Bob “Wolfman” Crider was a singer and guitarist who performed throughout our region for around half a century. Wolfman’s fans watched him play and sing in any number of styles and venues over the years, but he was best known for his prowess as classic rocker. He battled cancer for a number of years, and passed away last month at the age of 67. Gary Pitts looked into the music career of a local icon.
Gimme Back What’s Left of My Heart
If at any time in the past 50 years you’ve walked into a bar, gone to a dance or festival, or shown up for a party around here, there’s a good chance you heard the “Wolfman”. And if you did, he was unmistakable.
“When you heard the wolfman growl, you knew it was him,” says Terry Larkins.
Terry Larkins played bass behind Crider for about 15 years. But, as even Larkins will tell you, those years were just a small part of the story. Bob Crider has always played guitar, at least as far as his sister Betty Pickard remembers. She says even as a boy, he ran around the house with his toy guitar in hand, impersonating his favorite singer. Which was who?
“Of course Elvis,” says Betty.
He was a fan of the rest of the “Million Dollar Quartet” as well, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.
Folsom Prison Blues
Bob was four years Betty’s elder. And they had six other brothers and sisters in the house growing up, quite the audience for an aspiring rock star. Crider grew from a fun act to watch as a kid to a full-fledged guitarist as a teenager. At 16, he had his own band. And even when they were just practicing, Betty says her house was the place to be.
“That made me kind of popular, cause who in the world’s got a live band at their house,” says Betty.
Crider and his band played a few gigs around western Kentucky. He got a taste of fame, and decided it was time to more seriously pursue his career as a rocker.
Johnny B. Goode
Bob dropped out of high school. They don’t teach you how to rock there. Rather, he pursued higher education by hitch-hiking his way New Orleans where he had no place to stay. He wasn’t there long before he learned a hard lesson.
“Got caught for vagrancy, and spent three days in jail, and decided he wanted to come back home,” says Terry.
Terry Larkins remembers the story Crider told about that New Orleans trip. But Betty remembers seeing him when he got home.
“He had blisters from one end of him to the other. He was starving to death…most pitiful thing,” says Betty.
In the story Bob told Terry, he said a lady at farmhouse helped him out on the way back home. She could see he was starving, so she made him a bologna sandwich.
“It was the best sandwich he’d ever eat in his life,” says Terry.
Crider then joined the Army. He served for four years, found a little more structure. But when he got out, he’d had his fill of the clean face and high-and-tight haircut. So he grew out the beard, as well as his hair, earning the moniker, Wolfman.
Turn the Page
From then on, the music career was in full gear. The band went through a number of incarnations, known as the Wolfpack or Wolfman and the Pack. They played all throughout west Kentucky and Tennessee, southern Illinois, and southeastern Missouri. They opened for groups like the blues band Canned Heat and legends like Kenny Rogers. Betty remembers getting out on the town while she went through her divorce. She saw her brother perform just about every night.
“He played six nights a week. And man, I worked all day and ran all night,” says Betty.
It was during these nights that Terry Larkins first became a fan of the Wolfman. He says he remembers looking up, and watching Crider work magic on his guitar, a late 70’s model Fender Stratocaster.
“It was blistered up, and you could tell where his pickin hand would stroke it. It definitely had the road travel, worn look,” says Terry.
Larkins was a fan for years before he was asked to join the band. He says he remembers the times he played with Wolfman as some of the best he’s had. Crider had developed a soulful and gravelly sound. Some likened it to Bob Seeger. And Larkins says one the more popular songs they played was Seeger’s signature tune, Turn the Page.
“He sounded…like he’d been down that road. And he knew that song. And he felt the song,” says Terry.
First of May
But as popular as that song was, Betty’s favorite song from Wolfman was First of May. She says one of the great ironies of life played out as he passed away early last month, ending his long battle with cancer on May 6th.