Friday, 17 December 2010

Robert 'Bob' Lauer: 24 July 1945–29 November 2010

Lilly Pavlak sends sad news from Switzerland:

The Swiss bluegrass scene has lost one of its important personalities. Robert 'Bob' Lauer [left] was the first, and for many years probably the only, five-string banjo maker in Switzerland. His first five-string he finished in 1973. Since then he had built about fifty of them and repaired many other instruments in his free time. Each instrument was a masterpiece. One of his first customers was Jens Kruger.

I met Bob by surprise in the Alusuisee Company in Zurich in 1973, where we both worked. I could not believe he was from my hometown (Brno) and we probably met as children, because we went frequently to the same violin shop close to my house. He just started to play banjo, after seeing the Deliverance movie and also went kayaking on whitewaters with his friends. So he soon was taking me with them over the weekends. I used to play the Czech 'tramp' songs on my guitar, and soon we started to play together. The first song I learned from him was the 'Foggy Mountain breakdown'. It was the beginning of a wonderful years-long friendship. We used to talk for hours about our biggest love – the bluegrass music and listening to its performers.

He went frequently to the Folk Club Zurich with his friend Vasek, so they took me with them. I met there the Country Ramblers with a Czech guitar player, Tom Matejovsky, and slowly the entire Swiss bluegrass scene and some American musicians, such as Bill Keith and Jim Rooney. In 1974 we started to take some music lessons from Finn Bodenmann and met the Swiss Bluegrass Family. Visited festivals like Lenzburg, Gurten, concerts in the Mahogany Hall Bern, Folk Club Baden, and so on… Of course, we played music every weekend at the Saturday campfires.

Bob brought me to the airport when I went on my first US trip in 1975. Through him I met my ex-husband, who was also starting to play banjo and was in the whitewater and cross-country skiing group. Bobby got married and moved to Fahrweid Weiningen, and my boyfriend and me followed them soon; we lived just about 500 meters apart.

Bob started his band the Bluegrass Friends and later joined the Country Ramblers, when Urs von Arx went to the US. I got married as well and of course Bob became the witness of the marriage ceremony, later also the godfather of my first-born son. His two children Hanna and Roman were just a year ahead of ours. Our family moved to Bülach, when I was expecting my second son in 1985; and since then we met mostly at the weekends, cross-country skiing in winter or whitewater in summer, and of course bluegrass concerts and festivals. With the time, our contact was no more as intensive as in the past.

Bob retired in 2007 and was happy to have time to concentrate on his beloved banjos [right: one of his special projects - a bass banjo in construction]. When I met him for the last time I promised to visit him, make some pictures of his banjo workshop, and write something about him. Before I left to the Czech Republic for the last time I learned that he was at the hospital, and hoped to visit him as soon as I’d be back here. Unfortunately I was too late. I returned home Sunday, just two days after his funeral.

Bob left behind his loving wife Helena, daughter Hanna, son Roman, and his mother. The Swiss Bluegrass Family played the last farewell songs for him last Friday. And I am sure now he is jamming with all his friends in the Heaven Bluegrass Band. Rest in peace, my dear friend! You’ll never be forgotten…