Family: Three children: Jenna Higginbotham, 28; James Higginbotham, 25; and Zak Higginbotham, 23.
Occupation: Retired Oak Ridge program manager, full-time guitar teacher and musician
Musician and retired Oak Ridge program manager Robert Higginbotham still remembers the first time he heard BB King’s music.
“The first time I ever heard BB King, the music just about floored me. I was in Miami, and I was 15 and walking down the beach. He was playing in one of the hotels. I was a hippy and had no money, but I befriended the people in the club, and they said, ‘Come on back and sit for show,” Higginbotham remembers.
Higginbotham had been playing drums since 14, and at 16, switched to guitar. It wasn’t long after he heard King play that he returned home to Brooklyn and started his first band, the Jazz Me Blues Band. By the time he was 17, he was playing professionally at whatever venues he could find.
Higginbotham has been playing guitar ever since, even as he has pursued other full time work.
“I’ve done lot of things. My first job out of high school was as a bicycle messenger and cab driver in New York City. I was a bicycle messenger and truck driver in San Francisco, too.”
In 1980, Higginbotham and his wife moved back to Brooklyn to help with the family direct mail business, and they ended up running it for 10 years. It was there he learned about computer programming and databases. “It was all self-taught. Customers would say, ‘Can you do this?’ and I would say, ‘Yeah.’ I didn’t know how, but I taught myself. Sometimes I lost my shirt.”
In 1989 the family moved to Blount County for his wife to attend Maryville College. “I figured I would get a job anywhere with my computer skills at the time but I didn’t have a degree,” he said.
Eventually he landed a job in Oak Ridge as a data base programmer and worked in a variety of positions, either as a contractor or employee until 2004. “I had a life-changing experience. I went to California and reunited with a band. We hadn’t played together since New Years Eve of 1978,” he says. “We rented a studio in San Francisco, rehearsed for three days and my daughter got us a gig at 19 Broadway, a cool club in Fairfax.”
That May evening he and his former band mates were on the roof of the club. “I was thinking, ‘What do I want to do? My kids are grown. I am over 50.’ I came home and retired in July of 2004,” he says.
Higginbotham has played with a variety of bands for several years, his main one being Avenue C. He also teaches guitar at Rik’s Music. “I want to play as often as I can. Avenue C is my main band, but I play for whomever will hire me,” he says.
Another project he’s working on is called One Step Up with Hannah Dauven, who sings in the Knoxville Opera.
When he’s not playing shows or teaching guitar in Blount County or at Rik’s Music in Knoxville, Higginbotham said he practices his guitar. Higginbotham says the more he learns about music, the more he realizes he doesn’t know.
“Everyday, I just keep pursuing knowledge,” he says.
Here is Robert Higginbotham:
Who are you most like, your mother or your father and why?
“I am most like my father. I look like him, and I think like him. Although he has been gone for over 10 years, I hear his voice all the time. With that said, when I need advice I always wonder what my mother would have advised. She had the brains. He had the heart.”
What is your favorite quote from television or a movie?
“Houston, we have a problem.”
What are you guilty of?
“I’ve been on the planet for 57 years. There is not enough room in the New York Times Sunday Edition for that!”
What is your favorite material possession?
“My guitars. I have several. They all have their own personalities, their own voices. I also have a ‘boutique’ guitar amplifier that was a gift from a friend. It is fabulous.”
What are you reading currently?
“‘Blues All Around Me,’ an autobiography of B.B. King.”
Who has been the most influential person in the 20th Century?
“Martin Luther King. Non-violent change is the right way.”
What was your most embarrassing moment?
“I don’t know, but it probably involved a woman.”
If you only had a week to live, what would you do and why?
“Travel with my children everywhere I could. There are so many places I want to experience and comparatively speaking, very few that I have. I would love to get to know the South Pacific someday.”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Be more gregarious in crowds. I love people, but I tend to be more reserved than I would like to be in large gatherings unless I am on a stage. I have plenty to say through the guitar.”
What is your passion?
“Music. I love playing guitar. I love teaching what I know to others. Throughout my life I have had the good fortune to play with so many musicians who are better than me. They have all been great teachers. More importantly, some are also great friends.”
If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?
“The sixties were my favorite period. To be part of change on such a grand scale was an incredible formative experience. I would enjoy going back and visiting it with adult eyes, maybe see some of things I missed.”
What is the best present you ever received in a box?
“When I was a young teen my parents gave me a set of drums for Christmas. My parents didn’t know how to set them up so they just gave them to me in many boxes. The drums were my first instrument of my choosing. I banged on those things all day long for quite a few years.”
In the workplace, would you rather be powerful or popular?
“My years in the ‘workplace’ were spent as a small business owner. After I moved to Tennessee, I spent most of my time at Oak Ridge managing projects and then programs. I had the good fortune of being more powerful than popular.”
What’s the worst job you have ever had?
“Dishwasher in a restaurant. I also tried roofing for one day. I don’t even think I made it through the whole day. Roofers are hard workers.”
What is your theme song that best describes you?
“ ‘Desperado’ is a song that comes to mind.”