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From dropout to successful songwriter

Bobby and Helen Fischer. Phil Roberts photo.

Bobby Fischer chats with John Wayne. Contributed photo.

Bobby Fischer and Eddy Arnold. Contributed photo.

Bobby Fischer. That name may not be familiar to you. But some of the country songs he’s written or co-written just might be.

Some of the Wilton native’s better known tunes include “You Lie” recorded by Reba McEntire; “Writing on the Wall,” by George Jones; “What in Her World Did I Do,” by Eddy Arnold; and “Goodbye Says it All,” by Blackhawk.

Other artists who have recorded Fischer’s songs are a who’s who of country music: Moe Bandy, Charlie McClain, Mickey Gilley, Mindy McCready, Jeanne Pruett, Tanya Tucker, Roy Clark, Charlie Pride, Vern Gosdin, Conway Twitty, Lee Greenwood, John Conlee, Johnny Paycheck, Ray Price, Faron Young, Joe Stampley and others.

Fischer, who lives in Nashville, will be back in the area the weekend of April 24 and 25 for a family reunion. On April 26, he will be a guest at the Mississippi Valley Country and Western Music Association’s 50th anniversary celebration in East Moline. He is a lifetime member of the group.

Fischer’s life and his road to Nashville have the makings of a country song themselves.

He was the youngest of five children, all born two years apart, to Walter and Vivian Fischer of Wilton. They are both deceased.

Bobby Fischer’s siblings are Marjorie “Dolly” Neipert, who lives in Wilton with her husband, Don; Dick, of Coralville; Lois Ludtke, of Davenport; and Pat Maule, of Aledo, Ill.

Fischer was just 2, he says, when his father died in an accident in the Stockton or Walcott area. He was killed when the rendering truck he was driving slipped off the road and rolled in a ditch.

Fischer, who will be 75 in August, says he was 15 when he started learning to play the guitar and writing song lyrics. He may have inherited his love of music. His father had played piano in saloons, and his mother came from a family of musicians.

“I never got that great on the guitar,” says Fischer. “I learned three or four chords that were basic to play country songs.”

He wrote his lyrics to go with other people’s melodies until he discovered, quite by accident, that he could write his own tunes.

Fischer was looking for his sister Pat at her friend’s house when he saw the friend’s brother playing notes on a piano, then pausing to write them on paper.

“I’d never seen that before, and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m writing a song.’” That’s when Bobby Fischer learned that someone could write his own songs.

Fischer left high school at age 16.

“I was just a crazy kid,” he says. “I was wanting to get out into the workforce, and I actually got tossed out of school.”

He says he and a buddy, Dean Sawvell, left school one day but expected to return later. “But they (the school officials) didn’t want us coming back in.”

Fischer believes Sawvell eventually was readmitted but dropped out prior to graduating. Fischer never went back.

“To me, I was thinking, ‘Boy, I’ve got to get into that workforce.’” And he did just that. He went over to Durant and took a foundry job that involved a lot of lifting.

“I thought, ‘Why in the world did I want to be in the workforce?’”

(Years later, after becoming a successful songwriter, Fischer was surprised to receive an honorary high school diploma while serving as grand marshal at a Wilton Founders Day parade. He said he was so overcome with emotion he could not speak. The diploma hangs proudly with his music awards.)

After his foundry job, Fischer subsequently worked other labor jobs at places like Pioneer Seed Corn in Durant; the Heinz plant and Huttig Building Products, both in Muscatine; Economy Lumber in Wilton; and Oscar Mayer in Davenport. He didn’t stick with them long.

“I had 12 different jobs one year,” Fischer says. But he admits, “I didn’t want any job, really.”

Fischer says he was still 16 when he went to work at International Harvester in East Moline but left at age 19 to join the Navy. He was honorably discharged in 1958 after four years and returned to I.H. He had married Helen Ryan of East Moline in 1960.

The Fischers had a son, Robbi, in March of 1962. He’s a youth pastor at a church in North Carolina. A daughter, Lori, was born in March 1964. She’s a New York singer, actress and playwright.

