By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — A huge chapter of New Orleans music history ends this Saturday night, and two Slidell men will be part of the celebration that says goodbye to The Nobles.
Forming over 50 years ago, The Nobles was a New Orleans band that joined the rise of rock-and-roll during the 60s and 70s, but unlike so many other groups that came along with them, endured like no other.
This Saturday night, The Nobles play their final gig at one of their favorite places, Rock ‘N Bowl at 3000 Carrollton Ave. in New Orleans, with a big evening of entertainment starting at 8:30.
Bobby Ohler and Steve Bacharach are two Slidellians who have been a part of The Nobles, that included “between 60 and 70” different band members over 53 years.
Ohler, 61, began playing music at the young age of 8 when he followed in the footsteps of his uncle and grandfather, who both played trumpet.
Ohler was performing at a high level by the age of 11, when he was picked for a part in Dunc’s Honky Tonk Dixieland band, that welcomed people at the New Orleans Airport. From there he earned a music scholarship to Loyola and has been playing ever since.
Bacharach didn’t pick up music until he was a junior in high school at Holy Cross, but learned the saxophone and keyboard, leading him to quickly join the Corvette’s and Paper Steamboat, two of the most popular New Orleans bands.
Bacharach had given up music for nine years before deciding to get back into it in 1982, which coincided with a call from Ralph Edwards of The Nobles.
“I was really excited to get an opportunity with them,” Bacharach, now 68, said. “Everyone had heard of The Nobles and I was happy to get to be a part of them.”
Bacharach ended up staying with the band for 30 years as one of the longtime members, and will now be part of the Noble 5, a group that will continue as a smaller band.
“The thing that was so great about being in the Nobles is that they were like a fraternity, and everyone got along, which is difficult to have in a band for so long,” he said. “I’m disappointed to see it end, but it’s time to move on and I plan to keep playing.”
Ohler initially was like most young musicians, hoping to make it to the big time as he went to college, studying music and focusing on a band called the Footwarmers. (Ohler had no explanation where the name came from.)
Despite the unusual name, the band was outstanding and got an opportunity in 1969 to perform in Hollywood for two weeks on the All American College Show, the equivalent of today’s American Idol.
“We spent two weeks in Hollywood and practiced with studio musicians, then performed on a national show,” Ohler recalled. “We thought we had made it.”
But Ohler found another love in his life as he studied music education, and after marrying his college sweetheart, Sue, made a decision to forego the all-consuming push to become a national star.
“I certainly loved music and wanted it to be my life when I started college,” he said. “But when I studied music education, I realized I enjoyed that a lot as well, and made a decision to compromise so I could have a family, play music and still have a good career.”
Ohler took his first job as a music teacher at Holy Cross, then later Rummel, and was hired in 1991 as principal of St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Slidell.
As a talented trumpet player, he was hired to play with the Pat Barberot Orchestra right out of college, staying there for nine years before starting the Bobby Ohler Orchestra, which he continued for 18 years.
“To this day I think I made a good compromise. I liked teaching kids about music as I had been taught, but I also continued to play music and had so many great opportunities. I played for bands that backed the 4 Tops, Englebert Humperdink, Bob Hope and KC and the Sunshine Band. I even got to play as part of the Tonight Show orchestra when they came to New Orleans and needed a couple of trumpet players,” he said. “It’s been a great ride for me, and it’s not over yet.”
Ohler was actually sought by the Nobles when he was 17, but his parents “didn’t want me to play that rock and roll,” he said with a laugh. But years later, at the age of 41 in 1991, the Nobles had an opening again, and this time he took it.
Ohler stayed with the Nobles for nine years before stepping away from the band in 2000, forming Bobby Ohler & the Harbor Band, which he continues with today, playing mostly private events with a small group. Then just over a year ago, the Nobles again needed a trumpet player and asked Ohler to return, which he did.
“I started my own band in 2000 since I was ready for a change, and with today’s technology, you can have a lot of band sounds without the personnel,” he said. “Besides, I liked a different sound—more of the Jimmy Buffet, James Taylor thing. I mean, how many times can you play Electric Slide before you just want something a little different?”
To their credit, both men have been married many years even with the challenge of playing many weekend nights. Bacharach has been married to Patricia for 49 years, with three children and two grandchildren. Ohler and his wife Sue have been married almost 40 years, with two daughters and one grandchild.
“I feel fortunate to have been a part of The Nobles,” Ohler said. “It’s sad to see them end since they are a New Orleans icon in the music world—a tradition since 1959. It’s been special to be a part of that, but at some point, all things run their course.”
The band split up for various reasons, including retirement by some members and others who wanted to try different things.