The Legend of Trumpet Bob

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The Annual Crooks Second Line Celebration is a special New Orleans style tribute to our loved ones that have passed on. The internationally famous drummer and long-time Key West resident Richard Crooks passed after a long illness in late 2014. Richard had been a musician’s musician all his life.  He specialized in making songs better for almost everyone in the music world from Bob Dylan to Doctor John.

A good friend, fellow drummer Mick Kilgos, organized a celebration of his life on a pleasant January Sunday in 2015. It was to be a gathering of his many friends at the Hog’s Breath Saloon for a Bloody Mary around noon, followed by a New Orleans style Second Line Parade down Duval Street with a Key West Musicians Funeral marching band (that included almost every musician in Key West) followed by his many friends in the traditional Second Line.  We had about a half dozen large photos of Richard, carried by family and friends. The crowd of well-wishers included an affable trumpeter known as Trumpet Bob. He warmed up with the other band members at the Hog’s Breath Saloon. Then his trumpet blared boisterously all the way down Duval Street celebrating the memory of his friend Richard Crooks.

The Second Line ended at the Green Parrot with the Musicians Funeral Band’s grand finale rendition of Louis Armstrong’s 1938 hit song “When the Saints Go Marching In”. This was followed by an amazing three-hour jam session with Richard’s musician friends, from all over the nation, on stage at the Green Parrot. For the first time that I can remember, there were more musicians inside the Parrot than non-musicians.

The following year, we did it again as a follow up tribute to Richard and as a fundraiser for the Bahama Village Music Program (BVMP).  The money raised would fund the Richard Crooks Memorial Scholarship to send two of BVMP’s best students to the Berklee School of Music Summer Program each year.  This year would be different as everyone was invited to buy a large photo of their loved one (for a donation to BVMP) or bring a poster to celebrate in the Second Line Parade.

The Key West Funeral Band increased exponentially. Trumpet Bob and almost every horn player in the area would join the parade. More posters were added every year. More friends and family joined the Second Line march. The names of the Honorees would be read on stage at the Green Parrot. It’s was a huge success and has grown every year.

The police estimated over 1,000 participated in the January 2019 Annual Crooks Second Line Celebration parade – over 200 Honorees were celebrated. The best part is we get to celebrate our loved ones every year. It’s a forever celebration of life.

As the President of the Bahama Village Music Program and official photographer, I organize a group shot at the Hog’s Breath Saloon of all the posters of the “Honorees”. In 2019, I counted over 160 posters in the wide-angle photo.  There were about 20 photos of one Honoree, Chuck Gilmore, who had passed away very unexpectedly. Approximately fifty of his friends joined in the march.

When the parade ends in front of the Green Parrot, I do a follow up wide-angle crowd shot high up on an eight-foot ladder.  Everyone gathers around the Second Line Marching Band playing “The Saints Go Marching In” and other traditional music, while holding up poster photos of their loved ones as high as possible and enjoying the celebration.

One of moments I remember about the 2019 Second Line Celebration was when I was photographing the “End of the Line” group shot. The crowd was huge, and I was on the ladder straining to get everyone in the shot.  In the back of the crowd, I was startled to see the poster of Trumpet Bob as an Honoree being held up. It was a photo I had taken at the First Crooks Second Line Celebration in 2015 while he was playing his trumpet in the first marching band. Trumpet Bob had become a regular attendee of the Crooks Second Line sashaying with his trumpet down Duval street.

After I finished the group photography and inquired with a few of the others about Honorees, I was told that Robert William Wandras, aka Trumpet Bob, had passed on August 7, 2018 in Coventry, RI., at the age of 84.  I had no idea! His family had purchased a poster from BVMP to honor him in the 2019 Crooks Second Line Celebration of life. We will ensure he is honored every year hereafter.

I was surprised at the news of his passing. After thinking about Bob for most of that evening. I looked up a few photos of him from the past and gathered some thoughts about mortality in general and the inspired wisdom of this wonderful celebration of life that everyone can share and celebrate their loved ones every year. If I had not seen his poster displayed with the other Honorees, I might not have known of his passing. I looked up his Facebook page and it still listed photos of Trumpet Bob.

Whenever we met in the past, the conversation was usually about the Key West music scene. I remember once he bristled when I most inconsiderately said that we only had a couple of really good trumpet players in Key West and mentioned the name of two other musicians. He then proceeded to give me a very good lecture regarding his credentials and experience. I googled his funeral notice and found out a great deal more about Trumpet Bob that we had never discussed.

When in Key West, Trumpet Bob hung out at Saluté quite a bit. He sat in with a number of groups in town.  Key West is notoriously short of trumpet players, and Bob was very good.  He played with Love Lane Gang, Patrick and the Swayzees, and Billy the Squid and the Sea Cow Drifters.  One night while at Salutè, he asked my wife to swing dance – he was also a very good dancer.  He flirted with her the rest of the evening, telling stories of his trumpet playing expertise – everyone loved Trumpet Bob.

Anyone downtown between noon and 2 PM could hear Dixieland Tunes from Café Tropical near Mel Fisher’s Museum were Trumpet Bob performed for almost fifteen years. He always wore his signature tuxedo jacket and top hat.

Trumpet Bob was a friend and admirer of Richard Crooks and attended the first Second Line Celebration in 2015.  Later he was a regular in the Second Line Funeral Band.  In 2019 Trumpet Bob became an Annual Crooks Second Line Honoree.

After the march, I spoke about Trumpet Bob to a few other musicians and learned how deeply he was respected. I wish I had gotten to know Bob a little better.  We probably could have been very good friends. Bob was a Korean War Veteran, a retired firefighter, then a licensed Coast Guard Captain, he rode a Harley, loved the water, and was a life-long trumpet player.

At the January 2020 Crooks Second Line Celebration I met Trumpet Bob’s wife Lora Wandras who was holding his poster with the photo I had taken in 2015. She introduced herself as “I am Trumpet Bob’s wife, the wonderful, caring, supportive, adoring gal who encouraged Bob to become a “Key West Legend”. We talked about Bob, of course.

One of our Key West icons stated out of the blue that he had already picked out his photo for the Second Line tribute when he passes. I was taken aback by this comment, and he demurred that “the object of this celebration is to keep your photo out of the parade and keep yourself in the parade”. Rest in peace my friend, the Legend of Trumpet Bob endures.

 

Trumpet Bob and many others will be included in the next adventure of the Soul of Key West, Volume III to be released in 2021. Help support this publication by purchasing your copy of the Soul of Key West, Vol. I & Vol. II at a very special price.

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6 Comments

  • Nancy VanPelt says:

    Ralph, what a great story! I wish that we could have met Trumpet Bob on our trips to Key West. Also, looking forward to getting volume III. Thanks for the story!

    Jim & Nancy VanPelt
    Orlando, FL

  • Bernadette Saccoccia says:

    Wonderful story! Love that you honor these fabulous musicians! They may have passed on but their music will live forever!

  • Scotty Ray says:

    Yes, I’ll take a copy of your book Mr. DePalma. I knew Trumpet Bob when he was still in Newport, Rhode Island and again when he was plying his talents in Key West. A most honorable gentleman he was with an intellect to respect. Both he and wife Lora were Captains on fair-sized Newport tourist ships and when Lora Captained her ship Bob would sound his trumpet from the fantail for the tourists’ entertainment.

  • Great story! I enjoyed reading it and kept thinking about how much I miss you all!

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