Monday, October 12, 2009

Roy Gover: Our Message in a Bottle

Part I: Analog Discovery

Roy Henry Alexander Gover was born in London in 1929. In 1959 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue a career in art. In 2003 he passed away at age seventy-four.

To many, Roy was a dear friend and colleague. To the rest of us, he is an echo; reverb-laced words traveling to us from the past like radiation from a distant star long since burned-out. Roy has left this world, but his legacy survives in a plethora of homemade albums recorded on audio cassette during the 1980's, chronicling his personal experiences in song and spoken word. These tapes are modern archeological relics recovered from a bygone period in the Bay Area's amateur art and music scene when digital distribution and reproduction did not exist. Surviving copies of his work are therefore extremely precious, as Roy only produced them for his own circle of friends and acquaintances. It is only through imperfect analog copies and re-gifting that Roy’s work has traveled outside its intended audience – a mimetic labor of love that has long since been obviated and automated in the age of the Internet where original content can be reproduced and transmitted infinitely with little for the original object.

I therefore consider it an honor to have acquired some of these tapes from my dad, who in turn acquired them from one of Roy’s old co-workers. It feels like a privilege, being privy to the intimate thoughts and musings confided in Roy’s albums. In many ways, it’s like the classic trope of finding a message in a bottle washed up on the shore: there's a common spiritual experience in discovering the trace of another soul in the void, a strong feeling of solidarity with this fellow human being the delineated within a text happened upon by sheer circumstance.

A typical Roy Gover album goes like this: Roy comes home, sets the radio to some easy listening orchestra music, has more than a few drinks of "scotchy-wotchy," and then starts sing-talking into the microphone about whatever's on his mind. It's a sort of musical diary/therapy session. He often talks to himself in multiple voices, creating the illusion of two characters named Tommy and Danny (his fictional recording engineer and band leader, respectively). If Roy doesn't like the music playing on the radio, or if there's a technical difficulty, he will often blame Tommy and stage a verbal argument with his alter ego

Many of Roy’s songs revolve around his troubles in life. He alludes to suffering from alcoholism and depression. He laments that people no longer smile at you when you pass them on the street, which is why he chooses to stay home (apparently he was living in a basement in Novato a the time when most of these albums were recorded). His alienation seems to have been compounded by failed attempts to socialize outside of the office with his co-workers from Bonsfield Associates, whom Roy characterizes as a bunch of lame squares who don't understand his genius (this is the subject of the first two tracks from his session on February 14th, 1987). Another common theme in Roy’s work is food and cooking: on certain tracks he sings about going to a place in Novato called "Red Cart Market" and preparing delicious meals such as a "nice rack of lamb on Saturday night." Roy has been known to divulge some of his favorite recipes during songs.

Part II: Digital Rediscovery

One day I decided to put Roy’s name into the Google search bar. Certain that he represented the pinnacle of obscure vintage local music, I was almost positive that I wouldn’t find anything.

Roy Henry Alexander Gover also know as Roy Gover's official album- RHAG Life Goes OnMuch to my surprise, I found a great deal on Roy and his exploits. It turns out that Mr. Gover had made an album called "Life Goes On," which he produced in a real recording studio under a real record label. The album was printed on CD and is currently available for purchase on Ebay and Having known Roy solely through his tapes, learning of "Life Goes On" came to me as somewhat of a shock. The thing about the message in a bottle is that its recipient feels privileged in finding it: he fancies himself the sole heir of the knowledge contained within, the only person on earth aware of this other being who has entrusted him with his proof of existence, who has chosen him from across the abyss, like a spirit medium. Imagine then this person's shock at discovering that the message in a bottle was written by a published author! To finally see the face of the voice that he has confidentially known for years, and on the internet for everyone else to see, no less! And to discover that other tape-holders have written blogs about their own experiences with the man, as well as recorded and posted mp3s of his work… it turns one's world upside-down!

Much of the fun in listening to Roy’s work has been in the exclusivity of it. Analog media will always have a special value in its intimacy: cassettes and LPs wear and age like wine; copies become blurrier with each degree of removal from the original. Yet there is no value in a broken tape: it is only proper that after his death, Roy’s legacy should be immortalized in mp3 format and shared with this brave new wider world of the web. I have therefore been working with the wonderful people here at Official Incorporated to bring you two of Roy’s albums for download. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

"I have immensely enjoyed the 17 years of singing to other people's music. I never intended this to go out to the public, but if some people enjoy these songs, then who am I to complain? ... For me it's all been one long marvelous fantasy..." -- Roy Henry Alexander Gover

Sample Tracks:
Red Cart Market -

Download (Right click- save as)

Happy Birthday Christopher-

Download (Right click- save as)

I'll Be Raising My Sails Again

Download (Right click- save as)

Full Download of Exclusive Tapes:
1983 Roy Tape-

Side A
Side B

1985 Roy Tape-
Side A
Side B

Note: If you or someone you know has some of Roy's recordings, we encourage sharing them online with the rest of his fans. Official Inc will happily host the files and give you credit for your contribution.


Anonymous said...

It was nice to come upon this tribute to Roy, my dearest friend for many years. Often was the night I sat in with him on his recording sessions, both of us well and truly soused. We did quite a few tapes together. Character tapes. For example, Roy would play a jaded London disc jockey and I would play the punk rocker he is interviewing. Roy was a unique figure, irreplaceable. He will be missed in this world.

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of minor things. The name of the advertising agency for which Roy worked in San Francisco was "Bonfield Associates." There was (or is) really a Red Cart Market. This is where Roy bought most of his groceries.

Grape Logic said...

Wow! Thanks for your comments! I love learning more about Roy and his work!

Anonymous said...

Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?

Adam Harms said...

If you are interested in contributing to Official Incorporated, contact us at

Julie Alpert Wood said...

I knew Roy Henry Gover in the old days at Bonfield & Associates when it was still on Sansome Street in San Francisco's financial district. He was a classic and consummate Art Director as they were at that time. Lunches with Roy, Tina (Hildreth), Al Young (Principal of the Advertising Agency) and sometimes Kathleen, the crack mechanical assembler, were legendary. We'd go across to Jovanelo's (now probably closed but owned by Jo, Van and Nello) and have long, San Francisco-style, boozy lunches. Occassionally, Bob Schweitzer (account exec on Autogenics) would join as well.
The thing about Roy is his art was good enough to do pretty much anything, yet he had the ability to focus it for our clients in advertising. Once Bob Dalterio joined the art deparment, the print ads became more intensely high tech. Roy and Bob worked very well together. I miss them both. Wonderful men! Legendary group!
~Julie Alpert Wood

Doug Walker said...

I had the honor to make film about Roy & his art, Music & Family.