Robert Ellsworth Pollard Jr, born October 31, 1957 in Northridge, a suburb of Dayton, OH, founder and frontman of the indie rock stalwarts Guided by Voices. Known simply as Bob or Uncle Bob to his thousands of fans around the world, Pollard has been reknowned as one of the most original and prolific musical artists to emerge during the early 90's underground music boom.
Pollard's fascination with music began in the 60's, during the first British Invasion. Already a fan of the Beatles, his father subscribed him to the Columbia House Records Club, from which Pollard would pick albums to order based on song titles, ending up with 60's psychedelic fare like Captain Beefheart and Moby Grape, music that would come to have great influence on him. He was infatuated with the idea of making music all through his youth, making up bands with friends and then making t-shirts and album covers for their ficticious albums, and eventually beginning to record his songs on tape recorders, short, hook-filled fragments of pop, folk, and hard rock, filled with layers upon layers of static and tape hiss due to the primitive production.
In the meantime, Pollard was a star high school and college athlete, excelling in both baseball and basketball. While attending nearby Wright State University, he became the first pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter. Also while in college he formed several short-lived bands such as the Needmores. Pollard graduated from college, got married, and became an elementary school teacher in the Dayton, OH public school system, teaching fourth grade reading and history. In 1981 he and his wife had a son, Brian. Despite having a 'real job' and family commitment, Pollard continued to play music, starting in the early 80's to jam with many of the friends and local musicians who would soon become the first of many members of the Guided by Voices lineup, such as Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, Peyton Eric, Tobin Sprout, and Dan Toohey.
The first Guided by Voices recording to be released was a 12" EP, Forever Since Breakfast, in a limited edition of 500 copies on black vinyl. This was Pollard's dream first realized, vinyl recordings of his band, his songs. Around the release of the record Guided by Voices began playing concerts in and around the Dayton area, to little fanfare. As Pollard himself says in the short documentary on GBV, Watch Me Jumpstart, "People didn't like us. They thought we were too weird."] The band pressed on and soon followed with their first LP, Devil Between My Toes. Sometime after the release of their second album, Sandbox, Pollard and company decided the world was not yet ready for them and stopped playing publicly, an event roughly coinciding with the birth of Pollard's second child, a daughter Kimberley. However, Pollard kept GBV together and continued recording with an ever-evolving lineup- basically whichever of his musically-inclined buddies were drinking in the basement that night.
Over the next decade, Guided by Voices continued to release albums, EPS, and 7" singles by the truckload, including what many consider to be Pollard's masterpieces, Propeller in 1993, Bee Thousand in 1994, and Alien Lanes in 1995. Also in 1994, Guided by Voices, which had previously been on small independent label Scat, signed to a new deal with Matador Records, one of the most prominent independent labels of that time. This signified a major life change for Pollard, who had now been teaching fourth grade for fourteen years. With his life-long dream of being a rock star now within reach he went for it, quitting his job as a teacher and becoming a full-time musician. Pollard, now in his mid-thirties with two growing children, was conscious of the need for security and became stricter on his bandmates, asking them to also devote themselves to touring and recording. Rigors of the road were hard on the notoriously hard-partying members of GBV and after the release of their 1996 work Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, Tobin Sprout quit the band to devote time to his family and Pollard fired remaining members Mitch Mitchell and Kevin Fennell.
In 1997 Pollard reinvented Guided by Voices, hiring the Cleveland, OH glam-rock band Cobra Verde to be his backing band on the album Mag Earwhig!. This was an odd transitory period for Pollard and his music, with many of the songs having a harsher, darker, more melancholy mood than the groups's previous sound. Pollard's desires for a wider fanbase were also evident in the new production- for the first time a Guided by Voices album was recorded in a modern studio, bringing a crisp clear sound to Pollard's melodies. The music video for "Bulldog Skin" got limited play on MTV and GBV's popularity slowly grew and grew.
The "GBVerde" lineup of Guided by Voices was not to last, however, with Pollard soon firing all members of Cobra Verde except lead guitarist Doug Gillard, who in 1998 he joined with ex-GBV bassist Greg Demos and ex-The Breeders drummer Jim MacPherson to form a third all-new version of the band, which began touring the US with select dates.
This is where the boring bio ends and my personal recollection begins- for in the summer of 1998 I turned 18, meaning I was now of legal age to go to clubs and see rock shows. Guided by Voices was by far my most favorite band and I was determined to see them and soon. In October of that year I got my wish, seeing Bob, Gillard, Demos, and MacPherson two nights in a row in Cleveland, OH and Detroit, MI. Bob Pollard had been for the last two years my personal hero, champion of the DIY ethic and lo-fi sensability. Contrary to popular practice at a GBV show, I stayed sober that night, wanting to remember every second- and I was blown away, completely. After the show Bob was standing right offstage and like an nervous schoolgirl I ran up to him and said "Hellosirthankyouforyourmusic" and he looked at me and smiled and said "hey, thanks, man." I shook his hand and grinned like an idiot and listened as he and another fan discussed album sequencing. Bob was a little tired and slurred but still very open and friendly to all the fans backstage, as I would learn he almost always is, talking and shooting the shit with anyone lucky enough to get backstage.
After that weekend I was hooked on the GBV live experience. In the following year and a half I would see the band perform 14 more times, all over the country, leading me to have several encounters with Bob Pollard and the rest of GBV. One memorable occaision was after a show when a few members of the band came back to the hotel which many of the fans were staying at- and a very intoxicated Bob ended up in the room I was sharing with some friends, slumped over on my bed next to me. The room was packed with my drunken friends, with several of us cloistered around the bed sharing the last remains of some delicious pot brownies. Bob ate a crumb of brownie and laid on the bed talking about what crazy people we Postal Blowfish were, and how we were "all about the beer and pot," but how he was glad we weren't acid fiends. I leaned over to catch his eye and smiled at him. "Hey Bob, you want some acid?" The frightened look on his face was priceless. I realize now it was perhaps a mean thing to do to my hero. :)
The night after the party in the hotel room, I was in Detroit seeing GBV yet again. Many of us in the GBV fan club were staying at my surrogate parents' house in the city, who were on very friendly terms with Bob after my surrogate mompainted his portrait. After the show, Bob came back with us to the house, played with my friends' dog, and very drunkenly played guitar on the couch, letting us lucky few be the first to hear the then-unreleased song Glad Girls off the album Isolation Drills.