Robert Colclasure: aka Rouse. I knew Bob in passing the first couple of years I was in Ontonagon as he was subbing at OASD from time to time. I first realized what a funny, talented guy he really was when I hosted a little musical gathering in my basement for anyone who wanted to show up. When Bob and the Fischer boys (John and Bobby) cut loose with their Kingston Trio stuff, it was polished and fun. What put them over the top as entertainers were Bob C’s stream of consciousness asides and jokes that had us all in stitches. His imitations of political figures (national and local), actors (John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were by far his best), and just about any ethnic dialect one could think of were always spot on. He moved on to teach in both Abbotsford and Merrill, WI but was always willing to pop in and share a song or two on his frequent visits to Ontonagon.
I recently related some ‘first paying gig’ stories from friends and acquaintances. When John Fischer e-mailed me about his first paying adventures with Bob C and Bobby F, he added the following tidbit:
“I remember the time he (Bob C) and I went to see the Kingston trio in Green Bay. We went to both shows, and at the end of the nightcap show, they asked for a volunteer to come up and sing with them and I raised his arm so high they chose him. When he got up on stage he took over the crowd. People asked me if he was a plant in the audience as he was so funny. True to form, when they had him sing and play a song, he sang the melody and ended up making Bob Shane of the Trio harmonize. They were so impressed with him that they invited us backstage to chat afterwards. It was a night to remember, especially now that he is gone”.
Bob C was that kind of person. The first conversation you had with him felt more like you were talking to an old buddy you hadn’t seen for a couple of years. He was talented enough to stand side by side with the Kingston Trio and make people think he was planted there as part of the show. He wrote one of the most moving songs I have ever heard about the Vietnam War, yet was humble enough to avoid sending me a copy to air on WOAS-FM for fear that some might think he was tooting his own horn. Bob was a funny, complex man who was deeply affected by that war but like other funnymen (Robin Williams, Chris Farley, John Belushi to name a few), he made sure that you saw the ‘funny stuff’ and not the scars.
The Fischer boys spent a lot of time performing with Bob so I asked John if he had any other stories to share: “As to Bob C stories….none can top his asking Bobby and I to come to Abbotsford (WI) to save their prom. Yes, Kingston Trio music for their prom! He was the Junior class advisor, and all he could get for the prom was a guy who played piano with his wife that drummed. That painted a bad picture in my mind so off we went, Bobby and I, to rescue the prom. After helping him set up the decorations all day, we went to his apartment to warm up. We went to the prom ready to perform, figuring we should first see how bad they were. The guy was playing a synthesizer/organ and both he and his wife sang. It didn’t even take one song before we realized how much better they were than us! I still don’t think I’ve ever heard more quality music out of two people! Needless to say we snuck back out…but the story didn’t end there. Somehow, we ended up at the A&P (grocery) store there, as one of his students was working and wanted to hear our sound. So we set up shop in the main aisle, and played in the A&P for over an hour. Bob made up some kind of vegetable song that made it difficult for me to play I was laughing so hard. I still think when he got rolling, Robin Williams would have had a hard time keeping up!”
I am holding out hope that one day I will find the cassette tape I made of Bob C and the Fischer boys in my basement those many years ago. I had several copies and when Bob passed away, I was asked if I could send one to his family. Haste makes waste as they say and I just may have sent the master, but that is okay. I was there and all I have to do is think of a Kingston Trio song title and I am instantly transported to that time and place with Bob picking his banjo and cracking us up as only he could with the Fischer boys joining in.
Many thanks to John Fischer for sharing his memories. There is still one mystery that we haven’t cracked: Bob’s nickname was ‘Rouse’ but no one exactly remembers why. Chugger Fyfe tells me that Bob’s older brother was called ‘Rouse, Sr’ and that the handle got passed down to Bob. John seems to think it was derived from their father’s given name of Roscoe. In this day and age of the ‘one name performers’, it would have been a great stage name!