Bobby Jo Valentine, a talented singer/songwriter brings his talents to Houston with a fan-funded concert benefitting HATCH. With roots deep in his Baptist upbringing, his songs are often inspirational, taking his own experiences and turning them into universal life themes.
Taking time from his current tour, Valentine candidly answered questions for the MONTROSE STAR.
MONTROSE STAR: Bobby Jo, I have had the pleasure of seeing you perform and am especially taken with your thoughtful lyrics. When did you first discover your writing skills?
Bobby Jo Valentine: Thanks so much for the kind words! I loved writing ever since I was a little kid. I used to read all the time — my escape from a complicated childhood — and then I started writing poetry and short stories. I remember, when I was 13, I’d typed up about 100 pages of a science fiction novel at the school I attended. Then one day they switched out the computers without telling us, and it was all gone! I was devastated, but I kept writing. I felt there was something there. And then in college I discovered songwriting, and it was all over; I’d found my big love.
STAR: How do you select the subject matter for your songs?
BJV: Songs usually come to me out of very personal experiences. Songwriting was a form of healing from the trauma of coming out from a conservative religious culture. Since then, the ups and downs of a relationship, losing my home in a fire and the adventures of touring have provided plenty of material for songs.
STAR: When did you begin singing? Was that always a part of what you wanted to do?
BJV: We sang all through my childhood at our Baptist church, but I never really felt music deep in my bones until I stumbled upon the alternative rock and pop of my teens. Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Baby’s Black Balloon” was the first song that really blew me away. I loved the soulfulness, the power, and the mystery of it. I liked how it moved me without me knowing exactly why.
STAR: What is your first recollection of performing and where was it?
BJV: There was an open mic at a little café in Pennsylvania called The Milk Boy. I was still in church world, as a music director, but I was starting to feel like maybe I was supposed to be doing something more. I’d just learned Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”, a beautiful version by Peter Gabriel. On a whim, I grabbed my guitar and went out to the open mic, and sang this song. It was one of those moments; a noisy café became quiet and by the end, the final note just drifted out into the atmosphere, followed by unexpected applause.
STAR: Many of your songs have inspirational messages. How did that come about?
BJV: I write songs to figure out life, and I’m always learning. When I discover some deep truth with the power to change my mind or heart for the better, I’m always eager to put that in my own words and music and share that with others.
STAR: What are some of your favorite performance venues? What is an ideal crowd size?
BJV: My favorite would be a living room or backyard decorated with care with perfect weather, or an intimate theatre where the bookers and presenters still care about the sound and vibe. I love the opportunities I’ve had to perform for large crowds, but my ideal crowd size is between 50 and 150 folks. I want the people to attend my concerts to really feel seen and connected, and it’s best for me in that size.
STAR: How many CDs have you produced? Are they available online?
BJV: I’ve made four song collections: A Place to Belong, Home, Fox Eyes/Whale Heart and Maybe Stars. Most of them are available digitally, and one or two are only available on my website (BobbyJoValentine.com).
STAR: Where are you from and what is your Houston connection?
BJV: I’m from Northern California. There are two venues I love performing at – a gay-friendly spiritual community called Resurrection MCC, and then the house of two of my dearest friends, Tim and Gary. I got to officiate Tim and Gary’s wedding, and they’re the ones who had the idea to put together the upcoming benefit concert at Rich’s.
STAR: How often do you tour?
BJV: Too often. Haha! The issue is, I love travelling and sharing the music, and almost feel an obligation to do so, to get these songs out in the world. But I’ve been playing 125 to 150 shows a year and it’s been a little too much, especially the travel. So this year I’m only playing about 100, and hopefully in the coming years I’ll get it to a healthy medium of 80 to 100 shows around the country.
STAR: Haven’t you had other performers record your music? Are they names we would recognize?
BJV: There was a song that was actually pitched to Jeff Bridges by a friend when he had a country music moment, but no, I haven’t pursued having other performers sing my songs. I’d love to work on that one day, though.
STAR: Where do you see your career taking you in the next five years?
BJV: We’ll see. I’d love to gather a team together to handle the non-creative elements of my work (booking, managing, etc.), and perhaps expanding my performances to some more storytelling/public speaking opportunities. I got to do a Ted Talk this year and it was a blast, and I feel like I might enjoy doing more of that. I might be looking into helping lead some songwriting and spirituality retreats. It’s exciting to look ahead!
STAR: Do you have a performance “bucket list”?
BJV: I’d love to swap songs with some of the great artists of our day, whether on stage or off: Gregory Alan Isakov, Josh Ritter, Brandon Flowers of The Killers. An opening tour with one of those folks would be spectacular.
STAR: What are your interests beyond performing?
BJV: I love hiking, reading, skateboarding and spending time with good friends.
STAR: What would you say to singer/songwriters interested in a career in music?
BJV: Don’t rush to have your creativity support you financially. Instead, always try to support your creativity first. That way you’ll always have a “ground of being” to lean on when times get hard. Then, feed the fire until it burns so hot you can’t do anything else.
STAR: Thank you for taking time from your touring schedule to answer my questions. Any last thoughts you would like to add?
BJV: Just that I’m looking forward to seeing you and everyone else in Houston on November 2! Thanks so much for the opportunity.
WHAT: An Evening with Bobby Valentine benefitting HATCH
WHERE: Rich’s, 2401 San Jacinto
WHEN: November 2, 7 p.m.
TICKETS: $25 to $250