If there were a magic potion that made musicians tune into a harmonious stylistic frequency for a lifetime, guitarist Elmer “Bob” Delk, 94, of Hillsboro and multi-instrumentalist Eugene Just, 78, of Marion have tasted it.
They have been jamming together off and on in different bands and musical projects for the past 60 years. Most notably, they teamed up in the “Peabody Plainsmen,” “Bob and the Boys,” and the “Singspirationals.”
So what is the secret to their longtime collaboration?
“It’s just been a good friendship,” Just said. “The common denominator was music. We both had the same type of musical interest. We played country western roots and gospel, waltzes, and a little polka, too.”
“We were pretty young when we started, “Delk said. “It wasn’t always just he and I, there were always two or three guys playing with us and we both had other bands, but I’d say it was interest in music.”
Delk started playing at 10 years old in a family band.
“Music was kind of born into me,” Delk said. “It was always in the family. Mom played piano. My sister chorded on the dobro. Dad played violin and showed me some chords on a guitar or ukulele, but I know nothing about notes. I play all by ear.”
Just began taking piano lessons in elementary school but quit before high school because he said it wasn’t something boys normally played back then. He started learning guitar, bass, and accordion instruments after that.
The duo started playing together in 1942, when Just was about 12 and Delk was about 28. Just’s parents drove him to Delk’s home to play music.
“He was just a little guy when we first met,” Delk said. “He had a little more training than I did, but was very interested and wanted to learn things, so I was happy to show him what I knew.”
In about 1958, Just officially started gigging with the Peabody Plainsmen after a bassist quit.
“They had always been an inspiration to me,” Just said. “I just picked up the bass on my own, playing by ear because most everything we learned was taken off a record or a tape.
“We always joked that we were five guys and a bass. We all barely fit in the car with that stuck between all of us and the neck sticking up over the front seat.”
About a year later, the group made a home recording in a unique place.
“We crammed the whole band into a buddy’s bathroom,” Just said. “The acoustics were better.”
Each chuckled at the memory.
“I think one guy was probably sitting on the toilet and another was in the shower,” Delk said. “We were bunched up and bumping into each other in there.”
They started playing in the Singspirationals in 1970, in which Just played the piano. The group went to Oklahoma City to record an album in 1973.
“Bands had theme songs back then,” Just said. “‘San Antonio Rose’ was ours.”
It was an upbeat Texas song they usually started shows with, Delk said.
While with those bands and with Bob and the Boys, they played a vast number of county fairs, banquets, community and church events, several Fourth of July celebrations in Peabody, school functions, parades, and various businesses’ conventions in and out of the area.
“We played for entertainment mainly,” Delk said. “People usually just sat and listened. Sometimes they danced.”
Playing some songs Delk, Just, and various band members learned to anticipate each other’s non-verbal cues while playing.
“You could look bought look at each other and know what the other is thinking.”
A slight nod often indicated a player’s turn to take the lead during a solo section, Just said.
“Eventually, it just automatically works together,” Just said, “and I guess we played some of the same songs together for about 60 years.”