Bob Moss
                                                                           1953 - 2011

Bob Moss, the walking man, myth, legend, banjo prodigy, esoteric gardener, midnight yoddler, peacefully left this plane of existence on December 10, 2011, during a total lunar eclipse, the last we’ll see for three years. His abrupt departure brings into grim relief the dull fact that it’s oh so easy to fully and deeply appreciate people once they’re gone. Not that we didn’t appreciate Bob Moss while he was among us. Not that we don’t all brag if we’re lucky enough to have a handwritten letter from him or possess one of his limited edition cds...

A musician and artist of the folk persuasion, Moss was one of the most prolific artists of these latter days working in any medium.  An established cult figure and urban troubadour around Salt Lake City, Moss was perhaps best known for his non-ironic, heartfelt, and down right beautiful banjo, guitar, and vocal renditions of songs by artists like Elvis, Sinatra, Burt Bacharack, The 5th Dimension, Merle Haggard, Cole Porter, and Buffy St. Marie, to name a few. He also wrote and recorded his own ballads, dirges, and shanties. Bob Moss was freak folk before there was freak folk.

As if this were not enough, his vibrant artwork also found it’s way into galleries, coffee shops, bars, and private collections. He worked in many mediums including pottery, collage, egg tempura on gourds (he was a member of the American Gourd Association), wood, and leather. One unifying factor in all of his work is his use of the Deseret Alphabet, an early Mormon alphabet that was never fully adopted by the faithful despite church leaders’ best efforts.

In the 80s and 90s, Bob played in bands around Salt Lake like the Clocks and Nightmare in Wax. In 1994, he released a CD, Bob Moss and the Western Men’s Tragic Tales From the West. Several more releases followed. Reviews were good, but sales were low. He did succeed in bringing his work to an audience outside the state, however. Charles Schneider, a Hollywood screenwriter, discovered a copy of Tragic Tales From the West at a shop on Melrose Place in LA and ended up producing Moss’ next album. Additional albums followed, many of which, not surprisingly, are considered highly collectible and are now being sold for a pretty penny on Amazon and ebay.

In 2007, he told the City Weekly, “Oh, I desperately want to be famous. Not necessarily really famous, just famous enough that I can play around. I don’t expect to make lots of money. Where other people dream of millions, I tell my friends I dream of 50 bucks... Late at night, I see little $50 bills with wings. So, I do have dreams of glory, but they’re of minor glory.”

An urban cliff dweller, Bob made his home in a series of tiny spaces throughout the Wasatch Front. While his lifelong dedication to his art never enriched him, he was an advocate for the homeless, an unobtrusive advocate who did what he could when he could, but quietly and without calling attention to himself for doing it.

He grew up in Bountiful, Utah where his mother encouraged him to start playing the banjo when he was a boy. How it happened was there was an old banjo hanging around the house. Bob was antsy and his mother thought picking up an instrument would make him sit still. It did. He must have been quite the kid. Legend has it that in grade school, Bob would coat his hands with a thick layer of coarse pink powdered soap, holding them aloft to let them dry before eventually rinsing them and repeating the process. Finally, his buddy Kent Maxwell asked him what he was doing and he replied that his grandpa had these really great gnarled old hands and he wanted his to look just like that.

Another story I personally heard repeated was about how Bob, as a senior at Bountiful High School in the early seventies, took up the cause when Kent Maxwell was expelled for having long hair. Despite the era, this was not your typical example of peaceful resistance. Moss and his gang of thugs, which included my dad, stood at the entrance of the school and threatened to beat up anyone who didn’t stand behind them in petitioning the school to rewrite the dress code. My mom recalls, “He dressed sort of like a cowboy, sort of like a lumberjack, but with this big nerdy glasses, and he was skinny. I mean, this guy was outside of even the chess club. He read Alistair Crowley and of course, played the banjo.” Despite all this, or probably because of it, everyone rallied behind the cause. The school wide revolt resulted in the rewriting of the school constitution, allowing girls to wear pants and boys to grow their locks.

After graduation, Bob taught my dad how to play the banjo while they were living in an apartment together on Bueno Avenue in Salt Lake City. Later, after I was born and living with my dad in Bountiful, Bob would sometimes show up unannounced to hang out with my dad. It didn’t happen very often and when it did, it always felt like a special occasion. Bob wasn’t the kind of person who could always be reached by phone or other means of communication. His visits were more like visitations. They’d pull out the guitars and banjos and I’d bring them beers and sing in a way I’m sure was annoying though they never said anything. These are some happy memories. Whenever Bob stopped by it was sure to be a late night during which nobody would dream of trying to make me go to bed. It was fun listening to Bob talk. It was the way he talked, like some mystical beatnik steamboat captain, but it was also what he talked about. His was a vast knowledge of matters both practical and arcane. 

My mom tells another of my favorite Bob Moss stories: “Bob invited me and a girlfriend up to Wyoming to see this old abandoned bordello called the Alberta that his family, for some reason, had purchased. There was no furniture and it was very cold. We built a fire in a garbage can in the lobby and heated up cans of soup which tasted delicious because we were so cold. When it was time for bed, Bob showed us to our room. It had an ancient bed with a bare striped mattress that looked ... original. We slept with all our clothes on and tried not to touch anything. In the morning, Bob serenaded us with his banjo. I want to be your handy man, he sang. It was very sweet.”

                                                                                                                                          - (Andrea) Reiser Perkins

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