“He was my musical brother.” That’s how BobCats lead guitarist and keyboardist Danny Casavant describes his former band mate, Bob White. In what came as a “complete shock” to family, friends and fans, White, the lead singer and guitarist of the beloved Vancouver pub rockers, died suddenly on February 3. He was 65. No cause of death has been given. “We had no advanced warning whatsoever,” says Casavant. “We had gigs booked well into the year all over town.”
White was a lovable, longtime fixture of the West End. He was a musician’s musician and a consummate performer, and was beloved by his fans. Those followers passionately danced and partied with White and the BobCats for a run of “16 years less two months,” says Casavant, at the Dover Arms Pub on Denman Street, every Sunday from 4 to 8pm.
“Sunday was our busiest day of the week, thanks to the BobCats,” says Tristan Vanin, manager of the Dover Arms since 2005. “They had a huge following. People came in from all parts of Vancouver. It was like church in here on Sundays. Everybody loved Bob and loved to dance to the BobCats.”
Vanin was also caught completely off guard by White’s sudden passing. “I was speechless,” he says. “He was in the pub just a few days earlier and said he wasn’t feeling well.”
Besides the Sunday gig, White was a regular at the pub. He lived just two blocks away.
White came of age in the extremely fertile Winnipeg rock ’n’ roll scene of the 1960s, cutting his musical teeth alongside superstars like the Guess Who and Neil Young. He played in a string of Winnipeg bands like the Faction, the Back Pages, Justin Tyme, and the Spice before relocating to Vancouver in the early ’80s. Here on the West Coast, he formed Fat City, which became a mainstay at Expo 86, with Casavant. In 1990, White began another long run as guitarist of the Surreal McCoys, who rocked the Roxy several nights a week until ’98.
When the BobCats started playing at the Dover Arms back in 2001, they were an immediate hit and a stroke of booking genius, according to Casavant. “Most musicians were gigging Friday and Saturday, so Sunday was a free day. There was no competition! We played a wide array of music from the ’50s and ’60s, and it really resonated with the crowd right away. Bob was the focal point of it all.”
For many, Sundays in the West End just won’t be the same without the BobCats to dance to. “We watched life happen in that room as we played,” reminisces Casavant. “People who met on the dance floor went on to get married, that sort of thing.”
There are several events planned in the coming weeks to remember White:
• A Surreal McCoys reunion on Wednesday, Mar. 8, at the Roxy
• A White tribute featuring the surviving Bobcats and special guests on Friday, Mar. 10, at Federico’s Supper Club
• A “celebration of life,” with speaking and musical performances, on Sunday, Mar. 19, at the Dover Arms
Asked how he thinks White will be remembered, Casavant doesn’t hesitate. “Bob was a great musician, front man and singer. He had the ‘X’ factor. He had the rare ability to project a real joy through his performance, and he’ll be deeply missed. It still hasn’t fully hit me that he’s gone.”