By day, Bob Chesner is GSRP’s Chief Operating Officer and Finance and Insurance Director, but by night, he indulges one of his first loves: music. After working with him for 10 years—and knowing him for nearly two decades—we wanted to find out how deep that passion runs. In early October, his band Bonfire Choir played a rare set at the Midway Food Park. Afterwards, we sat down to discover how long this professional insurance man has been cutting loose.
(interview has been edited for length and clarity)
How long have you been playing guitar? Is it the only instrument you play?
I starting playing guitar when I was about 12 or 13, but I also play piano, organ, bass guitar, drums and harmonica—plus, I sing and do music producing and CD engineering work. Over the last several years I have also really enjoyed designing and making my own guitars. I have been in bands my whole life, with the exception of about 10 years right after my daughters were born.
What drew you to playing music?
The same thing that draws any boy to learn guitar and be a musician: girls! If anybody ever says differently, they’re lying. However, music quickly became a passion for me; after I taught myself a few chords, a few buddies and I formed a band, and the rest is history. Except, we didn’t make a lot of money. As the saying goes, playing in a band is a great career if you want to make hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year.
Who are your musical influences and/or favorite musicians?
I have been influenced in some way by just about every musician I have ever heard or played with—being a musician is a perpetual and exponential learning experience. That being said, Keith Richards certainly. He may not be considered one of the premier lead guitarists of all time, but ultimately he will be recognized for his amazing creativity, chord voicings, melodies, and he is arguably one of the very best rhythm guitarist of all time. Other influences range from Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Eagles, Derek Trucks, Eric Clapton and Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitar player). All of them play with just tremendous harmony and are so melodic.
From a songwriting perspective, I have been heavily influenced by Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Radney Foster, a Texas singer/songwriter I first heard right after college in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I am a tremendous fan of harmony and lyrics that tell a story, and all of them are masters of the craft.
What three musicians (living or deceased) would you invite to a backyard BBQ?
Keith Richards—because he’s Keefer! I have this beautiful photograph of Keith Richards in my office taken by Angelique van Woerkom and the story behind it is fantastic. His book, Life, is something that should be required reading for any guitarist or fan of rock and roll. It is literally a beautiful history of the influence of the blues developed in the United States (primarily in Chicago and in the Mississippi Delta), finding its way to England and then being morphed into rock and roll in the United States.
Paul McCartney simply for his talent. He is 74 years old and seems so young and vibrant—his creativity simply never ever stops. Some of his new stuff is just as exciting and excellent as the work he did with John Lennon and The Beatles and Wings. Truly, truly one of the most gifted musicians and songwriters ever.
Scotty Moore because he is a great and underrated guitarist. He and DJ Fontana (Elvis’ drummer) were simply tremendous behind Elvis. Elvis was great, don’t get me wrong, but Elvis was greater because of Scotty Moore. But more importantly he was there at the birth of rock and roll. I just want to hear his stories.
I feel obligated to add a fourth with Glenn Frey, who is one of my absolute song writing heroes. Perfect melodies, perfect harmonies and he and Don Henley are perfect perfectionists. It broke The Eagles up, it got them back together again. The Eagles are arguably the soundtrack of my life.
Look for Bob’s band Bonfire Choir on iTunes and Spotify; you can also find them playing at Austin-area farmers’ markets, private shows and the occasional charity event.