"Smiling Bob's Bossa Nova"

© 1972 Lee Ruth

The T(h)oms
Thom Howard - Classical Guitar
Tom Verdot
- Violin
  MP3 Sample of Lee's Original


Song Lyrics:
Lee's Lyrics:
Instrumental Instrumental
Artists on the Song:
Lee on the Song:

The T(h)oms figured from the start that we would like to do an instrumental. We talked with Lee and he said that he had a song he had written twenty-some years ago about the owner of a barbecue joint. The guy was known as Smiling Bob, and the song was called "Smiling Bob's Bossa Nova." Lee still performed it from time to time, but he had long since stopped singing the words and generally just hummed the melody and accompanied himself on guitar. He passed a recording to us, and we both thought it was great.

We have played this in our duo gigs a number of times now, and the responses from people who know Lee and his music have been very interesting. Some have said "I never knew Lee had written anything like that," and others have said "Yep, sounds like a Lee Ruth song!"

Thomas Robert "Smiling Bob" Wright was a man of considerable charm who ran "Smiling Bob's Barbeque" on Business Loop 70 in Columbia for a number of years until he closed his doors in mid-1972. I did not know him long or well, but one early, early morning in the spring of 1972 I was sitting in Denny's drinking coffee with some friends and Bob was sitting with us. Someone must have told him I wrote songs, because he handed me a sheet of paper across the table--a poem/song lyric--and asked me if I could possibly write music for it. I told him that I had never taken somebody else's words and set them to music, but that I would look them over and see what I could come up with. So I took the words home and, at around four in the morning, sat down with my guitar and the lyric sheet. It was a tender love song, minus music, and as I read it over a melody seemed to spring out of the words, and I found some chords that suited the melody. What surprised me was that the music was not like anything else I had ever written, or even like any music that I typically played. It was more like "The Girl from Ipanema" or "Desafinado" than "Wildwood Flower" or "Blowin' in the Wind." What else to call it but "Smiling Bob's Bossa Nova"? Bob moved away from Columbia not long after the night he handed his words to me, and I never had an opportunity to play his song for him. Though I never did sing it much, over the years I've occasionally played it live, sometimes humming the melody along with the guitar.
Artist on Lee Ruth:
Lee on the Artists:

Shortly after I moved to town, I began teaching at Crazy Music and that was where I first met Lee Ruth. This modest gentleman would quietly greet a student to his studio, the door would close, and soon some very pretty, lively, sophisticated guitar or mandolin music would escape into the hall.


I'm guessing that Thom Howard and Tom Verdot teamed up as a duo as an extension of their playing together as members of a band, Clark Buehling and the Skirtlifters. I've already written a bit of commentary about Thom as part of my commentary on the song "Who Will She Be," which he recorded with his wife, Sarah. I met Tom Verdot in passing, probably in the late '60s but did not know him well. Still don't, but since he moved back to Columbia a few years ago, after thirty or so years living elsewhere, our paths have crossed much more frequently. I had thought of him as being primarily an old-timey musician but hearing the broader range of music that he plays with Thom, and with the Skirtlifters--swing, early jazz, ragtime, 19th-century parlor music--it's clear that his talents on violin and his musical interests range beyond my earlier notion. "Smiling Bob's Bossa Nova" works well as a guitar/violin duet, and I look forward to hearing Thom and Tom play more music together in the future.

Producer's Notes:
Recording Credits:
When Lee first told me he had a BossaNova, I said we should give it to Thom Howard--that's right up his alley. Thom and Tom worked up this beautiful arrangement! It is a gorgeous melody with subtle Lee Ruth hooks. You can close your eyes and listen to this song, and if you have a favorite beach somewhere on the planet, you're there!

Recorded at Pete Szkolka's Studio

Record Date: 5/7/03

Recorded live to two-track

Photo: Thom Howard

A scan of the original Smiling Bob's Bar-B-Q poster circa ????


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