“Surprisingly, most of my influences are harp players,” says blues guitar player Rob Baskerville. “I was fascinated with blues music, so I would travel around North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi looking for players.” Rob has met, toured, and recorded with dozens of blues musicians, including Jerry McCain, Charlie Bristol, Neal Pattman, Thomas “Guitar” Gable, “Chicago” Bob Nelson, and Bo Diddley. Along with his wife Penny Zamagni, Rob fronts the King Bees, a blues band that has performed all around the country and world since 1987.
Rob was born in Lenoir, North Carolina, and says his father first exposed him to music. Rob’s dad was an amateur big band drummer who performed locally. His grandmother taught piano and gave Rob his first music lessons when she took care of him. Rob’s family moved to Greensboro when he was a young teenager, and he continued to be involved with music, playing tuba in the school band. He also heard a lot of music at home. “My sister would play Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers, and my dad was listening to the Count Basie Orchestra,” Rob remembers. “I realized the one thing they all had in common was that they were all playing the blues.”
When he was in junior high, Rob started playing bass and keyboards in a band with a group of friends. The band practiced in his basement, so all of the instruments were left in his house, and he experimented with them all. He soon became proficient on the guitar, and his fascination with blues continued to grow. After high school, Rob moved back to the mountains to attend Appalachian State University, and started meeting blues musicians from the local and broader regional areas.
Rob met Charlie Bristol and Howard Colbert, blues musicians from Morganton who combined local sounds with those they heard on recordings from blues greats such as Blind Boy Fuller and Lightning Hopkins. “If there was one person that brought the blues and Appalachian sounds together, it would be Charlie Bristol,” Rob says. After forming the King Bees, Rob and Penny spent years on the road traveling and performing with Jerry McCain, from northeastern Alabama. The King Bees also spent time touring with “Chicago” Bob Nelson, and North Carolina Piedmont musicians Thomas “Guitar” Gable and Neal Pattman. Rob says, “Pattman played blues, but also folk and gospel music with tunes played by Appalachian musicians, like ‘Foxchase,’ and ‘Whoopin’ Blues.'” Rob has performed several times at the Lincoln Center and gone on numerous European tours with the King Bees.
Through years of playing and touring, Rob has developed a deep appreciation for and insight into blues music. “Appalachian music is full of the blues,” he says. Rob also says that playing blues has opened up to him a world of cultures. “Music is a thing that transcends racism,” Rob says. “That’s, to me, the beauty of the music.”
Rob is available for performances with the King Bees. He is also available for private lessons and workshops. He is interested in giving school presentations on the blues. He is a regular at the New River Blues Festival held every Labor Day weekend in Grassy Creek, North Carolina.