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The Legend of Beatle Bob

Adam Allington

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Beatle Bob
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Beatle Bob Rocking out to Roky Ericson
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This weekend music fans in St. Louis will have a variety of concert options to choose from: Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three are playing at Off Broadway. The Alkaline Trio will rock the Pageant. Or if punk rock's not your thing you could check out the Rhythm Kings at Beale on Broadway. Odds are, Beatle Bob will be at one of those shows. If you're not from St. Louis, you probably don't know Beatle Bob. If you are from St. Louis, and you still don't know him, it probably means you're not getting out much. Beatle Bob, also known as Bob Matonis, has been to a concert every night for the last 11 years. Producer Adam Allington has our story.

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I met Bob Matonis the same way almost everyone does. You're at a concert, maybe dancing, maybe hanging back, all of a sudden you notice a tall man in his mid-fifties sporting a mop-top haircut and loud jacket, performing the most awkward, yet intense version of the "white man dance" you've ever seen.

"Well it's a combination of a bunch of 60's dances like 'the Duck', a little bit of 'the Twist, a little bit of the 'Frug', the Locomotion'," notes Bob as if he were describing a secret family recipe.

"My signature move is I get my right leg and I twist it behind my left like a bowling move, like you're bowling and then I twirl my right hand to the side like you're rolling dice."

To most people, Beatle Bob's dance stylings look like an odd collection of jerks, pokes, twists and random punches-still, over the years his trademark shimmy and enthusiasm has made him the stuff of legend among touring musicians.

Guitarist Robert Schneider of the band Apples in Stereo says in a business that breeds pretension, its heartwarming to see someone respond so honestly to the music.

"He'll look at you while you're playing, if you do something cool he'll point at you," says Schneider. "And you're like…you thought you did something cool and there's Beatle Bob kind of affirming it, and it makes you feel good."

Bob has been out to at least one concert every night for the last 11 years, often hitting two or three different concerts per evening. To Bob the streak is very important, something he takes immense pride in.

"The last time I stayed home was Christmas Eve 1996, I have not missed a show since then, I've been out every night since then," says Bob.

One minute he's there, the next, poof, he's gone, which is quite a feat because Bob doesn't drive, relying instead on rides friends or public transport.

By most accounts, Bob started turning up around the St. Louis music scene in the 1980s and 90s. Eventually his colorful eccentricities and punishing concert schedule earned him the reputation of a tastemaker of sorts.

"When I first started playing and getting into the scene, we would actually try to find out where he was going," says Dennis Williams, the drummer in the St. Louis rockabilly band, the Trip Daddys.

"It was probably about 15 years ago, I played an old club down on the landing called Kennedy's. I'd heard about him, he's kind of like a legend…if he shows up at one of your shows than, you're cool basically," says Williams.

But if bands are feeling the love from Beatle Bob, the same is often not the case with his fellow concert-goers. Many people find Bob's erratic dancing and jumping up on stage more annoying than endearing…especially if he's at EVERY show you go to.

Wade Alberty launched the protest website beatlebobsitdown.com, where people can vent and share their stories of Bob frustration. Alberty says Bob's antics, while endearing at first, just get old after a while. Bob is totally that guy who will stand up at a concert when everyone else has agreed to sit.

"I just don't know what necessarily he brings to a show, just besides his presence," says Alberty. "I've heard bands say, if Beatle Bob shows up at your show it means it's a great show. I don't necessarily agree with that. In some ways it also seems like he is just seeking the spotlight."

Like any artist with true dedication to craft, Bob says he can't be bothered with other people's hang-ups.

"My whole philosophy is just go out there and have fun, let it all hang out, let your hair down, shake to the beat of your own drummer," counters Bob. "I'm not going to wait for the dance floor to get packed or partially full to go out there. If you want to join me feel free, but if you don't that's fine too but don't knock the Beatle Bob rock."

A lot of people do knock the Beatle Bob rock, and not just for the incessant dancing. Bob rarely, if ever, pays to get into shows, and there's multiple stories of him stealing merchandize or CDs. He's actually been banned from several local clubs.

