I was born at a very early age in Spokane, Washington, on October 9, 1946. I grew up around musical family members who were a great influence on me as a child. My Great-Uncle Carl played plectrum banjo and sang in a dance band with Bing Crosby in Spokane in the mid-1920’s. Carl also recorded for Columbia Records during that time and released three or four 78RPM records under his name – Carl Haworth. His brother, Uncle Wayne, played tenor banjo and worked for several years playing on cruise ships sailing to the Orient in the 1920’s. My Great-Grandfather played a number of instruments, including piano, Hawaiian guitar and bass drum in a fife and drum band. Mom played violin in college, but she gave it up to raise four brats.
I took piano lessons for a while in grade school, but I was intent on learning to play the banjo and guitar. I studied with Dutch Groshoff in Spokane from the time I was about nine until my family moved to Medford, Oregon in 1959. (An interesting side-note: one of Dutch’s other students was Mark Pearson, with whom I later shared a Brothers Four connection.)
During Junior High and High School in Medford I excelled in music, starring in school musical productions, singing in choir and playing string bass in the orchestra. My buddy, John Eads, and I formed a folk-singing duo called “The Kinsmen” and we were the hit of the town, skipping school regularly to sing for Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Club meetings, as well as various school functions. Basically we aped The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, Peter, Paul and Mary and various other folk-music legends of the time. One of the highlights of our “career” was winning a national talent search hosted by Will Rodgers, Jr.
After graduating from Medford High School in 1965, I attended UCLA, majoring in music composition. I sang in the UCLA choir under the direction of Roger Wagner. To help pay tuition I played banjo at area pizza parlors on weekends and I also did occasional studio work, playing banjo and guitar for movie scores and other projects. In 1968 I transferred to the University of Oregon to major in music education. I continued to suppliment my tuition by performing in local venues around the Eugene area.
In 1968, I dropped out of school and joined “The New Yorkers,” a bubble-gum band based in Portland, Oregon. The other members of the group were brothers Bill, Mark and Brett Hudson. We established ourselves as a regional success with several local hits on the Jerden label. After signing with Decca Records and a Los Angeles management company, the group name was changed to “The Hudson Brothers.” I decided to leave the band prior to their flash in the pan as a Saturday morning kiddy phenomenon and I went back to performing as a solo artist around the Pacific Northwest.
Through my affiliation with The Hudson Brothers, I was associated with Seattle record mogul , Jerry Dennon (Jerden Records). From time to time I did some studio work for Jerry, who co-owned a radio station in Seaside, Oregon with The Brothers Four. At one point Jerry called and asked if I was interested in auditioning for The Brothers Four, taking the slot occupied by Mark Pearson, who had replaced original member, Mike Kirkland, the previous year. (As a side-note, the group also auditioned John Denver for the part, but he turned it down.) I sang with The Brothers Four from 1970 to 1985, recording over a dozen albums and touring internationally.
During the ’70’s and ’80’s, when The Brothers Four were not performing, I worked around the Seattle area in a duo called “Bo Mooney” with my partner, Gary Ballard. I played guitar and banjo as well as harmonica, foot-pedal bass with my right foot, various percussion instruments with my left foot and anything else that was readily available. This evolved into a mobile one-man band with a bass drum on my back, banjo, harmonicas, bells and whistles and cymbals between my knees. Today, the act is known as Bob O’Luney’s Amazing One Man Band. That’s me in my getup to the left.
Also during that time I started Crescent Entertainment, booking bands and managing a few acts. One of these was “The New Deal Rhythm Band,” a campy swing band featuring singer Cheryl Bentyne. Cheryl later left the group to sing with the “The Manhattan Transfer.” I also recorded two albums of banjo music for Jerry Dennon’s production companies. Some of the cuts I recorded ended up on a compilation album of banjo music that included Earl Scruggs, among other banjo greats.
In 1985, Bob Shane (whom I’d met many years previously through The Brothers Four) called to ask me to fill in for Roger Gambill, who had been hospitalized. Bob and George Grove came to my home on Vashon Island in Puget Sound and we rehearsed for about an hour. The next day I performed my first concert with the group in Southern California. The day after that I sang in Seattle with The Brothers Four, the following day I was back with the Trio again! I was only intending to fill in until Roger recovered, but sadly he didn’t and I was “stuck” with the gig.
I sang with the Trio from 1985 until 1988, when original member, Nick Reynolds returned to the group. In 1987, I met my lovely wife, Meri, at a concert in Lakewood, Colorado. We saw each other off and on for the next year, and then in 1988, I moved to Colorado to live with her. We were married on Sept. 6, 1990.
Between 1988 and 1999, I performed around Colorado as a solo artist and occasionally with my local band. I was also available on several occasions to fill in for Nick Reynolds when he was unable to perform with The Kingston Trio. Then in May of 1999, Bob Shane called to say that Nick would be retiring later in the year and was drastically curtailing his performance schedule with the group. I performed regularly with The Trio during the summer and fall of 1999 until Nick retired officially in December of that year. I returned to work full time with the Kingston Trio until major changes were made in the group in 2004, when Bob Shane was forced to retire. In August of 2005, I made the decision to leave the group as well, chosing to spend more time at home and pursue my solo career. I consider my time with the Kingston Trio a great chapter in my life and, in fact, the stories of those years will encompass several chapters in my coming book, “Tales From The Roadside.”
In January of 2014, Meri and I moved back to our home state of Oregon. We now live in rural Jackson County, not far from where I went to high school and it’s been fun to reconnect with so many of my classmates here. I continue to write and record my own music and I enjoy performing occasionally at local venues and retirement homes. I’m also now teaching private music lessons and serving our Lord as a member of the worship music team at Jacksonville Presbyterian Church.
So that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!