Bobby Bare Jr. debuted on the Grand Ole Opry at 5, and a new documentary shows how far he has gone to continue playing. Even to Minneapolis in zombie season.
Seasoned Twin Cities scenesters roll their eyes at the sight of thousands of blood-coated college kids bar-hopping on the Minneapolis West Bank. Bobby Bare Jr. and his band, however, were a little more wide-eyed coming face to face with the annual Zombie Pub Crawl in 2010 at their last in a long line of 400 Bar gigs.
“What a symbolic way to end a tour,” joked Bare, the second-generation Nashville singer/songwriter, who remembers the zombie scene all too well since it’s featured in a new documentary about him — one that features many figuratively bloody scenes on the road with a notoriously underrated musician.
Titled “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost),” the movie will bring Bare back to Minneapolis for a screening and Q&A Wednesday at Trylon Microcinema. He also tacked on his first-ever performance at the Dakota on Tuesday, fully aware that the famed jazz club is not his usual kind of venue: “I heard Prince has been warming the place up for me,” he quipped.
Bare, 46, certainly has experience trying out new stages. As is recounted in “Don’t Follow Me,” he has been performing since age 5, when he earned a Grammy nomination and Opry TV appearance singing the duet “Daddy What If” with his father, country star Bobby Bare, whose hits include “500 Miles Away From Home” and “Four Strong Winds.”
“My parents never really wanted me to go into this business,” Bare clarified by phone from his Nashville home last week. “They knew all too well the kind of chaos it creates for a family, which of course is something you can see firsthand in this movie.”
Bare, a father of three, has been entrenched in his own music career for almost 20 years now. His first big break — and, some might say, his last — came in 1997 when he signed with Immortal Records, home to two of the biggest hard-rock bands of the day, Korn and Incubus. If Immortal seemed like an unusual place for a Nashville musician to land, that’s exactly why it attracted Bare, who has a distinct howl to his voice that makes him a convincing hard-rocker.
“It meant a lot to me that a label in Los Angeles wanted to sign me without really having any idea who my father was,” Bare recalled.
Bare was so intent on working outside his father’s long shadow in Nashville that he turned down an offer at the time to sign with then-fledgling alt-country label Lost Highway, which became home to Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams.
He started out strong with his eponymously named band Bare Jr. Its 1998 debut, “Boo-Tay,” landed a rock-radio hit with the wry and raucous “You Blew Me Off” — a song that, Bare pointed out, sounds strikingly similar to “Howlin’ for You” by the Black Keys, who have been suing various companies for copying their music in ads (“I stole the same song intro from Gary Glitter, so it’s all good”). However, Immortal “wound up losing about $600,000” trying to promote him in the mainstream rock realm, he said.
Over the past decade, he has issued a string of well-reviewed but modest-selling albums for twang-centric indie labels such as Bloodshot and Thirty Tigers, including his last one, 2010’s “A Storm, a Tree, My Mother’s Head.” He’s finishing another record for release in the coming months.
“Part of the premise of this movie is exploring why I’m not more successful, but that’s really a relative thing,” he said. “I haven’t had to clock in to a job for more than 15 years. I got to buy a pretty nice house off the money from ‘You Blew Me Off.’ For the most part, I’ve been able to do whatever I’ve wanted to do creatively.”
Still, he admitted, “You don’t exactly see me on top of the world” in “Don’t Follow Me,” for which first-time filmmaker William Miller — a student of famed rock-doc director D.A. Pennebaker — followed Bare around for four months. Joked Bobby, “I had to recruit friends to follow me around with fake cameras after the filming ended, I got so addicted to it.”
Of the zombie gig, he recalled: “I don’t know if half our crowd that night knew a band was playing — they were just looking for a bar. But we had a lot of fun.”
Disappointed that the 400 Bar shut its doors at year’s end — “I feel like I played there 20 times and always enjoyed it” — Bare recounted a memorable show there in 2006 when two members of his caravan were missing in action. They had been arrested in South Dakota the night before after “a very small amount of weed and half an Adderall” were found in their van, he said.
“It was pretty serious stuff,” he said, adding that he later implemented a “strict policy of no drugs in the van. I announce it every night from the stage, too: ‘Nobody in the band has any drugs.’ ”
As in the movie, Bare’s subtle sense of humor is on full display in that announcement.
612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib