Music in the Family Series Part VII – Bob Landry’s Life of Music
Surely you couldn’t think that I had finished my series of Music in the Family without shining the spotlight on my dad? His whole life was practically about music. His career, his hobbies, and interests were mostly centered around music. It was the only “other woman” that my mom had to worry about! It took more time away from her than she liked at times.
My dad was involved in choral music, band music, and barbershop singing. If anybody was interested in music and had a question or needed help, Bob Landry was willing to help. It didn’t matter about your heritage, race, sex, or social status, he gave his time freely, which sometimes bothered my mom. At times she struggled to makes ends meet on the salary of a band teacher and some of those people he was helping could afford to be paying for private lessons! But my dad couldn’t be bothered. Music was the important thing!
I just came across this article from around August of 1963 when I was looking for photos for this post. I didn’t even know it existed, but it has a lot of information in it that I was wanting to know. It tells about the history of my dad’s musical experiences just prior to beginning work in the band and choral programs in Jefferson Davis Parish. He taught for two years in Elton and then moved on to Jennings at Northside Junior High School where he would make his mark on so many people in Jennings through the years.
The article indicates that Daddy began learning band instruments his freshman year at Landry Memorial High School in Lake Charles under the direction of Eddie See. This was around 1942 and the two of them would have a long history together. (Such as creating the McNeese fight song “Jolie Blon”) During high school my dad learned many various instruments and even taught other students during his senior year.
After high school he went to McNeese and was in the band there. This is a photo of the McNeese band in 1947. Bob – or Pluto as he was known by many back then – can be seen on the far right of the photo with a baritone.
I know that about this same time is when my dad began to get involved with barbershop singing. He was a member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America or SPEBSQSA for short. Growing up in the Landry household meant that you knew these letters and what they stood for!
Daddy’s college career included stints at Lafayette and Baton Rouge. It was in Baton Rouge that he met my mom when she visited the campus for a solo and ensemble festival in 1950. He returned to McNeese when it became a four year school and my mom started college that same year. My dad was the first student at McNeese to play a senior recital in 1951. This photo is a photo I scanned from the McNeese yearbook that shows the band performing in the auditorium. You can see mom and dad in the upper left part of the photo. Who would have guessed that they’d be making music together for 65 more years after that?
Daddy was in the first graduating class from McNeese in 1952 and then went on to join the Air Force. While there, he was in the Air Force band. Shortly after that he and my mom were married and started a family. Jodie was born in California and Rob was born in Albuquerque while he was in the Air Force. They moved back to Lake Charles where Karen, Al, Van (me), and Jamie were born. Daddy continued his educational pursuits and earned his Master’s Degree from LSU in 1962
As I said earlier, he began teaching at Northside in 1965. I have so many memories from those early years of the band program. He had the summer band program in the old Northside gym. It was before there was air conditioning in the building, so it could get rather warm in there with all those little bodies running around and singing with their warm little breaths! They had classrooms on the side of the gym and we would meet in there to sing and play as the big fan in front of the classroom would swing back and forth. We young kids would play the ukulele and the older ones would graduate to guitar and bass. And oh the songs we’d sing: This Land is Your Land, Five Foot Two, Down in the Valley, Red Sails in the Sunset, The Ballad of the Green Beret, Cuando Calienta el Sol, Mobile, and many many more. (One of those songs was Swinging Shepherd Blues with my sister Jodie and her friend Stella Duvall playing a flute duet.)
During this time Daddy was also continuing his involvement with barbershop. He would always have a barbershop quartet, plus he would work with the chorus in Lafayette or Jennings. This photo is from around 1968 and includes Bob Landry, Oran Richard, Steve Coco, and Nathan Avant. This group was called the Crawdads, and there were the BoBobAlNicks, the Pride of the Marsh, and many other quartets. I should remember more and will recognize many of them that people mention to me from time to time. And some of the people in the quartets should be mentioned: Al Cassidy, Rusty Cassidy, John McBurney, Bobby Henry, Nick Pizzolatto, Steven Comeaux, George Smith, Doc McGregor, and again many more that I should remember!
One of the big events at Northside over the years was the instrument drive in the new band room (with air conditioning!) with the help of Swicegood’s Music and Orville Kelly. Bright, young students with an interest in band would show up to see where they might fit into this celebrated band program in Jennings. Daddy would assess the interest of the kids and see what instrument might be the best fit for the individual. Some people just didn’t have the right embouchure for certain instruments. I remember that he also gave a music aptitude test to the students at some point. I will now admit that I was always jealous of the fact that Damon Cormier made a 100 on that test and I didn’t. Let’s not speak of this ever again.
The other yearly event for the Northside band was the band party that was held at our house on Lucy Street. All the kids would come over to our house and wreak havoc. Thank goodness there was a large empty lot across the street for playing games like horseshoes and such in addition to the basketball goal we had in our driveway. My mom would always provide the refreshments for the party. My absolute favorite memory of those refreshments was when we made some special sugar cookies. We shaped them like snakes, put cross hatches on the bodies to look like scales, and gave them eyes made out of red hots! They were a big hit. I especially enjoyed the parties when I was younger because I got to hang out with the big kids likes Celia Joe Black.
Then the mid 70s came around and there was lots of playing music for dances and such. Not any of that “rock and roll trash” that was saturating the airways, but good music. Needless to say, my dad was not a fan of rock and roll. I remember even earlier when the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show and my dad had me turn down the volume on the TV so we would not have to listen to them. (Yes, I was the remote for the TV at the time. I’m that old!)
Daddy played many different instruments and with many different people (Such as the Moodmasters shown in the above photo. Bob Landry on bass.) But then there came a great thought – let’s have a family band. And with that the Landry Family Band came into being. And of course our most recognizable gig was the five years we played at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Lake Charles. Yes, you may remember us from the Food Fest at the Contraband Days or at the many receptions that we played, but we will be forever linked to pizzas (like the Bill’s special or Hawaiian Delight) and those famous spuds. The glory never fades! This photo is from Shakey’s. Some of you may remember the infamous “Dueling Jugs” played by Bob and Jamie Landry. Different instruments for sure!
Daddy retired from teaching in the mid 80s but continued to incorporate music in all aspects of his life. He and mom sang at church, at ‘old folks homes’, and for many years they danced ’round dances’ to their favorite styles of music. They also passed some of that musical knowledge on to their grandchildren. When the family took a train to Chicago in 1996 for my brother Al’s wedding, we had a little time to wait at the station for the train to arrive. We didn’t waste time doing nothing while we waited, we took out our song books and instruments and sang a few tunes! Isn’t that what everyone does? The picture is proof!
Even into their golden years they were singing and playing everywhere they went. During their last years in Jennings, they had a ukulele group that played at churches and nursing homes. For many years they played at the War Vets home the first Wednesday of the month. When they moved into Brookdale in August of 2015, one of the first things they did was go to the piano and play a few songs for their new neighbors. As you can see, their love for music was a bright spot in people’s lives. They continued sharing this as long as they could.
When my parents died in January of this year, my siblings and I decided to put together a fund that would help people to act on their interest in music. It’s called the Bob Landry Life of Music Award and it will purchase band instruments for the school in Jennings where he taught. The first purchase will be a flute, a trumpet, a clarinet, another trumpet, a trombone, and another flute – the instruments that the Landry kids played. If you would like to contribute to this memorial fund, monies can be sent to the Jeff Davis Bank, P. O. Box 820, Jennings, LA 70546.
Or you could just think of him from time to time when you are enjoying your favorite song.