Local Rock ‘N Roll lost one of its founding fathers this week when Lonnie Lehr passed away on July 17, 2013. Lonnie was the rhythm guitar player for the legendary “Rockbilly’s,” later called “Bob and the Bandits, a pioneering Rock ‘N Roll band during the groups heyday from 1958-1961.
His obituary will be in Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press with a link to his personal page where people can leave comments and read about Lonnie.
Date: Tuesday, July 23
Visitation Time: 1-3pm
Memorial Service: 3pm
All are welcome
Heritage Funeral Home, Alt & Shawmut Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
This will be casual and a time for stories. The family wants people to walk around and share stories from the old days. They will be playing some of Lonnie’s music as well as 50’s music he liked. There will be computers there for people to share a story if they wish. During the visitation there will also be a very cool “life story” video of Lonnie which people will enjoy. The band will be a big part of his story.
Please share this notice with those that knew him.
(this information is supplied by Matt Lehr, Lonnie’s son)
Lonnie’s Career History and photos:
Bob and the Rockbillies, Bob and the Bandits, Bobby Bond Trio. (Rhythm Guitar and Bass) (RIP)
Bob and the Rockbillies was probably Grand Rapids’ first rock & roll band to make a recording, in 1958.
Some of the oldest Rock & Roll Guys in Grand Rapids (L-R) Bruce Snoap (Kingtones) Jimmy VanPutten (Eschelons) Big Al Vandetti (John Brown Trio) Lonnie Lehr (Bobby Bond Trio)
Bob and the Rockbillies (L-R) Bobby Bond, Jim Braisted, Jerry Lewis, Dick Wolf, Lonnie Lehr.
Lonnie Lehr, Bob Reinhardt and Jim Braisted
Lonnie Lehr, front row, left with guitar, playing with Bob and the Bandits in Lansing
Lonnie Lehr performing in Lansing with Bob and the Bandits. Jim Lewis on drums
Lonnie Lehr, left, and Bob Reinhardt
Bob and the Rockbillies record:
Click on the links below to hear the songs from the Bob and the Bandits Loki single:
Lonnie Lehr Obituary and Biography, written by Don Lehr, Lonnie’s brother:
Lonnie Darwin Lehr was not the man who passed away, July 17th, 2013. Dementia had taken that man from us long before his final day. Gone was the creative spirit, the musical talent, the wonderful humor, the dancer, the athlete, the loving father and grandfather and all those other qualities that made him such a richly unique individual; beloved by all who knew him. No, the Lonnie we all knew had departed much too soon, but his departure could not and will not ever take our treasured memories.
He was born, December 12, 1940, in Doniphan, Missouri. The next 15 years would be spent in vagabond style. His parents, Darwin (Abe) and Barbara, nee Black, Lehr, would leave St. Louis, Missouri for Michigan, following family members who had settled there. All told, those 15 years would show Lonnie 18 different places of residence, and each would add another facet to his delightful personality. After St. Louis, he would only see indoor plumbing briefly for the next 12 years. Although he was quite shy, early on, he soon adapted and made friends very quickly in places such as Reed City, Big Rapids, Woodville, back to Reed City, Grayling, back to Reed City, Pardeeville, WI , and back to Reed City. In the 6th Grade, he attended 5 different schools which might explain how he became so flexible.
An excellent student, he achieved all A’s until he discovered bands in the 9th Grade in Grand Rapids. His early schooling, Kindergarten through half of the 6th Grade, began in one-room country schools. At Lincoln School near Reed City and in another like it near Grayling one teacher taught 40 + students from Kindergarten through 6th Grade.
A carefree, fun-filled country boy’s life was changed dramatically in the Spring of 1950 when his wonderful Mom needed surgery, and was given anesthesia improperly. The resultant 2 year Coma, followed by her death in the State Hospital in Traverse City, MI, had a profound effect on Lonnie. He retained his ready humor and his positive nature, but seeing his Dad weeping and suffering a near break-down awakened a deep compassion and sense of responsibility that 9 year-olds usually do not have to deal with. Although her death was never talked about again, Lonnie was aware that many things could remind his Dad of his loss and the intense pain he suffered. So, he began a self-imposed vigilance while riding anywhere with Dad and his siblings, Don and Barb , watching and searching for Funeral Homes, Cemeteries, Billboards with Brunette women and anything that he thought might hurt his Dad. Whenever he saw any of these, he would call his Dad’s attention to anything that would cause him to look away, and not see the hurtful reminder. Whenever his Dad would have to leave Lonnie, Don and Barb alone, sometimes throughout a work day, Lonnie would be left in charge, and he performed his task superbly, caring deeply for the two younger ones. Cautioned sternly against ever using the Gas Range, Lonnie became expert at making Lettuce and Miracle Whip sandwiches, and preparing cold left-overs. This compassion and sense of responsibility became an integral part of him, a part that he never lost.
