‘Mu­sic, Fam­i­lies, Food’

Liv­ingston con­nects coun­tries, con­ti­nents with gui­tar

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BELLA VISTA - BECCA MARTIN-BROWN

There’s a great quote about Bob Liv­ingston that pretty much says it all about the man and the mu­si­cian:

“Bob Liv­ingston tugged on his cow­boy hat, stuffed his jeans into his boots, hooked on his gui­tar strap and came on­stage in Madras, In­dia. ‘I’m here to play coun­try mu­sic,’ he said to the au­di­ence. What coun­try? That’s the ques­tion.”

— Mike Zw­erin

In­ter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune

Liv­ingston is ar­guably best known as a mem­ber of Austin’s leg­endary Lost Gonzo Band with Jerry Jeff Walker and was in­ducted into the Texas Mu­sic Le­gends Hall of Fame in 2016. But he and that gui­tar have played all over the world — In­dia, Pak­istan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Africa, Viet­nam and the Mid­dle East — as a “mu­sic am­bas­sador” for the U.S. State Depart­ment. He’s also been named “Am­bas­sador of Good­will” by the state of Texas and “Austin’s In­ter­na­tional Mu­sic Am­bas­sador” by the city of Austin.

It all started, he says, launch­ing com­fort­ably into the story, in 1986, when his wife and chil­dren were spend­ing a lot of time in In­dia. But then he back­tracks. “I got in­ter­ested in the cul­ture be­cause Ge­orge Har­ri­son played the sitar on ‘Nor­we­gian Wood,’” he cor­rects. “I was the only kid in Lub­bock with a Ravi Shankar al­bum.”

But in 1986, Liv­ingston met a Ful­bright scholar work­ing in In­dia. He ex­plained that “if you can con­vince the State Depart­ment you’re an ex­pert,” Liv­ingston might get work dur­ing his visit. “So I sent a tele­gram to the U.S. Em­bassy in New Delhi, say­ing I was a mu­si­cian from Texas, I had my gui­tar with me, and I had this idea for shows.” He au­di­tioned in Madras with John In­man — also a mem­ber of the Lost Gonzo Band — im­pro­vis­ing about the “his­tory of Amer­i­can folk and coun­try mu­sic” and its roots in Europe as they went along. When the pub­lic af­fairs staffer pulled a banjo out from be­hind his desk, Liv­ingston knew he had a job.

Al­though he clearly loved the work and the travel, Liv­ingston ad­mits to some sketchy mo­ments. He was in Bangladesh dur­ing the revo­lu­tion in 1992, and a group of Amer­i­cans needed to be evac­u­ated. “Tell ’em Liv­ingston is hav­ing a heart at­tack and call an am­bu­lance,” some­one sug­gested. They all climbed in and got out of the hot spot.

There was also a re­cent trip to

Pak­istan when a bomb­ing threat­ened to can­cel a per­for­mance. Liv­ingston just sug­gested ev­ery­one move in­side, and “we ended up play­ing to as many peo­ple as we could pack in.”

“We’ve got video of it all, and one day we’ll put it to­gether for a doc­u­men­tary,” he says. “Peo­ple all over the world, in­clud­ing the Mid­dle East, are all good peo­ple. They are like us, in­ter­ested in mu­sic and their fam­i­lies and food.”

Nowa­days, Liv­ingston says, he plays mostly in the United States, but one thing con­tin­ues to be the same about his trav­els. He prefers to in­ter­act with his au­di­ence, whether it’s play­ing folk fes­ti­vals, “house” or “lis­ten­ing room” con­certs or stay­ing with host fam­i­lies along the way.

“At my stage of the game, these are our bread and but­ter,” he says of the fo­cused gigs ver­sus play­ing bars. “All you have to do is bring your gui­tar, walk in, plug in and make friends.”

He will ad­mit that with a new record com­ing out next month — on bou­tique la­bel Howlin’ Dog Records — he’d like to go to Europe.

“Jerry Jeff hated to go any­where that didn’t have ESPN — and he hated the lit­tle beds in Europe,” Liv­ingston says with a laugh. “So we never made the con­nec­tion over there as much as we should have. I want it to be a reg­u­lar thing.”

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Bob Liv­ingston, per­haps best known as a mem­ber of the Lost Gonzo Band, is also an in­ter­na­tional am­bas­sador for Texas mu­sic.

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