Saturday, October 8, 2011

R.I.P.: Bob Grimes

(born February 18, 1922, Long View, Texas, USA;
died October 8, 2011, San Francisco, California,. USA

Born Robert Clement Grimes, he heard the song, "All My Life" on the radio when he was fourteen. It became his favorite song. All his school friends knew this, and would tease him by singing the song outside his window. So Bob told me: "I just had to have this song. The price of sheet music was 35 cents in those days." This left Bob with a hefty 65 cents for school supplies. This 35 cents represented his first sacrifice for a collection that would number over 30,000 songs. His mother found out he had bought "There's a Small Hotel," then "These Foolish Things" and said "Don't you evah bring another piece of music into this here house," words that fell on deaf ears. His enthusiasm for the songs of Hollywood and Broadway is shown by the number of copies he has made for his performer friends over the years.

Grimes was born in 1922 in Longview, in northeast Texas, about 120 miles east of Dallas and about 60 miles west of Shreveport. He was exposed to the accents of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. "I had such a horrible southern accent that in school, even the kids laughed at me." Bob's Aunt Annie gave the family her upright piano. In the bench he found treasures he hadn't dreamed existed, Sheet Music! After failing at piano lessons he still got excited to just hold the music in his hands, to read it, to smell it, was like entering the world of show business. Bob's father, according to Bob, Joe had the most marvelous personality in the world. He led the community sing a longs and did all kinds of public speaking. Bob had an obsession with movie star photos and sheet music. His mother's only interest was playing cards and raising a family, and she forbade Bob to spend his money on sheet music. But Bob's sisters loved it and would drive him around, never missing a junk shop. He would bring music home and have his photo taken next to a pile of music on his front step. Now if he did this, the this pile might reach the sixth floor of his apartment building in San Francisco.

When Bob was asked "What are your top ten favorite songs?" he made a list. The list had fourteen songs, then he added, he also had a favorite Gershwin song and a favorite Porter song, and a favorite film song, and a favorite Broadway score, and a favorite novelty song, and a favorite torch song, favorite Kern song and a favorite Arlen song and a favorite Mercer song and ...

When Bob Grimes was eight years old, his brother had a job delivering circulars for the Aladdin Theatre. His brother didn't like the job and so he gave the job to Bob. After several months, the theatre gave Bob free admission for at least a couple of years. Beginning in 1930 Bob saw every "B" movie ever made. His love of film music was born. Before he started collecting sheet music, he wrote to all the stars in Hollywood and asked for their photo. The collection ranged from Renée Adorée to Vera Zorina. In the 1930s no one seemed to know what to do with Bob Grimes. He wasn't being asked to join the football or baseball teams, so his father, Joe, who owned the plumbing and electrical store, ordered sheet music from a music wholesaler for Bob to sell. This was not what his mother had in mind. But his mother eventually couldn't stop him and she later confided, "I wish I had something to enjoy as much as you do."

During World War II Bob Grimes was working in an office in Zamboanga, right on the Basilan Strait, part of the Philippine Islands. Everybody hated it but Bob, who pretended it was his castle. Bob Grimes moved to San Francisco in 1947, leaving his sheet music in Texas, because he was beginning to feel that everyone thought he was nuts for having such a weird hobby. But He couldn't control his urge, and started collecting opera scores, because a friend said he should elevate his taste. After working for a while for the Western Pacific railroad in San Francisco, he took a job with Patrick & Company Stationers. He liked being around people more than sitting at a desk, so he stayed there for 35 years. Soon after moving to San Francisco he started to itch for his music, so his mother happily boxed it and shipped it to San Francisco. She was free of it at last. During Bob Grimes' employment at Patrick & Co. stationers he became well known to the customers as a guest on Jim Eason's KGO radio show, with guests such as Gloria Swanson, Kirk Douglas, Mel Tormé. Bob's distinctive voice was heard from Vladivostok to Valparaiso on KGO radio for twenty years. His voice was so distinctive one day he called the record store, and when the lady who answered learned he was Bob Grimes, she gasped, "You're the Bob Grimes?! Why, you're almost a celebrity!"

Nothing delights Bob Grimes more than finding a rare piece of musical history. In the Public Library he discovered that there were two title songs copyrighted for the 1936 film San Francisco. The one by Gus Kahn, Bronislau Kaper and Walter Jurmann was accepted and published. The other was written by Walter Donaldson and Harold Adamson, already successful composers of "You" from The Great Ziegfeld and others. It was never published, so after contacting the Library of Congress and waiting eight months, Bob asked Michael Feinstein (then Ira Gershwin's assistant) to look for it in the files at MGM. It turned up and Michael sang it on the phone to Bob, who was so ecstatic he had Michael repeat it three times. This was the first time the song had been performed in 46 years! For many years, The official song of the city had been the 1936 song 'San Francisco' but in 1969, a film of Tony Bennett singing 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' against a backdrop of cable cars, was shown at a Board of Supervisors meeting and the Board unanimously adopted the ballad as the official song. At the time there were minor cries and protests, but the matter eventually rested. Bob Grimes threw a fit. One day after appearing on a radio trivia show with Merla Zellerbach and Fred Goerner, Bob brought up the topic. Fred had a radio show on KMPX and held a poll, which resulted in a vote that was ten to one in favor of the 1936 song. [Merla wrote a story about it in 1972 which irritated I Left My Heart's... writers, George Cory and Douglass Cross. Bob received a call from the ballad's composer, George Cory, and he went on a 15 minute tirade, ending with "I hope there's a good earthquake and you're the first one to go!" Controversial writer Warren Hinckle took the Texas steer by the horns and on Thursday, May 3, 1984 the supervisors deadlocked on whether 'I Left My Heart' should be dumped in favor of 'San Francisco.' Nearly 300 people crowded into Supervisors' chambers and downstairs in the Rotunda of City Hall, authorities estimated that 5000 people were inside the building. They cheered and whistled for 'San Francisco.' The highlight of the day was soprano Pamela Brooks, who recreated Jeanette MacDonald's rendition while strolling down the majestic marble staircase.

In 2010, when Grimes was eighty-eight years old, he arranged the sale of his lifelong collection of sheet music to the Michael Feinstein Foundation.

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