By John Balch
The story of Bobby and Sherry Chambers sounds like an old country song.
And it should.
Bobby and Sherry were both country musicians, considered by some to be icons, and both have now passed on to that big stage in the sky – Sherry on March 15, 2011, of cancer and Bobby on Dec. 10, 2017, also of cancer.
On Saturday, Jan. 20 at 10 a.m., the couple will be remembered during a joint memorial service at Latimer Funeral Home in Nashville – one last encore, of sorts.
The story of Bobby and Sherry got started in October 1967.
Sherry was country music’s first professional female drummer and had played with the likes of The Stoneman Family, Dottie West, Wanda Jackson, Skeeter Davis, Jimmy Skinner and Merle Haggard.
Sherry’s mom, Penny Jay, was a singer/songwriter and bassist/guitarist best known for writing the 1962 Number One hit country song “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” – which was covered by more than 30 artists, including Carl and Pearl Butler, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dolly Parton, who eventually became Penny’s close friend. The hit song is said to have once out-charted The Beatles, according to a family member. Penny was active from the 1940s to the 1960s. Penny got her start at age 10 and by age 12 was performing under the name “Little Miss Helen.”
Sherry drummed for her mom’s band, Penny Jay and the Blue Jays, and they were gigging through Chicago when their guitarist fell ill. They needed a replacement and this is where Bobby entered the picture.
Bobby had moved from Nashville, Ark., to Chicago with his family in 1954 when he was just 10 years old. He had become an established young guitar picker and he answered Penny’s call to join the Blue Jays as a permanent replacement.
It should be noted that Bobby was also a standout baseball players, who played 1-1/2 years with the Chicago Cubs, according to daughter, Sunny. He played for one year on the minor league team before he was called up to the majors. Bobby’s baseball career was effectively ended when a bad hop at third base hit him in the face.
Little did Bobby know that he had joined a music band that had the love of his life seated behind the drum kit.
“When I first met her, I said ‘hello’ and she said ‘hi’ and there was something about it,” Bobby once said about Sherry. “A gut feeling told me I was gonna marry her.”
Bobby and Sherry’s romance took off in double time and just 10 days after meeting Sherry, Bobby popped the question.
“People said it would never last,” Bobby said in a 2015 Nashville News article. “They claimed we didn’t know each other well enough.”
The show must go on and the couple were wed at The Surf Ballroom, a nightclub in Iowa where the band had a gig that night. The owners of the club were the couple’s Best Man and Maid of Honor. (The club also happened to be the last place where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson performed before they all died in a plane crash.)
Over the years, Penny Jay and the Blue Jays toured the United States and Canada and also played gigs in Iceland and Greenland.
The band toured for close to three years before Bobby and Sherry decided to remove themselves from the road and the professional side of the music business, start a family and settle in Nashville, Tenn. Their first child, Bobby II, was born in 1968 and their second child, Sunny, was born two years later.
During their time in Tennessee, they were part of the burgeoning Nashville scene. The Chambers lived in the same neighborhood as some of music’s biggest acts at the time, like Ralph Emery and David “String Bean” Ake, a cast member in the television show “Hee Haw” and a standing member of the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby
Parties hosted by Penny Jay often included those big names and a family member recalled Bobby’s tale of meeting The Man in Black, Johnny Cash. After being told to please stop calling him Mr. Cash and start just referring to him as Johnny, Bobby nervously answered, “Yes sir, Mr. Cash.”
In 1975, Bobby’s parents decided to move back to their native Nashville and Bobby and Sherry soon made the move from big Nashville to little Nashville. They had bucked the naysayers and their marriage lasted 44 years until Sherry’s death in 2011.
Penny eventually stopped performing in the 1970s and also moved to Nashville, Ark., to live with her daughter and son-in-law. She died in 2006.
When Sherry’s obituary appeared in the local newspaper in 2011, it ended with an announcement that a “memorial service is planned at a later time.” When word was received of Bobby’s recent death, there was no obituary issued, only a statement that a memorial service would be held later.
It was Bobby and Sherry’s wish that no services be held following their deaths. They both only wanted one simple memorial services where their cremated remains could be mixed and then placed according to family wishes – likely to the tune of an old country song.
(Some of the information for this article was compiled from articles from the former Nashville News in 2011 and 2015)