"Good Sunday morning and welcome to the Q94 Back Alley Blues Show. Yeah, I'm your host Robert Lynn ... and I'm going to give you the bluezzzz ..."
The first time those words were beamed from the Ozark Radio Network's studios in West Plains to local radios was over a decade ago, on Nov. 5, 1995.
Up to that point, the fall of '95 had been quite an eventful one already, what with O.J. Simpson being found not guilty of double murder the month before, the Carolina Panthers, at that time a spanking-new expansion franchise in the National Football League, winning their first-ever game, and a brand-new format called DVD being introduced to the public at large.
And while all those events were definitely headline-worthy on a worldwide scale, closer to home, the start of a weekly radio program centered around blues and roots-based music was equally as attention grabbing as those other big stories.
Finally, all a music lover had to do to find out what was happening in the world of the blues was turn their radio dial to KSPQ 93.9 FM every Sunday morning from 9 a.m. until 11.
The Back Alley Blues Show was born.
Now, almost 12 years later, that radio program has become a permanent fixture and Robert Lynn, the show's host, has become an institution to listeners all across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
However, according to Lynn, the show's origins were not hatched as a grand scheme to dominate the radio airwaves with his favorite form of music. It was much simpler than that.
"It started by chance, actually. I knew the program director at the station (Chuck "Hooter" Robson) and I happened to be delivering some oak lumber there to a carpenter friend of mine who was building me a stereo cabinet," Lynn said. "Hooter knew that I went down to Memphis a lot and that I liked the blues and that kind of music. At that time they (Q94) were running a syndicated blues program called Blues Deluxe on Sunday nights. He wanted to get away from that and have a live body at the station do a blues show, and he wanted to move it to Sunday mornings. And he wanted to know if I wanted to do it; that's how the show came about."
While he was hooked on music since age 5, a teen-aged Lynn also began to identify with the disc jockeys that made it possible to hear the latest tunes from the hottest artists by simply switching on a radio.
"Growing up in West Plains in the mid 70s, the only really good music I could get on the radio was from WLS AM 89 out of Chicago," he said. "I listened to DJs Larry Lujack and John Landecker (legendary WLS jocks now in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame) and I wanted to follow in their footsteps, so I went to the Columbia School of Broadcasting in Kansas City."
Lynn's dreams of spinning tunes on the radio may have been interrupted by a stint in the Air Force, but while he was serving Uncle Sam in northern California, his love affair with blues music began to blossom.
"I was really turned onto the blues by a fellow airman while I was stationed in California," said Lynn. "He had a big CD collection and also a lot of books on the subject. Being a history buff, I delved into anything I could from those CDs and books and was hooked. And at the same time, I also got a chance to see artists like Johnny Winter, Savoy Brown, Roy Rogers, Elvin Bishop and Stevie Ray Vaughan perform live."
So while he might not have been born with the blues, it didn't take Lynn long to realize that the line between the rock-n-roll that he first heard coming from the rooms of his older brothers and the blues artists he really began to dig in California was a razor-thin one.
"My favorite band that I heard my brothers play while I was growing up was the Beatles," he said. "Then in my teens, I really got into the Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. Little did I know at the time that those groups were playing the blues, or blues-based music. I even saw Muddy Waters open up for Clapton (at the Hammons Student Center in Springfield) in the late 70s. I had no idea who Muddy was at the time, but I did know I liked what I saw."
These days, it's Lynn who gets the chance to help listeners of his program discover music that is largely ignored on mainstream radio. And these efforts have built up quite a solid base of core listeners, thanks to the station's 100,000 watts of braodcasting power, cutting a big swath through the Ozarks and beyond.
"I have a regular caller every month from Rolla, and I've got a regular listener south of Harrison, in Everton, Ark.," said Lynn. "And I even have people call in from Jonesboro, Springfield and Winona, so my listening base is almost a 100-mile radius."
Over the past 12 years, Lynn has had the opportunity to cross paths with not only a host of up-and-coming young blues talent, but also with some of the most legendary names linked to the genre.
This includes the man recognized as the Godfather of British Blues, John Mayall, an artist who has not only released over 70 CDs during his prolific recording career, but who also is responsible for launching the careers of some of the world's most famous guitar players.
"Yeah, one of the more interesting interviews I did for my show was one that didn't happen on the air," said Lynn. "He (Mayall) was supposed to call me at the station one Sunday morning, but he forgot. So later in the day he called me at home and we did get a chance to talk at length. With his past history and the way he turned out great guitarists like Clapton, Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), it was almost surreal the conversation we were having."
Although the chances of a performer new on the scene these days reaching the rarified air that Mayall occupies is a long shot, Lynn thinks today's crop of blues acts still have plenty to offer.
"It took rock to steer me toward the blues, but there are still a lot of artists who have their own style, and they're out there proving that on a nightly basis," he said. "That's really what keeps me hooked; originality. And most of the feedback I get is from people who also like artists that don't try to copy someone else's sound. And that's what catches my ear, too. Originality is what gets me listening to an artist or group."
While he features a couple of newly-released CDs every week on the Back Alley Blues Show, Lynn doesn't turn his back on the forefathers of the blues, either. In addition to handing out birthday salutes to the past masters by spinning some of their biggest tunes, he also has two regular segments that dwell on the sounds of yesteryear; the Classic Blues and R&B Flashback segments.
It's not a stretch to imagine the sound of classic tunes intertwined with the hottest blues of today on his show, but R&B and soul? According to Lynn, those grooves also walk hand-in-hand with the blues.
"It really dawned on me during a trip to Memphis in 1999, when I was listening to (Memphis radio station) Soul Classics 103.5, that old R&B really ties into the blues," he said. "One song they'd play would be Sam & Dave and the next one would be B.B. King. So that old R&B really fits with the blues. Plus, where else are you going to hear that good-old R&B on the radio around here? Maybe on one of the oldies stations, but they're not going to tell you much about the artists, so that's why I decided to do an R&B Flashback segment. I try to focus mostly on Stax and Motown stuff."
And as far as the future of the blues, specifically live blues, in the Ozarks are concerned, Lynn feels confident that the sky is the limit.
"I really think the Ozarks is starved for good blues shows," he said. "For the 10th anniversary of my show, the radio station let me put on a blues concert at the Opera House in West Plains. We had a local artist, Bert Smith, along with a couple of performers from the Mississippi Delta, Duwayne Burnside and Jimbo Mathus. That first show was such a success that it's turned into an annual event. So I think the interest in the blues and roots music just continues to grow in this area."
And to think that a load of oak lumber in the back of a pickup truck on a fall day nearly 12 years ago might have been responsible for starting that growth spurt ....