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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Bobby Neal & Ricky Nelson Story

As Mike and I returned Saturday from another trip to visit my brother in Chattanooga, we stopped in Nashville to visit Mike’s long-time friend and exceptional pedal steel guitar player Robby Turner ( Robby was in his studio working on songs with Steve Forbert (, but enjoyed the break to catch up with Mike.

As it always goes with these guys, they started telling stories, and a bunch of them were about Bobby Neal, someone Mike refers to as a truly gifted guitar player. Bobby was lead guitar player for Ricky Nelson and was with him that fateful New Year’s Eve of 1985 when the plane crashed, killing Ricky, his fiancé and the entire band. The photos we’re sharing with this post are from better days with Bobby and Ricky.

Because of his great talent, Bobby was an in-demand session player in Memphis, and he and Mike did a good bit of studio work together. Somewhere around the same time, Bobby was playing with a regionally popular group led by Jerry Jaye who had the million-seller Hello, Josephine. At various times, Mike and Robby also played with Jerry Jaye, as did good friend Eddie Webb, who currently plays guitar with Mike in Rob and the Rage and who was Bobby’s best friend.

Besides being an exceptional guitarist, Bobby was a great jokester. A number of stories were told Saturday before they got to any that could be re-told here.

The Jerry Jaye band was in the studio working on some songs. The studio guy they were working with was what Robby calls “a total tech-head” – maybe not so much on the music side, but he knew everything about the equipment and loved his equipment. As everything was getting set up, they suddenly experienced feedback from somewhere. Tech guy started going back through all the possibilities, but couldn’t locate the cause. It was making him nuts. He didn’t know that Bobby was great at sound effects. The feedback finally stopped as mysteriously as it began, and the band did its work.

They were in and out of that studio on several occasions and, each time, the crazy-making feedback plagued the techie. Everybody else muffled laughter as the tech guy climbed under consoles and re-checked every possible cause for the noise. Finally, as they were getting set up for another session, the techie approached Robby and told him that he thought he’d identified the problem. “It has to be Bobby’s equipment,” he said. “It only occurs when Bobby’s in the studio.”

Robby called over Bobby and told him that he needed to explain the feedback. Bobby produced a sound that exactly duplicated feedback. Two of them laughed. The techie – not so much.

Both Mike and Robby had stories about Bobby pulling a similar trick on sax player Ace Cannon. Both the Ace Cannon and Jerry Jaye bands had played at the same venue and were hanging around in the parking lot before leaving for the night.

Bobby called Ace over to the rear of Ace’s car saying, “hey man, I think you have a leak in this tire.” Ace’s response was unprintable, but he went over to check it out. At first, he didn’t hear anything, but Bobby told him to get down next to the tire and listen. Bobby could also duplicate the hissing sound of air escaping a tire – and without detection.

Ace knelt down by the tire, listening intently. Damn! It was leaking. One of them began wiggling the valve stem to see if the leak could be stopped and, as it went from side to side, Bobby stopped and started the hissing sound. Ace was furious and still had to drive home. He had a great idea. Ace took the chewing gum out of his mouth and wrapped it around the valve stem. No more hissing. Robby said that the gum stayed in place until Ace finally traded the car. And he never had a leak.


R said...

Thanks for this story. I was friends with Bobby Neal's daughter when I was growing up, and I remember hoping there was a chance Mr. Neal would survive the crash (I was 13 at the time, and I think she was a year older than me).

For reasons I don't understand, I woke up this morning thinking about the Neals and found this. Thanks for the stories.

roger said...

Good story about Bobbys clowning I played drums with Jerry Jaye for several years in the 70's the same time as Bobby He was a great talent as well as a great person.
Roger Frey

Scarlett said...

Roger - I'm sure you knew my husband, Mike Plunk, who played bass with Jerry Jaye for a while. Mike and Eddie Webb (played guitar with Jerry Jaye and close friend of Bobby Neal) are in a band together again. They've been working together for about a year now.

Sean said...

Thanks for the stories and pictures. I would love to see more pictures of Bobby. Growing up in Fort Smith my dad and Bobby were best friends. We lived in apartments next door to each other and then moved to houses next door to each other. Although not blood relatives I called him Uncle Bobby. He was a very funny man and my favorite uncle. His daughter Samantha and I used to play together as kids and were like brother and sister. I still stay in contact with her which is great. Just wish her dad was here with us still. Thanks for the memories!

Anonymous said...

