BY JULIA CIRIGNANO & JAY KENNEY
Bob Coburn, host of the nationally syndicated radio show Rockline, died on December 18, 2016, of lung cancer at the age of 68. Limelight Magazine would like to commemorate Coburn for what he added to the world of rock & roll. Through Coburn, Rockline connected fans with their rock & roll heroes from 1981 to 2014, giving listeners the opportunity to call in with their questions. Long before social media, Rockline was the primary way for fans to do this.
Coburn got involved with Rockline in 1981 when his friend, mentor and then host of the show, B. Mitchell Reed, became seriously ill. With Reed’s blessing, Coburn took over the position and impressed everyone on the show, landing him a permanent job as host of the show. With Coburn bringing in excellent ratings, Rockline’s popularity skyrocketed. With Coburn’s uplifting personality and hard work ethic, combined with the extraordinary crew that he worked with, the show had about 48 of the top-50 markets and hundreds of affiliates.
Since the 80’s, Coburn has had the opportunity to interview some of rock & roll’s biggest acts including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Van Halen, David Bowie, Ronnie Spector, Joey Ramone, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Paul Rodgers, Def Leppard, Buckcherry, Queensryche, Puddle of Mudd, Dave Mason, Green Day, REM, Creed, Pete Townshend, Alice In Chains, and Guns N’ Roses. A lot of rock history and shenanigans happened at the Rockline studio, yet they also hosted comedians such as Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Mike Meyers, and Denis Leary.
With such a vast list of musicians and pop icons already interviewed before his death, Coburn mentioned some musicians that he never had the chance to interview, but wishes he had. He mentioned many deceased rock stars such as John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, and a few who are still alive, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen.
Limelight Magazine spoke with three musicians days after Coburn’s death, including Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Rik Emmett of Triumph, and Shaun Hague who was the former guitarist of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and currently the guitarist of Journeyman – A Tribute to Eric Clapton.
Ian Anderson had been friends with Coburn for years before his death and appeared on Rockline with Jethro Tull.
“Bob Coburn was already a radio legend when I was appearing in the Los Angeles market from the early 80s onwards,” Anderson explained. “We contributed to Rockline from various parts of the planet many times and met up in LA on several occasions. He was a kind and gentle man with a real knowledge and love for all things rock and roll. An email from him on my birthday a few months ago spoke only of a continued commitment to music and radio, back home again with KLOS. We will all miss you Bob. Part of American music history. Legends live on and the music never dies.”
Emmett, formerly of Triumph, also spoke about Coburn’s genuine passion for music that resulted in a major legacy.
“In the music biz, one encounters lots of folks who talk about how much they love music but what they eventually reveal is their love for their own position in the biz. Not Bob,” Emmett said. “He was a rare breed in the rock & roll biz. He was an old pro with a smooth style and a sincere, respectful gentleman. Bob was someone who had a genuine love of music, and a deep, deft ability to connect to the musicians who made the music he loved. He was a storyteller and a man who could draw stories from his guests. He will be missed and mourned but should also be celebrated with our humble respects.”
Fellow musician Shaun Hague talked about his relationship with Coburn from being star struck to Coburn actually interviewing him.
“In 2003, one of my biggest influences, Jimmy Page, appeared on Rockline,” Hague explained. “I tried forever calling in to speak with him. In the last hour of the show, I got through. Many of the questions I wanted to ask had been brought up by that point so I asked him a question about the How The West Was Won DVD and started it off by telling him what an idol he was to me. At the end of his five minute response, he stopped and said to me, ‘Thanks again Shaun for what you said about my guitar playing and influence’. I nearly fell off my chair!!!”
“One year later, I was in studio with Bob on Rockline as a member of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. It was just such an honor to be in the same room that many of my heroes had been in, also getting interviewed and playing live for Bob. I hope someone carries the torch of his unique interview concept, will be hard shoes to fill though.”
Limelight Magazine also spoke with six local music fans and readers of our publication on the passing of Coburn.
Tom Chagnon, of Providence, R.I., talked about his experience of listening to Rockline when he was only 13 years old and later in life when he got to interact with his music idols through the show.
“I remember sneaking a small transistor radio under my pillow so my parents wouldn’t find out. I used to visualize being in the studio with Bob as he ‘partied’ and spoke with David Lee Roth, Paul Stanley, etc. I remember the first time I called the station to speak with Paul McCartney. I was too late, the show wasn’t taking any more calls. I was so bummed. Years later I found out that Izzy Stradlin was going to be on Rockline. I called early to make sure I got a question in. When I finally asked it, Izzy gave a great answer which lead Bob to say, ‘Thanks Tom, great question’. I was around 24 and no longer sneaking a transistor radio under the pillow. I called Rockline several times. I got to ask questions to Buckcherry, the reunited Warrant and lastly The Winery Dogs.”
David Tolar, of Millis, Mass., talked about Coburn’s unforgettable shows.
“I remember listening to Bob and the Rockline program every week on various FM rock stations over the years and always loved the informal and fun nature of the show,” Tolar said. “He was brilliant at letting the artists be comfortable in his environment, and some of those performances that the various artists and bands did were remarkable!”
With so many memorable shows, Tolar said that Rush was one of his favorites.
“I don’t have one single band that jumps out at me as an all-time favorite but bands like Rush who weren’t exactly known for their sense of humor were able to truly shine on his show,” Tolar said. “Van Halen was always a hoot as well for completely different reasons. They were just out of control. [It was] a tremendous show and one that was the gold standard for every aspiring rock and roll interviewer. Bob will truly be missed.”
Brad Stevens, from Mashpee, Mass., also has fond memories of Rush on Rockline with Coburn.
“My favorite memory was in 1983,” Stevens said. “I was a huge fan of the band Rush and Bob had them on one evening and it was to talk about the upcoming release of their new album Grace Under Pressure. I just so excited that a new song was gonna be played for the first time which was ‘Between The Wheels’.”
Tim Cobb, of Fairhaven, Mass., also said that Van Halen was one of the best shows that Coburn hosted. Cobb remembers the nostalgia of listening to Rockline.
“Listening late Monday night as a tweener/teenager with my Walkman under the covers (my parents thinking I was sleeping) listening to Bob Coburn’s fantastic voice and interviews with my favorite rockers,” he said.
Jay Roberts, of Wareham, Mass., spoke about what he believed made Coburn and Rockline such a unique and intriguing show for music fans.
“The personal memories I have of listening to Bob Coburn and Rockline are pretty much how growing up and discovering the show made you eagerly await each successive week’s show,” Roberts said. “The intro music and Bob’s introduction. His great radio voice and how he managed to ask questions that went beyond the standard creampuff Q&A. Rockline covered everyone and even those artists that might not be ones you like were made interesting because they got really in depth with them on the show. You got to learn more about the artists when the internet wasn’t as easily accessible (or available at all in some cases). Bob Coburn and Rockline made the music and the musicians that much more interesting.”
Roberts and music fan Mikeal St. Ayre, of Lowell, Mass., both agreed that their favorite show was when Coburn interviewed Queensryche.
“My straight favorite time was when Queensryche premiered Promised Land on Rockline,” Ayre said. “We were all so excited! The funniest one was in ‘89 when Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were on and utterly obliterated. That episode got cut short but not before they performed one of the best takes of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ ever recorded.”
RIP Bob Coburn…You will be sorely missed!!!