Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Bobby Long

It would be very easy to think that Bobby Long had lucked into his current status as a rising star on the folk music front. Mention in the same typed-out breath as Damien Rice and Mumford and Sons by the L.A. Times, Long has risen to acclaim on the back of several solid tunes captured on his debut LP, A Winter Tale, as well as a timely single on the “Twilight” soundtrack.But to peg his ascent to one song, or the friendship with Rob Pattison that helped him score a spot for “Let Me Sign” in one of the biggest movie franchises in modern cinema history, would ignore much of the long process Long undertook to achieve his current accolades. In fact, if it weren’t for his penchant for pushing himself, his life story might have been very, very different.

It would be very easy to think that Bobby Long had lucked into his current status as a rising star on the folk music front. Mention in the same typed-out breath as Damien Rice and Mumford and Sons by the L.A. Times, Long has risen to acclaim on the back of several solid tunes captured on his debut LP, A Winter Tale, as well as a timely single on the “Twilight” soundtrack.

But to peg his ascent to one song, or the friendship with Rob Pattison that helped him score a spot for “Let Me Sign” in one of the biggest movie franchises in modern cinema history, would ignore much of the long process Long undertook to achieve his current accolades. In fact, if it weren’t for his penchant for pushing himself, his life story might have been very, very different.

When he was still in school, nothing came easy to him. These days he understands that he has trouble maintaining his focus, but back then it was a string of C’s that frustrated him. Lacking something to hang his hat on, as he says, he felt unfulfilled. Until he began to write songs.

But even then it wasn’t as easy as picking up a guitar and stepping on stage. He often had to overcome anxiety – a feeling that plagued him well beyond his first 100 shows on the open mic circuit in his home of Southwest England.

“I was nervous before and during every show,” Long says. “And after I would pick apart my performance as well.”

Serving as his own critic helped him develop his soulful voice as well. A fan of Joe Cocker, he often sought to emulate him, but it actually was effortless. And despite his initial reservations about his vocals – “I was always insecure about my voice,” Long says – his smoky, sonorous growl is one of his most distinctive characteristics as performer.

A close second would be his lyrics. He wrote infrequently as a youngster so as to escape notice by his peers. “You never want to do that [write poetry] when you’re a 14-year-old. You just want to fit in and not get beat up by your mates,” Long says.

These days though it’s more of a passion and one that’s earned him high regard. As he continues to tour to promote A Winter Tale – hitting D.C.’s 9:30 Club with Brett Dennen May 21 – he also spends time writing poetry for a side project he plans to publish.

“I try to write every day,” Long says. “It’s tougher when I’m on tour, but when I’m home I try to write as often as I can, even if it’s 10 minutes or three hours.”

It’s that kind of determination that has led Long’s success. Sure, he’s talented – extraordinarily so – but as Long so correctly puts it, “I think we’re all given a certain amount of talent. The only thing that separates us is our work ethic.

“I believe you need several ‘big breaks’ to succeed in this industry. And you need to put yourself in a position to make the most of it if and when it happens.”

And that is the most notable part of Long’s performing career. The good fortune to meet the right people at the right times, that’s good luck. But the consistent motivation to push himself forward, to overcome his anxiety to perform, his uncertainty about his voice, and all the other self-imposed barriers that trip up so many people … that’s anything but luck. Ask him what prompts such drive and Long is quick to answer.

“I just have this feeling that this life, this career, could be taken away from me at some point.”

He’s certainly making the most of it while it lasts.