Surprise party for Bob Perilla, a photographer’s muse for 18 years

DC mandolin legend Akira Otsuka hosted a small picking party at his Maryland home on 30 December 2017. This is a traditional year end occurrence, however this time one of the guests was unaware of a surprise coming his way. Bob Perilla – BlueGrass Troubadour – a collection of 50 black and white photographs by bluegrass photographer Jeromie Stephens had just been published in a special run of 25 books. This picking party would serve as cover for the book reveal.

An excerpt from the book…

“I first encountered Bob at Gettysburg in 1999. A youthful stallion, with curly, thick black hair and a very well-worn D28. He was nested within a very talented group of festival jammers including Dick Smith, Marshall Wiborn and Paul Benson, steadily holding his own. A gregarious personality and genuine love for the music shows through his singing. I asked him what year his guitar was made (a typical guitar geek question) – thinking it was a 60 year old Martin. He told me it was an ‘83 and that it was an old friend which had seen a lot of use. I was impressed. We got acquainted, hung out, and spoke about music, women, beer, guitars and photography. He introduced me to his associates and pals, also making sure I knew who was who in the Bluegrass zoo. By the end of the festival it was clear we would be good friends. I was invited to come see him play at a nursery in Reston, VA the following weekend. His good friend Akira Otsuka would be accompanying him on mandolin. At the time I had no idea who Akira was. This would repeat itself over and over again for the next 18 years.”

Throughout my friendship with Bob he’s always been an encouragement. About 5 years ago he started asking me when I was going to produce a book of my bluegrass photography. Because of his prodding I started scanning my film. As I was editing my earlier work I kept finding shots of Bob peppered in with everything else I was shooting. He seemingly was everywhere I worked. Then I got the idea to first do a smaller book about Bob as a way to learn what I was going to encounter with my BlueGrass Photography book. From hundreds of negatives 50 were selected. Whenever I would run into common friends I would interview them about their friendship with Bob.

The plan to host the presentation was Akira’s idea. We were going to have to trick him into coming to Akira’s home without raising his suspicions. A secret email was sent out and RSVP’s were returned. At the appointed time Bob and I had a wonderful Chinese lunch, then we headed out for the party – even had to pretend that I was an uninvited guest (but still welcomed anyway, to keep up the ruse). After about an hour of jamming everyone stopped for a short break – a large print of Bob was placed in view of the room followed by the book’s presentation. He was befuddled, speechless and probably a little embarrassed. Copies were passed around and for the next 20 minutes, no music was being made.

Later, after the books were all put down the jamming began again. A steady stream of players rotated in and out of the hive which was growing in the Otsuka living room.

Only a very limited number of these books were printed, and Bob has all of them not given out at Akira’s party. Anyone interested in obtaining one should contact Perilla through his web site.

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About the Author

Jeromie Stephens

Jeromie Stephens has been photographing bluegrass musicians for a little over 30 years. In keeping with the photo-reportage styles of Jim Marshall, Carl Fleischauer and Les Leverett, he shoots in black and white and tries to always stay in close to his subjects. He was first published by FRETS! Magazine in 1986, his junior year of high school. He's illustrated articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Rolling Stone, Guitar Player, The Washington Post, The Nashville Tennessean and Fretboard Journal. Additionally his photos have been used in CD packages for musicians like Tony Rice, Danny Gatton and Lou Pallo. Jeromie lives in Fredericksburg, VA with his wife, April and youngest son, JJ. You are likely to see JJ with his Dad taking photos at festivals.