When strangers approach former Kentucky Wildcats forward Bobby Perry these days, often their first comment is not "What was it like to play in Rupp Arena?"
With increasing frequency, it is instead "Hey, I saw you with your band,'" Perry says. "And I like that."
In his days (2003-07) competing for Tubby Smith, Perry would never have dreamed that, at age 30, he would be playing the keyboards in a country music band — much less one that bears his name.
An avocation not a vocation for its six members, The Bobby Perry Band performs at venues around Central Kentucky. Last August, it opened a show in Ohio for 1990s-era country superstar Tracy Lawrence.
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The BPB has just released an album, Just A Song Away, of 10 original songs written by the band members. Perry is especially proud of a tune he helped write called "Bloody Breathitt," inspired by the 1974 killing of Bluegrass musician Roy Lee Centers in Breathitt County.
"We always talked about putting out an album," Perry said. "But to have it this quality and be able to put something out there that we are really proud of, it's pretty cool."
Playing country music is eons away from the classical piano lessons Perry took, beginning at age 4, while growing up in Durham, N.C. It's even farther from Perry's days living in the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge and composing hip-hop beats over which Ramel Bradley and his other UK teammates rapped.
"I knew nothing about country (music)," Perry says, "didn't listen to country at all."
Believe it or not, Perry's road into a country music band began at the 2007 Kentucky-Louisville football game.
Behind the music
Before the 2007 Governor's Cup football game, Perry was tailgating with Geoff Brewer, then a home-builder that Perry had hired to construct a house.
With pre-game spirits rising, Brewer challenged Perry to a footrace.
On the blue basketball courts near the Johnson Recreation Center, the two faced off in a sprint. Long story short, the race ended with some bumping between the contestants.
Brewer fell and broke his wrist.
So as Andre Woodson and Steve Johnson were connecting on one of the most famous game-winning touchdowns in Kentucky football history, Brewer was at the UK Hospital awaiting emergency room care.
"I don't think he even got that wrist set until, like, 2 a.m.," Perry said. "We'd been tailgating, so they couldn't give him painkillers. Plus, he missed a great game."
That's the kind of experience that either ends a budding friendship — or cements one.
Says Brewer: "After that, Bobby and I became really good friends."
Finding they had a shared interest in music, Brewer gave Perry a CD from Kentucky country singer/songwriter Chris Knight. "I fell in love with country music right then and there," Perry said. "(Knight's) music was awesome."
Perry and Brewer started trying to write songs and play music of their own.
Eventually, a friend, Wasfi Samaan, invited them to play — Perry on the piano, Brewer singing — at his club, JD Legends, in Nicholasville.
"We were like 'Well, if we're going to play, we have to have a band, a real band,'" Perry says. "Then we said 'If we are going to have a band, we have to have a guitar player.'"
Forming a band
They found their guitarist, Brian Lippert, with an ad on Craigslist. Seeking a drummer, Brewer reached out to Preston Gorman, who had formerly played drums for The Mertons, a well-regarded, Kentucky-based "roots rock band."
One day in an office, Brewer overheard Sarah Thornsberry, a Big Ass Fans employee, singing. He asked her to join the band as a second vocalist. Perry was playing cards with former UK swimmer Matt Bierwirth, who heard about the band and wanted to join. A piano and guitar player, Bierwirth learned to play the bass to be in the band.
Though Brewer fronts the band and does lead singing, "The Bobby Perry Band" was chosen as the group's name.
"Who names a band after a piano player?" jokes Brewer, now a Lexington realtor. "That was all about marketing. People are crazy about basketball here. (The band) gets recognized more as 'The Bobby Perry Band.'"
In his days playing basketball at UK, Perry was a two-year starter. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 7.2 points as a junior (2005-06) and 8.4 as a senior (06-07). Perry's claim to fame as a Kentucky Wildcat should be that he scored 20 points or more in three of the last four NCAA Tournament games in which he played.
"My experience at UK, playing-wise, it was just an incredible experience," he said. "I wouldn't change anything about it other than us not winning a national championship."
In his time as a Kentucky player, Perry said he laid down those hip-hop beats in the Wildcat Lodge as a stress relief.
Now, Perry is working in sales for orthopedic medical device company Arthrex. His territory covers Central and Eastern Kentucky. He and his wife, Jennifer, have an 18-month-old daughter, Palmer Ann.
At age 30, Perry says music still has the same role in his life as it did when he was in college.
"It's all for fun," he said. "And that's where we want to keep it. ... Everyone in the band, everyone has full-time jobs and two-thirds of the band has families and kids. So we play one or two times a month. It's the perfect amount to keep it fun and not get burned out."
That's not to say The Bobby Perry Band — which is transitioning its name to The BPB — is not serious about its music.
"If we write some really good songs, someone might pick it up and want to cover it," Perry said. "And that would be awesome."