By Jim Schutze
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He possesses the voice of a classic soul singer, born in the church and raised in the barroom. When he performs those "realistic songs," as Patterson calls his self-penned poetry of the cheating man and the vengeful woman, he can still moan and groan and yell with the best of them, his voice even now containing the echoes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, and so many others Patterson revered as a young man. Where so many of his contemporaries lost their voices, misplacing them in chicken-shack nightclubs or in the bottom of a bottle, Patterson's has retained its purity, its conviction, and its fire after all these years.
"I got more fire for it now than I did in the beginning," he says. "I've been out of the business for so long, stayed away from it, and my interest in it is rekindled because you still see guys who were doing it 20 years ago doing it now, and you know there's still that challenge. That fire comes back. I just know more about the business and can relax more than I could 20 years ago. Now, I'm just doing it for the love of it."
Nearly 40 years ago, Patterson played his his first gig near his South Dallas home. For his services, he was paid one watermelon.
While attending Lincoln High School, Patterson wrote his first song, about a girl he liked named Pat. It went something like this: "I love you, Pat." The song was expanded when Pat rejected Bobby's advances: "I love you, Pat/I want you back."
In 1960, Patterson and his first band, the Royal Rockers, won a KBOX-sponsored contest, which meant they'd get to record a real record in Los Angeles. But it didn't work that way.
"Only thing I remember about that recording session was they had a big empty barn with a piano," Patterson recalls. "I think it was Capitol Records, and they gave us first-class treatment. Yeah, we got out there, and we were right in the heart of the ghetto. We had to take a cab to the session, and the album never came out."
Such were the auspicious beginnings of Patterson's career, along with a few years spent playing the local fraternity and sorority party circuit, playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard covers for the white kids at S.M.U. and T.C.U. Every now and then, Patterson would try to sneak in one of his own songs, but the kids would stop dancing, sending Patterson back to "Tutti Frutti" or "Johnny B. Goode."
He was "discovered," as it were, by John Abdnor Jr. when both men were attending the University of Texas at Arlington. Patterson began recording with the Mustangs in 1963 for John Abdnor Sr.'s Abnak, and for the next seven years he would remain on the label, chomping at the bit--aching to get to Memphis and Stax Records, so sure he'd be big if only...
Abnak Records and its Jetstar subsidiary were founded in the early 1960s by Abdnor Sr., a local insurance man who was indulging his son John Jr.'s fantasy to become a rock star. John Jr. would release a couple of records under the name Jon and Robin, scoring something of a hit with "Do it Again a Little Bit Slower" in late 1966, but he couldn't sing worth a damn. He would, many years later, wind up in a mental hospital and then in prison after brutally executing his girlfriend with a shotgun blast to the head.
Abnak did manage a big-time national hit with the Five Americans, who scored four Top-40 hits during the mid-'60s and recorded four full-length albums (including Western Union and another double record, a rarity in the 1960s). But the Five Americans were Oklahoma boys who wanted to sound English, launching their own British Invasion from the shores of Ross Avenue.
Patterson was the label's best shot for greatness. His Mustangs, most of whom hailed from Sherman, were the tightest band in town; they knocked 'em out at clubs like LouAnn's and Soul City and the Red Jacket and the Blackout, playing songs by the Beatles, old country-western artists (Patterson's biggest influence lyrically), Freddie King, and others. Patterson, who would also tend to the frenetic John Jr. on the road and record every now and then, somehow managed to score a Top-40 single of his own with "T.C.B. or T.Y.A." in 1969.
"'T.C.B. or T.Y.A.' was the first song I wrote that I was proud of," Patterson says. "That was when I knew I could write songs 'cause I was proud of that. I wanted to come out with something natural, something I wrote, and that was me. That song was Bobby Patterson--'Take care of business or tear your...turn yourself around.'" Patterson breaks into a fit of laughter. "That was what John [Abdnor] wanted. The original line was, 'Tear yo' ass.' We need to do that again because now you can say 'ass' and get away with it."
When Abnak began failing in the late 1960s, Patterson moved to Shreveport to record for Stan Lewis' Jewel/Paula label which, like Abnak, was a family business--this one run by a white man whose passion was the black music that surrounded him. Patterson, who also briefly experimented with his own label (Soul Power) and ran his own studio (Sound Studios), would team up with Jerry Strickland and become one of Jewel's house writers, infusing Strickland's diehard R&B sound with Patterson's country-music lyrics. They cranked out songs for Little Johnny Taylor ("Open House at My House, Part 1," which went to No. 16 on the R&B charts in 1972), Fontella Bass, and for Patterson himself; Patterson's 1972 album, It's Just a Matter of Time, is a lost jewel, so to speak, containing brassy funk ("Quiet! Do Not Disturb") and Hammond-drenched soul ("She Don't Have to See You"). Every song had a story, mostly about men running around on their women and those women exacting their revenge.