Lots of musicians talk about the first song they heard or performer they saw that inspired them to become interested in learning to play an instrument or take up singing.
Central Texas artist Bobby Starr remembers that day very well.
“In 1964, I wanted to be Zorro,” said Starr, who turns 65 in August. “I had a suit and a cape and one of those plastic swords and everything. I was Zorro every day.
“One time my grandmother, Nana, was babysitting me and my little brother and sister. We were all sitting in front of the TV on a Sunday, and Ed Sullivan comes on. I’m all snuggled up with Nana, and she goes, ‘Bobby, look, one of those boys is named Ringo Starr. Just like our last name.’
“Ever since then, I wanted to be a Beatle. I left Zorro behind.
“I’ve been a Beatle nut forever, and I still want to be a Beatle. I call myself a fifth Beatle, twice removed.”
Starr, who along with being a guitar player and singer-songwriter is also an accomplished artist and portrait painter, was born in Lake Charles, La., and grew up in Woodway, near Waco.
Talking about his early years brings opportunity to share one of his trademark one-liners: “I tell everybody that I know a lot of coon-asses, but I’m not a full coon-ass. I was conceived in Texas and dropped in Lake Charles, so I’m more of a half-ass.”
Nevertheless, Starr is retired now from the oilfield business, where he worked for 23 years in logistics and production, which allows him more time to work on his music. He has written some original tunes but sticks with playing cover songs when he performs.
"I have been thinking about breaking out some originals. I have one called ‘Shadow Boxing’ that I’m kinda proud of,” he said. “I’ve written a couple of songs, but I’m just not confident about doing that yet. I have some songs that people like, but I like doing covers because everybody can sing along and that makes it fun.
“I was originally more of a painter; an artist. I’m a late-blooming musician. I don’t read music. I just know songs. I’m 65 years old – almost – and I can’t believe I have 160 songs stored in my brain that I can remember and play. I don’t even know where my car keys are right now.”
Starr lives in the tiny community of Rumley in Lampasas County, between Copperas Cove and Lampasas. He performs fairly regularly now, mostly at venues in and around the Lampasas area.
Places like the downtown courthouse square in Lampasas, Wool and Vine wine bar, Fiesta Winery, Texas Legato Winery, and Stoneledge Winery.
One of his favorite stages to play is at Bend General Store, located 23 miles west of Lampasas near Colorado Bend State Park.
“I used to ride out to the Bend on my motorcycle. It’s a nice little bike ride. I’d go out there and Bret Cali had just bought the thing from Bad Bob. It was more of a rough place before Bret took over.
“I used to go out there during the week and there wasn’t much going on. Bret and I would sit and shoot the breeze. I’d have a beer and a bratwurst sandwich and visit with him.
“I could tell he was kind of an elevated, enlightened guy, and we hit it off right away. We talked about art and music. One time, he asked me to play out there, and so I did. I had so much fun, and I became the go-to house band guy for a while. Bret is opening up a second location in Lometa. That should really energize the economy there.
“I’ve opened at the Bend for Two Tons of Steel, the Lucas Brothers, and Gary P. Nunn. That was one of the biggest things ever to happen for me, musically. Gary P. is a hero of mine.”
He got his first guitar as a kid for Christmas 1965 when his parents surprised him with a Kent six-string from Montgomery Ward. Starr says he took that prized possession to school for a fourth-grade show-and-tell, and he took some lessons but when he developed an interest in motorcycles, the music took a back seat.
“I still have that guitar downstairs,” Starr said, sitting in his upstairs art studio at home. “My mama got me some lessons and I told the teacher all I wanted to learn was the lead lick for ‘Day Tripper’ (by the Beatles). I’ve been playing that now for, like, 55 years and I’m just about to get good at it.
“Later, I got into motorcycles in high school and I just kind of let the guitar playing go.”
When he finished a career working on offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and wound up in central Texas, Starr was more of an artist than a musician, but he slowly began to rekindle his love for the guitar.
Ironically, perhaps, it was his talent for drawing and painting that began to open up opportunities to play music.
“I’d goof around on the guitar and play for my neighbors. They’d be having a barbecue and I’d be playing. They wouldn’t know if I screwed up or not.
“My daughter (Katy Starr) was here one day – she’s also an artist and musician – and we were painting upstairs. I said, ‘You know what? This town has a lot of good artists. There are a lot of really nice murals around town.’
“She said, ‘Let’s go check ‘em out.’
“So we jumped on the motorcycle and she was taking pictures and everything. She said, ‘Dad, you ought to get involved with this.’
“I said, ‘Well, I’ve been thinking about that, but I don’t know. These guys are pretty good. Maybe I can wash their brushes or something.’
“While we were out looking around, we saw the courthouse. I had gotten my first jury summons – I was 55 years old – and I told her, ‘I hope I don’t get picked.’ So we went back home and she went back to Austin. On Monday, I reported for jury duty and I went in there looking all weird – which ain’t a big stretch for me – and out of a hundred people, I get picked.
“But it turned out to be a blessing.
“There was a lady there, Katherine Mezger, who saw that I could draw, and she invited me to come work on the murals. She said, ‘Hey, we’re starting this music mural over on Key Avenue. Would you like to participate?’
“I’d never done a mural. I didn’t even know if I could paint on a wall.
“Libby Bluntzer, it was her concept. They put me on this guy named Rock and Roll Joe. I was very timid and so I stayed on him for, like, three days. Finally, Libby came over and said, ‘Bob, we’re putting a restraining order on Rock and Roll Joe. You need to come down here and work on Dale and Terry McBride.’”
His work on what became one of Lampasas’ largest and most popular murals – featuring a host of local musicians – earned him some recognition among the local art community, which led to invitations to play his guitar at places like My Girls café (now Wool and Vine), and Toupsie’s restaurant, where he hosted an open mic night.
“I had some skills that they evidently really liked that made the mural pop,” Starr said. “That got me known and I got to meet a lot of people with Vision Lampasas, and there was a big dedication where I got to meet a lot of the musicians that I had painted. I had no idea that Lampasas has a plethora of musicians.”
He is mostly self-taught on guitar, learning songs from records back in the day and now using the Internet to look up chords and help him figure out songs he wants to learn. He practices about four hours a day over morning coffee.
“Usually, I already know the song in my head, but I don’t know the chords,” Starr explained. “So I google the chords and lyrics, and start practicing. After about 175 times, I’ll get the song down.”
Along with music and art, Starr once co-hosted a morning show on Lampasas radio with Jana Castleberry called “The Breakfast Flakes.” These days, though, his focus is mostly on playing and singing songs.
Last week, he played four hours at Fiesta Winery, and he is gearing up for another gig out at the Bend.
“Right now, I’m not doing much painting, but if Vision (Lampasas) needs a painting to auction off to help with a fundraiser, I will paint one for them. Two of my paintings … the first one I auctioned off went for $2,000. The second one went for a thousand. That makes me feel good because I always want to give back to the community.
“I’ve only been playing out in public for about five years, and I want to focus on that more. My goal is to just entertain. People seem to like what I do (and) if they’re happy, that makes me happy. I just want to create mirth and merriment, and the way I do that is, what I lack in musical talent, I make up for with visual distraction.
“When I do ‘Werewolves of London,’ I wear a werewolf mask. When I play ‘Starman,’ I wear an alien mask.
“I like to play local – Copperas Cove, Briggs, Hamilton, Bend, Lampasas. This is my center. I’m not looking to be famous or anything. I’m just having fun.”