Gone Country: I read Bobby Bones’ memoir so you don’t have to

Bobby Bones is a divisive figure. Either you love his radio show, or you bemoan what it has done to country music. He’s a popular figure here in Austin, where he hosted the No. 1 “The Bobby Bones Show” on 100.7 KASE-FM and 96.7 KHFI-FM  for 10 years.

2016 iHeartCountry Festival At The Frank Erwin Center - Show

AUSTIN, TX – APRIL 30: (L-R) Singer Natalie Stovall, radio personality Bobby Bones and Producer Eddie of Bobby Bones and The Raging Idiots perform onstage during the 2016 iHeartCountry Festival at The Frank Erwin Center on April 30, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

He wasn’t so popular at first in Nashville, where the old guard of Music Row was angry at a young whipper-snapper coming in and taking over a DJ seat left vacant by the renowned Gerry House. More on that later.

But he has his fans. Why else would his new memoir, “Bare Bones: I’m Not Lonely If You’re Reading This Book,” currently be in the Top 20 on Amazon’s best-sellers list? But at 36 years old, what’s there in his life to write a memoir about?

A lot, actually.

Bones’ (real last name Estell) listeners will know the highlights of the book. He grew up in the small town of Mountain Pine, Arkansas, son to an alcoholic single mother and raised by a grandmother who taught him about music. His drive to be a DJ sparked from being gifted with a radio as a young boy. He then scraped and saved and did whatever menial jobs he could do at his local radio station in order to realize his dream.

That first half of the book is the stronger story. Bones draws on his struggles as a child to illustrate how they shaped him into the man he is today (for better or worse).

His stories of constant hard work— on the football field, in the radio booth, in the classroom, at the random jobs he had to take throughout his life just to get by— make you respect his story, even if you don’t like what he’s done for country music. (As the son of a man who was the first in his family to earn a college degree and leave his hometown, that whole section struck a chord with me.)

But the book starts to wane when Bones talks about his later career, and the story meanders in and out of stories of every woman he ever dated (given fake names like “Betty Boop”) and every scrape he ever got into at work and still kept his job.

Bones is famous for his radio stunts, and the book makes clear that penchant for mischief was present long before he took over a Top 40 market. Those stunts include: taking over a rival station’s signal and broadcasting “You don’t f— with Bobby Bones” on air; having his co-host Lunchbox attempt to buy something in an Austin convenience store with pantyhose covering his face, making it look like a robbery; broadcasting a fake emergency signal on-air in Nashville last year, getting iHeart Media fined $1 million in the process; and launching a $13,000 negative ad campaign against himself when he started working in Nashville. (He admits that for the first time in this book, by the way.)

Perhaps the strangest part of the book is the chapter where Bones simultaneously praises his friendships with artists like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, yet goes on to shun some of their catalog:

“When it comes to the current music industry, the biggest issue for me is the prevalence of what’s known as ‘bro country’…and I hate it, and I have since I started working in this format. By the time this book comes out, it could have gone the way of the boy band, but right now I am still praying for its death.”

Love him or hate him, Bones has impacted country music, for better or for worse. Chris Janson  wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for Bones playing his debut “Buy Me a Boat” on air, and several other up-and-comers have Bones to thank for their exposure.

But aside from some more personal anecdotes about his childhood, which many listeners undoubtedly know, there’s not many new details here. Fans will love the more in-depth look into the life of Bobby Bones. Listeners who already don’t like him won’t find much to change their opinion.

Gone Country aims to thoughtfully explore the country music genre and where it’s headed, with a focus on national trends and buzzworthy news of the week. For info about album releases and concerts, check out this week’s Country Music Roundup.


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