Detroit’s Bootsey X – One Year Gone but Far From Forgotten

By John Perye . November 28, 2014

You know, sometimes you just have to scrape the shit right off your shoes. That’s the sentiment I often felt while talking with legendary Detroit front-man & drummer Bootsey X, who passed away one year ago today. Bootsey, otherwise known as Robert Mulrooney or Bob for short, would often talk about the ups and downs of his life as a musician while spinning records like Exile on Main Street or Iggy’s New Values with me at Flames Favorite Records in Detroit. We’d talk everything music, like the time T. Rex’s Electric Warrior played in the shop and I quickly concluded it was T. Rex’s best. “Nope, The Slider is way better,” he informed me, his favorite song being “Buick Mackane.” It wasn’t long after more exposure to both LP’s that I could see he was right.

1(Bootsey X)

Bob was a fixture on the Detroit music scene for well over thirty years, emerging in the mid-1970’s as drummer for the Ramrods. As he once put it, “The Ramrods were the first band in Detroit to play in the style of the Ramones.” They wrote such timeless classics as “Nothin’ To Do In Detroit,” “I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “Nothin’ Goin’ Down At All,” and the punk masterpiece, “I’m A Ramrod.” He told me when the band left for New York City, the first night out at CBGB’s he saw the Talking Heads play and the next night the Ramones. Then he, along with one time prospective manager Danny Fields, sat at a table with Joey Ramone, who told Bob he liked the Ramrods. “It was like being in London in the late 1960’s.” Like most punk bands of that era, the Ramrods lifespan was short, but for Bob the music never stopped. He continued to drum in many Detroit punk bands including Coldcock, the Sillies, Nikki & the Corvettes, the Mutants, and with Stooges’ guitarist Ron Asheton and Niagara in the group Dark Carnival.

4(Bob, second from left, with The Ramrods)

As the 80’s took hold, Bob tossed the drum sticks into the audience, grabbed a mic and took center stage with Bootsey X and the Lovemasters. I have heard countless stories from many Detroiter’s who argued that during the 1980’s there was no better soul-funk-party-new-wave band than the Lovemasters. They opened up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at St. Andrews Hall during the Chili’s Freaky Styley tour, an album recorded at Detroit’s United Sound Studios. Bob remembered seminal Chili’s guitarist Hillel Slovak coming into the Lovemasters’ dressing room in search for coke. The boys in the band accommodated Slovak and the funk processed to roll on.

8(Bootsey X with long-time guitarist Gerald Shohan)

The stories he told could make any music fan jealous. For instance, seeing Iggy and the Stooges play at the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena in summer of 1973. S.C.S. Civic is an ice rink I learned to skate at before I could walk and has the vibe of a high school gym. At an after party that night, Iggy watched a film someone took of the show all the while trying to steal Bob’s girlfriend. Bob was also at what turned out to be the Stooges very last show, released later on bootleg as Metallic KO. “The sound that night was horrible,” he remembered. Or the time he was hanging out with Johnny Thunders as Thunders splattered the bathroom wall at the infamous Bookies Club with blood while spiking his arm.

2(Bootsey X and the Sugar Babies of Soul – Photo: John Harnois)

Around when I met Bob in 2006, he had fallen on hard times. The apartment he lived in had caught fire and he’d been constantly moving from one broken down place to the next. A life in music had brought him a wealth of unbelievable experiences, but like many a musician’s story, the big pay-day never came.  He confessed to me that he wished he could’ve written a drum part, like the one in “Lust For Life,” that he could just live off of and not have to struggle. It was around this time that a ray of light did shine on Bootsey. He had been offered the chance to tour Europe with Detroit Soul legend Nathaniel Mayer. This was a big deal to Bob because it would take him to places he only dreamed of playing in.

I got in touch with Outrageous Cherry guitarist Matthew Smith, who was playing with Mayer and Bob in Europe, and asked him about when they played Berlin on November 26, 2007, at Bassy. Smith remembered, “Bootsey X was happy to be in Berlin. We played a great gig with Nate at Bassy, a really nice club, nice vibe. The next evening, me and Chad (bassist) and Bootsey went to see the reunion gig of Harmonia at that weird hall built by the Americans (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), it was really cool.  We got to talk with Moebius, Roedelius, and Rother, and hung out with Jeff Tarlton, our psychedelic Detroit friend who lives in Berlin. I do remember walking through the streets of Berlin with Bootsey, and noticing that he looked like an integral part of the whole scene. I remember thinking that Bootsey X makes sense on the streets of Berlin. He was a great friend, and a fantastic musician. Nate loved his drumming, and so did all of us.”

