It’s a Thursday afternoon and Bob Kelly is exactly where he wants to be.
He’s sitting down at his piano in the basement of his Rindge home, music sheets in front of him, headphones on and a microphone mere inches from his mouth. There’s recording equipment and multiple computers surrounding him, and then there’s his phone, set up on a small tripod ready to document his every move for his TikTok faithful.
One of his friends said he’d be good on the social media platform known for its short videos, so he figured why not give it a try – he’s retired after all and has a lot of free time on his hands. Since joining in February, Kelly, who uses the handle
@rekording, has become somewhat of a TikTok sensation with more than 260,000 followers and 2.2 million likes.
“He was right. I was good for TikTok and TikTok was good for me,” Kelly said. “I’ve sort of become the TikTok grandpa. The guy who gives advice, who is kind, gentle and nice.”
Some of that newfound internet fame has stemmed from his hit song “Stay the F*** at Home” created using the words of Australian comedian Chris Franklin put to his own original music. Since it debuted in late March, the one minute and 23 second song that encouraged everyone to be smart about their choices during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has more than 3.7 million views on YouTube and actually led to Kelly securing talent representation due to its widespread popularity.
Never in his wildest dreams did Kelly think the song would take off like it did, but he sure is glad it did.
As a young man, Kelly had dreams of being a musician. The pull was so great that he actually quit his job with the phone company to travel from his native Massachusetts down to Joplin, Mississippi and began to play wherever he could. But after a few months he came to a realization.
“Some of these people with hit records, here they were on the same circuit,” Kelly said. “I said, ‘I don’t know if this is what I want to do when I’m 50 or 60 years old.’ It just wasn’t going to be for me. I kept thinking ‘I just left a job with a good paycheck.”
It wasn’t so much the playing of music because Kelly always anticipated playing his piano and writing songs for as long as he could, but more of the life a musician leads, always on the road and no company provided retirement.
At 68, Kelly is still churning out songs and doing what he loves, but instead of traveling from one venue to another because he has to make a living, he gets to do it because he wants to. It was very early on that Kelly realized that he not only had a talent for music, but a desire to make it a lifelong passion.
His evolution as a musician has run the gamut. There’s a picture of him sitting at his first piano when he was 10 months old and he can only imagine his parents bought it for him because “I was banging on the big piano.”
He grew up in a house where music was a big part of the family’s lives. He developed a singing voice and played the piano by ear for many years before taking lessons. In seventh grade, he began his studies at the St. Paul’s Choir School in his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It was one of the greatest things to happen to me as a young boy,” Kelly said. “It was a life changing year.”
Even though he went on to a successful career with the phone company, his love of music never wavered. He got into recording, doing some work for the New York Philharmonic and even applied for a job at a radio station, but was told he was better off sticking with the phone company. And of course he played in a band.
In retirement, he has filled his days with music, golf and now TikTok. He continued his work in recording thinking of it in this way: “When someone needed a sound guy, I’d do it.” A few years ago he started Two Bucks Productions, but he’s still focused on his own craft. He might not be what people envision when they think of hip hop, but he has made quite a name for himself in that genre as well, performing under the name of Young Bob E.
“At one point, I just said I’ve got to have a hip hop act,” Kelly said.
Producing his own style of hip hop got Kelly back into performing. He quickly realized he enjoyed being in front of an audience and even had his own monthly show, Crooners Corner, at Machina Kitchen & ArtBar in Keene before the coronavirus pandemic shutdown the live music scene.
So since March he has focused on his social media musical endeavors and judging by the success of his hit song and widespread allure on TikTok, it’s going pretty well.
After high school, Kelly went to St. Michael’s College, but three semesters in, his father gave him a bit of advice.
“My dad said ‘I think you’re wasting your money – and mine too,’” Kelly said.
So he applied for and got a job at New England Telephone. Back in those days, as Kelly put it “when you’re offered a good job with the phone company, you take it.”
Outside of his couple month music hiatus, Kelly worked in the industry for more than three decades. He filled a number of different roles in his career, starting out in toll circuitry, which was essential to helping calls go through, transitioned to a supervisor role and finished up in research.
“People think you could pick up the phone and it works,” Kelly said. “But there’s all this stuff behind it.”
Without a college degree in those days, people like Kelly weren’t supposed to move up the corporate ladder, but never once did he let that hinder his desire to be a part of the industries transition into the world of better technology.
“I was on the leading edge of that,” he said. “And it shows you could rise from janitor to president of the company if you had the drive.”
He kept learning more and taking on more responsibilities and he soon saw the reward for those efforts. All his hard work and initiatives that made the company better led to a job with Bell Communications Research in New Jersey.
“I liked to understand what I was doing,” Kelly said. “It was interesting to me.”
He spent time working overseas in Madrid and looks back at his career with great pride. And working for the phone company also led him to meeting his wife Ann Marie, who he married in 1991.
“I was just doing what I loved to do,” Kelly said.
His connection to Rindge began as a young boy when he went to Camp Quinapoxet, which is now known as Camp Wildwood, at the age of 11. His love of the area and the natural beauty was almost immediate and it sparked an idea that stayed with him for many years.
“I said to myself ‘if I ever get enough money, I’m going to get property up here,’” Kelly said.
And that’s just what he did. After building a home, he and Ann Marie moved to a property in 1993 a short distance from his childhood summer camp. “It’s a boyhood dream realized.”
He spent five years as a camper at Quinapoxet and then returned as a staff member.
“Camp was a great place,” he said. “We did everything there.”
Those fond memories never faded and in 1983, a group of those he went to camp with started doing a yearly weekend retreat to Quinapoxet for what is known as the Troop 44 Old Timers Reunion. It led to the creation of the Quinapoxet Cup, a friendly competition among the old timers with the winner getting their name on the trophy. The prize began as an old brown cup, used back in the day for whatever drink was offered at lunch and dinner, that was found by one of Kelly’s friends many years later under the dining hall.
Over the years it got bigger and after a decade, the brown cup trophy was built upon to create a two-foot-tall trophy more appropriate for such a worthy competition. There has even been patches made to commemorate the reunion experiences.
Some of the old timers have since passed on to the big scout camp in the sky, Kelly said, but those that remain still get together, although the competition is a little more tame these days.
Kelly and Ann Marie were married in 1991 and made the move to Rindge two years later, even though both were still working for the phone company. They “wanted to have 10 kids” Kelly said, but it just never worked out.
With a pair of pensions to fall back on, Kelly retired in 2006 after his employers offered him a package he couldn’t refuse, and this time of year spends just about every morning on the links at Shattuck Golf Course. But at one point, Kelly wasn’t sure he’d still be around to see retirement. In 1995, he began to have some odd health issues and was just worn out. He went through a number of tests and when no answers were coming back he asked for an HIV test. It came back positive and things did not look good early on.
His prognosis was 10 years, maybe a few more if he was lucky, but then “I started taking this cocktail” he said, which included somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 pills a day. And it worked. He has since connected with some of the best AIDS doctors in the region and as Kelly puts it “I haven’t died from it.”
“And retirement is the best job I ever had,” Kelly said. He also helps with the Monadnock International Film Festival and was an associate producer on the short film “Glowworm.”
This all adds up to what Kelly likes to think of as living a life of serendipity.
“Opportunities are presented to me and I get to take advantage of them,” he said.