In the years after his return from the service, Fisher worked at I.H. by day and wrote songs and sang and played country music at pubs evenings and weekends.

He sang with the Rainbow Rangers from Atalissa and had bands of his own, including Bobby Fischer and the Tunesharks.

He also found financial backing and, with the help of fellow singer and former area deejay Jack Barlow, on three occasions he went to Nashville and recorded songs he’d written.

Fischer had 17 1/2 years seniority when he left I.H. in 1970 to move to Nashville to try to make it as a full-time songwriter. It was a risky move. But his wife, who was working at Servus Rubber in Rock Island at the time, told him to follow his dream and she’d stay behind with the children.

Fischer says, “She stayed working, and she told me, ‘Go ahead and try it.’ I just can’t believe she did that.”

Helen Fischer stayed at her job two more years.

“She made enough to pay the bills, and our bills were not that much,” Fischer says.

Then she and the children joined Fischer in Nashville, and she took a job at a department store. Later she went to nurse’s training and now is retired from that career.

Bobby Fischer says his first two years in Nashville were tough. He did odd jobs, worked for a publishing company and, when he qualified, collected unemployment, all the while writing songs when time permitted.

“I just had a cheap little apartment,” he says.

Fischer says he achieved some success while writing for Tommy Overstreet’s company, Terrace Music. He eventually left and formed his own company, doing record promotion. He’d call radio stations and try to get them to play his clients’ records.

“I got pretty good at that,” he says. “I had quite a few different accounts.”

Fischer also formed his own record label. If a recording artist had recorded a song and didn’t have a label, “we’d put it out on our label for them.”

Fischer still remembers his first big writing success. “My first hit was in 1972 when I wrote ‘Love Isn’t Love Til You Give It Away’. It was recorded by Bobby Lee Trammell. It went Top 20 in Billboard magazine.”

Fischer estimates he has written 2,000 songs over the years.

“I’ve had about 700 cuts now,” he says. “Some songs have been cut eight to 10 times (by various artists).”

Fischer can write both the lyrics and music. Many of the songs are co-written, and he says whoever has the best of either one is what they use.

“For a long time I had about 30 writers that I could call and line up — maybe write in the morning with one and in the afternoon with another,” Fischer says.

He says he used to start writing 52 songs a year, hoping to finish about 30 of them.

“You have to write a lot to try to get something to pop out,” he says.

These days Fischer is semi-retired, and he has only written eight to 10 songs this year. He’s not doing as many, he says, “because sometimes you’re just writing to be writing. What I’ve been trying to do is write with somebody who has a record deal or they’re a producer. If you just write with other writers, they’ve got the same problem you have — getting somebody to listen.”

Where do his ideas come from? Anywhere and everywhere, Fischer says. He says his “Hit the Ground Runnin’ (When Your Heart Gets Hurt)” by John Conlee is a good example.

He and his wife were leaving a Cracker Barrel restaurant one morning after breakfast when he saw a newspaper in a rack with a story on its cover about a team that had lost a game but had “hit the ground running.”

He used that in a song he wrote in less than an hour. In addition to Conlee’s recording of it, you made have heard that tune and these revised lyrics on a TV commercial a while back: “Hit the ground runnin’ in your new Ford truck.”

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article was submitted to the Wilton-Durant (Iowa) Advocate News.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Bentonsport, Iowa, B&B offers ghostly fun

The haunted Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Iowa. Photo by Phil Roberts

The haunted Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Iowa. Photo by Phil Roberts

Chuck and Joy Hanson say their ghosts are happy residents who cause no harm. Photo by Phil Roberts

Chuck and Joy Hanson say their ghosts are happy residents who cause no harm. Photo by Phil Roberts

An old bridge across the Des Moines River connects small Bentonsport, Iowa, with smaller Vernon, Iowa. The Mason House Inn can be seen in the background. Photo by Phil Roberts

An old bridge across the Des Moines River connects small Bentonsport, Iowa, with smaller Vernon, Iowa. The Mason House Inn can be seen in the background. Photo by Phil Roberts

Sherry was lying in the bed on her side when she felt a hand on her hip. When she turned to look, no one was there, and I was across the room.

