There was something about Bob

I wrote this for The Sun about the passing of GNV music legend Bob McPeek.

“I’ve been searching for the melody since I began to sing

It’s hiding in the corner of a dream               

And if I try to solve its mystery and find its secret spring

It slips away somewhere behind the scene”

“The Perfect Chord,” by Bob McPeek.

For Bob McPeek it was always about plunging head first into that “secret spring.”

His relentless pursuit of music’s “mystery” led McPeek from playing gigs on Columbus, Ohio’s club circuit, in the 1970s, to decamping for Gainesville and opening a record store.

Hyde and Zeke’s would soon become a favorite hangout for musicians and audiophiles alike.

“The sign on our door said ‘No shirt, no shoes, no problem.’ Our motto was ‘Real people in a plastic business,’” recalled his partner, Ric Kaestner, who performed with McPeek in Columbus and then talked him into moving to “this cool college town” called Gainesville.

Bob McPeek, psychologist, record store entrepreneur, sound engineer, song writer, poet, musician and, above all else, perfectionist, died on Saturday following an extended illness. He was just four days short of his 71st birthday.

“I take great comfort in the good fortune that I have the love and respect of more people that I might have dreamed possible,” McPeek wrote in his penultimate Facebook post. “And that late in life I had the opportunity to make music that has brought me and others satisfaction.”

To his followers, he added “you can do nothing more meaningful to me than to take time to listen to and connect to the songs I’ve written. I hope they outlive me.”

His work can be accessed on line at Bob McPeek Music.

McPeek was a central figure in Gainesville’s music scene for more than 40 years. Even as he was running Hyde and Zeke, McPeek started Mirror Image recording studio, initially in his garage. In years to come he would work with some of Gainesville’s finest talents – Sister Hazel, Bo Diddley, Less than Jake, River Phoenix and others.

When it came time to take it to the next level, McPeek and his partners founded Heartwood Soundstage in his old Mirror Image studio on South Main Street. And McPeek insisted on designing an indoor concert space to exacting acoustical standards.

“People usually only get to hear live music in local bars or concert halls that have terrible acoustics,” McPeek said in a 2018 Sun interview. “We wanted to build a venue where you can really appreciate the music.”

Bob McPeek was Gainesville’s Music Man. An accomplished guitarist, prolific song writer, and friend and mentor to countless artists and performers. His death left a void in the city’s close knit music community that will not soon be healed.

On Sunday friends and fellow musicians gathered at Heartwood Soundstage for a celebration of McPeek’s life and music. Hoch Shitama, longtime friend and business partner, announced that the indoor hall designed to such meticulous standards would henceforth be known as the “Bob McPeek listening room.”

“I always tell people that the Heartwood environment is like Austin City Limits, only in a more intimate and acoustically perfect environment,” said Richard Allen, a close friend to McPeek since 1977, when they both ran record stores. “The woodwork is gorgeous and the acoustics are perfect. Bob insisted on it.”

In his final days, McPeek made his farewells to a steady stream of friends and loved ones. When he was feeling up to it, McPeek would take up his guitar and play some of his favorite tunes.

“We chose not to have children, so his songs were our children,” said Nancye Henkel-McPeek, his wife of 38 years. “Bob had a whole list of unfinished songs, and for the past month or two he had been trying to figure out which friend each song would fit best with. And then he’d teach it to them and ask them to finish it.”

One day Gainesville musicians, and McPeek’s long time friends, Cathy DeWitt and Rob Rothschild came calling. DeWitt played a song that she and her ex-husband, Mike Boulware, had written in McPeek’s honor…a song they intended to play at the Heartwood celebration of McPeek’s life.

“I started playing and got in one verse, when he said ‘Stop! Stop!’’’ DeWitt recalled. “I thought he didn’t like it and I started to say I was sorry. But then he said ‘Press record! We gotta get that’”on tape.’”

McPeek’s obsession with playing and recording music to his exact standards had long been a source of running jokes with his friends

“They used to kid him about it,” said his wife. “He would spend five minutes in front of the audience tuning his guitar after he had already tuned it backstage.”

Boulware, who began recording at Mirror Image when it opened, said “I came to realize Bob heard the song I was doing in a completely different way than I did. He heard the whole song. He often knew more than the artist did about what we were actually trying to accomplish. He allowed us to make great music.”

Gary Gordon was managing Hyde And Zeke when he launched his successful city commission candidacy. Subsequently, after he lost his reelection bid, Gordon credits McPeek for prodding him to get back to his music roots.

“I lost both the election and my marriage. I don’t think I’d ever been that low and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next,” Gordon recalled. “Bob said ‘you’ve got all these songs, why don’t we record a cassette?’ If we hadn’t done that I don’t know if I would have continued to write songs.”

Gordon would later leave for Los Angeles to pursue a music career before, eventually, returning to Gainesville.

Scott Camil remembers McPeek for his performances at the annual Veterans For Peace Winter Solstice concerts. And for the song “The Ways Of War” that McPeek composed and sang along “with a stellar cast of local musicians,” for a documentary about Camil’s Memorial Mile events on 8th Avenue.

“I visited Bob in hospice and he thanked me for allowing (him) to play at the” Solstice concerts, Camil said. “I told him that without him and his musician friends, who all donated their time, we would not have had the Solstice concerts and we would not have had the money to do our projects all of these years.

“Bob is really a Renaissance man.” Camil said.

Although best known for his music, McPeek, who majored in psychology at Loyola and Ohio State universities, has had a varied career. Among other positions he was marketing director at Mindsolve Technologies, research director at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, and international director for Sabine Professional Audio.

“He is just so creative that he can look at a set of data in his science world and tell you not only what has happened, but what’s gonna’ happen,” said Rob Rothschild. “And he’s also one of the most amazing musicians I know. His catalogue of original music is astounding. His poetry is moving and sophisticated. And his mastery of language is amazing.”

Although in increasingly poor health, McPeek managed to record and release one final CD just this past March. “Mixing Metaphors,” was recorded in collaboration with several performers that McPeek had worked with over the years.

“He tried to organize our lives so he could finish his songs, which manifested in getting his CD released last spring,” said his wife, Nancye. “He called it ‘Mixing Metaphors’ because he loved those double meaning, the sheer cleverness of cleverly putting words together.”

“Mixing Metaphors,” McPeek wrote, was “the culmination of my 50 years of professional work as a musician, recording studio engineer, producer, and songwriter.

“A life’s worth of experience, more recently two bouts with cancer, gave me a lot to write about,” he continued. “And the isolation of the pandemic gave me a luxurious amount of time to refine and polish. More than anything, I wanted to create an immersive listening experience.”

Dewitt, one of the musicians who collaborated on the CD, calls the album “a treasure chest of original songs.”

“It was his magnum opus,” she said, “He has a lot of great players with him. He has honed the songs to a fine polish.”

One cut on the CD, titled “On The Other Side,” has “taken on a different meaning,” DeWitt mused. “It was originally abut the pandemic, but now it sounds like his farewell” to all of his friends.

“Looking for a ray of hope in a desperate situation 

But I’ll be waiting with both arms open wide

We’ll be stronger, grateful we survived

When our mettle has been tested and our tolerances tried

I’ll see you on the other side.”

“On The Other Side,” by Bob McPeek.

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