Bobby is Roatan’s Veteran Singer and Songwriter
His musical journey has been a long one. It began when he learned to play a few guitar chords when he was 12, back when JFK was president.
He played harmonica in Chicago’s north side blues clubs. “I got to jam with Eddie Robinson, Mighty Joe Young, and Magic Slim,” says Bobby. “I couldn’t play that good (sic) either, but they let me get up there.”
At 23 Bobby was working as a substitute teacher at his old high school when a friend of a friend mentioned an idyllic island in the Western Caribbean. He was quoting a letter he received from a man named Gordon Ford who lived on Roatan beach, and overlooked a development project for a developer named Bob Plombo.
Bobby tried to look up Bay Islands and Roatan in the local library, “but you couldn’t get hardly anything,” remembers Bobby. Still, the letter was intriguing enough that Bobby forsakes his fascination with Brazil and headed out to Roatan. “The island was a very remote place back then,” says Bobby.
It was 1973, and while hippies were discovering the hippie trail to Kathmandu, Bobby headed out to the Bay Islands. “I came for the adventure. I didn’t have anything holding me down,” Bobby remembers of his first Roatan visit.
For two weeks, he lived in a hexagonal beach house on Palmetto Bay before moving to Crawfish Rock, where he stayed for six months and bought an acre of land for Lps. 1,000 ($500). That purchase sealed his commitment to the island. On the overland journey back to Chicago, through Guatemala and Mexico, he played harmonica every chance he got.
He moved to Roatan permanently in 1974. He lived in Crawfish Rock and French Harbour, supporting his growing family.
Bobby didn’t have any carpentry skills when he first came to the island, but he got his first lesson by preparing posts for his thatched roof house. Within a few years he had a carpentry crew working for him, and, he has supported himself as a carpenter and builder since 1975. A couple of times he had to return to the US to earn a little extra and support his growing family on the island.
His Roatan music adventure developed gradually. His singing debut came in 1981 at the Roatan Yacht Club. It was a place where all the shrimp and lobster fishermen came. “I never sang in my life, but I knew three songs: Rivers of Babylon, Fishin’ Blues and [Me and] Bobby McGee.”
A friend had given him a folder for harmonica music, and someone else gifted him an Ovation fiberglass acoustic guitar that was left behind on a sailboat. His lack of inherent musical skills was overcome by his passion for the music, and before long Bobby’s solo musical career was off to the races. “They didn’t take a long cane and drag me off the stage,” Bobby remembers of his first solo performance at the RYC.
Roatan shaped Bobby Rieman just as much as they shaped his lyrics.
He performed solo from 1981-1996 and wrote his first song “The Roatan song” in the mid 1980s. He played in Bayman Bay Club in Guanaja in the 1990s, and on Utila during the island’s annual Carnivals. “Over the years we played just about everywhere,” says Bobby. “I was in my first band at age 46.”
In 1986 he finally purchased amplifiers. “I was learning, and I was very passionate about that,” says Bobby. In 2000 he recorded his first CD in La Ceiba: “Roatanified.” With Brion James, a professional musician living on Roatan, he recorded two more CDs. All in all, Bobby recorded 34 songs − 33 original and one cover song. “I am proud of that,” he says.
At 73, Bobby still writes songs. His last CD “Putting in Time” was produced in 2017. His song lyrics − just like their titles are melancholic: “Northwest Caribbean Sea,” “Lights are on, but nobody’s home,” “Six Days in between.” Roatan shaped Bobby Rieman just as much as they shaped his lyrics, lyrics that describe the island’s history, idiosyncrasies, quirks, and feel.
Bobby has heard some beautiful voices in his days. He has seen many talented musicians and singers, but one stands out above the rest. “Jeffrey James – that guy had the most excellent presentation and talent with the guitar,” says Bobby. “He was left handed and played the guitar upside down with the low string on the top. He made sounds that you just can’t duplicate.” The two musicians jammed a lot together over the years.
In 2023, Bobby’s band plays at Bananarama on Sundays and at AKR. Bobby’s trio of musicians is called “The Band” and includes two Roatan veterans. Junior Bodden plays the bass and Cornelio Güity is on drums.
Bobby appreciates being heard and creating sound that will live on for decades. “Seeing people moving to what you are doing makes you feel a connection,” says Bobby. “It makes you feel that you are inspiring people to move. That is what music does.”
You can enjoy more Bobby's songs on his Youtube Channel: @bobbyrieman1950