Robert (Bob) Drake
1957 – 2020
Robert (‘Bobby’) Drake lived an enviable life full of music, travel and adventure. A lifelong student of music and the guitar in particular, he followed, as we say, his passion … especially for travel and music, relying on the latter to connect with the cast of characters he met along the way. Much of his life could be viewed as non-conformist, exemplifying an off-the-grid lifestyle before that phrase became well-worn. Perhaps foretelling his love for international travel later in life, Bobby was born in 1957 in Vienna, Austria, to Norma and Robert (senior) Drake. His father Robert was at this time in a graduate program at the University of Vienna and the family returned to the States—Santa Monica, California—at the end of the year. Soon thereafter, and following the birth of their second son, Barney, the young family moved from Santa Monica to Northridge in the San Fernando Valley.
The open space of the “Valley” was perfect for the restless and energetic boys, providing them with ample opportunities to ride their bikes in the foothills of Northridge, the hills freshly carved and terraced for housing construction and the weather most agreeable, save for the days when smog would hunker down in the Valley. Riding Schwinn stingrays in the dirt or on streets was their first choice for the ample free time outside of school. Looking back, this naturally and logically led to motorized motocross bikes and pictures cut from magazines on bedroom walls of all manner of “cool” motorcycles.
An untold number of trips to the motocross tracks nearby provided an adrenaline fix, and largely kept young Bobby out of the kind of trouble some of his peers were prone to indulging. One Sunday, it finally became time for “Ma” to come and watch Bobby race. In Bobby’s last heat of the day, the track was getting pretty rutted, and he could not avoid landing in a nasty rut that had just formed after a jump on the main straight-away. It was a bit too much for the motorcycle’s suspension and Bobby launched off the track, bouncing into a chain link fence that kept the spectators a safe distance from the riders. It just so happened to be right where Ma was watching the race. Not surprisingly, at least if you were familiar with Bobby’s dispositional grit and determination, he got up, restarted his bike, and finished the race. Unfortunately, it was not so easy for his mother, as this would turn out to be—understandably—the first and last time she came out to watch her son race!
Bobby’s music studies began in high school, when he would ride his ten-speed bike from Northridge to Santa Monica for his first guitar lessons. From then on, guitars and music were always an intimate presence in and integral to Bob’s life. After high school he attended UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) studying psychology, at least in principle and on paper. Mostly, he learned to surf, and took numerous trips to the Sierra Nevada mountains, hiking and skiing in the backcountry with Mike Selby, who became his closest and lifelong friend. After graduating from UCSC, and with the help of Mike, Bob moved into an old and abandoned miners’ cabin, at a place aptly named Indian Bar, on the banks of the Feather River, about a half hour drive west of Quincy. He lived there for about a year before meeting Bryan Gould and Paul Disterheft, owners of property nearby in Rich Bar. As a result of the growing friendship with Bryan and Paul, Bob built, with the help of Nate Crocker, Mike Selby and Paula Bosque, a cabin on part of their property. Bob lived there for almost 20 years, meeting the challenges and perfecting the subtleties of a low-overhead lifestyle in keeping with the heartfelt imperative to “live simply.” This allowed for whitewater kayaking, backcountry skiing, river trips to the southwest desert, bike trips, and of course time to play his beloved guitars. The cabin had no electricity, with running water being fed by a spring; and for the first ten years he lacked a telephone. Eventually, and reluctantly, he got a phone so he wouldn’t miss the whitewater kayak trips his friends were taking. He loved living in a remote area, citing a philosophical or, perhaps better, an ethical belief in the need to properly consider the choice of one’s home. “If you can’t pee in your front yard, you’re living in the wrong place.”
During the Rich Bar years, Bob went back to school at Chico State, getting an MA (Masters) degree in music, while the Rich Bar cabin remained home base, allowing him to regroup for the next trip. He taught music in Quincy at the Feather River Community College and the local music store, finding time to also play gigs nearby.
Bob loved to travel and did more than a few lifetimes worth. He visited Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, and Thailand. He especially loved to travel throughout Latin America. While at the college, he often traveled to Baja, Mexico for surfing and sea kayaking. Many of his surfing trips there were with his close friend Kirby Fosgate, camping for weeks at a time at remote surf spots. Years later he would stay near San Jose del Cabo and Pescadero, sometimes for half the year, playing music at hotels and restaurants. He also traveled to Costa Rica and Guatemala, especially enjoying time spent in Colombia, to which he returned many times. And Bobby was also fortunate enough to have lived in Hawaii. where he and the Selby family built a house directly on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
While travelling in Russia Bob met Yulia Maluta, whom he later married. They lived in Santa Barbara to be closer to his parents, who had retired in nearby Goleta. Bob worked playing weddings, clubs and restaurant gigs, and taught guitar at Westmont and Santa Barbara City College. Yulia worked perfecting her Latin ballroom dance skills, while also teaching salsa and tango dance classes. Still in Santa Barbara, Bobby formed a jazz group with some talented local musicians. This band, the 360 Sextet, was co-run with pianist Dave Campos and featured Cougar Estrada on drums, Ian Peters on bass, Ruben Martinez on flute, Tom Buckner on sax, and Raul Rico percussion. Playing at local clubs, they eventually recorded a CD of original compositions co-written by Robert, Dave Campos, and Cougar Estrada, called Down at the Cove.
Robert deliberately chose a simple, uncluttered life which afforded him the cherished freedom to travel and pursue his lifelong love of music. He will be remembered for his affable and spontaneous ability to light up a room with his smile, his music, and his joie de vivre.
Alas, Robert contracted Covid during the height of the pandemic while travelling in Colombia in March of 2020. He quickly recovered, returning to Truckee in northern California. It was there he experienced a relapse of the virus and died suddenly in his sleep. He is survived by his brother Barney, his cousins Nancy Glidden, Jennifer and Stephen Picotte, Laura and Bob Gray, and nieces Victoria and Olivia Picotte. A public memorial service will be held at 10 am Friday, March 31st at the Goleta cemetery, with a convivial celebration of his life to follow.