But not from the Way-Out Club, owner Bob Putnam says its people like Beatle Bob that are the glue that keep the St. Louis music scene together.

"That's what a lot of people forget. Bob is every band's, whether they realize it or not, number one fan," says Putnam.

Putnam has known Bob for more than 40 years. He's seen bands come and go, but Beatle Bob's contributions to the scene are still relevant today.

"It can be a band that would never be anything but an opening band, but if Bob is dancing in front them, he makes them feel like they're something real special. He knows their names and he remembers when he saw them last, and that's important," notes Putnam.

These days, it's not just St. Louis clubs where Bob is making his scene. During the summer, you'll often catch him introducing bands at festivals like SXSW, Lollapalooza or the New Orleans Jazz Festival

But the thing about Beatle Bob that separates him from all the hipsters I've ever known is that he really isn't in control. The tall tales, his monomaniacal intensity on the dance floor-it all seems like something he's compelled to do more than a choice.

Really, who cares if he gets into shows for free or if he dances like crazy? Being Beatle Bob is the space where Bob Matonis feels normal, like he belongs.

Comments

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  • By Mary Carter

    From st louia, MO, 01/26/2012

    I like Beatle Bob and where has he been. Is he still living in st Louis? Beatle Bob you keep doing what you are doing. If it makes you happy so be it. Some people just are not happy with the self so they have to try and pick on you. I hope you well and take care Mary Carter

    By Mary Carter

    From st louia, MO, 01/26/2012

    I like Beatle Bob and where has he been. Is he still living in st Louis? Beatle Bob you keep doing what you are doing. If it makes you happy so be it. Some people just are not happy with the self so they have to try and pick on you. I hope you well and take care Mary Carter

    By Mary Carter

    From st louia, MO, 01/26/2012

    I like Beatle Bob and where has he been. Is he still living in st Louis? Beatle Bob you keep doing what you are doing. If it makes you happy so be it. Some people just are not happy with the self so they have to try and pick on you. I hope you well and take care Mary Carter

    By Joe Schaeffer

    09/25/2010

    Beatle Bob has always been a geat inspiration to me. He has helpded many aband, including mine, get bookings not only in St. Louis but all over the country. He has also contribued a lot of money to the social agency I work as well

    By Jane Smith

    From St. Louis, MO, 08/06/2010

    I've seen Bob everywhere and don't really mind him at outdoor events where there's lots of room, but as paying customers at a recent show at BB's, my friend & I didn't appreciate Bob's big elbows forcing us out so he could dance where we were dancing. He's just rude.

    By V Stassi

    From St. Louis, MO, 04/07/2010

    Since club owner, Bob Putnam, has known BB for over 40 years perhaps he could enlighten us as to what he "does" for a living. I think it would be interesting to know.....does anyone?

    By Tom M

    From G C, IL, 05/23/2009

    Why don't all you that love B B ask him about the friend he got arrested when he gave Bob a ride on one of his stealing sprees? I've even seen Bob steal trash bags from local nightclubs. All of his fictitious contributions to the local music scene in no way validate that kind of behavior.

    By Rev Marcus

    From St. Louis, MO, 05/13/2009

    I'm a musician in St. Louis, and my band has had to endure Beetle Bob far too often, both on stage and off. He is a virus. He's hated by most bands. He steals from touring and local musicians, and never EVER pays a cover. He gives absolutely nothing of value to the music world. I think it's funny how folks who only know of him by word of mouth think he's such a wonderful, colorful part of the local culture, when in reality, he does nothing but detract from what's really important...the music.

    Who cares if he pays to get in shows? How about the touring bands out there trying to make enough money to get to the next town?

    He's a plague to our music scene, and a plague to our town. He disrupts the show for the paying fans. I wish he'd follow Baton Bob to Atlanta and stay there.(what is it with all the egotistical, megalomaniacs in this town being named Bob?)

    sit down beetle bob is now a group on facebook, as well...I joined last week.

    By j j

    From MO, 04/30/2009

    Beatle bob is banned from most stores for his prolific shop lifting. he has hit women with his 'dancing' and pushed a pregnant women out of his way to get on stage. most people like him...if they dont live in st loo

    By Matt Dudley

    From Collinsville, IL, 03/10/2009

    Yeah Beatle Bob is a true character and only hopes he will show up at a show we're playing.

