Robert ‘Bob’ George French Sr., bluegrass banjo player and country music entertainer, passed away peacefully on Saturday morning, August 20, 2016, after a long illness. He was 86 years old.
French was born on April 23, 1930, in West Acton, Massachusetts, where he is well-known for being one of the early generation of Scruggs-style five-string banjo pickers and among the first musicians to introduce bluegrass music to New England.
In fact he actually got to know Earl Scruggs well, and in the mid-1960s he interviewed Scruggs, the results of which were serialised in early editions of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
French also hosted the first all-bluegrass radio program in New England.
For many years French performed weekly with Clyde Joy on Channel 9, WMUR TV, Manchester, New Hampshire. He also performed live with many music legends such as Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, Dolly Parton and The Osborne Brothers; and was, for a few nights, Janis Joplin’s “jug man”.
In the first instance French played guitar in a country band but switched to banjo upon forming his own band, Bob & Grace and the Rainbow Valley Folks, with his wife. Starting in the 1950s they played together for several decades, save for various breaks along the way.
Bob and Grace French played on live TV in Nashua, New Hampshire, throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s. They appeared at all the early New England bluegrass festivals also.
Beginning in the 1950s, at a time when the network of places for the bands to stay were few, he was the focal point for musicians and bands who from out of the region who were visiting and playing in New England, opening their home for touring bluegrass bands (such as Osborne Bothers, Reno and Smiley, et al).
French was an original member of Boston-based band The Old Time Bluegrass Singers, a group that changed its name to Joe Val and New England Bluegrass Boys for their … with Rounder Records. He and can be heard playing and singing on their first two records for the label; One Morning in May (LP 0003, released in 1971) and Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys (LP 0025, 1975).
Boston area mandolin-playing Monroe advocate and member of the Reunion Band, Richard S Brown, shares his recollections of Bob French ………
He mentioned that his band had played with Mac Wiseman.
I listened to his band on the radio and noticed that they didn’t have a bass. A friend had left his bass at my house and I was playing it a bit.
Later, I ran into Bob at the Club 47 and he invited me down to sit in on The Rainbow Valley Boys 30-minute radio show on WHIL FM, a local country music station. Since I was familiar with the songs, I did okay because Bob asked me to play in the band! This was a great experience getting to play with a band that rehearsed regularly. The travel was fun and I learned a lot of music from Bob and Grace. My wife and I came back later and played with Bob and Grace for a while when they resumed playing in public.”
Bob & Grace French and the Rainbow Valley Folks at the Bluegrass Ramble in New York, 1987, sing the Bill Monroe favorite Footprints In The Snow ……
Bob French is survived by Grace, his wife of 66 years, daughters Jeanne Marie French and Mary, and son John.