Shortly before 11 p.m. that night, we were awakened by a tapping on our headboard. We know no one was in the room at the time because we had been sleeping with a light on.

Sherry, my wife, and I were spending a night at the Mason House Inn Bed & Breakfast in Bentonsport, Iowa. The town’s population is 35, not including the ghosts.

Joy Hanson said the B&B is haunted, but not in a scary way. Hanson and husband Chuck bought the inn in 2001 after he retired from the Air Force.

On the B&B’s Web site — http://www.masonhouse.com — Joy Hanson wrote that three of the spirits are former owners or proprietors who loved the old hotel and don’t want to leave.

“Two are Civil War soldiers who died here when the building was a hospital. Some died here when it was a TB hospital in the early 1900s,” she wrote.

She said some of the other ghosts are adults and children who died at the inn, which once was a boarding house where a doctor lived. The doctor used to take patients there because there was no other place in town to take them. There also was a murder at the inn.

Bentonsport is 150 miles from the Quad-Cities. It sits along the Des Moines River, just a dozen miles from the Missouri border.

The inn, built in 1846, has been a hotel that served steamboat travelers, a holding hospital for wounded Civil War soldiers, a station on the Underground Railroad and a bed and breakfast.

Joy Hanson said the previous owners told them they often saw the ghost of former owner Mary Mason Clark.

Once the Hansons moved in, other spirits appeared. “I started seeing an old man in a black suit with a white beard,” Joy Hanson said. “I”d see him over my shoulder as I was cleaning rooms. When I turned and looked, there was nothing there.”

The Hanson’s two daughters, who were teens at the time, talked of hearing footsteps and having their clothes pulled, but nobody was there.

Joy Hanson said a younger daughter, Jinni, began “having tea parties with some invisible playmate named Amanda.”

Guests also reported seeing people in their room who would just disappear. They heard running in the hall or doors opening and closing all night, although “they were the only people up there,” she said.

The Hansons kept quiet about their ghosts for fear of losing business. But after a school group toured the inn and the teacher took a group picture that suddenly included “one more kid in there than she had in her class,” the hauntings went public in 2004.

Chris Moon, a Denver ghost hunter and president and senior editor of Haunted Times Magazine, often has investigated the inn and given the Hansons more information on their ghosts. He also holds periodic ghost-hunting classes there. The next one will be in November.

Two ghosts the Hansons are familiar with are Harold, a Civil War Union soldier, and Markie, a Confederate soldier. Harold claims guest room 6, and Markie died in room 6.

The Hansons said Harold knows Morse Code and often taps on the wall of room 6.

Joy Hanson said the spirits go about their business as if they were alive — opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, walking around. The ghost children jump on the beds, play with things and knock on the doors as a prank.

Unexplained orbs sometimes show up in guest photos.

Chuck Hanson said a lot of guests don’t know the Mason House Inn is haunted, and they don’t mention it.

“We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of policy,” Joy Hanson said.

However, many people stay at the inn because it is haunted, she said, adding that about 75 percent of the people looking for an “experience” will get one.

She did say that some folks check out early.

###

If you go:

Guest rooms: Eight plus a railroad caboose cottage.

Rates: $59 and up plus tax.

Contact information: The Mason House Inn, 21982 Hawk Drive, Bentonsport, IA 52565. Phone: (319) 592-3133. Reservations: (800) 800-592-3133. E-mail: Stay@MasonHouseInn.com.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appeared in The Dispatch, Moline, Ill., and The Rock Island (Ill.) Argus.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Thousands rock at Woodstock; two say “I do” in Iowa

 

This was taken at Sherry's parents' house during our reception.

This was taken at Sherry's parents' house during our reception.

For some it was Woodstock. For us it was Lake Okoboji.

