In Naples and Marco Island, Bobby Gideons is synonymous to the word piano. Playing continuously for the last 48 years proves his popularity as well as Gideons’ sheer talent and versatility.
He knows just about every song ever written and can play any style, including show tunes, country, ragtime, oldies and light classical. He projects a real love of music in his performances.
Stylistically, listeners can hear influences of some of the great pop music pianists from years past, including Roger Williams, Richard Clayderman, the famed duo of Ferrante and Teicher, and yes, even Liberace, whose actual keyboard technique is likened to a light classical player.
Like all of them, Gideons has a true respect for melody and lets the song — whatever the era or the category — speak for itself. But when it’s time to pull out all the stops on an old Dixie, boogie-woogie or ragtime ditty, he demonstrates incredible, crowd-pleasing dexterity and speed. That may be one of the reasons he has performed so long in this area. Call it personality, approachability or just plain charisma.
“I think people enjoy the fact that I play in so many different styles,” said Gideons.
When he started playing around 1938, ragtime was big and the swing bands were just starting. “But I loved country and I loved boogie-woogie, until I realized there were other things out there,” explained Gideons.
He loves his work, which is why his following is so strong and is a secret to his success in Southwest Florida. “Several people have told me through the years that they’ve bought condos here just to hear me play regularly,” he said. “And I play piano bars as opposed to just playing background music,” said Gideons.
Thanks to his open mike policy, many fans step up to the microphone, joining Gideons to either sing or play an instrument. Over the years, he has performed with so many different singers and so many different instruments. “No one seems to miss the fact that I don’t sing,” said Gideons, who prides himself in knowing his regulars and their favorite songs. “I may not know their names sometimes, but I sure do know their song.”
Gideons studied piano, in a non-traditional manner. Growing up in the Tampa Bay area as the youngest of nine children, his mother and five older sisters all played the instrument.
“My mother played in church, but she couldn’t play ‘Happy Birthday’ without the music in front of her,” he said. “I don’t remember the first time I played, but they tell me I was about 4 years old. My older sister would come home from school and practice her piano lesson. I heard it and could play her lesson totally by ear. That’s the way I learned to play.”
Around 1950, Gideons formed a group with his high school friends. Called Bobby Gideons and The Joylanders, performing at a local drive-in theater. “We had a country group at the time, and the owner of the theater wanted us to play out in the concession stand in-between the movies to get the people to come out of their cars and buy snacks. I don’t remember what they paid us, but I know they didn’t charge us to come to the movie.”
Gideons moved to Fort Myers right after Hurricane Donna, in 1960. “Cape Coral was a cow pasture and Fort Myers had a population of 35,000 back then,” he remembers. “I played with a group on WINK Television with a six-piece group. We got five dollars apiece for every show we did.”
Soon afterwards, he had a 30-minute show, “The Piano Moods of Bobby Gideons” until 1968.
From 1963 to 1972, he played at the Cape Coral Yacht Club with a five-piece group and at the Lehigh Acres Country Club.
Gideons, in 1973, got an offer to play the Olde Marco Inn. The proprietors also owned several restaurants in Maine and wanted Gideons to play there as well. He played at the Inn until the end of the season and then played at the restaurants in Maine. He did that for seven summers. Gideons stopped playing in Maine when the restaurants were sold around 1980. But he continued at the Inn for two more years, before moving to The Marco Lodge in Goodland, where he played from 1982 to 1990. That’s where Sunday afternoon jam sessions began.
Some time during his tenure at the Olde Marco Inn, Gideons hooked up with big band leader Bob Synder, an association that lasted on and off until Synder’s own club, The Deck, closed.
After four years at The Quality Inn in Naples, he returned to playing exclusively to the Olde Marco Inn in 1994. He performed as a soloist, at the piano bar, leading Dixieland and country groups, playing weddings and private parties. He also performed with banjoist and guitarist Bob Leary, singer Jebry and drummer Bob Synder, Jr.
But Gideons always played at the Olde Marco, even while performing other area venues. “I started there in May of 1973,” he said, “and they just closed it (earlier this year). So I played there for 35 years.
“The audiences in Marco and Naples have been incredibly loyal,” said Gideons. “You won’t believe the people right now who are just scared to death because they heard the Olde Marco Inn was closed.” Gideons assuredly told them he was not going to go far from Marco or Naples. “I love it here. That’s why I’m here.”
Bobby Gideons performs from 6 p.m. to close Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Erin’s Isle Restaurant and Irish Pub, 6190 Collier Blvd. Information: 774-1880.
E-mail Bruce Klauber at DrumAlive@aol.com or visit him on the Web at www.JazzLegends.com.