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.

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