The year was 1969. During the summer, some 400,000 young people headed to a dairy farm southwest of Woodstock, N.Y.

There, from Aug. 15 to 18, they’d watch 32 acts perform an outdoor concert on a rainy weekend.

Sherry Hirl and I had other plans. Our wedding rehearsal was Aug. 15. We were married the next afternoon in Davenport. Then, after a reception at the church and another at her parents’ farm that night, we headed toward a cabin at Vacation Village on Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa for a short honeymoon.

So while thousands of people recently celebrated Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, we quietly celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.

We married at age 20, young by today’s standards. Sherry had a year of college left, and I had two years to go. For income, we each had a part-time job.

Some folks, including my parents, suggested we wait until we were out of school, and I’m sure Sherry would have been willing to wait had I asked. But I saw no need for that. I had decided she was the one for me. Besides, I figured if we waited she just might run across someone better to marry.

Admittedly, the first few years of our life together were difficult. There was lots of love but very little money. But we were determined to make it.

We had one lucky break. The rent for our apartment in a working class east Davenport neighborhood was only $70 a month, and the landlord said he’d knock $25 a month off of that if I would agree to mow the grass at the complex during the summer and shovel the walks there during the winter. Of course, I did.

As is the case with all relationships, and life in general, there have been lots of good times and a few bad times over our four decades together. We’ve shared laughs together during the good times, and we’ve leaned on each other for support during the bad times.

There have been scores of adventures, too, many of them unplanned.

I think I’ve noted before that Sherry bought a sign at a craft fair a few years ago. It hangs in our kitchen and reads, “We have been through a lot together, and most of it was your fault.”

It’s true. We have been through a lot together. But I’ll argue that I’m not to blame for every negative incident that has taken place. Perhaps many of them were, in fact, my fault. But that guy Murphy, for whom Murphy’s Law was named, had a hand in some of them.

On the plus side, Sherry and I produced four successful, grown children, two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, six grandchildren and another on the way. We also have tons of great memories.

I’m sure Woodstock was a positive experience for most of those who attended, but so have been the last 40 years for us.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s been a super summer of trips and visits

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Sherry and Sandy enjoy a treat at the historic Candy Kitchen in Wilton, Iowa. Phil Roberts photo.

Jini, Dan and I are shown at the "Field of Dreams" movie site in outside Dyersville, Iowa.

Jini, Dan and I are shown at the "Field of Dreams" movie site outside Dyersville, Iowa. Sherry Roberts photo.

It’s been a great summer of short trips and visits from family and friends, and it’s not over yet.

Helping make July extra enjoyable for us were, for instance, visits to our home from friends Sandy, who lives in the Atlanta area, and Dan and Jini, who live in a Salt Lake City suburb.

Sherry and I were friends with Sandy and her husband Glen when we were dating and they were young marrieds just starting their family.

Glen was the assistant manager at the grocery store where Sherry and I met in 1966 and worked and began dating. Glen and Sandy left the area in 1972 and we had only seen them once since then, when they lived in Prophetstown, Ill. I think it was in the late ’70s.

Wondering where they were and what they were doing, I decided to track them down on the Internet. I was saddened to learn that Glen had died of cancer in 2000 while they were living in Texas. But I found Sandy alive and well, and we were thrilled to have her stay with us a couple of days this month while she was visiting family members in the area.

It was good catching up on three decades of goings-on, and we enjoyed taking her on a tour of the Quad-Cities to show her how much it has changed since she moved away.

Dan, a Des Moines native, has been a friend since the late ’90s when I interviewed him for a newspaper column about his late father, a writer that I admired when I was a teen reader.

It turned out Dan and I had a lot in common and were fairly close in age. We began communicating by e-mail and became good friends.

His soul mate, Jini, is now our friend, as well. They have worked us into their schedule during their annual visits to Iowa the last several years, and we always have a good time, whether we’re taking a day trip together, watching a movie, shopping in an antique store or having a beer on our front porch.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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