Bob Mabe, 91, is the last original baldknobber alive.
Mabe is the only one of the six boys Hazel and Donald Mabe gave birth to on this side of eternity, despite being the oldest.
He and three of his brothers started the Baldknobbbers, a staple of Branson entertainment, in 1960 when Dwight Eisenhower was president
The show featured country music, gospel, hillbilly culture, hillbilly humor, and some sermons that came to Jesus.
“Baldknobbers” is also the name of the vigilante group that met on the bare peaks of the Ozarks Mountains at the end of the 19th century.
The show has changed over the years and is still performed.
The Baldknobbers were the first show – country or elsewhere – in the Branson area, but not necessarily the first on the Branson Strip.
That distinction, says Mabe, is part of the Presley’s country anniversary.
Mabe was sitting in his comfortable chair in his Hollister home on Friday. He can look through his deck and see Table Rock Lake slam against his back yard. One lot down the street is a marina where he has a boat.
He thought about his life and career.
“Lyle played the tub; Bill played the dobro; Jim played the washboard; and I played the violin and was the host.”
Bill’s character was “Wee Willie”; Jim was “Droopy Drawers”; Bob was “Bob-O-Link”; and Lyle was the main comic, a toothless character named “George Aggernite”.
“Bob-O-Link” comes from the bird, but why “George Aggernite”?
“Our dad was driving a school bus and Lyle went with him and one day he asked my dad, ‘What was the name on the mailbox over there?'”
“Dad said, ‘Which one? There were a lot of mailboxes.'”
“My father finally found out it was ‘George Aggernite’.”
Was your brother really toothless?
Yes. But he had false teeth.
“And he would keep them in a pocket in his dungarees during the show,” Mabe tells me. “We had a character on the show called Chickaboo, Chick Allen, who was in his’ 70s and was doing a jig and playing jawbones.
“So one night Lyle’s false teeth fell out of his pocket and were there on stage and Chickaboo starts dancing his template and stepping on it and crushing it. The audience didn’t know.”
I have to ask: how do you play a jawbone? Is it a real jawbone?
In response to my questions, Sue, his 52-year-old wife, presents me with the skull of a mule that is larger than I would have thought. She shows me how to play it.
Why he left Baldknobbers
The Mabe brothers’ first shows took place at the Old Boston School House. They also played at the press conference and announced the construction of the future Silver Dollar City. They performed at the opening of the park in 1960.
The group was also part of the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama four nights a week. On Friday evening, the Mabes performed in the house of the Old Community Building, where they set up a stage and chairs in the basement.
Next they moved to the Sammy Lane Pavilion Building on the Taneycomo lakefront. Three years later, they moved to an old ice rink on the lakeshore.
Its popularity boomed and in 1968 construction began on the Baldknobbers’ Theater in Branson.
I tell Mabe that in all of the news articles I’ve read about him and the Baldknobbers, I never found out why he left the group in 1977.
He says this about the three brothers who stayed in the group:
“They started drinking and carried on. Lyle had to drink so badly that he came on stage so drunk that he could barely speak.”
Do you drink
“I’m a maniac. That doesn’t mean I’m a better guy because of it. But I’ve seen so many guys ruin their lives with alcohol.”
In fact, he says, one of his great regrets is that after the breakup of his first marriage – they had three children – he was so desperate that he drank for a while.
After leaving the Baldknobbers, Mabe did not work for a year.
He re-entered the world of Branson entertainment by forming the Bob-O-Links country band and building his own theater, which is still standing and resembling a barn with a silo.
The show was called Bob-O-Links Country Hoe Down. His brothers weren’t involved.
It was similar to the Baldknobbers. He included the Rex Burdette family of square dancers known as The Promenadors when they appeared on the Red Foley hosted Ozark Jubilee TV show.
The humor on the show had to be family-friendly clean, says Mabe.
“I had a comedian who was a bit ornery and kept telling the new joke he heard and I shook my head and said, ‘No, you won’t say that,'” he says.
Mabe once received a letter from a woman who complained about a joke that went something like this: If Dolly Parton was on stage, she couldn’t see the audience below because she was built that way.
“I really didn’t think it was dirty,” says Mabe. But he got rid of it anyway.
In 1978 the news leader said this about the Bob-O-Links show:
“From square dance to fiddlin to croonin and crowing, there are almost a whole range of entertainers on stage who can send a load through your toes and make you dance in your seat.”
Favorite and least favorite
Mabe ran the Bob-O-Links Country Hoe Down until 1987 and retired, although he continued to own the building and leased it to various actors including the Osmond Brothers over the years.
His favorite country performer, whom he booked twice, was Mel Tillis, who died in 2017.
“We would go back between shows and talk and he would chew a little in his mouth,” Mabe tells me.
His least favorite is Ronnie Milsap, who is 78 years old.
“He’s a great artist,” says Mabe.
But Mabe, like Michael Jackson’s, never liked Milsap’s step to take his own step while standing on stage.
Nevertheless, he booked Milsap a second time and at the last minute Milsap canceled that he had a laryngitis.
“I had sold out two shows and people had come from four different states, so I told him I wanted to go to the hospital with him so a doctor could see him. I went there with him.
“He was the nastiest man I’ve ever seen,” says Mabe. “Dirty talking. He would say anything.”
Milsap did not appear. So the Bob-O-Links were put into service.
Years later, Mabe says, he was still giving money back to people who bought tickets to see Milsap.
Best decision of his life
Mabe doesn’t hesitate when I ask what was the best decision of his life.
“Lord. To be saved in Highlandville at the age of fourteen.”
What will heaven be like
“It will be beautiful and I will no longer have that ugly old body.”
The hardest part about being 91?
“It’s hard to get up and move around. It takes a while to get up from the chair. I go to church on Sundays and that’s the only place I go.
“I still drive. But I let my wife do most of the driving. She’s 10 years younger than me. I don’t really like it when she drives. But she’s scared of me.”
It was a good life, he says.
“There is no man who has enjoyed life as much as I have,” he says. “I’ve traveled everywhere. I’ve been to Alaska and I’ve been to Israel. The only place I want to go that I haven’t been to is heaven.”
These are the views of News Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been with the newspaper for nine years and has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness throughout his career. He can be reached at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL, or by mail at 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.