Losing Bob Bailey

(Bob Bailey and former wife/lifelong best friend Cathy Thomas at Manuel’s Tavern, early ’90s)

If you stick around long enough, good times with friends are multiplied over and over again. But as the years dash on by, we find that too many of the old friends are no longer with us. It hardly seems fair. Those friends made the world a better place. We needed them.

Last week we lost Bob Bailey, a longtime Atlanta radio personality whose voice conveyed calm, civility and good times. If you were Bob’s friend, an easy thing to be, there’s now a void in the world. We can’t afford to lose guys like Bob Bailey.

I first met Bob in the summer of 1975. He would visit Peaches Records and Tapes late on Friday nights after doing his show on new releases for WRAS. Peaches was the place to find the new releases but for a guy like Bob, a musical sage beyond his years, a recording from two or three decades back might interest him more.

Bob was the music director at WRAS, the GSU student station, way on the left of the FM dial. WRAS was the station in town for introducing new music, mostly in the rock idiom. Bob picked the music the station would play. That made Bob a sought-after and popular figure in the city’s growing music scene. However, Bob gave that little thought. He didn’t need the attention. Glad-handing and schmoozing with the promo guys at the record labels wasn’t nearly as much fun as talking about the music he really liked and why. A field trip to the Ponce de Leon Krispy Kreme in the wee hours with Ort Carlton and others in the Peaches gang was also more fun. Bob Bailey didn’t need to be wined and dined, but a cup of coffee and a hot cruller would hit the spot.

Bob’s visits to Peaches became so frequent one might have thought he was a store employee. Given that we always needed one more knowledgeable person to help our customers, management made it official: Bob Bailey was on the Peaches payroll. He joined a cast of characters with so much personality that our 6,000 square foot building could hardly hold it all. Needless to say, Bob was a good fit.

Graduation Day at GSU was coming and one could only buy so many crullers on a record store salary. Still no one worried about Bob being able to make a nice living as he was blessed with the tone, timing and delivery made for radio. Why the city’s radio program directors weren’t jamming the store’s aisles to hear for themselves was a mystery. That didn’t worry Bob. In fact one night a fellow WRAS alumni, Jim Morrison, then at WQXI-FM, was visiting with Bob, talking shop. Bob allowed that he may not want a job on the radio after all. Morrison was incredulous. “What? With that golden throat of yours? That’s crazy, “Morrison replied.

Jim was right. It was crazy. Bob’s talent was unique. His voice was smooth, breezy, friendly and informed. It’s likely that as a newborn, he was recognized by doctors in the maternity ward for his fluid and congenial crying. So, yes, Bob would go on the radio.

Bob got a gig at WKLS-FM, more widely known as 96 Rock. The station had struck a chord with most of the metro area’s rock fans. Its following was immense but rock purists, as most of us Peaches people were, disliked the station. 96 Rock was slow to catch on to the bolder and more innovative rockers, even taking months after the release of Born to Run to play Bruce Springsteen. A program director at the station told me that a focus group (or whatever such groups were called then) decided Springsteen would not go over well in Atlanta. The fact his albums were selling so well at the city’s most popular record store was deemed an aberration. But whatever, we were friends of Bob Bailey and we were happy to hear him on the radio again.

Jazz was actually Bob’s first love. Though he could speak with confidence about most any musical genre when working the aisles at Peaches, it was in the jazz department where Bob delivered erudite critiques to customers wishing to know the differences between McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson. And the words flowed in such friendly fashion. Bob was no elitist. He was just happy to share what he had learned from such great music. The people listening to him were glad he did.

The ’70s gave way to the ’80s. The original parent company of Peaches Records and Tapes went bankrupt and much of the original crew from the landmark store on Peachtree had gone on to other pursuits. Yet despite the changes in our lives, those of us who worked together for 2-3 years maintained that fraternal spirit. Walking into a restaurant and running into Bob Bailey, Al Compton, Tony Paris or any of the others made for a happy day.

There was a period in the mid to late ’80s that I’d run into Bob at any number of places in the Midtown neighborhoods. You didn’t just stop to exchange a few pleasantries with Bob. You might find a corner in Wax ‘n’ Facts and talk for an hour or so. Such good times. Several times over the years while returning late from an errand, my wife, Gena, would ask what had taken so long. “I ran into Bob Bailey,” I told her. She understood.

(photo by Michael Tuohy)