Devo guitarist Bob Casale, 61, dies of heart failure

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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This June 5, 2010 photo shows Bob Casale performing live at The 2010 KROQ Weenie Roast in Irvine, Calif. Casale, of the band Devo best known for the 1980s hit Whip It, died Monday from conditions that led to heart failure, his brother and band member Gerald Casale said Tuesday. He was 61. Devo founder Gerald says in a statement his younger brothers death was sudden and a total shock. (AP Photo/Katy Winn)

Bob Casale, guitarist and keyboardist for the Akron-born band Devo, died unexpectedly Monday of heart failure at the age of 61.

He was known by fans of the band as “Bob 2,” a play on the fact that Devo had two guys named Bob, Casale and Mothersbaugh, also known as “Bob 1.” While singers and songwriters Mark Mothers­baugh and Gerald Casale were the band’s nominal front men, Bob Casale’s musical and technical contributions were strong.

“We were the creative core, we wrote the songs together and I directed the videos and created the stage show, but it always took the group working together,” Gerald Casale said from his home in Southern California.

“You couldn’t have those songs and have that performance without everybody giving 100 percent, and Bob really lent himself to the aesthetic, totally got it, really smart guy. He totally understood what we were up to and he contributed in many ways,” Casale said. “Songwriting is just one thing, but he contributed in a lot of ways. He’d come up with a lot of very original guitar parts. He came up with the guitar part for Satisfaction which is basically the hook of the song.”

The literal band of brothers (the Mothersbaughs, the Casales, and Alan Myers, who died of cancer in 2013) took the name Devo in 1974 and wrapped it around a meta-concept of human and societal de-evolution, a pretty difficult sell in the days of androgynous glam-rockers and a soon-to-be burgeoning punk scene that preferred three power chords and lyrical blunt force.

Signature sound

Devo is often incorrectly remembered as a new wave/synth pop band for songs such as Whip It, but the group’s early work was often driven by the twin guitars of “the Bobs ” (as they were affectionately known), giving tunes such as Uncontrollable Urge a bit of a punk edge, while Bob Casale’s keyboard playing, such as doubling the catchy guitar lick of Girl U Want, helped maintain the band’s signature sound.

Gerald Casale said his brother was on board from day one when Gerald, Mark Mothersbaugh and Bob Lewis concocted the de-evolution concept, and trusted that his older brother had a good idea.

“When everybody’s laughing and throwing beer bottles at you, you can’t be squeamish,” Gerald Casale said, referring to the band’s early tours.

He called his brother “really solid and even-keeled. He was the level-head anchor of Devo; he was very slow to anger. Unlike my hot-tempered self, where I would confront people on their [expletive] and their lies, he never did that. But if he did finally get angry, you know you really deserved it, because it was like a bear waking up from hibernation and it was like ‘uh-oh,’ ” he said, laughing.

“He got it. I was lucky to have my brother, because who else was going to go along with such a far-fetched, avant-garde theme that scared everybody? We had two sets of brothers, so the brothers indulged us.”

While many rock musicians, particularly guitar players, aren’t known for sublimating their talents for the sake of the band, the younger Casale understood and relished his role.

“He was content to lend himself to the collaboration and group activity,” Gerald Casale said. “He wasn’t trying to be a frontman and he didn’t play the leads. He was supplying all the glue, moving between keys and guitar and synthesizers, and playing all the things that needed to happen and doing it well, and making all the moves in our choreographed act that need to be made and doing it well. He was a team player.”

In addition to his musical acumen, Bob Casale’s team-player attitude extended into other areas of the band. He was a self-taught engineer and technician who, according to his brother, “watched in the studio when we’d have producers or engineers and then he’d be able to do it.” He voluntarily helped maintain all the analog synths, and when the band went digital, he absorbed the new technology and began helping to engineer their albums following their 1980 commercial breakthrough, Freedom of Choice.

Mothersbaugh reacts

When not wearing an energy dome, Bob Casale worked with Mark Mothersbaugh at his music production company, Mutato Muzika, in Los Angeles.

“We are shocked and saddened by Bob Casale’s passing,” Mothersbaugh said in a statement on the Mutato Muzika site and Club Devo’s Facebook page.

“He not only was integral in Devo’s sound, he worked over twenty years at Mutato, collaborating with me on sixty or seventy films and television shows, not to mention countless commercials and many video games. Bob was instrumental in creating the sound of projects as varied as Rugrats and Wes Anderson’s films. He was a great friend. I will miss him greatly.”

While Devo has been sporadically active in recent years, touring occasionally and releasing its first album of new music, Something for Everybody, in 2010, with the band’s 40th anniversary looming, there were plans for Devo to do a special tour. Bob Casale, who enjoyed playing live, was looking forward to the new challenge of learning very old songs and hitting the road.

“We were going to go out and play all those early songs we wrote before we had a record deal, in that three-year period, ’74-’77,” Gerald Casale said, noting that serious spuds would recognize the material from the compilations Hardcore 1974-1977.

“We’ve never played those songs live since that time. I think the last time we played any of those songs was probably 1977 at the Crypt,” he said, chuckling softly.

Those plans are secondary now, though he suggested perhaps Devo could still do the tour as a tribute to their fallen members, though it would be difficult personally and musically.

“It’d be impossible to replace him. Impossible,” he said.

Gerald Casale hopes fans and friends remember his baby brother this way: “He was a really good man, really fair, really had a great sense of values, treated his children well, and he was always ready to go and on time when we hit the stage.”

Bob Casale is survived by his wife, Lisa, and his children, Alex and Samantha.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.


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