3(Matt, Nathaniel, Bootsey, Chad – Paris 07′ – Photo: Jean-Luc Jousse)

On that trip Smith, “Noticed he was taking lots of medication for headaches. I noticed he wasn’t feeling great, seems like it was the early stages of his illness.” I also noticed around this time things were off about Bob. He was having trouble concentrating on the work in front of him and he’d tell me he was getting lost in his neighborhood, walking the streets in confusion. The news soon came down that after being told at one hospital emergency room he was fine, another hospital diagnosed him with a brain tumor that needed to be operated on immediately.

After his brain surgery, I visited Bob in the hospital. He laid in bed, half his head shaved with a line of staples running across it, a real punk-rock look. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, the main thing we talked about during the visit was music. He still had a craving for it even then. Bob looked at me and said point-blank, “Seeing Tegan and Sara would be like seeing the Beatles to me.” Luckily for him in the distant future Tegan and Sara would be doing a show in Royal Oak, Michigan, and I assured Bob we would go. The night of the concert I went to pick up Bob while he stayed in a nursing home where the hospital put him. It was in a rough hood. I walked into this horrible smelling place and at the end of the hall, the last room, there was Bob and a few of his belongings. The whole ordeal of signing himself out of there made us miss half the show, but what we saw I knew Bob really enjoyed. He said he loved Tegan and Sara’s song writing.

10(Bootsey X in the basement of Lilies, late 1980’s – Photo: Art Lyzak)

What’s truly incredible is after all Bob endured, he still performed music! My jaw dropped when just months after his surgery he was banging the hell out of a drum kit with that ticking time bomb in his head. Anytime Bob took to the stage it was entertaining to watch and he was always in the groove. A true musician, and sometimes critical, Bob would say he liked a lot of local bands, but he wished they’d all slow down when they played live. He felt a lot of bands rushed the tempo. Through it all, he always had a great sense of humor. After one Lovemasters’ gig at the Old Miami when during their fourth song they blew the power and had to stop the show, I bought Bootsey’s “Hot Pants Power” 45. “I emptied my bank account three times to put that out!” He showed me the picture on the back sleeve and pointed to the guy standing next to the cover model. The guy was a random drug dealer who’d been watching the photo shoot in a not so nice part of town. Bootsey got the guy to pose in the shot, “He’s selling crack in a Martin Luther King Jr. T-shirt,” Bob said with a laugh.

Unfortunately, after a years of battling the brain tumor, Bob succumbed on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, 2013. The last time I saw him was at his record release party for Women’s Love Rites on June 29th, 2013. Matthew Smith, who produced the record, told me that night that Bob was adamant on finishing and releasing the album while he still could. I tried to speak with Bob that night, who was wheel-chair bound, but I could see he was having trouble communicating. He managed to sign the record for me, and I thanked him for everything. As he was helped into his ride out of there, I knew it would be the last time I’d ever see him.

So on this day, let us remember the great times and music Bootsey X a.k.a. Bobby Beyond a.k.a. “Genius from the Waist Down” a.k.a. “Pusherman of Love” or for short just Bob, has left us with. He may not have sold a million records, but the mark he made on the Detroit music scene outweighs any statics imaginable. Thanks for all the wisdom Bootsey, you are sorely missed.

New Boot and Me(J.P. and Bootsey X – 2010 Photo: Sandy Hopkins)

Special Thanks to Matthew Smith and Marta Monson


5 thoughts on “Detroit’s Bootsey X – One Year Gone but Far From Forgotten”

  1. As one of the “Sugar Babies of Soul” during the days of playing all the clubs (early – mid 80’s), including Alvin’s, Mr. Christians, The Old Miami, Chinese food restaurants, and hanging with Bob after hours within blocks from my house (he used to live above Virginia Farrels). I was flattered that the videos he posted included me and Val shakin’ it! I am the one who is not Val. She could sing. I liked to dance. RIP Boot.

  2. Always great to challenge Bootsey in our “Name That Tune” showdowns before the internet. Last time for an hour on Main Street in Royal Oak just before his surgery. We would call internet answer folks…..those low down cheating bastards…

  3. Great piece. Bootsey played a Lovemasters show as part of my Stooges book release party at the New Dodge in October 2011, and he was awesome on stage but I remembering him wandering off afterwards and Ricky Ratt going to look for him. He’ll forever be missed.

  4. his love of music, he shared with me and I’m forever grateful! I remember when he was writing “soul mobile” and him reading the line to me “she’s got an engine like Aretha Franklin”

  5. Bob had a great sense of humor – we got him to sing on a tune called ” You’ll never get behind (with a behind like that!)” and he ended up contributing a verse or two. He was great fun to play out with.

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