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KENDRICK, ROBERT [BOB SKYLES]
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KENDRICK, ROBERT [BOB SKYLES] (1910–1998). Guitarist and fiddler Bob Skyles was born Robert Kendrick on March 22, 1910, in Eastland County, Texas. He was the son of Brooke “Doc” Kendrick. He grew up in Cisco, Texas, where he began performing music at an early age with his father at local dances. Bob first learned to play the mandolin and later fiddle, guitar, bazooka, saxophone, and clarinet. In the 1920s Doc Kendrick and his sons, Bob, Sanford, and Clifford, traveled around the state as the Kendrick Komedy Kompany, performing at medicine shows and on radio station KNEL in Brady, Texas. By 1932 the group also was performing three thirty-minute shows each day on Pecos radio station KIUN, as well as two to four concerts a week at nearby dance halls and nightclubs.
Within a few years, Bob had left the band and began traveling elsewhere across the Southwest. At a 1936 recording session with Jack Moser in San Antonio, he met E. E. Oberstein of RCA Records. Oberstein suggested that Kendrick change his stage name to Bob Skyles and form a new band, Bob Skyles and his Skyrockets, which made its first recordings with RCA Records in 1937. The core of the band consisted of the three Kendrick brothers—Bob, Sanford, and Clifford.
In 1937 and 1938 Skyles and his Skyrockets recorded around seventy songs with the Bluebird Label at RCA. Oberstein envisioned the band as more of a novelty act, an image the band disdained, and had it record many humorous tunes with bazookas, saws, whistles, ocarinas, cowbells, tubas, and accordions. However, when the group performed live, it included many popular big-band swing and jazz songs in its repertoire. The band’s first hit, “Arkansas Bazooka Swing,” was soon followed by others, such as “Sweet Georgia,” “Little Coquette,” and “Blue Bazooka Blues.”
Over the years, Skyles recruited a number of musicians who would become regionally and even nationally prominent, including Max Bennett, Moon Mullican, and Dave Hughs. In 1940 the Skyrockets switched to Decca Records and began recording more serious songs, most of which they made in Decca’s Houston and Bakersfield, California, studios. That same year Skyles moved to Bakersfield. In 1942 the band split up due to United States entry into World War II, although Skyles remained in California with Ray Wade’s ten-piece band for a couple of years before relocating to San Angelo, Texas.
Shortly after returning to Texas, Skyles reportedly attended a fiddle contest, which inspired him to return to performing regularly. He soon began winning fiddle contests throughout the state. Later in his life, Skyles also supplemented his income by tuning pianos, a skill he learned by necessity while on the road in the late 1930s. Skyles spent the last years of his life battling health problems and died in a retirement home in Palo Pinto County, Texas, on May 11, 1998. In 2002 a CD featuring twenty-seven songs by Bob Skyles and his Skyrockets was released in the United States.
Bob Skyles and His Skyrockets (www.yodaslair.com/dumboozle/western/skyles.html), accessed April 7, 2008.
Joe Carr and Alan Munde, Prairie Nights to Neon Lights: The Story of Country Music in West Texas (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1995). Kevin Reed Coffey, “Forgotten Novelty: Bob Skyles & His Skyrockets,” Journal of Country Music History, Vol. 15, No. 2. Paul Kingsbury, ed., The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Erinn Park, "KENDRICK, ROBERT [BOB SKYLES]," accessed September 24, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsk06.
Uploaded on May 20, 2015. Modified on November 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.