I am cousins with Bobby Neal. I was real young when he died i would love more info on him my name is Ashley Neal from memphis my dad was Robert Lee Neal jr. Thanks

Raymond P. DeHaan said...

Thank you for the stories. I am Bobby's nephew. I was just a kid when he died, but I remember him always laughing and joking around. He was a fun person to be around.

steve carter said...

I was at the Hotel in Dallas waiting on Rick and Bobby for their show on NYE of 1985. I heard about the plane crash over a megaphone in the lobby of the hotel. Needless to say it was a very sad night for me and my family, as well as Bobbys extended family everywhere. Great story about our friend. As everyone that knew Bobby, he made you feel like he and you were best friends. I knew Bobby when he moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas and know Robby pretty well too and know the storys he and his friends have told are very true because everywhere bobby went he was playing practical jokes on you. We all miss him very much. I have been fortunate enough to stay in touch with bobbys friends in Memphis as well as Phyllis, Samantha, and Jody. I love them as much as we loved Bobby and only wish them the best..

Ted foltman said...

Ted foltman may 25 13 I was very blessed to drive for Bernice Turner robbys mom and got to see Ricky and the guys also see robby as well as ace cannon Bernice is a great lady if it wasnt for her I would not have been close to all of them she was like a mother to all the boys plus she autographed a picture of her and her husband Doyle in hank Williams band which I hold dear to me R I P ricky Bobby and the band

Bill Hartwick said...

Thanks for the stories about Bobby. The Neals lived almost directly across the street from me for a short time in Blytheville when I was 10 years old. I don't remember exactly when or how but me and my friend Charles who lived next door to the Neals started hanging out some at the Neals house. I still remember how we would all try to get Samantha to dance anytime there was music on the TV or radio and she was barely old enough to walk at the time.

After school was out for the Summer Charles went away to stay with relatives who had a farm in the Ozarks and some other friends my age moved away so the Neals were the only friends I had for a while.

Before having Bobby for a neighbor playing a guitar is something I always wished I could do but after hearing Bobby play it was something I HAD to learn how to do. One time Bobby had his guitar plugged in and was playing and he must have seen the light shine in my eyes or something because he handed it to me and let me beat on it for a few minutes. It must have sounded awful but I was in Heaven. After that wanting to play the guitar was like a burning fever.

I ended up getting a guitar and taking lessons after the Neals moved away. Thanks to Bobby I've had decades of enjoyment and passed lots of quality time with guitar in hand. No one's ever loved it more than me!

I really enjoyed having the Neals for neighbors and friends for the time that I did and missed them after they moved away I've thought about them on occassion over the years and can truly say that I've never met any finer people than Bobby and Phyllis to this day. I don't see how Samantha could have turned out to be any different.

It would have meant so much to me if I could have somehow let Bobby know that I had learned to play the guitar but unfortunately that can never happen. If only he didn't have to leave us so soon.I know he will be eternally missed by all those who were fortunate enough to have known him. I'll always be grateful for the time I got to spend with the Neals and will NEVER forget who made me want to learn how to play the guitar more than anything else in this word!!!

Greg Eckler said...

I played drums with Rick in 1979. Bobby was the rhythm guitar player at that time. John Beland from Flying Burrito Brothers was lead guitar. Ricks single release at the time was "Dream Lover." Bobby and I became roommates for the extensive touring schedule. All that is to say that given the conditions of life on the road, Bobby was a good friend and remained easy-going and congenial which at the time helped me a lot. Hindsight being 20/20 - i'd say it was Bobby's friendliness and focus that helped me keep my head on straight for that season of time. Greg Eckler

Law Hartley said...

I remember Bobby and enjoyed his playing while flying the SCB
several years before, in a Learjet on several of Rick's winter tours.
I had met him in the past before his SCB join when I sprayed for a living in TN. MS. MO.
On my first meeting flying the band I met him walking in the Denver Airport, Going to take a charter on one of SCB's winter tours. I didn't realize I was one of the pilots to fly that flight that evening
and safe tour. I will always remember those who passed that night in Texas because I knew them all. Bobby I still remember the best.

bob herd said...

In 1967,almost 50 years ago, i played in a band in vietnam with Bobby.He, at the age of 19 (i was 24) was a superb guitarist and i learned many licks from him.Much more than his music, our group im sure will remember hin for his
respect and compassion for others.always ready with a helping hand.very onnovative,he had a finger injury and coul d not play one evening.He took the bass to the barracks,restrung it and played it left handed tha next nite,neve missing a note.RIP FRIEND,BANDMATE and Master jokester..bob herd