Who's the next Lou Hobbs?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

If you're reading this, you're probably someone interested in the local arts and entertainment community. And if that statement applies to you, you probably also read about the death of Lou Hobbs last week.

Not that his death was really a surprise. Seems like everyone who knew the man knew he had struggled with Parkinson's disease for several years. From what I hear, he fought the disease tooth and nail, but there's really nothing you can do in the face of Parkinson's.

Though it was no real surprise, you can bet a bunch of people were still shocked by Lou's death. For me, growing up in Southeast Missouri, the name "Lou Hobbs" was just a part of life, as was his image late-night on the weekends on KFVS12, one of the only channels I got out in the country.

Yes, Lou Hobbs was in many ways the popular music representative of Southeast Missouri; a man whose musical style, rockabilly, was identified with by many of the older generations and a musician who had reached some measure of fame. Granted, Lou never got as big as Sheryl Crow, but on the local scale, among the right people, in some ways he was.

Lou had achieved his fame well before Parkinson's brought his long career to a premature halt -- decades ago he had several recordings hit the country charts, and recently his fame in Europe -- where rockabilly is an extremely popular musical form -- skyrocketed, taking Lou to the top of the independent music charts.

And don't forget how he became the musical ambassador of Southeast Missouri when Iben Browning made his whack prediction of an earthquake on the New Madrid fault. Lou wrote a song that captured the fear and paranoia Browning's prediction inspired in even the most reasonable Southeast Missouri fault line dwellers. And the national media paid attention.

So, will we ever see another Hobbs?

Earlier I mentioned Crow, but we can't call her the next Lou Hobbs. She's on a different level: Her celebrity is much more national and global than local.

We have to remember, Lou was a musician who had fans in Europe, and some across America, but locally he was a celebrity. Sure, there have been other Southeast Missouri musicians, mostly of his generation, make good with hit records: Billy Swan, Narvel Felts and some others, I'm sure. But did they achieve the cultural significance in Southeast Missouri that Lou Hobbs did? I'd say no.

It all comes down to his TV show. He was a musician, but his local celebrity really grew when his identity became that of a TV host as well. He interviewed big names, and people tuned in. In the process, they heard Lou's music, too.

Could there be another Lou Hobbs, another Southeast Missouri resident who becomes a local celebrity on that level, and who actually STAYS in Southeast Missouri?

In today's age of cable TV and competing media, probably not. Lou might just be the first and last.

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