For about 30 years, Bob Jensen has built a successful career for himself as a booking agent through his PEI-based company, Jensen Music International.
While his focus has been on folk and blues artists, he’s had the pleasure of representing a diverse roster ranging from former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor to the Amazing Kreskin to veteran movie star Mickey Rooney. A highlight for Bob was booking Pete Seeger’s last concert tour.
But Bob Jensen is more than just a booking agent. He’s a poet, a novelist and a singer-songwriter. It was in fact in the mid-80s when I first interviewed Bob about his debut album, First Time Since August.
Last year saw the release of Live In Australia, featuring Bob’s spoken word poetry accompanied by musical selections from Celtic guitarist Tony McManus.
Now comes the release of For The Sake Of The Song Vol.1, an album of songs that have been favourites of Bob’s over the years.
“I was actually working on a collection of spoken word poetry,” Bob said from his Charlottetown home. “It would have been my fourth collection. My poetry does feature a lot of music. So we were working on recording some poetry, and I had it in my mind that I would try to record a couple of songs just to see if I could still do it. It had been 25 years since I’d made music. Anyway I said to the producer, ‘I’d like to try a couple of songs.’ So we recorded ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ by Bob Dylan and ‘Colorado Girl’ by Townes Van Zandt. To my genuine surprise they turned out pretty good. And I was having fun for the first time in a long time making music. So I said, ‘Let’s just make a record of music.’ It was completely an impulse decision. I didn’t have a collection of original material that was ready to go, so I thought, ‘Let’s do a collection of cover songs. I had no plan, no songs in mind and precious little money to play with. All of this was happening during COVID when everyone’s short on cash.”
Bob has developed many musical friends over his years as an agent, and it came in handy filling out the sound of For The Sake Of The Song Vol.1. James Keelaghan sang a duet with Bob on James’ song “My Skies.” Emma LeBlanc from the band Vishten supplied background vocals and did a couple of duets. Doug Cox was enlisted for dobro and slide guitar. Former Oysterband member Ray Cooper added cello, and Jon Weaver from the New Brunswick band Modabo supplied additional vocals.
“Chris Corrigan recorded and produced the record,” Bob said. “He’s a fantastic session player who’s worked with people like Natalie MacMaster, Lennie Gallant, Mick Taylor etc. That’s how it came about; it was almost accidental. You know, at the end of the day, I have to say I’m just thrilled to be making music again.”
Bob has plans for more recorded works in the future. He’s working on a Christmas album with Tony McManus and another project called Other Voices. This album will feature artists from four continents performing Bob’s music and poetry. Already lined up are Sylvia Tyson, Lennie Gallant and Black Umfolosi.
“Black Umfolosi are coming out with a recoding of my poetry, which they’ve set to music,” Bob revealed. “I’ve heard it, and they did a wonderful job. It feels great to be creative again. I’ve been working the other side of the fence for so long as a booking agent, it’s good to throw my hat in the ring producing music and poetry again. Really feels good.”
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been severe for touring artists, and no-one knows that more than Bob. As a result, he’s had to improvise and think outside the box to help his clients.
“To be blunt, it’s been desperate,” he said. “We had some huge tours [planned] when this thing broke. I was on tour in Australia when COVID became a ‘thing.’ One morning after a gig I looked at my phone, and there were literally dozens of cancellations. Six months got wiped out, then a year, then a year and a half. At the end of the day for most of us, it will have been the better part of two years before we’ll be able to do any touring that resembles normalcy. I’ve always been somebody who can roll with the punches and kind of think on my feet. I had been releasing my own singles to radio, and I’ve got a really good database of radio [contacts] all around the world. I thought I should offer this service to other musicians, so I put it out there that we could do this and offered a fee that was really competitive, because everybody’s really strapped for cash right now.”
Clients so far have included Dan Hill, Lennie Gallant, Stephen Fearing and James Keelaghan.
“It’s a far cry from the revenue we were earning when we were booking full-time, but at least it’s something coming in, you know? I think it’s something that will grow,” Bob said. “I was talking to an artist from England this morning. He’s part of a really famous band over there, and they do really well. They play big venues, they make really good fees in Europe, and he told me they’re going to have to replace one of their musicians because he had to take a day job. I mean, how long can you go without a gig? I know another artist in England who’s driving a truck right now. We’ll see what happens when the dust settles. Some people seem to think when things finally do return to where we can have large gatherings again, there’s going to be this pent-up desire to see live music. I hope so, because I had planned to run my agency for many years to come yet. We’re all making it up as we go along is the easiest way to say it.”
For more information on Bob Jensen’s music and poetry go to: firsttimesinceaugust.tumblr.com.
To learn about his booking agency JMI, go to: jproductions.com.