BMHOF Class of 2011
Bobby’s passion for music began in 1960 at age 5 while watching his father perform at a family function in Northern Vermont. “The Green Mountain Boys” played local square dances two nights per week during the 40’s and 50’s dispensing lively versions of country, traditional and swing numbers from the era. Bobby’s father, Roger, shared guitar and square dance calling duties with his older brother John Paul. Bobby”s godfather and eldest Uncle Marcel, played fiddle while Grandma Annette played a ragtime style piano to beat the band. It was at one of Roger’s gigs in the late 40’s where Bobby’s parents first met.
At age nine, Bobby began learning guitar basic chords from his father when they would spend many evenings playing simple country numbers that included plenty of Hank Williams and other country standards of the day. During this period, Bobby became extremely interested in multi track recording and marveled at studio productions and the multi layering of voices and instruments that was lacking in most live presentations. He borrowed a Sony 2 track reel-to-reel recorder and began experimenting with sound on sound by age 12 and had his first taste of audio production with an eye towards the final product.
By 1969 Bobby had formed his first of many rock bands and played his first paying gig the following year in Connecticut where he grew up. By the time he reached his sophomore year in high school, Bobby joined the musicians union in Connecticut enabling him to play weddings and various adult functions. At age 15, he was working with musicians who were decades older than he, which provided a wealth of knowledge and discovery as well as musical discipline. The versatility of learning jazz and pop standards at a young age made a significant impression.
The 70’s found Bobby performing and recording 4 and 8 track demos in studios located in the Connecticut and New York City areas as well as live performance with several groups he founded in the Connecticut area. By 1975 he was playing 36 sets each week performing Top 40 at a rate of six sets per night in New York and New Jersey nightclubs. After two years of the hectic gig schedule, the Top 40 format was abandoned for an all-original format in which he performed for several years.
By 1980, Bobby felt he needed new direction as well as a musical challenge. He had spent the previous summer on a lengthy tour covering all of the Midwest with a New York City punk oriented group. He then retreated to the Bearsville area in Upstate NY where he befriended the staff and crew and band members of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. Joining his former sound man, now Todd’s guitar tech, Bobby began learning the basics of guitar repair and modifications on some very historic instruments including Clapton’s psychedelic 1959 SG/Les Paul as featured on “Disraeli Gears” and numerous other “Cream” photos.
Bobby then moved to Buffalo on December 8, 1980 – the day John Lennon was assassinated. On a day which he will never forget, he joined Buffalo legends, “The Road” and continued performing 6 nights per week with the group in Buffalo, Canada and Florida. In early 1981, The Road recorded “Heavenly Blue” in Toronto as the backing group for Canadian star Malia Eliot. The records and Canadian TV appearances were successfully released and aired all over Canada and enjoyed moderate success. Teaming up with Ken Kaufman, Bobby had the privilege of a first-class musical education as well as contributing to numerous jingles for the United Way, make-a-Wish, and numerous local auto dealers, parts suppliers as well as dozens of retail establishments.
By 1982, Bobby formed “Lebel” and continued performing throughout the Western New York, Florida and Pennsylvania circuits with his high-energy rock group performing popular rock numbers note for note. “Lebel” morphed into “Straight Boy” which attracted Durium Records in Milano Italy to sign the group to a lucrative recording contract based on the strength of Bobby’s songwriting. “Straight Boy” taped two television commercials for Darien Lakes in mid-1984 that put the band in steady rotation before all of Western New York on every TV and radio station. As a result, Bobby’s local recognition earned him the top spot as guitarist in the Buffalo Backstage awards that year. At this time, Bobby purchased his first 8-track analog multi-track recorder and began a lifetime of almost constant recording. Staying awake for 48 hour marathon sessions, he could not get enough when it came to capturing ideas and slaving over the tracks until a song was fully realized. Composing over 150 titles, he later released 18 of those demos twenty years later on a CD entitled “Purple Heart”.
In the mid 1990’s Bobby spent a few years in Los Angeles recording “Children of the Crossing” which also featured performances by Buffalo legend and first-time Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inductee, Billy Sheehan of Talas and Mr. Big fame, John Pattitucci from the Chick Corea acoustic and electric band as well as various members of the Billy Vera and Kenny Rogers bands. In Los Angeles, Bobby studied songwriting at numerous workshops taught by Capital Records legend Nik Venet. He also spent hundreds of hours recording and mixing at “Mad hatter Studios” where he further honed his skills in record production, engineering, and mixing at the world-class facility which boasted clients such as Robert Palmer, Prince and Paul McCartney.
Upon returning to Western New York by the late 90’s, Bobby formed “Runnin’ Blue” as a vehicle to perform his rocking bluesy originals with his own horn arrangements. It was during this period in which he turned down numerous opportunities to join various local classic rock bands, including offers from Hit n’ Run. However, Bobby’s heart was into the great heritage of American roots music including delta blues and big band swing. Through out his career, he had also turned down opportunities to tour with various acts preferring to remain in Western New York and not be an absentee dad. A sensible family based decision which compelled him to take a position in sales and become the top producer in New Business Development and VP Sales for a mortgage title document firm based in California and Florida.
