back qualifying him to be everything from a brain surgeon to an astronaut! That's the Army! They said he qualified for the OCS test, too. He said, "What's OCS?" They said, "If you pass this one, you won't never have to do no more KP again!" Bobby said, "That's for me!" He cheated on that one, too, and passed with one of the highest scores the Army ever recorded. All that learning he got in those gambling casinos at Tahoe paid off.
Though he never won a Keno ticket, he won big in the Army. Made some pretty good money in those barrack poker games, too. After Basic, he was shipped to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for Armor training. After graduating from tank AIT, he entered OCS at the age of 18. He made it through the grueling OCS, but not by cheating! That was real tough duty. Pogy Bait was the best part! Then it was off to Ft. Carson, Colorado, where he took charge of his own M-60A1 tank platoon in the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division. After a year, they shipped him off to Jungle School in Panama and then to the war in Vietnam. He was stationed in the 2/17th CAV with the 101st Airborne Division. That was during the TET Offensive in 1968. Really rough stuff. He started out commanding the Air-O-Rifle Platoon with 47 men, then 3 weeks later there were only 5 of them left. His colonel then sent him to Recondo School in Nha Trang, and he became a LRRP. (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols) Did a lot of strange stuff in Vietnam. He came home with a chest full of medals and such, but like so many, he was met with impudence and acrimony from his fellow citizens in the Bay Area of California. He was also pretty messed up, physically, with PTSD, Agent Orange poisoning, intestine trouble, and a very bad attitude. He was 21 years old when he got his honorable discharge from the Army, with a rank of 1st Lieutenant.
He has lived an incredible life. He was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts and had his own troop at Lake Tahoe. He learned to be a gourmet chef and has studied in France, and has worked as a chef in some of the best restaurants in Nashville, including the Bluebird Cafe. He is an expert marksman and can still make a bullseye see red. He has caught a trophy salmon and sailfish on light tackle, still holds a record in Colorado for taking a trophy bull elk, deer and antelope with his bow and arrow, and is an avid hiker. He has been a traveling minstrel touring most of the USA and four other continents. He has been a director of a public company that was listed on the stock exchange, and he has been successful in business. Once he was even a Wall Street maverick when he hired about a dozen attorneys to launch a major proxy fight and learned that doing corporate business can get you ruined! He has been a Pacific commercial fisherman for albacore and salmon. In his early 30's he became a college student and graduated from San Francisco State University's music department with a degree in opera. He was a sport fishing guide when he met Gordon Mills and struck up that friendship that eventually led to him moving to Nashville.
Tennessee folks really love their veterans. There was no draft card burning in this state. So, Bobby got nick-named "Music Row's Real Rambo" by Robert K. Oreman, the noted music critic, after he unveiled his rare music interpretations of his one of a kind "Veteran Art". Veterans and active duty military personnel all over the world have come to realize Bobby Ross sings for them. They are his heroes. Bobby Ross in innovative. He designed one of the first internet web sites in country music, and has developed a network of Veterans and active duty military known the world over in cyberspace. If you ever enter Nashville's Bluebird Cafe, where many of today's best country songwriters and performers saw their first start, you can find a picture of Bobby Ross hanging on the wall. Amy Kurland, owner of the Bluebird Cafe, hired him years ago to assist her in managing the club and to continue her philosophy of helping gifted singers and songwriters pursue their dreams. Bobby considers himself an "underground" artist in today's "New Country" movement. His music about America's veterans has hit the top of the country charts. He believes country music is the heart and soul of America's culture, but he isn't afraid to explore the new progressive sounds. His fans span the globe and he has worked with a wide array of artists from the Grateful Dead to Vince Gill. Unlike so many of today's artists, he doesn't seek the bright lights of fame and fortune, but takes comfort to reside year-round on Music Row in Nashville. Whether he is singing his own music or helping a new artist spread his, one thing is for certain, he truly lives out what he believes and writes about in his music.
He has had the privilege to perform his music live at many special places, from the dedication of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Windsor, Canada, to "The Wall" in Washington, DC. He was there in Berkeley years back when they opened the Berkeley Vietnam Veterans Museum right in the town square where the protest movement began, and comforted the families of those soldiers from Berkeley who lost their lives in Vietnam. He has opened Willie Nelson's FARM AID with a platoon of 58 Veterans from around the country in formation launching "Operation Pitch Fork" where American Veterans have pledged their support for America's small, family farmers. And though his music has been heard around the world, he maintains a low profile and enjoys helping younger artists fulfill their dreams. A recognized music producer and songwriter, he is constantly working with new talents, mingling with the vintage expertise, helping the veterans in his communityand around the globe.
So, it all comes back to that old lesson he learned as a young man:
"Do something, lieutenant. Right or wrong. Do something." In Nashville, on Music Row, close to Owen Bradley Park, one doesn't have to look too far to see that Bobby Ross has put that lesson to practical use.