Harlan T. Bobo is a singer-songwriter and musician from New York City who is best known for his song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”
Harlan T. Bobo is a singer, composer, and arranger who is a mysterious character on the Memphis music scene. His songs are compulsively personal, frequently dealing with the peaks and troughs of his love life. Bobo’s introspective lyrics are typically accompanied by polished, classically melodic music that incorporates elements of vintage pop and countrypolitan, but he sometimes deviates into wild rock & roll.
Bobo is ready to share his soul, but he’s kept his personal past under wraps: he’s never disclosed his actual identity or information about his early life, and he occasionally performs under masks or heavy makeup. Following the publication of his 2006 debut, Too Much Love, a cult following grew around Bobo, despite (or maybe because) of the mystery surrounding him.
Sucker, a narrative of a happy relationship, contrasted the themes of sorrow that dominated that album and 2007’s I’m Your Man. Bobo’s divorce was chronicled with the darkest, noisiest music of his life in 2018’s A History of Violence, which came after an eight-year hiatus.
No one knows precisely when Harlan T. Bobo was born (his age was given as 42 by the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 2009), but he has said that he was born in Dayton, Ohio.
Bobo is said to have had a wandering existence until settling in Memphis, Tennessee, in the early 2000s, when he initially made an impact on the local music scene by playing bass with the glam punk band American Death Ray and the quirky children’s music group the Luv Clowns.
While brutal blues-punk bands like the Oblivians dominated the Memphis underground, Bobo’s solo debut, 2006’s Too Much Love, made it apparent that he was on a different road, with a more polished, artistic approach to both his lyrics and his arrangements, which featured horns and strings at times.
Bobo’s live performances were often marked by eccentric set décor created by the singer, as well as the singer’s use of makeup or masks to hide his face from the audience. After the critical success of Too Much Love, Bobo signed a contract with Memphis independent label Goner Records to release I’m Your Man, another introspective breakup record.
(Too Much Love would also be reissued by Goner.) In addition to producing his own music, Bobo contributed string arrangements to Cat Power’s 2006 album The Greatest and to the soundtrack of the Norah Jones film My Blueberry Nights. Bobo was featured in an episode of the MTV reality series $5 Cover in 2009, which gave him national recognition. Bobo also sat in on sessions with the Limes, Jack-O & the Tearjerkers, and King Louie & His Loose Diamonds, but after falling in love with a lady from France, he started spending more time in Europe. Bobo’s third album, Sucker, was released in 2010, and it was inspired by this relationship.
Following the publication of Sucker, Bobo embarked on an ambitious project dubbed Opus One, in which a chamber-sized version of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra accompanied Bobo for a series of performances dominated by his songs. Bobo toured Europe with Jack Oblivian and the Limes in 2011 for a “Memphis Revue” tour, performing 40 gigs throughout the continent.
Bobo had spent the most of his time in France at this point, and although he came to Memphis on occasion and released an album with his garage punk side band the Fuzz in 2013, he had mostly stopped recording. Bobo was based in France, where he performed live performances on occasion but mostly supported himself by making furniture and operating an ice cream store with his wife.
Bobo’s marriage eventually fell apart, and he started composing a collection of songs that mirrored the chaos in his life. Bobo attempted to record the songs with a group of French musicians, but was dissatisfied with the results, so he returned to Memphis, where he enlisted the help of local scene veterans and recorded an album in only two sessions. A History of Violence, Bobo’s fourth album, was darker and more violent than his previous releases. Bobo and his band from the History of Violence recordings embarked on a tour to promote the album, but the singer remained in France to be closer to his kid.