    But he better not try to steal my shit! ha

    By Eric Brown

    From St Louis, MO, 01/23/2009

    I had heard about Beatle Bob for years and seen some local interest stories on him. It wasn't until I saw him at the Duck Room that I really got a true taste of what he is about. The first part of the show it was amusing to watch him and he just seemed to be an over enthusiastic fan. As the night went on I wanted to choke him though. He was pushing people back and his movements grew even more erratic and violent. He started jumping on the stage and it seemed to be his intention to be the show rather than watch it. It is sad to think that this type of behavior is rewarded. Being overzealous is one thing, but Bob just wants the attention- attention that should rightly go to the bands playing.

    By Steve Campbell

    From St Louis, MO, 12/03/2008

    Bob a classic icon of the proud city of St Louis. I've only been here for 3 years but enjoy every minute of life in STL, Esp when BB is at a gig where I'm playing or watching. He's a wonderful part of this city, and I for one am proud to know him! Thank you Bob!!!
    I'll miss you when I go back to Sydney!

    By Steve Campbell

    From St Louis, MO, 12/03/2008

    Bob a classic icon of the proud city of St Louis. I've only been here for 3 years but enjoy every minute of life in STL, Esp when BB is at a gig where I'm playing or watching. He's a wonderful part of this city, and I for one am proud to know him! Thank you Bob!!!
    I'll miss you when I go back to Sydney!

    By Pat Magee

    From University City, 11/30/2008

    Loved your story. First saw Beatle Bob at an outdoor event at WU in the early 80's. Moved to CA and forgot about him until he showed up at the Brave Combo show on Friday after TG. Glad to be back in St Louis and to see an old "legend" at my first concert since my return. Some things never change, This is good no matter how you feel about him.

    By Jodi Allison-Bunnell

    From Missoula, MT, 11/24/2008

    Missoula has its own Beatle Bob--two of them. A man and a woman show up to all outdoor musical performances and do a sort of dance that involves a lot of rope-hauling motions. When you ask them what they're doing, they say that they are "dancing for the Resurrection." They're not usually in the way and add a certain something to the local musical scene. Local oddballs are great fun, and I wouldn't ask them to stay home for anything!

    By William Moore

    From Prince George, VA, 11/17/2008

    I enjoy a good story. A good story is one I want to remember and share with others; Beetle Bob is one of those stories.

    By Victor Kreuiter

    From StL, MO, 11/17/2008

    Beatle Bob's legacy is the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Love him or hate him, Beatle Bob shows up when the rest of us are too tired, too busy, or just not interested. I've been to dozens of shows where Bob has showed up and he has neither enhanced nor detracted from the show . . . he's like that Stag Beer behind the bar that blinks every now and then just to let you know it's available if you're interested. I think some people feel he is trying to steal thunder. I don't. He's like the crazy uncle you're not particularly fond of . . . every once in a while it's good to know the uncle is still alive and kicking.

    By Jackson Foote

    From St. Louis, MO, 11/15/2008

    Thanks for a great piece about this character who has puzzled me at many shows. I'm glad someone finally broadcast the story of this St. Louis fixture, because that's what he is - love him or hate him.

    By Grant MacLaren

    From Byrnes Mill, MO, 11/15/2008

    I can't imagine why many good stage musicians permit permit BB to mess up their shows as he does. Please go home, Bob!

    By Sari Crouch

    11/15/2008

    While I can see why Beetle Bob would be great from a distance or even as a music institution, in real life he irritating. I had a few experiences with him when I lived in STL and trust me, having you view of a show blocked by him or being poked in the ribs by him dancing wherever he pleases with little regard for those around him gets old quickly. I got to know where "Bob Free" shows would be very soon after moving there.

    By michael bollman

    11/15/2008

    Beatle Bob is a very bad joke. He has ruined more than one concert experience for me with his spastic "dancing" and irritating knack of destroying sight-lines.Sadly,doing a story about this dude suggests that popular culture has eaten its own tail.

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