New Jersey’s Robert John, a rock ‘n’ roll treasure (Opinion)
Ever since COVID-19, I have a new perspective on friends and how I choose my downtime. I cherish those friends and family that I am close with and respect my time.
Every Sunday of Labor Day weekend for the last 21 years, I’ve been down at Jenkinson’s in Point Pleasant Beach for The Big Joe Jersey Talent Show. On that Sunday of Labor Day weekend, we hold the finals of my talent show and I ask some area celebrities to judge the final 10 or 12 acts and choose the winner of the yearly contest.
Over the 20 years I’ve been blessed to have friends who are actors, comediennes, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musicians, radio hosts, Academy Award winners, Grammy Award winners and prolific musicians and dancers all judge my talent show. All of our judges donate their time and the only compensation I give them is a dinner after the show along with some enjoyable conversation. Because they are friends, they always step up to lend a hand in finding new talent.
One judge I miss the most is my good friend Robert John. Robert, you may remember, had a couple of big hits including a number 3 hit with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." a 1972 remake and a big number one hit "Sad Eyes" that topped the charts in 1979 and garnered Robert a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Performance of 1979.
His competitors that night at the Grammy’s were Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, James Taylor and Kenny Rogers. Some talented field. Billy Joel walked away with the hardware that night but Robert told me he was just thrilled to be included in the category. That’s the kind of guy he is.
I met Robert about 15 years ago at an Irish neighborhood bar The Celtic Cottage in Long Branch. I was sharing an adult beverage with a couple of friends when Robert came over with my friend, Kevin Martin the owner of The Celtic Cottage, and introduced himself. I was shocked! I said "THE Robert John?" and he chuckled and said yes and that he was a fan of my radio show. He sat down next to me and it was like I had known him all my life. We became good friends.
His stories that he told about growing up in the music business were mesmerizing. He sang at the age of 10 in Carnegie Hall in New York, he had his first charted hit in 1958 at the age of 13, while recording under the name of Bobby Pedrick with White Bucks and Saddle Shoes, which was written by the Hall of Fame writer Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. At the young age of 13, he was hanging around the famous Brill building in New York where hit after hit after Rock and Roll hit was born.
At the Brill building, Doc Pomus took Robert up to meet someone important. Robert said he was told to be on his best behavior, so Robert being a kid, got a little nervous wondering who he was going to meet. The elevator opens and the door across the hall is ajar and in the room standing in front of him is Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll. Robert shook his hand exchanged pleasantries and said Elvis couldn’t have been nicer. It was Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman who put Robert at the age of 13 in the back of Mort’s Cadillac and they took him to be on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. It would be Robert's first of three American Bandstand appearances.
Robert’s unique falsetto voice made him a special commodity and even in his adult years he was called often to jump in on background vocals of some big hits, most of which he was unaccredited.
I’ve so enjoyed my friendship with Robert. He and his partner Susan have been frequent guests at my house for special parties or to hang out at my outside bar. He would frequently accompany me to many of my oldies concerts, knowing many of the original members of the groups and hearing them exchange stories was like watching music history unfold in front of your eyes. He would always ride down to the talent show finals with me and he would bust my chops about a joke I had said that day on my show and he always wanted to know how the talent was this year.
I haven’t seen Robert in a couple of years, probably since a little after Thanksgiving in 2019. Robert suffered some medical conditions that require special care. I wanted to see him but that was a strict no because of the virus. I miss our conversations, his music history lessons but most of all his friendship. We should all have a friend like Robert John. I pray he gets better.
See you this summer on the beach at Jenks for the Big Joe Jersey Talent Show.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.