A photographer, writer, musician and brilliant songwriter, Reuter was born and raised in North St. Louis, and his legacy, in his life and art, are profoundly tied to this city on the banks of the Mississippi. The first song on his first full-length release with the band Kamikaze Cowboy is called "Mississippi," and the photo that adorns the cover of that album, "Hurry Sundown," captures the light and longing of the proud and worn streets he called home.
Over his long career as a musician, Reuter performed in numerous incarnations. In the late '70s and '80s, the Dinosaurs were one of St. Louis' loudest and wildest punk-rock bands, while in the '90s Reuter built a career as a songwriter, developing his gift for storytelling and framing images in words and melodies. Released in 1994, his first solo album, "This Much I Know," is considered a classic of the Americana and country-folk genres, though even while playing in more spare settings he expressed a true rock 'n' roll spirit.
That spirit suffuses his work with Kamikaze Cowboy, a force on an alternative country scene that included St. Louis-area bands Uncle Tupelo, Chicken Truck, Enormous Richard and the Bottle Rockets. Along with "Hurry Sundown" Kamikaze Cowboy released the cassette tape "Pray for the Repose of the Soul" in 1992 and "Down in America" in 2000 on the Magoo label. The album would be the group's swan song; it includes some of Reuter's finest compositions, notably the searing ballad "Charlie Floyd."
After retiring Kamikaze Cowboy, Reuter led the bands Palookaville, Thee Dirty South, Lost Monkey and other loose configurations. Throughout the late '90s and 2000s, he flourished as a photographer, documenting every crack and corner and shadow of the St. Louis region and beyond. His photos, someone once said, look like Tom Waits songs. And they do: they are brooding and beautiful acts of witnessing other lives, other places, all the more vibrant and haunting for their blurred, dusty, black and white honesty. His camera of choice was a Pentax K-1000. "If it were any more primitive it would be a rock and a stick," he liked to say.
Most recently, Reuter performed with Alley Ghost, a band of young rock 'n' rollers who inspired him as much as he mentored them. His sound became as grainy and primitive and powerful as his photographs; his songs became elemental; his voice howled. With Alley Ghost he released a self-titled CD in 2009 and the vinyl album "Born There" in 2012, and his final release was a 7" record: "Dana Dew" b/w "Brought Me to the Wire." All were released on Big Muddy Records.
There's so much more to say about Bob -- the sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, often charming, and always proud man -- and his incomparable career. Perhaps one day a full reckoning of his prolific and personal genius -- including his drawings, poetry, fiction and non-fiction -- will be made. His life's work would fill a small library -- and blow the windows out.
Finally, Bob Reuter was a DJ, the man behind "Bob's Scratchy Records," one of the great rock 'n' roll shows in the history of radio. For over a decade on 88.1 KDHX, he refused to follow the conventions of broadcast; he followed his heart and his id, whether he was literally scratching a record on air, spinning them backwards and forwards, telling a hilarious story that went nowhere and everywhere, cracking off-color jokes, riffing on obscure anecdotes, preaching, screaming, groaning, laughing uncontrollably. The records he played -- dug up from the unknown and unacknowledged ditches of gospel, rock, blues and country, records with the dirt still on them -- and the way he played them really was "an emotional weather report," as he put it, and Friday afternoons on KDHX will not be the same without him.
On Saturday, August 3, Bob was moving in to his new home, a loft in downtown St. Louis. He was thrilled with the new space and couldn't wait to make it his own. The hallway was dark when he stepped into the old freight elevator; the platform wasn't there, and he fell and died on impact.
The shock and sadness of losing Bob will remain for a long, long time. But in time that sadness will be replaced: by his art and music and the example of a life beautifully lived, the fierce, tough, wild joy of it all.
On Saturday, August 10 at 8 p.m. the Printbangerz Ball will be honoring the memory of Bob Reuter with a public exhibition of his photography, with prints for sale to the public and proceeds benefitting his estate. The event will be held at the Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis. Please note that this is a paid event, not an official memorial gathering.
Update: There will be an official memorial and tribute night in honor of Bob Reuter at the Casa Loma Ballroom on September 8, 2013. Details TBA, but follow the Big Muddy Records' Facebook page for the latest news.
Further reading, listening and watching:
Photography, stories and music at Bob's official website.
Bob recorded live in the KDHX studios, March 4, 2008
Video of Bob performing "Charlie Floyd," live at KDHX.
Memories of Bob by many who knew him, courtesy of Jaime Lees and the Riverfront Times
Bill Streeter's LoFi STL episode
A demo reel for "Bob's Scratchy Records"
Bob Reuter's Alley Ghost performing "Dana Dew"
Bob Reuter's Alley Ghost performing "Brought Me to the Wire"
SoundCloud set of songs by Bob Reuter recorded by Roy Kasten
Photos of Bob by Sara Finke
Text and photo from the artwork to "Down in America," courtesy of Magoo Records.