Steel Guitar Player & Online Advocate Bobby Lee [b0b] Has Died
Maybe you have heard the name before, or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you remember him from his online handle “b0b”. But whether he was behind the most beautiful and confounding musical contraption known to man, or behind a screen helping to promote that contraption to a vibrant community of like-minded players, fans, and artists, Bobby Lee played a crucial role in keeping the sound of the pedal steel guitar alive for over half a century.
Born Robert Paul Lee in August of 1949, he was inspired to learn the steel guitar by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, and Don Helms who played steel guitar behind Hank Williams. This speaks to how Bobby Lee showed no discrimination toward who was playing steel guitar and in what form of music. Though it’s most commonly associated with country music, promoting the steel guitar was first and foremost.
First learning the instrument in 1972, Bobby Lee started playing steel guitar in bands in and around the San Francisco area in 1975. Some of the bands, artists, and outfits that Bobby Lee was associated with over the years included The Cowpokes, The Western Rhythm Gang, The Wheelers, Scott Gerber & Cowboy Country, The Stringbusters, Wanted, The Country All-Stars, John Reese & Open Hearts, Laughing Gravy, The Rhythm Rangers, Manzanita Moon, and finally Wine Country Swing.
But it was Bobby Lee’s proximity to Silicon Valley that would ultimately facilitate one of his greatest contributions to the instrument, and it had nothing to do with playing it live in front of people. Even before the advent of what we consider the “Internet” today, Bobby Lee was using computers to connect with other steel guitar players, and to connect other steel guitar players with each other.
Since the population of competent steel guitar players is not especially robust due to the complex nature of the instrument—and that population has always been an endangered species due to the instrument at times falling out of favor in some popular country circles as a fuddy-duddy relic of the past—finding a way for steel guitar players and enthusiasts to connect with each other was vitally important to keeping the instrument viable in the present tense.
Bobby Lee started his first computer-based Bulletin Board System or “BBS” for steel guitar players all the way back in 1983. He managed his own BBS system called The Nite Owl Motel, which later would network with Prodigy as the early incarnations of the Internet were beginning to form. In 1997, he started The Steel Guitar Forum, which is not only still in operation today, it remains a robust community for steel guitar players, and general enthusiasts for guitar playing and traditional country with 23,000 registered users.
Saving Country Music has commonly used the vast archives of The Steel Guitar Forum for research, as has the forum linked back to SCM articles, especially obituaries and other notable events not covered by the rest of music media. Where the journalism community of country music may not mark the death of an important steel guitarist or side player, often The Steel Guitar Forum does.
Bobby Lee recorded and produced an album of his steel guitar music called Quasar Steel Guitar in 1995 that can be found on Bandcamp. He also recorded an album called The Demo in his duo Wine Country Swing with Hugh Harris in 2015. Lee officially retired from performing in 2019.
According to The Steel Guitar Forum, Bobby Lee passed away at his home in Cloverdale, California on the morning of March 7th. Along with announcing his death, the family said in a statement, “The Steel Guitar Forum will live on for as long as the technology allows and will continue to be managed by Bob’s family to ensure his Legacy is honored.”
In true country music, we all do what we can to keep the legacy of the music, the artists, and the players alive. Bobby Lee did more than most. Just like the sound of the steel guitar in country music, the legacy of Bobby “b0b” Lee will endure.
March 8, 2023 @ 7:29 pm
This hurts. I have been a member of the forum for a few years. Man, this really hurts. Thanks for the recognition Trigger.
March 8, 2023 @ 8:21 pm
In 1999 I was given the non guitar topics area which. I kept thru 2007. The Steel Guitar folks are one of my extended families and I’m proud to have them in my programing at Bus of Real Country.
March 9, 2023 @ 5:02 am
That forum is an encyclopedia of knowledge and stories. Paul Franklin and Buddy Emmons regularly responded on it.
March 9, 2023 @ 5:19 am
Thanks Trigger for posting the obit on Bobby Lee, he was a monumental person, I have been a Forum Menber since its inception and have greatly benefitted from the info from players and pros from arounmd the globe, and have made many friendships with my involvement.
b0b worked tirelessly and thank God his family has vowed to contune.
RIP Mr. Lee, life well lived!
March 9, 2023 @ 7:15 am
i’ve been a member of the forum for a bit now, and although i never had any direct contact with b0b, it’s clear that his impact on pedal steel is immense. the trove of steel knowledge that is now available to novices and veterans alike through the forum is truly incredible and immeasurable.
March 9, 2023 @ 7:59 am
Thank you for this, Trig. b0b was a champion of our instrument and asked for nothing in return, it was all out of love for steel guitars. Been a forum member for years and have learned so much and made so many friends because of the forum. Thank you b0b! RIP.
Steven Hicken Jr.
March 9, 2023 @ 11:35 am
When the news came out yesterday I was saddened to hear it. Not only was he a great guy online, his forum has been invaluable to me and many steel players around the world.
March 9, 2023 @ 4:12 pm
Met Bobby at a gig he had in Mendocino ’bout 20 yrs ago…had a chance to thank him for creating a special club for us…we’ve been truly blessed….
Dennis C. Lee
March 11, 2023 @ 11:13 am
In the early 70’s I was the drummer for the Wheeler Brothers Country Band, later shortened to The Wheelers (only the harmonica player was named Wheeler). I remember doing only three paid gigs, but it was an exciting time. I’d followed my big brother out to SF from Pennsylvania. The bands big influences were The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Bob had bought a lap steel and had a street band called the ROYAL PLUNGERS that played to tourists in North Beach and Chinatown. Bob had started communicating with other steel players even then. Meanwhile, I started a rockabilly/punk band called The Living Daylights. Bob added a signature riff to ‘The Ballad Of Vincent Van Gogh’ to our 7″ single. He was the greatest big brother since Orville Wright and an extraordinary musician. Humbly, he would often say he wasn’t that good and rattle off a dozen names of steel players he felt were better. I may be biased, but when I heard him, I always thought he was the best.
March 11, 2023 @ 12:48 pm
b0b will be missed by me. I was fortunate to play many gigs with b0b in the 1980s and ’90s. Yes I always considered him the best Dennis. There may have been better but I didn’t meet them so b0b was number one to me.
He originally hired me as the bass player for the Western rhythm gang back in 1983 I believe. We practiced at his house in the living room and we had a glorious time. I was never much of a bass player but I also got to play with him in the wheelers band. from about 84 to 90. I never saw b0b get upset he just laughed his horse laugh on stage at the mistakes and at the Great moments to he was an incredible musician and I will miss him.
March 12, 2023 @ 5:57 pm
b0b was truly a great musician. Maybe a bit (or a lot) overly modest. Always
playing the right thing at the right time, always listening to the other
musicians. Never a wrong note except for that one clam he loved to do in “Steel
Guitar Rag”. I’m also a former member of the Western Rhythm Gang (hello Tim O, glorious times indeed!).
I’ve been reading the posts on the Steel Guitar Forum and I’m awed by the posts
from steel players around the world who have benefited from his
generous sharing of time, talent, and wisdom. He will be sorely missed.
March 19, 2023 @ 8:04 am
My dad, b0b, told me a story about his first Pedal Steel Guitar he purchased. The design was so weird and almost unusable. The instrument was somehow attached to the carrying case and when set up, it would sit inside the open case making it awkward to use the pedals and knee levers. One would need very short legs and very small feet to make it work. He went on to tell me that he took that wonky steel on one of his cross county hitch hiking trips back to Pennsylvania. He ended up leaving pieces of it behind at each stop. He wanted to save future Steel players the pain of buying such a “poorly designed piece of crap!”
Thanks to all for sharing your stories and memories of my dad. He was loved and admired by so many and will be greatly missed.
I ❤️ Bobby Lee, aka b0b.
I ❤️ Steel Guitar.