The 'Big Dog' is barking again

Bob Bartrom is an avid musician and has his own one-man show performance. Bartrom also call bingo for the residents at the Tipton House each week.
Photo by Andre Laird.

Originally published Feb. 16, 2009.

For Huntington, IN, resident Robert "Bob" Bartrom, music has always been a source of comfort and strength.

Bartrom, who now suffers from a bone-deteriorating disease which has affected his knees and vertebrae in his back, says music has always been there for him.

"I started playing the guitar at the age of 16," states Bartrom. "But even earlier on, I had always had a love for music. My favorite genre is the blues, although I love and play almost everything."

He adds that some of his favorite artists from the blues era are Eric Clapton and BB King.

"When I turned 19, I started playing in bars," Bartrom says. "I found out pretty quickly that there is no real market for blues in this area, so you have to learn to play everything."

Throughout his musical career, Bartrom adds that he has also played in a few bands.

"I played with band called Saturday Night Special for about 15 years," he says. "After that I took a break and played with another band called Rain Dance. I played with them for 10 years."

Bartrom adds that at one time in the band's history, it was named among the Top 20 bands in the state of Indiana.

It was shortly after that period when the disease started to show its effects, he says.

Due to several unforeseen circumstances, Bartrom says, he took a break from music. He was "lured" back in after a suggestion from his wife, Marlene.

"Marlene works at the Tipton House and she told me that they needed someone to call bingo for the residents each week," he states. "At first I didn't want to go, but I decided to give it a try."

Bartrom says he felt connected to the residents from day one.

"I had lost my grandparents a few years ago and I was very close to them," he states. "Spending time with the residents gave me comfort."

He adds that bingo calling developed into re-exploring his passion for music and performing.

"I started getting into music again," says Bartrom. "I even started messing with the production side of it. I have been producing for about 10 years now, more seriously in the last two years."

He adds that after working with the residents at the Tipton House and seeing how positive, uplifting and encouraging they were of his efforts, he decided to not let his disability hold him back.

"I saw those residents and heard some of their stories and decided that I could still do what I loved to do," Bartrom says. "They were very instrumental in giving me the belief to get back to music."

Bartrom has now added a one-man show to his repertoire, titled "Big Dog Unleashed."

"When I used to play in bands everybody called me Big Dog," he says. "Somehow it stuck and the name fits, so I went with it."

The show consists of Bartrom playing tracks while singing and playing both the harmonica and guitar.

"I don't consider my performance simply music," he adds. "I like to play a little; stop and tell a few jokes and interact with the audience."

Bartrom says his first show was for the Tipton House residents. Since then he has played various other places, including the American Legion in Marion a month ago.

"They held a special event for a unit that had just returned from serving," he states. "They had lost four members and the service was very moving. I was glad I was able to be a part of the event. It makes me all the more thankful for what they do to protect our way of life."

Bartrom adds that his wife's cousin, Ryan Bowman, of Warren, is very helpful in helping him get his show on the road.

"He usually drives and helps to set up and tear down equipment after a show," he states. "He is my sound man and ‘roadie' and definitely an important part of what I do."

Bartrom says he hopes to expand his performances into other area nursing homes and says he expects his calendar to be full with opportunities starting this spring.

He also has hopes for the music he produces as well.

"I'm currently working on a project of about 10 to 12 original songs," Bartrom states. "Since I'm not able to travel as much as I would like, I'm hoping to sell them."

Bartrom adds that on all his productions, he plays all the instruments except the drums.

"My wife and the residents at the Tipton House have been my biggest cheerleaders and push me to be better at what I do," says Bartrom. "God has blessed me with a lot of gifts and life has been good despite all the challenges. I love what I do."

To contact Bartrom, call 519-2409.