Bob Gibson was one of the first superstars of the ’50s and ’60s folk boom. In 1953, after a day spent in the company of Pete Seeger, Bob was inspired to learn the banjo and start collecting songs. By 1957 he was skyrocketing to national fame and soon became a major force in folk music. But bad habits and addictions began taking their toll and after a self-imposed exile in the late ’60s he returned to music only to spend the next decade trying to conquer his demons.
By 1980, Bob was having enough fun to record The Perfect High. He’d always made it look easy to light up from the inside, but now with a couple years of hard won sobriety under his belt, it truly was easy. His self-deprecating humor, gentled by compassion for his own flaws, gave rise to this, his drollest album ever.
Most of these songs were written with, or by, long-time friend and collaborator Shel Silverstein. Yes, Mr. Rogers, Cuckoo Again and Middle-Aged Groupies are as much cartoons as they are songs, animated by Bob’s dexterous delivery. The Perfect High is a full theatrical production, with a multi-character cast, in which Bob plays all the roles. And true to his custom of involving the audience, two great sing-alongs are included with Rock Me Sweet Jesus and Heavenly Choir.
Two of the album’s most profoundly humorous songs — or should that be humorously profound songs? — are based on true stories from Bob’s life. Just A Thing I Do and Mendocino Desperados are more than just brilliantly crafted songs. Bob’s willingness to tell on himself generously gives us all a chance to get over our embarrassments, whatever they may be.
The album features a couple of delightful guest appearances. Bob is joined by Tom Paxton on Box of Candy (and a Piece of Fruit), a rowdy duet telling the tale of Bob’s Yuletide incarceration in a Canadian jail, and Anne Hills adds hauntingly beautiful harmony to Leaving for the Last Time and Army of Children.
This live recording marks the embarkation of a folk icon’s journey into a genuinely happy and productive time of life. Bob Gibson had finally achieved lasting sobriety — and finally found The Perfect High.
Bob Gibson revitalized Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, introduced Day-o and wrote Abilene and Well, Well, Well, songs which have all become an intrinsic part of American folk music repertoire. He popularized the 12-string guitar, banjo and folk music in general, recorded more than 20 albums and performed coast-to-coast. His musical legacy lives on through the many musicians he mentored (Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and David Crosby), the writers he introduced (Shel Silverstein, Tom Paxton) and the generations of banjo players, guitarists and troubadours who keep his music alive by making it their own (Roger McGuinn, Josh White, Jr. and troubadours the world over).