OPELOUSAS — An overflow crowd at the Opelousas Civic Center swayed to the hammering sounds of swamp pop, blues and Motown in a lively salute following Saturday’s funeral for Louisiana music legend Camille “Lil Bob” Bob Sr.
Bob’s son, Camille Bob Jr., said his father would have appreciated the large number of people who attended the funeral Mass at Holy Ghost Catholic Church and burial service followed by the Civic Center reception featuring about 30 minutes of live music.
“He would have loved this,” Bob Jr. said. “My father was all about people. He may not have been perfect, but he was a man with a big heart, and people who heard his music loved it.”
Camille Bob Sr., 76, died on Monday at Opelousas General Health System following an illness, according to a Williams Funeral Home death notice.
Bob and his popular band, The Lollipops, which initially featured all-black musicians, became popular statewide and then internationally during the 1960s after recording such acclaimed hit singles as “I Got Loaded” and “Nobody But You.”
After starting off as a drummer in other groups, Bob formed The Lollipops, which continued to play the state’s nightclub circuit until about 10 years ago, said Bob Jr.
“People had never seen anything like the music that he played. When you look back on his life, you will see that he had a lot to do with breaking the color barrier,” Bob Jr. said.
During Saturday’s post-funeral event, several Acadiana-area musicians climbed on stage and played Bob’s iconic “Nobody But You” and other Bob favorites.
St. Landry Parish District Attorney Earl Taylor, said in an interview that he often joined the dynamic horn sections of Bob’s groups as they toured the club circuit around Opelousas.
“He had such a wonderful voice. He always enjoyed what he did, and he had a way of making people dance. They danced because they enjoyed him and his music,” Taylor said.
Taylor said Bob’s music often attracted integrated audiences during the early 1960s, when segregation in public places was prevalent.
“The musicians in Opelousas had already integrated 20 years before,” Taylor said. “His audiences and those who came to see him didn’t care what color you were, as long as you could play.”
Bob’s bands initially played the local weekend circuit in parishes around St. Landry.
Crowds, many of them all-white, often drove to listen to The Lollipops at the Southern Club on U.S. 190 west of Opelousas, Lawtell’s Step-In Club and the White Eagle on the town’s east side, Taylor said.
The Lollipops always featured a strong horn section with Bob sitting behind the drums and doing the vocals, Taylor said.
As Bob and The Lollipops’ fame increased and their records reached larger audiences, the group toured northern U.S. cities and England.
Taylor said Bob’s affable personality was one reason the group remained popular.
“He was just a really likable guy,” Taylor said. “Everyone liked him, and he had a way of making everyone feel right at home. He often invited me over to play with The Lollipops when they were at the White Eagle, before an all-black crowd.”
Taylor, who is white, said he would ask Bob if that was all right and Bob “would tell me, ‘It doesn’t matter, because you are going to be there with me.’ ”
During the funeral Mass, the Rev. Jason Mangalath said he recently met Bob when the former musician was in the hospital and then at a nursing home.
Mangalath said Bob left “a legacy that extends outside the boundaries of Opelousas. He had a smile that was captivating. You could feel the joy that was in his heart.”
Mangalath said Bob lifted up people’s hearts and minds through his music.
At the end of the church service, Opelousas Mayor Reginald Tatum told those in attendance he remembered listening to Lil Bob’s songs on his mother’s Victrola when he was young.
Standing in the church’s pulpit, Tatum held up a couple of Bob’s 45 rpm records, which included the hit singles “Nobody But You” and “I Got Loaded,” a single that celebrates a night of drinking several kinds of alcoholic beverages.
“I think (Bob) will be up there in heaven right now with Roscoe Chenier or maybe Michael Jackson even, greeting people and singing all day and all night,” Tatum said.
Tatum said Bob was “a special person. He didn’t get all the recognition he should have. There’s something about his songs that make you want to get up and dance because they made you happy.”
Bob’s music, Tatum said, had one purpose.
“He wanted us all to smile. When you’re down and feeling bad, just think about it, ‘Nobody But You,’ ” said Tatum.