As the lead singer and bassist for Calculated X, Bobby Bowie first caught the attention of local crowds and national recording execs in the early 1980s. His beautiful voice, tireless songwriting, and boyish smile helped take the band to the top of the local music scene and very nearly into the national spotlight.
Later in life, Bowie became a full-time educator, earned his doctorate in education, and caught the attention of a different audience -- learning-disabled children and their parents. As the founder and director of the Bowie Reading and Learning Center in Nashville, he helped kids overcome language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia and behavioral problems. The many success stories are now Bowie's legacy. He drowned May 27th while vacationing at Greer's Ferry Lake in Arkansas.
The move from music to teaching wasn't that great a leap for Bowie, contend friends and family members. His music frequently dealt with subjects such as the promise and goodness in each of us and his desire to help others. While in Calculated X and later in Everyman, Bowie preached a subtle sermon to the late-night masses in clubs here and elsewhere. He was an idealist, a romantic who believed all people deserved a chance -- a theme that later factored into his decision to choose teaching as a career.
"His unique ability to recognize and acknowledge the goodness in people was an attribute that came natural to him," says Alan Hayes, a longtime friend and bandmate of Bowie's in both Calculated X and Everyman. "It's rare that you meet a person such as Bobby who is handsome, intelligent, and filled with love."
Steve McGehee, former operator and owner of the Antenna club in Midtown, still speaks of Calculated X as one of his favorite bands. "From the first time they played you knew they were good, like R.E.M. Those guys were all great musicians."
"Calculated X was the big, fun party band, where most of Bobby's lyrics had a mysterious air about them," says Hayes. "But in Everyman his words were more direct and turned to matters of a metaphysical and spiritual nature."
Bowie left Memphis in 1993 to get his doctorate at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, where he taught for five years. "During that time, he began to miss teaching children," says his sister, Sherri Spain. He then took a job as the clinical supervisor and teacher trainer for the Tennessee Center for Study and Treatment of Dyslexia. In 1998, he opened his reading and learning center.
"Growing up, his goal in life was to take in any person and animal and nurture it," Spain says. "As an adult, in his career, Bobby wanted to take any child who struggles in school and help that child succeed. And we as a family are committed to seeing that goal through."
Spain and her father, Dr. Harold Bowie, former superintendent of Harding Academy of Memphis, recently reorganized Bobby's reading and learning center to keep it open. Dr. Bowie will now serve as the executive director of the school.
This writer was one of those people whom Bobby took in. In the early '80s, as a fan of Calculated X, I struck up a friendship with the bassist with the friendly smile. Over the next decade, he helped me numerous times just because I asked him. He opened doors for me that helped shape my life and career, not the least of which was letting me write a story on him and his band Everyman. The article, which appeared in the November 1988 issue of Memphis magazine, was my first feature. Bowie was always available, even going out of his way to tell me how much he liked it and to encourage me to continue writing. Such encouragement is a big reason I pursued journalism as a career. Looking back, it's not surprising that I wasn't the only person he helped during his short 45 years.
"He was doing what he had a passion for," says his brother, Steve Bowie. "He was living what every man hoped for. Whether it was playing in bands or teaching, he had a dream that he really realized." n
Note: Bowie's former students will hold a public memorial service 2 p.m. June 29th at Nashville's University School. Also, Memphis musicians will present a memorial concert in Bowie's honor in the near future. Watch the Flyer for more information.
Richard Banks is a former editor of Memphis magazine and is now editorial director of SPC Custom Publishing in Birmingham, Alabama.
From "One Moment for Nothing":
From the ground that you stand on
to the sky as far as you can see
by the love that you live for
keep your spirit free.
In the places you call home
on the mountain or drifting on the sea
in the places that surround you
leave a place for me.
One moment for nothing
when time stands still
just leave your worries on the shelf
no long lines
just time to kill
one moment saved for yourself.
-- Lyrics by Bobby Bowie, courtesy of Alan Hayes