Photo by Glenn Bewley
Lead guitarist Bob Elsey was born in Bethesda, Maryland. His family moved around-- Dallas, Nashville--before settling on Atlanta in 1967. In early 1978, when Bob was only 19 years old, he met Florida writer and musician Jeff Calder, and the two formed The Swimming Pool Q’s. (The first song they co-wrote was "Rat Bait".) Over the years, Bob has also played on recordings by a number of artists, including Ottoman Empire and The Windbreakers. Additionally, he is a woodworking artist who creates painted sculptures in the Outsider Art mode. He also designs and builds specialty home interiors. The following account of Bob’s early years appears in the booklet which accompanies the 2001 reissue of The Deep End:
As a youngster, Bob was a gifted "natural" athlete with a superb pitching appendage. At some point in his high school years, he got into Jimi Hendrix and, in turn, the Jimi Hendrix got into him. During this visitation, things got confused, and Bob "suddenly lost interest in his studies." However, the lad wasted no time in applying his formidable coordination skills to playing a Teisco electric guitar--all day long. In the kitchen below his bedroom, Bob's mother would beat on the ceiling with a broom handle when it was time for dinner or the occasional chore. Bob's older sister was friendly with the Atlanta guitar virtuoso, Glenn Phillips, who had begun his solo career in 1974 after the demise of Hampton Grease Band. Soon Bob was taking lessons from Glenn. These tutorial sessions were usually accompanied by snack-feeding frenzies of the L’il Debbie variety. This monk-like diet and a fondness for the television series, "Sea Hunt," contributed to Elsey's single-minded pursuit of improvisational finger speed and the unique expression of arcane construction evident throughout The Deep End [see "Black Bug"]. Shortly after Elsey turned 19 (his love sign is Libra), Glenn Phillips brought to his attention the existence of a Florida writer who, Phillips had said, had some different-sounding songs and wanted to start a band.
In January, 1978, Bob and Jeff retired to Florida, where Jeff lived at the time, and the two began working on the first Swimming Pool Q’s material. Here is an excerpt from Calder’s unpublished chronicle of their expedition:
My wife and I lived on the outskirts of Lakeland in the oldest standing house in Polk County. It was a small cottage situated in a flat pasture with an enormous herd of cattle. A few hundred yards away was a small pond, which a medium-sized alligator had all to himself. We rented the place from Judge Carver, a rich old goat who had recently tied the knot with a woman half his age. To the consternation of his family, he then proceeded to build a sprawling plantation-style home known to local wags as "Judge Carver's Last Erection." A floor below FBI Headquarters in the Arcade Building downtown, Judge Carver's office was a giant dust mote in which he'd been enclosed since the days when Florida had been controlled by Spain. "Just pay me on time," said the Judge, showing a tooth. "I don't give a damn what you do out there." Elsey and I spent the next month writing and organizing a taping session. In the mornings I would work on assignments for the Tampa Tribune while Elsey ate L'il Debbie’s and walked around outside playing his Fender Telecaster from which he'd removed the finish with a spoon. Sometimes we would drive around Lakeland in the afternoon looking for material. In the evenings we went to the Silver Moon Drive-In Theater or rolled into town to see if the lights were still burning in the FBI Headquarters at the Arcade Building. If they were, we'd call from a payphone and ask, "Hey, what's happening with that Cuba thing?" One day, Bob was walking around with the cows, playing a weird, catchy riff in some odd time signature. I said, "That sounds pretty good. Let's go look at the rednecks." Driving past Jitney Junior No. 2, a convenience store indigenous to the locale at that time, we spotted him. He was in a purple Gremlin, down low in the seat. He looked as if his name might be Roy. He appeared to be spying on someone inside. Eventually, he got out of the compact and walked over to the space between the payphone and the ice machine. He stood there for awhile, spying some more. That was all we really needed to make it happen. Back at the house, I dug up some notes I'd made in North Carolina and strung them together, in a fashion like this:
Roy's like a cow with a bloodshot eye
He's got a short fuse He left a scar on me
He took the skin right off my nose
And the back route out of this town
He suffers with dyspepsia
Watch it! Rat Bait!
I pulled out my 1920s era saxophone and rustled up some squawking to play over Bob’s chord changes in the bridge. Combined with the pasture riff from earlier in the day, we had the words and music completed for our first composition, "Rat Bait," before the sun went down. By midnight, we'd recorded it to a Teac 4-track 3340 tape deck on loan from Pete Jarkunas. (Pete would later play bass on The Deep End.) Re-recorded for a 45 RPM single in 1979 and then again for The Deep End, "Rat Bait" would become The Swimming Pool Q's calling card for several years to come.