By the turn of the century, Bobby had fully assembled and update his home studio to 24-track digital. He began compiling and mixing his solo record ‘Purple Heart” and played all the instruments and vocals including drums, bass, guitars, mandolin, piano, strings and lap steel. Culminating all his home demos over the previous twenty years he resurrected many of his old favorite compositions and won a publishing deal for his version of “You Lift Me Up” written about his children. It was at this time that Bobby also recorded a CD entitled “Classic Holiday” of his solo acoustic guitar performances of Christmas favorites. It was an instant success and immediately sold out. As a result, Bobby’s employer at the time, reissued 5,000 units that were sent to 4,000 mortgage banking lenders around the country. Bobby’s only request to the recipients was that they make a donation to make-A-Wish or to the charity of their choice. This act of selfless benevolence resulted in thousands in charitable donations.
Finally returning to his true roots in rockabilly and western swing, a style his father had inspired decades earlier, Bobby founded a trio and named it “The Headers” in late 2003. He took on lead vocal chores as well as songwriting and record production.
The Headers adopted its name from the side exhaust pipes found on classic hot rod automobiles. Having returned to his roots and playing a handful of the same Hank Williams and country driven favorites that he played with his father decades earlier, Bobby also incorporated jazzy swing, surf and straight ahead rock and roll in his songwriting for the group. The genre also provided an opportunity to play renditions originated by his guitar and vocal heroes such as Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Elvis Presley and Bobby Darin.
Enthusiastic reviews for “The Headers” are found in publications such as 20th Century Guitar, Amherst Bee, Freetime, Best of WNY, Buffalo Spree and several European guitar publications. The Headers debut CD “Turn it Up”, originally released in December 2005 sold out after three seasons of playing summer festivals in Western New York, Philadelphia, Cape Cod, Long Island, Daytona, Tampa and Sarasota. “Bring Home the Headers for the Holidays” was released in December of 2006, and “Don’t be Talkin’ Smack” in December of 2008.
Since the band’s inception, The Headers have taken every opportunity to assist in the community by performing for charitable events such as the Food Bank of Western New York. Everywhere the Headers traveled, the Buffalo music scene was promoted by the band as vibrant and the Hall of Fame regarded with respect.
In 2008 Bobby left the mortgage industry to semi-retire and to devote his energies to music full-time as a teacher and performer. With a clientele of 40-plus students each week, the roster continues to expand and includes students of all ages, styles and levels interested in guitar, banjo, dobro, bass and vocal instruction. Students have also included pro level players who perform in Western New York as members of “The House Band”, “Eliot”, “Flashpoint”, “Djambossa and “12 Pack Jack”.
Over the past 35 years, 2500 playing engagements have been primarily focused in the Western New York area but have also taken him all around the country in clubs and studios including sessions in New York, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Nashville and Tampa. Radio and TV performances as well as interviews with “Lebel”, “The Road”, “Rred”, and “The Headers” have run on 97 Rock, 107.7 “The Bear”, 107.7 “The Lake”, Channel 7, WKBW, Channel 20 Time Warner, WKBW AM, 88.7 WBFO and 103.3 WPHD. His travels have taken him to stages shared with Edgar Winter, Kathie Lee Gifford and opening shows for America, Three Dog Night, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Rare Earth, Twisted Sister and the Blues great, James Cotton. Bobby is an honored member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a member of Buffalo legends “The Road” (BMHOF Class of 1997) and as an individual (BMHOF Class of 2011). He has also been bestowed the distinction of several Buffalo Backstage guitarist awards as well as contributing the lead track “Brand New Gretsch Guitar” released on the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame compilation CD Volume II.
Bobby is an official endorsee of the Gretsch guitar company as a “Gretsch Artist” alongside other guitar greats such as Bo Diddley, Chet Atkins and George Harrison. You can find him listed on the Gretsch Guitar website at: http://www.gretschguitars.com/artists/artist.php?id=41
Bobby is also currently under a publishing contract with “Looks Like Music” a BMI Nashville firm for one of his many original songs.
As of this writing, there are two projects underway. Summer performances with the “Damn Fine Rebels” add boogie woogie piano and pedal steel guitar to its eclectic funky country rockabilly mix.
Most notably, slated for release in 2014 is the “Bobby Lebel Orchestra”, a 19 piece big band in which Bobby teamed up with the great arranger, Phil Sims to record and perform originals and select covers nationwide.
Bobby’s boyhood musical mates from Connecticut have dubbed him a “Musical chameleon” due to the diversity of styles in which he is comfortable. As Williamsville, NY residents for many years, Bobby and his wife, children and grandchildren love Western New York and its beautiful change of seasons.
Back - 2011