The title of “successful musician” is often elusive. Many bands and musicians try and try, yet they never reach a level they’d consider “successful.”
Then there’s Bob Gentry, who has had not one, nor two, but three periods in his career that most would consider “successful.” The Palm Springs resident is known from his days in the ’90s rock group Moisture; a solo career in the 2000s; and a comeback starting with a brand-new EP, which will be released Oct. 28.
Back on the Horse is Gentry’s first release since Seconds in 2010. The debut single “20 Years to Life” shows off Gentry’s singer-songwriter roots, as the track is twangy, poppy and all-together smooth. I chatted with Gentry over the phone about his unique career.
“I started when I was a kid; I was always around music,” Gentry said. “My stepdad played the banjo and played crazy bluegrass stuff. I got hooked on The Beatles, and it all just kinda stuck with me. As far as learning, I don’t really remember learning to play, but there were always instruments around. I do remember learning guitar, because it was pretty tough, and I remember my fingers were killing me.
“I met some guys I grew up with, and they all wanted to be in a band and make music. We played shows and snuck into clubs.”
A Google search for Moisture (be careful!) will provide you with a pop-punk punch of tunes from Gentry’s early days in Detroit.
“I think for everyone, music is therapy, so I just started writing, and a lot of the times, the songs started out as little folky songs in my bedroom,” Gentry said. “When the band would get their hands on it, suddenly, it’d be a power-pop song. It was great to collaborate with them, and we got to a point where things were happening.
“The Detroit scene was really good, but then it stalled out, and the guys wanted to do their own thing, and started having kids. I moved out to California and formed a band, and started it back up out here. I made a few TV shows and struck a few deals back in the early 2000s.”
Gentry then got to a point where the music world was moving faster than he was.
“The music industry has changed; I don’t really know how it works anymore,” said Gentry. “I did it for so long that I got burned out on it. It was tough. Internet streaming kicked in, and they don’t even make CDs anymore. It was tough to navigate the music industry for me; I wasn’t sure how to do it as an independent artist.
“I moved to Palm Springs, and said I was done with music. I told myself I was getting too old for it—but you’re really never too old to write and perform. I came to the desert, started a new life and started doing photography. I took all the stuff I learned from being an independent musician. If you’re a musician, you have to be a graphic designer, photographer, editor, etc. You need to know how to do every single thing there is. I started shooting houses and things around Palm Springs. Occasionally, I’d meet people who knew my old life and ask, ‘Didn’t you do music?’ I kinda wouldn’t say much about it, and I didn’t really want to revisit it. It was kinda painful; you spend your whole life saying that you’re a musician, and then someone suddenly asks you what you do for a living, and you don’t know how to answer. I felt like I lost my whole identity; I didn’t know who I was.”
Gentry’s “retirement” from music ended in the strangest of circumstances.
“A year or so ago, I got a message from a random stranger on Facebook asking me if I have any new music,” said Gentry. “I didn’t think much of it and sent over a track. Turns out the guy was the head of a label, Kirk Pasich, and he wanted to talk. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to. I met up with him, and he brought along a Grammy-nominated producer.
“They didn’t have to sell me pretty hard—I still wanted to do it, but I kept saying, ’Are you sure? I’m just some 40-something-year-old guy now.’ They liked my music and didn’t care about anything other than that. So I took the record deal; we recorded an album; and here I am pushing it. They’ve got a machine going, and they care about their artists. It’s been surreal.”
Back on the Horse was recorded before COVID-19 arrived.
“We planned on releasing an album in 2020, but everything got pushed back a little bit,” Gentry said. “What’s out right now is an EP, a prequel to the album that will probably come out next year.”
While Gentry has twisted and turned through each phase of his career, he said all of them have been unique and welcome.
“They’re like different chapters,” Gentry said. “I still go back and listen to my old music; they’re like scrapbooks. I miss the band thing, getting to collaborate with friends and people you care about. Sometimes the song turns into something you wouldn’t expect. I miss that a lot. Now I’m doing that with a producer, which is kinda the same thing. The producer on the record is Dave Darling, who has done a whole bunch of stuff. He’s really helped shape the direction of it, like he’s the other band member.”
Gentry is also grateful for the pauses he’s had in his music career.
“I think you need breaks, no matter what,” said Gentry. “Sometimes you don’t really have a choice, so when breaks come, you have to take them. I got really lucky when I was in my 20s and 30s; a lot of things fell into place. My last band, we were doing a show, and someone in the audience walked up and handed us a deal with Universal to our A&R guy, like it was out of a movie. It happened again. This is my fourth ‘deal’ thing. I’ve either been really lucky or really unlucky.”
Gentry admitted that he’s in a different headspace now.
“This time is different, because I have a different outlook,” Gentry said. “If this was all happening when I was much younger, I would be feeling like I’m going to rule the world, but I don’t feel that way now. Someone believes in me enough to let me record music, and they’re releasing it. I’m getting to do what I love. Do I expect some huge return? No. The return for me right now is just getting to play music. Anyone who’s doing music to be rich and famous nowadays is in the wrong line of work.
“One thing about music: Even if you die, music will last. That’s one of the reasons I love it so much. To leave a mark, there’s no better reward than that. If I could write something that someone’s listening to 100 years from now, I win.”
Gentry’s style of music has shifted, too.
“The stuff now is more singer-songwriter stuff,” said Gentry. “I’m definitely not gonna be onstage biting the head off of a bat like I might’ve been doing was when I was younger. It’s gonna be very chill. A lot of the times in the bar/club scene, people are just there to drink and have fun. Playing shows where people are there to listen is what I’m aiming for.”
Playing shows at all is the thing Gentry looks forward to the most.
“I haven’t done it in so long,” Gentry said. “The last show I did was at the Greek Theatre, opening for Ringo Starr. I thought that was a good place to end, opening for a Beatle. … I was apprehensive getting back into it, because I didn’t know if I could emotionally invest myself in self-promoting, writing and performing. It’s harder when you get older—not that I’m a fossil; I’m 49 years old. When I was younger, I thought that there was no way I’d be doing it when I was 40, and here I am pushing 50.”
The album cover for Back on the Horse features a deserted merry-go-round. I was curious to hear the story about the picture.
“I shot at Suzanne Somers’ house in Palm Springs,” said Gentry. “On her property, there was this old, broken-down merry-go-round. That was one of the shots I took, and I loved it. It’s cool, and it’s got so much dirt on it. I’d love to know the story of it. It wasn’t something that I went out to shoot; it just happened to be on one of the jobs I was on. It fit into the Back on the Horse title, with music being like a merry-go-round—and here I am, trying to get back on it.”
For more information, visit bobgentry.com.