BOONVILLE — Six months after his death and a year after the project’s initial conception, a tribute album to Bob Dyer is nearing completion.
Folk musicians Cathy Barton and Dave Para, longtime friends of Dyer’s, have been coordinating the effort to record a tribute to Dyer, who died April 11 at age 67. He was known as the “Bard of Boonville” for his style of “songtelling.”
“Cathy and I felt with Bob’s songs, there was room to do things,” Para said. “He rarely picked an instrument break. … The words are what really matters.”
The album has an array of styles, from a Delta blues take on “The Flood Song” to a rollicking, rocking version of “Phantom Black Carriage.”
“Part of the idea was to have Bob’s songs take flight in other people’s arrangements,” Para said.
Initially, Dyer was involved in the project, compiling a list of tracks that he was interested in seeing people record. He personally wanted to record a song that hadn’t been done in a studio setting before.
Win Grace and her husband, Paul, recorded “Here I Go” and donated part of their studio time. Win Grace said the song was inspired by a book on the lost civilization of Atlantis, which Dyer read while he house-sat for the couple 31 years ago.
“It’s a beautiful melody and so appropriate today to the issue of whether or not we will be able to save our planet,” Grace said. “This song hasn’t been recorded by anybody else.”
The two had planned to play the song for Dyer, but he died the day they had planned to play it for him.
The album will also feature a recording of Dyer singing “The Death of Sitting Bull” at the 2003 “Everybody’s Got Love” concert.
“Cathy and I didn’t want to do this whole thing on our own,” Para said. “Sometimes, I wish we had Bob around so we would have arguments. It would have been interesting.”
Barton put on a record from 1982 of her and Ed Trickett, a New England-based folk musician, singing Dyer’s “River of the Big Canoes.”
Para and Barton first heard of Bob Dyer in the late 1970s, when they lived in Columbia. Dyer played in a concert at the Chez coffee house on Hitt Street, and Barton was taken with “River of the Big Canoes.”
“He has a way of writing songs,” she said. “It flows and goes.” At the time, she was going to be touring with Trickett, and she brought the song to his attention. It became part of their repertoire.
In 1981, Barton and Para moved to Boonville so Para could work for the Boonville Daily News. Through word-of-mouth, Para looked for a house in Boonville, and Dyer responded. He offered the pair half a duplex.
Para and Barton quickly found that Dyer shared an interest in music and history that changed their lives.
“If I put my ear against the wall, I could hear Bob practicing a new song,” Barton said. “Sometimes I’d kind of learn the songs before he’d come over and show it.”
The trio collaborated on two Civil War-themed albums and did a school presentation over a 22-year span about Missouri’s cultural history.
“It’s a long history, and we’ve got to figure out where to go from here,” Barton said, referring to the couple’s relationship with Dyer.
Dyer was a mentor to her, Barton said, and she has taken to writing her own songs.
“Being around Bob kind of rubs off,” she said.
Dyer has had a lasting impact on not only those who knew him but also on the region.
Barton and Para said he was instrumental in correcting the misperception that Missouri translates to “Muddy Water.” Rather, it translates to “People of the Big Canoes.” He wrote the text for the Department of Natural Resources’ Lewis and Clark historical markers and helped preserve historical structures in Boonville.
“There are certain people that have to ring the bell of history and say, ‘Wait, wait,’” Para said. “The story will be there, but you won’t have anything to relate the story to.”
Barton said the tribute album is a fitting way to remember Dyer.
“Bob sure made a mark in this whole area,” Barton said. “This is showing us, as if we needed to be shown, how much Bob was respected and loved in this area. The neat thing, too, is to get as many of his friends, musical and otherwise, involved in this project.”
Grace called the project a “great opportunity to hear different interpretations of his music,” adding that she is “thrilled to be a part of it. He’s an amazing man — multifaceted.”
Currently, 12 songs have been recorded, and Para hopes to record five or six more.
“My great fear now is that we have too much material,” Para said. “Bob wrote long songs.”
Barton and Para have been getting assistance from many friends. The Turner Hall River Rats have been raising money to cover expenses. Para estimates the effort needs $8,000 for production and recording costs. Half of that has been raised, but the River Rats are trying to come up with the other $4,000.
“Our mission is to preserve the cultural art of our area, and Bob is definitely a part of creating the cultural art in Boonville and this area,” said Lesley Oswald, president of the River Rats board.
Dyer was a member of the River Rats and even came up with the name.
“He was a pretty pervasive personality in a very low-key way,” Oswald said.
The River Rats are planning to do a “call-a-thon” to try to raise the rest of the money.
Para hopes to have the tribute album for sale at the Big Muddy Folk Festival in April. He’s set a Thanksgiving deadline for recording.
They hope to hold a tribute concert in the early summer of next year, too.
Grace said that Dyer’s legacy will continue, thanks to his music.
“As we sang the song in the studio, my only purpose was to get out of the way and let the song come through,” Grace said. “I didn’t feel that terrible grief for Bob, though I missed him, because I feel that he was happy and that he’s here with us in his songs.”
The experience has been an emotional one for the couple.
“It’s been a real nice thing to do,” Para said, his words catching. “I had to reach this idea that I should be happy to be so sad. We lost someone that had such a big impact, such a big part of our life.”
“Bob always saw the immense dignity in everyone,” she said. “I think he brought out the best in everyone. He got me interested in history, to reading a lot more. … I think the town and region will remember him for a long time.”