Lonnie excelled in nearly everything he attempted. Beginning Little League in Roscommon, MI with The Texaco Kids, the Coach recognized quickly that the skinny little kid had a great arm, so he became an outstanding third-baseman, and, more importantly, a fine pitcher. This skill followed him through the Little League Years, where he recorded a number of “No Hitters”, and into High School at Ottawa Hills High where he shared pitching duties with Mickey Stanley, one of the heroes for the Detroit Tigers in the World Series of 1968 when they defeated our beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
He was a 200+ Average Bowler and played a fine round of Golf, however he never once succeeded in defeating Abe, which was a daunting task for many area golfers as well.
He was a terrific dancer, doing “The Chicken” better than any chicken. The teen girls loved dancing with him, and he with them. He loved dancing to the music nearly as much as he loved making it. While an Explorer Scout in Grand Rapids, he became a member of the Explorers “Indian Fire Hoop Dancers”, entertaining at many venues such as half-time at local Football games; clad only in a breechcloth and body paint, dancing while passing his body through a flaming hoop.
He enlisted in the Army and was a proud member of The 2d Armored Division “Hell On Wheels”, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He loved the Army, and often said that he should have re-upped and made a career out of it. Perhaps there was a security in the regimen that he found comforting. He could also bore you to tears with his Army stories. He never forgot the Buddies with whom he served.
He adored his children; Cindy, Carmen, Matthew and his Stepson Mark, and also his grandchildren. And, they loved him. He loved his siblings; Don, Barb, Steve and Mary. And they loved him.
He was an excellent Carpet-Layer for many years and a highly talented Model-Maker working in Styrofoam. He created an unbelievable model of a Full-sized Corvette for a company display, all out of Styrofoam.
But then, there was his music. His music was how he saw himself, how he defined himself, how he expressed himself. And, he was good. Living out in the woods in 1951, 13 miles southwest of Grayling, Michigan, a co-worker of his Dad, Jim Tolleson, a Texan, played the guitar. Lonnie watched and listened in complete awe, and was hooked before he ever held one. He convinced his Dad to buy him a Guitar and Dad found a teacher in Grayling. Lonnie had 6 or 7 lessons, but practicing the lessons in his “Guitar-Lessons Book”, was not his thing. He would periodically drop his playing, but always returned to it. As life went on and situations changed, his Dad took a job in Grand Rapids and was unable to take the kids along, for a time. The children, Lonnie, Don and Barb, went to live with relatives; Lonnie went to stay with his Uncle John and Aunt Louise Lehr, and Cousin Bill. This arrangement would be one of the most enjoyable times of Lonnie’s life. Lonnie and Bill were roughly the same age, and had always been
extremely close friends. They both loved being together, and they shared two passions; girls and guitars. Bill and Lonnie were inseperable, and Lonnie’s guitar playing improved quickly. When his Dad decided to re-marry and reunite the family in Grand Rapids, Lonnie chose to stay behind in Reed City to complete the 8th Grade. Given a choice, Lonnie probably would have stayed in Reed City. The little town remained in his heart as his “Home” for the rest of his life. But, Grand Rapids it was. He enrolled at Ottawa Hills High School where he quickly became friends with some other aspiring “Rock Stars”. He had been bitten by the band bug, and scholastics lost it’s luster, although he did stay just eligible enough to pitch baseball.
“The Rockbillies” were formed with Lonnie playing Rhythm Guitar. The band’s singer and acknowledged leader was Bob Reinhardt, who also wrote their first recording as “Bob and The Rockbillies”. This was the first band from Grand Rapids to release a Rock ‘n’ Roll Record, and they released a few more, one of which climbed to #1 in Grand Rapids, and quite high on the charts in Chicago where the band appeared as guest artists on a Chicago TV show. The also made numerous appearances on WOOD TV’s version of American Bandstand in the late 50’s. The band continued to develop and evolve into “Bob and The Bandits”, and finally into the ’60’s as “The Bobby Bond Trio”, consisting of Bob Reinhardt (Vocals and Lead Guitar, Lonnie Lehr (Vocal Backup and Bass Guitar) and Jerry Lewis (Vocal Backup and Drums). The “Trio” was great. They appeared numerous times at the leading nightspots of that day, The Shamrock Lounge and The Sentry Post. They also did an extended gig some years later at the Tiki Lounge in Grand Rapids. Lonnie also joined Bob Reinhardt for a time in the backup band for Tommy Cash, Johnny Cash’s brother. He was, indeed, a well-known, much-loved integral part of the 50’s/60’s and into the 70’s music scene in Grand Rapids. He will be long remembered by so many.
The family enjoyed following his musical adventures very much. But, what will stay with them as most treasured memories will not be the stage or TV appearances, but the times during Holiday gatherings, when Lonnie would sit down at his piano (self-taught, all by ear) and play nearly any song that was suggested, and he and his brother Don would harmonize by the hour. Lonnie always maintained that he couldn’t sing. He was wrong. He sang very well, he just didn’t solo, but for certain, there’s a band in Heaven that just acquired a darned fine Piano-playing, Bass man who can sing along with anyone.
God Bless all of us that love him and please, Lord, fill that empty place in our hearts with peace.