Virginia City musician’s heart remains on stage
Appeal Staff Writer
Bobby Kittle wears many hats, but his heart belongs to music.
“It’s always music,” he said. “The thing in life that I like best, aside from my wife, is always the last song I wrote.”
The Mark Twain resident, who works in Virginia City, is a singer, guitarist and songwriter, but also a painter, handyman, bartender and parade announcer.
He plays music, bartends three times a week at the Mark Twain Saloon and Casino and handles handyman jobs in between.
Kittle, 53, who combines strong rhythm guitar playing and a powerful voice with spur-of-the-moment humor at his Washoe Club shows, said he is a combination of his two grandfathers.
“My Grandpa Kittle was a musician who could play any instrument he picked up,” he said. “My Grandpa Horsfall was a comedian and a hobo.”
He sang in the Baptist church in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich, and at 10, asked his father for music lessons. But after paying for Kittle’s five older siblings to take lessons only to discard their musical efforts, Dad declined.
“He said, ‘there’s a guitar in the corner, go ahead and play,'” Kittle said. “I’m 100 percent self-taught.”
His first gig came as a teen, in a bar in northern Michigan.
“They paid me $15 on a Sunday afternoon and I thought that was the most amazing thing in the world; that someone would pay me money to play music,” he said.
At 18 he took his guitar and hitchhiked to Florida.
“My guitar was the ticket,” he said. “I could play a few songs and get a meal, free drinks, a place to stay and a lot of times, a girl.”
Eventually he found his way to Nederland, Colo., invited by an old high school friend, and started a country rock band called the Rudy Toot Band, attracting some celebrity attention from nearby Caribou Ranch, where famous artists went to record.
Dan Fogelberg, Brewer and Shipley, Joe Walsh and member of the Willie Nelson Family joined in when the Rudy Toot Band played in the local bar, about the nearest thing to night life near the Caribou Ranch.
“For five years, the band broke every till record in every bar we played in,” Kittle said.
Eventually he found his way to Reno, and then Virginia City, where he played seven days a week at the now-defunct Long Branch Saloon.
“I tried to leave a couple of times,” he said. “I went to Oregon for a few years and back to Florida for a year or two, but like everyone who tries to leave Virginia City, they come back and so did I.”
He plays the Washoe Club on Saturday afternoons as the Bob in the Buck and Bob show, performing with a local saxophonist. He also does private events like barbecues or weddings.
“It’s a hobby now,” he said. “I’ve played music for 25 years as a living and I woke up one day and thought maybe I should get a job. Bartending is like being on stage.”
Though he takes on handyman jobs, the stage is still where he is most comfortable, whether it is performing or announcing Virginia City’s many parades, which he often does with former Storey County sheriff Bob DelCarlo.
“(Announcing) has nothing to do with music, it’s a whole different animal,” he said. “You never know what it’s like to call a parade until you call the parade.”
Kittle, who recently recorded some songs with the Virginia City All Stars, a group of local musicians, finally plans to record the 100 or so songs he has written.
He lives with his wife, Jo Ellen, and some ducks and chickens on the JB Ranch in Mark Twain. He said if he had to do it all over, he’d live his life pretty much the same.
“The greatest thing in my life, other than my wife, is that my mom and dad are still alive and I can talk to them and touch them,” he said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.