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After 37 years, Bob Dorr will end his IPR rock history show ‘Backtracks’ this month


Bob Dorr, courtesy of Tony Dehner

“Thirty-seven years and four months, but who’s counting?”

That’s how long Iowa blues icon Bob Dorr has been hosting his rock and roll history show, Backtracks — a mainstay of Iowa Public Radio’s top-notch music programming. But on New Year’s Eve 2022, that all comes to an end. Dorr isn’t retiring, thankfully: The voice that brought Iowa its very first rock and roll public radio show (even further back, in 1972) will continue bringing us the Beatles Medley and Blue Avenue. But he is stepping away from his three-hour weekly deep dive into the obscure and delightful details of rock music’s past.

“I have a very, very unique perspective in that I have lived through every rock and roll era,” Dorr said of hosting the show. “If you say that rock and roll started in 1954 or five, well — I was only 2 or 3, so I didn’t really have any real perception of that. But I have lived through every year.”

For Dorr, rock history is a social studies lesson. He points to the significance of Elvis, rather than Chuck Berry, carrying the mantle of “King of Rock and Roll” (“… in 1956, in 1957, America was not going to name a Black guy king of anything”) and the intertwining of music and the anti-war movement of the 1960s.

“Every era has its own social implications. So it goes deeper than the notes, you know: where the music comes from, the writers. It has a real impact on our own socialization and our own realization of how we should act, I think. Maybe that’s glorifying rock and roll beyond what it really is. But oh, my goodness, it has been a major part of my life forever.”

For more than 50 years, Dorr — who turns 71 in January and started in radio at age 19 — has done the impossible of sustaining himself with work in the music industry. And between his radio work, his record label (Hot Fudge Music), the bands he’s played with and led (including Iowa Blues Hall of Fame and Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree The Blue Band) and various other enterprises, he’s had a hand in just about every aspect of the business.

To anyone else trying to do the same, he advises: “Get some really good caffeinated coffee. And understand that it really is all about the hustle, no matter what.” The hardest part, he says, is accepting that it’s going to be really hard. That the work won’t stop. And obviously he believes it’s worth it.

However, “In the end,” he said, “you really only have your time. … What you do with your time is the whole thing. You can make music, you can make love, you can make money but in the end, you only get your time. And the older you get the more you understand that there’s a finite amount of time.”

Iowans, make sure you use three hours of your finite amount of time to catch Dorr’s last Backtracks show.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s December 2022 issues.


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