Friday, June 8, 2012
The Gentrys - a father and son legacy of art and music
“One of the most rewarding things in my job is to see artists find joy in the results of our creative work and mutually gain from it artistically and spiritually,” says Bob.
TYLER When you meet Bob Gentry, the first thing you’ll notice is that he’s a really nice guy who knows how to put a visitor at ease. Second thing you notice? He really loves what he does and is proud of his cozy studio located right next door to his charming home in the beautiful Azalea District of Tyler.
Set amongst the distinctive homes, stunning scenery, and quaint red brick streets of this area, it’s no wonder musicians come from all over to record their music here. There’s so much charm and beauty that you can’t help but feel creative the minute you drive down the streets of this adorable neighborhood. As I pull into the driveway, I’m absolutely delighted by the overhanging trees and shrubbery that seem to hug the house in a warm embrace.
After making our introductions, Bob welcomes me into his studio with a big smile and asks if I want to see the place. Of course! This is my first experience in a music studio. Turns out, it’s not what you would expect at all! It’s charming, original, and full of character – not the sterile and modern environment you might see on television.
As we walk past the recording studio, we step into a separate room filled with antiques and vintage equipment. If you’re an antique lover, then you will appreciate the absolute charm of this place. Off to my right, I spot a staircase going up and my eyes light up in obvious curiosity. Bob notices with a grin and asks, “Want to see what I’ve got upstairs?”
So, up the stairs we go, and to my surprise and complete delight, we walk into the coziest above-the-garage apartment I’ve ever seen. I literally can’t keep the smile off of my face as he shows me around. Set up for visiting musicians to stay in when they record at his studio, the apartment is the perfect setting to inspire creativity.
After a delightful tour of his studio, we sit down to discuss how he was inspired to get into the music business and to talk about his career and future plans. As a multi-faceted musician, his career spans 30 years as a studio musician and live performer. More recently, he has begun producing.
“I really get involved with the process of producing because you can guide the musicians as they record their music,” he explains. “You can only go so far playing in a band where you’re working for someone else.” How did he get started in the music business so many years ago? As a child, he had always been interested in music and was always playing on his grandmother’s piano or picking up a guitar to play. As a young adult, he began playing keyboards and bass guitar and sang with various bands in the area. Once he made up his mind that he wanted to pursue a career in music, he talked to his parents about his plans.
His father, local award-winning artist A.C. Gentry, was reluctant to let him go down this path out of concern that he wouldn’t be able to support himself. However, he eventually won his dad over, and after seeing that his son was serious about music as a career, the elder Gentry gave his stamp of approval.
Bob began working in music commercially as a studio musician. He supplied background music for radio programs and musicians and toured regionally with local bands. Eventually, like many commercial musicians, he reached a point where he had to take a step back to find his creative spark again.
“There was a time when I got burned out on commercial work. So, I put together a 3-piece band called The Civilians. We played an eclectic mix of rock, soul, reggae and jazz,” he explains. After that, he turned to producing and has been doing that ever since. “One of the most rewarding things in my job is to see artists find joy in the results of our creative work and mutually gain from it artistically and spiritually,” he says.
So, what is he up to now and what are his plans for the future? “I am currently working on a new compilation of original songs for a future solo project,” he says. As well-known and well-liked as Bob is in the East Texas area, we will be waiting with bated breath to see what he comes up with next!
With our interview wrapping up, it is time to head a few streets over to his father’s home so I can interview Tyler’s beloved local artist A.C. Gentry. We arrive a few moments later at Mr. Gentry’s house to see him waiting on his studio porch. We walk up a short flight of stairs and step into the cozy art studio where he spends his time creating the nostalgic East Texas art that many around here have come to know and love.
As we settle into our seats to begin talking, I look around the room in amazement at the enormous amount of artwork hanging on walls, filed in boxes, and propped up on the floor. “So, what led you to create art reflecting rural East Texas?” I ask. “The only thing I ever knew [as a child] was this area,” he says. “When I was about 13, a lady came to Tyler to teach art, so my parents sent me to her for lessons.” As he learned to draw, sketch, and paint, he began to see that maybe he could make a living as an artist.
As a young man, he assisted a local artist by the name of A.D. Greer and through that experience learned many things including how to paint florals. Mr. Gentry eventually delved into oils but found that once he had a family, it was much easier to deal with watercolors. The kids were always getting into the paints, and watercolors are obviously easier to clean up! When it came to learning how to paint with watercolors, it was a process that this talented artist taught himself.
Speaking of children, I ask him if he feels that his artistic talent was an influence on his son in any way. Mr. Gentry says that maybe seeing him become successful as an artist might have helped him see that you can have an unconventional career that still puts food on the table.
“I remember he came to me one day and said that he could play music and wanted to make money as a musician. I advised him that I felt it wasn’t in his best interest, but if he wanted to go that way, then I would support him,” he reflects.
As father supported son, the son has also supported the father. Between Mr. Gentry’s nostalgic, rural art and Bob’s eclectic mix of musical talents, the Gentry’s have helped keep the arts alive in the East Texas area and, for that, we continue to be grateful!