It’s a sad time for the roots music community in Arkansas and beyond after multi-instrumentalist and music guru “Smilin'” Bob Lewis of the Ben Miller Band, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, and other projects passed away Friday evening, July 19th after suffering from Stage 4 Cancer. “It’s a sad day. Today we lost a band mate, a friend and a hero,” the Ben Miller Band said on Saturday. “Bob Lewis passed away last night, and the world will never be the same without him. Rest in peace Bob, we love you.”
Born James Robert Lewis, Smilin’ Bob was originally from Paris, Arkansas, and graduated from Paris High School, studying later at the Westark Community College in Ft. Smith. He was a Vietnam veteran, who also worked for the railroad and was a karate instructor, but was best known for playing music in a host of Arkansas-based outlets. With performer Rachel Ammons, he formed the duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken, and then in 2016 when The Ben Miller Band was retooling, the duo came in as full-time members of the gut bucket/string band/deep blues project with a punk bite. As the wily music veteran in the band, Smilin’ Bob brought legitimacy to the projects he worked with, along with being a revered guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, and a historian of American roots music.
“Bob is…he’s a living link to roots of the music that we all love. He’s got this amazing encyclopedic knowledge of all the great music and musicians from the Mississippi area,” Ben Miller said when Smilin’ Bob was brought into the band. Smilin’ Bob was and integral part of the Ben Miller Band sound when they released their latest record Choke Cherry Tree via New West Records in 2018.
Smilin’ Bob had been diagnosed with Cancer earlier this year, with Cancer found in his liver, lungs, and lymph nodes. A Go Fund Me account was set up to help with expenses. On June 9th, a benefit was held at the Smoke & Barrel Tavern in Fayetteville, Arkansas on his behalf.
“Smilin’ Bob is an Arkansas Music Legend,” Rachel Ammons said in her introduction for the Go Fund Me campaign. “He can play anything in any key on any stringed instrument in any tuning by ear. He is a history buff. When we drive through the country he’ll point to certain hills or valleys and tell about the battles or migrations that happened there. He’s better than Google for just about anything.”
Smilin’ Bob was also a member of the Memphis Songwriters Association, and had received a Music Legend Award from the Riverfront Blues Society in June.
A visitation for Smilin’ Bob Lewis will be held Tuesday evening (7-23) at Brotherton Brother’s Funeral Home in Charleston, AR. The funeral will be held on Wednesday (7-24) at Brotherton Brother’s Funeral Home. He will be laid to rest at the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Charleston.