A longtime fixture of the Dick Schory Percussion Pops Orchestra, percussionist, arranger, and composer Bobby Christian also headlined a series of space age pop LPs much sought after by exotica aficionados. Born Sylvester Christian in Chicago on October 20, 1911, he acquired his first drum kit at the age of six, later studying for two decades under the famed percussion educator Roy Knapp (who also tutored Gene Krupa and Hal Blaine). Christian quit school at 14 to join Chicago bandleader Louie Panico, spending the next five years playing at the local Canton Tea Gardens. In 1930, he began a two-year tour in support of singer Sophie Tucker, finally returning to the Windy City and signing on with violinist Eddie Varzo. Christian rose to national prominence in 1938 after joining the famed Paul Whiteman band as a drummer and arranger. The grind of touring wore him down, however, and upon returning to Chicago in 1940, he remained there throughout the decade, joining Roy Shield's NBC radio orchestra and enjoying a lucrative career playing on advertising jingle sessions. Christian also worked under conductor Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in 1944 founded the Bobby Christian School of Percussion, which counted among its students future drumming greats Cozy Cole and Lou Singer. In 1950, he relocated to New York City, where he rejoined Whiteman for the ABC television program Tales of Tomorrow. In 1955, he joined the legendary Arturo Toscannini's NBC Symphony of the Air, touring the Far East with the orchestra before again resettling in Chicago the following year.
In addition to leading his own dance band, Christian joined Schory's Percussion Pops Orchestra, a showcase for his unique one-man-band abilities. According to fellow percussionist Duanne Thamm, "[Christian] played 'Sabre Dance' sitting down, two right mallets on the xylophone, left hand playing two timpani, bass drum with the right foot and bells in front of the xylophone. He brought the house down!" Under Schory's leadership, Christian cut a series of LPs for RCA's Stereo Action imprint, among them 1958's Music for Bang, Baa-Room and Harp, 1960's Music to Break Any Mood, and 1962's Holiday for Percussion, earning the nickname "Mr. Percussion" for his virtuosity. The moniker also served as the title of his first headlining effort for Mercury, a 1963 full-length highlighted by an ethereal version of "Cherokee" featuring wife Vernyle's wordless vocal effects. Even better is the remarkable Audio Fidelity release Strings for a Space Age, a classic of the outer space exotica subgenre. Following a series of LPs including Percussion in Velvet, Vibe-Brations, and In Action, Christian's recording career ended in the early '70s, and in the decades to follow, he channeled his energies into teaching, offering private lessons in addition to hosting clinics for aspiring musicians both at home and abroad. He also wrote a series of instructional books and even produced a how-to video, Bobby Christian's Tricks of the Trade. In 1989, Christian was inducted into the Percussion Arts Society's Hall of Fame. He died unexpectedly on December 31, 1991, at the age of 80. ~ Jason Ankeny~ Rovi