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.