Chicago-born Bobby Rieman has been putting in time on Roatan as a carpenter and musician since he happened down here with a harmonica in his pocket in 1973.
“I just lucked down here as a kid 22 years old,” he said between sets at the Coconut Tree in West End recently.
Puttin’ in Time is the title of Rieman’s third CD, released in August. If you’ve heard Rieman, usually accompanied by Junior Bodden of Oak Ridge, at Coconut Tree, Tranquilseas or other live music venues around Roatan recently and like what you heard, you’ll probably like the CD, because that’s what you’ll hear. If you don’t, you won’t.
“The place has changed, obviously, an awful lot over the years,” Rieman said of his four decades on Roatan. “But some of the songs I wrote back in the ‘80s. The ‘Lobster Song,’ that was about the lobster boats sneaking over to Nicaragua during the Nicaraguan war. The old hangover song, ‘6 Days in Between,’ I wrote that in the early-middle ‘80s as well. It still rings true. … It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to get these down for posterity.”
There is newer material on the new CD as well, mostly inspired by staples of island life, like “Crackheads in Paradise,” about the tendency of our belongings that “ain’t nailed down” to disappear off our patios, or “Sin Saldo,” about island girls who charm gentlemen friends into buying them cell-phone minutes (Rieman claims that one was written about a composite character, but a listener at a recent performance at Tranquilseas who used to tend bar at Palmetto Bay, which Rieman built, swore it was inspired by her).
Other than “Duppy in the Goldfield,” which Rieman thinks was originally performed by the Tradewinds of Grand Cayman (he’s not sure), Rieman says all tracks on the new CD are original, although “La Ceiba City Blues” is an obvious adaptation of the old US blues standard “Goin’ to Kansas City.”
To us the music on Puttin’ in Time sounded like a mix of Muddy Waters and Jimmy Buffet, with a little reggae thrown in for good measure. Rieman did not disagree.
“Reggae, Soca, Country and Blues is the genres that we’re attracted to,” Rieman said. “When I left here in ’74 I was in Chicago for a while … I went to some blues clubs … got into the blues quite a bit, but obviously down here I was backing up musicians playing reggae and country. A lot of country was down here that I didn’t really hear growing up in Chicago. Country as you know is very popular music here on the island.
“Junior Bodden, he’s from Helene, he started his musicianship at 18 or so. There on Oak Ridge and those areas, country is really popular.”
Bodden plays bass on most tracks on the CD, with Eddie Allen on drums. The CD was recorded at Brion James’s home studio in Sandy Bay, just before James departed earlier this year on a European tour. James produced the CD and plays keyboards on some tracks, but you won’t hear his guitar as you did on Rieman’s second album, “Pulpería Leah,” recorded with James in 2006. Rieman recorded his first CD in La Ceiba in 2000 with his first band lineup, featuring Cito Hynds, Lyle Burk and Wade Forbes.
A jock and PE major in college, Rieman thought he would become a high school coach. He said it was just a “coincidence” that brought him to Roatan 41 years ago.
“I brought a harmonica in my pocket when I first came down … that’s pretty much the instrument I used until ’81, when I sang my first song,” Rieman recalled. He also took up building.
“I raised a family doing carpentry work,” he said. “Palmetto Bay Resort, we built everything there.” We learned about his new musical project when he was doing some remodeling at the Beach House in West End and gave us a review copy of the CD. “Can’t quit the day job,” he said.