The BLT Q&A: Bob Dorough

By Kaitlin Fontana

How to sum up a man like Bob Dorough? He’s lived at least a dozen lifetimes in one go, played with great performers from Miles Davis to Allen Ginsberg and many more besides and—oh yeah!—he’s the brain and the voice behind the indelible Schoolhouse Rock! animated musical shorts of all of our childhoods (even a Canadian kid like me, who had no business learning about just bills, only bills, sitting there on Capitol Hill). But that’s but a small part of a man whose heart and sense of humour is a large as his talent. He has vocal tricks and jazz style to spare, and he can play the hell out of a piano. Did we mention he’s a two-time BLT guest? And that he’s 88 years young? Yeah, Bob Dorough is kind of our hero.

We asked him a few questions before his guest spot on the upcoming BLT show, this Thursday at 8pm at the PIT.

Tell us something you think is beautiful.

A newly-spun spider web, bejeweled with dewdrops and sparkling in the rising sun.

Tell us a lyric of yours that includes the word love.

But for now I’ll just say, “I love you.” Later on there’ll be time for so much more…. (From “But For Now,” words and music by Bob Dorough, copyright Sincere Music Co.)

Tell us a truth from your lyrics.

When the day is through I suffer no regrets; I know that he who frets loses the night. From “Devil May Care,” words and music by T. P. Kirk and Bob Dorough, copyright Sincere Music Co.)

How did you become a musician? Why do you keep doing it?

Playing 3rd clarinet as a beginner in the high school band in Plainview, Texas, I discovered that my part was essential to the overall effect, as were all the other parts being played around me. The satisfying feeling that came from the total achievement drove me to inform my parents [of my intentions]. “I’m going to be a musician,” I said. This after one week of rehearsing with the band. I keep at it, as do all musicians, because, well, you never get it perfect; you just keep trying.

I know this is your second time playing BLT—what made you want to do it again?

I have a feeling of affinity for and with improvisors, whether it be hot jazz or comedy/drama. During my California wanderings I became friendly and conversant with members of [famed seminal ‘60s improv troupe] The Committee, and, later, of course, I watched some performances by Second City. My first show with BLT was quite enjoyable and in fact I wanted to return and bring Garry Goodrow to the stage. Garry, who was in the audience that night, is a Committee veteran and an old friend of mine. I saw him playing “The Connection,” Off-Broadway, long ago. This time I am bringing another Committee veteran with me (Bruce Mackey), to reunite with his colleague, Garry and to enjoy the performance on July 26th.

What do you love most about making music?

Moving the listener to some emotion or other.

Everyone lies, but what is something  you always tell the truth about?

My age.

When did the truth get you in trouble?

Never. I lie.

Who do you love?

My wife and daughter and family and other musicians and – huh? – pretty much – the human race.

Many people know you as the voice and pen behind Schoolhouse Rock!. How do you feel about that distinction, given you have lots of other songs as well?

I am very proud of my success in reaching so many young people, through the power of television and the value of those songs, and yet I have felt some slighting of my other songs. However, that seems to be changing lately; sometimes one must simply wait.

Catch Bob and the rest of BLT live on stage this Thursday at 8pm at the PIT. 

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Kaitllin Fontana is a Beauty Love Truther who is also the author of “Fresh at Twenty: The Oral History of Mint Records,” out now on ECW Press.