Bobby hasn’t missed a beat
Bobby Zuill wears bandanas wherever he goes. It’s not because the 72-year-old is living on the memories of his days as one of Bermuda’s “rock stars” and thinks it’s cool — it’s because he’s losing his hair.
“I need them to keep the sun off my head,” he laughed.
Mr Zuill was a fixture on the island’s entertainment scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, playing the flute, alto sax, bass guitar and a little bit of trombone with The Savages and The Happening.
“Bell-bottoms, high-heeled shoes and fluffy shirts were big back then,” he said. “It was the era of disco. The Savages was a very popular band in Bermuda in the 1960s.
“We played heavy rock‘n’roll, six nights a week at the Guinea Discotheque above the Hog Penny on Burnaby Street. We had people lined up to Front Street. It was just a little tiny place but boy, did we pack it.”
It was a huge contrast to his performances with The Happening, a show band known for its six-part harmony and its members swapping instruments mid-play.
Herb Alpert’s The Lonely Bull was their signature song.
It all changed in 1976. Mr Zuill and his wife, Rachel, had two young sons to support; he quit the bands and joined the boat charter business.
Music remained a part of his life, however. He continued playing instruments at home, devoting considerable time to improving himself on the flute.
Last year, as he and his wife celebrated their 48th anniversary with a dinner at Blu, he came across Desmond Smith playing the saxophone.
“He sounded great so I went over to him and told him how beautiful he sounded,” said Mr Zuill, who then invited him to visit the music studio he’d built in his back garden.
“I built a carpentry shed a few years ago — that’s one of my other passions — then, I added on to that an area where I could play my music. I was surprised, but he came, and we have been playing together since then.”
Mr Smith encouraged him to play at a fundraiser held this year for the Bermuda Society for the Blind.
Although nervous getting on stage again after a 42-year hiatus, Mr Zuill fell into a rhythm once he started.
Before they knew it, the two had agreed to start a band.
They pulled in keyboard player Reggie Dill, drummer O.J. Barnett and bass player Leroy Richardson, eventually naming the group Winelight after jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr’s 1980 Grammy Award-winning album.
“Every last guy I found that wanted to play with me was Christian and an experienced musician,” Mr Zuill said. “That was important to me because I am a Christian.
“I am blessed that we got this band together because they are all fantastic musicians and sweet people.”
Winelight gets together every Friday and is, at the moment, working on a repertoire of tunes.
Their idea is to play for cocktail parties and “low-key functions”; on Saturday they’ll perform in a concert at Sandys Secondary Middle School.
“We don’t want to be out until 1am and 2am,” Mr Zuill said. “We’re all past that stage.
“Some people have expressed surprise that I’m 72 and doing this but I don’t see what difference it makes.”
Mr Zuill grew up on East Broadway in Pembroke, where the Great Things parking lot is today.
His parents, Mary and Robert James Zuill, were not musical at all.
He started taking bagpipe lessons at Warwick Academy, age 12.
He had been part of a cadet programme at the school and thought there wouldn’t be as much marching if he joined the band instead.
“I did feel cheated because there was even more marching with bagpipes,” he said. “We had to march with the cadets. Then we went to Saltus to practise because there was a bagpipe teacher there, and there was even more marching.
“I’d rather be doing anything at all — football, marbles, cricket — than practise.
“The bagpipes were not an indoor instrument, so I’d go out to play on a hill by myself.
“Then I found there was someone else out there who was playing. They were playing at a distance from me, so I don’t know who they were, but when I started playing, they’d start. That was nice.”
He quit the bagpipes when he was 16.
“I realised the girls probably weren’t going to go for a kilt,” he said. “So I stopped playing the bagpipes and learnt to play the guitar and started playing rock‘n’roll.”
He met his wife, Rachel, at 22 in Montreal, Quebec.
“I moved there for a time,” he said. “I had family there because my mother was Canadian. Friends of the family introduced us and we started dating.”
The couple have two sons, Aaron and Caleb, and four grandchildren.
• Watch Winelight perform as part of A Sunset Evening of Jazz, a concert at Sandys Middle School on Saturday. Tickets, $55 for patrons and $40 general admission, are available at www.ptix.bm
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