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A dentist with a beat

Dr. Bobby Joseph drums a Fair Jam for Jammin in July

Posted: July 8, 2014 6:25 p.m.
Updated: July 9, 2014 5:00 a.m.

When his family would take trips in their station wagon, a young Bobby Joseph would kill time by using the panels of the car to bang out a tune which he would play in his head. The same scenario unfolded when he was in school, only this time the top of the desk served as his drum which would lead to his getting into trouble from teachers who scolded him for disturbing the rest of the class.

Now the story should go that, as he grew older, Bobby Joseph traded his open palms for hands which held drumsticks and the leather and wood objects he pounded on were replaced by a drum kit replete with a snare, bass and cymbals.

That tale is partly true, but Joseph took a slightly different trail to playing a real set of drums.

Dr. Bobby Joseph’s career path would take him into the family business as the Camden native went into dentistry. There, he followed in the footsteps of his father, the late Dr. David Joseph, and his uncle, Dr. Paul Joseph Sr. While helping to give his clients healthier teeth and gums, Dr. Bobby Joseph never lost his love for music. He listened to it, hummed along with it and, privately, sang his favorite tunes when they came on the radio or CD player. But he never acted on his desire to play an instrument until a little more than three years ago.

At the urging of his lifelong friend and guitar player, Scott Jordan of Camden, Joseph was asked to join Jordan, who would break out the guitar and sing solo. Wanting to add accompaniment to the guitar, Joseph needed an instrument which could be learned without hundreds of hours of lessons. He discovered what he was looking for when he found out about the Cajon, a simple box drum which traces its origin to Cuba.

The Cajon is an 18-inch tall square hollow box made of wood upon which Joseph sits and plays by striking or patting his hands on the front panel which is made of plywood. The instrument contains strings along the front which can be adjusted to create different sounds. The Cajon is then mic’ed up, plugged into a mixer and then, Joseph said, “you go with it.”

“I just love music and Scott had been trying to get me to play music for years,” Joseph said between seeing patients at his family’s dental office located by Monument Square. “Finally, he told me about the Cajon, this drum box. I thought, ‘This is great.’ I’ve always felt there was a percussionist in there that wanted to get out.

“The Cajon is an entry-level instrument because it’s so easy to play. It was a natural instrument for me to play. As soon as I heard about the Cajon, I said, ‘That sounds perfect for me.’ I went out and bought one before I ever saw one or played one because I knew it was an instrument that I could play.”

The pair started playing music some three years ago on Fair Street, where Jordan lives and at whose home the impromptu jams started. Putting the street name and their jamming together, they came up with the name Fair Jam for their two-man venture. One of the first times the duo played before a group of people came on a porch on Fair Street when the two fired off a few songs for several friends who had met up before heading to downtown Camden for that evening’s Carolina Downhome Blues Festival shows.

From playing on a neighbor’s porch, Fair Jam moved on to performing at parties around the county along with gigs at The Venue on Broad, Old Towne Tavern and Camden’s Town Green. They have also performed at many benefit functions at all hours of the day and night. Along the way, Joseph and Jordan enlisted the services of Paul Hayes -- married to Joseph’s cousin and a mandolin/guitar player -- whose roots are in California. On several occasions, the trio has been joined by other musicians at their shows which have the feel of a group of friends coming together for a good time.

Come Saturday, Fair Jam will take the stage located on the porch at Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site to be part of the 19th annual Jammin in July Music Festival which benefits the site. For Joseph, who said the group used to joke about actually playing gigs in public, this venue may as well be Woodstock or Bonnaroo.

“We would laugh about saying that one day we might play in front of people,” Joseph said while a pair of surgical light magnifier glasses dangled around his neck. “Playing Jammin in July is big-time for us. We’re thrilled to be able to play in front of that many people.

“This is all about having fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Having fun does not mean the trio just shows up someplace and plays a few tunes. Fair Jam uses a detached garage apartment at Joseph’s residence to get together and play rather than practice about once a week.

“I don’t think we’ve ever played a song and said, ‘OK, let’s keep playing this until we get it right,’” Joseph said of the sessions. “We really don’t play that way. There are certain songs that we like to play more than others, but every time we get together, it seems like we’re playing new music.”

Playing a steady diet of rock classics, many of which are chosen by the group but which suit Jordan’s vocal and playing style, be it acoustic or electric guitar, Joseph said it is not hard coming up with a set of songs to perform.

“Scott is, unquestionably, our leader,” Joseph said of Jordan’s role in the group which he founded. “He does the singing and we’re the followers.”

Playing music for kicks and having fun doing it, Fair Jam enjoys having people join them at their jam sessions and shows; whether it is Mac Semple singing a few tunes, Joe deLoach trying his hand at guitar or, more accomplished local performers such as guitar players Rusty Davis and Michael Montgomery or singer Mary Watson taking the stage. In all instances, the more is the merrier for Fair Jam whose shows are, for the lack of a better term, loosely organized with plenty of surprises along the way.

Publicizing their shows and even late-night jam sessions to friends and soon-to-become friends via social media and text messages, Fair Jam has developed a loyal following in Camden.

“I’ve found out one thing,” Joseph said with a smile, “that is when you play for free, you get popular. That’s been our secret. There’s no stress and there’s no expectations. It’s all fun. It’s a great stress-reliever for us. It’s something different for us to do.”

There have to be a few surprised faces when people see their dentist sitting atop a paneled box and adding background vocals here or there. Joseph, who has recently purchased a full drum kit and may break it out for Saturday’s show, said that after peering down into the mouths of patients every day, looking into a crowd of smiling eyes is a prescription no pharmacist can fill.

“They’re starting to see me at different places,” Joseph said when asked if his patients know of his “other” career. “It’s kind of fun to shock people and hear them say, ‘I didn’t know you played in a group?’”

The emphasis, Dr. Bobby Joseph will tell you, is on the word play and having fun while doing it. And it took just a little less than half a century for him to find out what he had been missing but was longing to do all his life.

“Playing music is a blast,” he said with an ear-to-ear grin. “It’s really been fun to pick up something new like this at 50.”

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