Robert Donovan Thomas
aka Bob Thomas
A True Rennaissance Man
Robert was a bagpiper, lutest,
instrument maker, graphic and fine artist, historian and storyteller.
father was a Rosicrusian and worked in the film industry in Los Angeles,
California. His mother was an educator and worked at UCLA.
Robert got his education attending special schools in the LA, Hollywood area.
He also spent many hours at the library studying things that interested him on
his own. He told stories/sang songs of Plato the Elder, Hermese T. and other
characters I'd never heard of. He explained how they tried to turn lead into
gold and other such tales.
We are putting together a DVD of Bob Thomas' music, art, hand made instruments, and stories of his
life adventures. There is also a Bob Thomas festival being organized to honor his revival of
several forgotten bagpipe and ethnic music traditions. He was a great friend to Richard Chase and
together they recreated the English Morris (dance, ritual) in California at the Renaissance Pleasure
Faires. Please refer to Los Californios under ITS projects to read more about the amazing Robert D. Thomas.
Robert had many accomplishments. His artistic ones
The logo for the Rock group, The Grateful Dead
Album covers for The Grateful Dead including; "Live/Dead" and
The logo and band name for the Golden Toad
The logo and name for the non-profit organization, Institute
for Traditional Studies, which you see on our homepage.
Logo for Alembic
a book on bagpipes of the world, written and illustrated by Bob.
Below is a photo and a drawing of Robert playing his much loved Zampogna,
Italian pipes with two melody chanters to create beautiful harmonies. The photo is circa 1968. The drawing, left was done by Melissa L. Fischbach in 1991.
A letter from Alan Keith to the Institute via a friend, in the year 2000.
Hi, I ran across the ITS website and the Bob Thomas (video?) project. I
appreciate that there's a work in progress on him.
You may not know this, but Bob and I were acquainted as fellow bagpipe
enthusiasts since 1969, having first met at the Southern Renaissance Faire,
that year (he was playing with 'The [Golden] Toad'; I was piping in the 'Noon
Parade'). Bob with his talent as an ethnomusicologist and
multi-instrumentalist actually got me interested, and subsequently started
on a lifetime of world bagpipe collecting, study and performance. I spent
many happy, interesting, and informative hours 'at Bob's knee', gleaning
bits of piping and other music information, given out between his folk
'yarns', historical tidbits and biographical cameos (there were always a
number of 'leg-pullers' and even a few 'whoppers' added to test his
listener's knowledge, intelligence and sense of humor).
Anyway, to get to the meat of the message: I have owned a number of Bob's
instruments over the years, including ones that he built. I have even
ventured to make copies of a few!(You'll find them on the link for Alan, bottom this page, which also includes a note about Bob).
As you may already know, most of Bob's private collection of instruments was
destroyed in the Preston Ranch fire. But there are still a few items of
his former collection still around, and quite a number of instruments that
he built for himself and for sale to others. Bob was quite a 'horse
trader', so a number of instruments that he owned at one time found their
way into the hands of his musician friends and acquaintances.
I presently own three instruments of his manufacture:
-Welsh or Flemish (?) double-chanter bagpipe
-Lancashire 'wait' shawm
These are people that I either know or suspect own one or more of Bob's
Ian Law, Brian Steeger, Shawn Folsom, Oliver Seeler, Will Spires, Jason Adajian, Mickie Zekley, Rick I. Cook, Mitchel Sandler, Museo de la Gaita - Gijon, Spain (I have the catalog!).
I'm sure there are many more that I don't recall or even know about,....Bob
'cranked-out' quite a number of instruments for a few years during the '80s
that were sold by 'Lark' and other stores, and peddled to anyone and
everyone he met on his travels around California. Alan Keith *1.
Edited by Deborah Fischbach, ITS webmaster.
*1.editor's note; Ernie Fischbach inherited (gift from Mary) Bob's Gaita, bagpipes from Northern Spain
Mickie Zekley got the English pipes that Bob always played with the English Morris Dancers.
I'm happy to say both Ernie and Mickie are playing their pipes.
EXHIBIT OF ROBERT'S ART WORK AT THE SONOMA COUNTY
MUSEUM JULY OF 2005. Will Spires (pictured) put this exhibit "Piper of Preston Hill" together, Thanks Will
Another view of Robert;
Robert Thomas was born in Hollywood in 1938. On leaving high school, he attended the U.S. Naval School of Music (he played tuba), Georgetown
University and the Corcoran Gallery School, all in Washinton D.C. After
leaving the Navy in 1958, he returned to the Los Angeles area where he attended UCLA and the Art Center School. Bob pursued a musical and artistic career in Los Angeles through 1966 giving many
concerts and exhibitions. Moving to Northern California in 1966, he followed similar pusuits until leaving for two years in England. While there, he performed as a musician with the National
Theatre of Great Britain and accompanied traditional country dancing at the Cecil Sharp House. Employed as a restorer by Mr. Tony Bingham, an antique musical instrument dealer at the
"Sign of the Serpant", Bob started making bagpipes. His research conducted in England led to the
revival of several of the instruments. After returning to Northern California,
Bob could be seen performing on his instruments at the California Renaissance Pleasure Faires, Charles Dickens Christmas Faires and various other events for many years. A number of his bagpipes
are included in the collection of the "Museo de la Gaita" in Gijon, Asturias, Spain.
Many others are still maintained (and played) in private collections around the world.
Bear's tribute to RDT with stories and more.