- Rick Mauch
Nashville musician and comedian retires in Weatherford
Growing up in west Texas, Keith Longbotham’s story is not one of a youngster who dreamed of being a big star. He just knew he loved music. His talent and karma took care of the rest.
“I am not sure I ever even thought about being successful at that time, but I knew that’s what I was happy doing was playing music and entertaining people,” Longbotham, now 69, said. “I decided to make a move to Nashville in 1982 and got a job at Opryland playing blue grass.
“At that time Opryland was a really unique park because it was just full of good musicians. I was just in awe of the talent, and knew I had to work really hard to get somewhere. I met so many great musicians, and most of them I keep up with today. We all shared that love of music and it was so much fun.”
And though it’s been years since he’s performed live, thanks to his battle with Parkinson’s disease, Longbotham has enjoyed a storied career of making folks laugh and smile through his comedy and music. He has enough memories to last his own lifetime and many more.
“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was 52 years old, but was having symptoms before that, so I probably had it a few years before being diagnosed,” he said. “It started with just a little tremor in my leg and I thought it was probably restless leg syndrome.
“For the first 10 years I could barely even tell that I had Parkinson’s and was able to keep playing. I did not tell anyone but close friends and family, so most people don’t realize I have had it for so many years.”
The oldest of four children (he has two brothers and a sister), Longbotham was born in Snyder and lived there until his family moved to Plainview when he was in the seventh grade. He first started performing in high school in Plainview with his good friend Travis Thornton. They would play for Lions clubs, Rotary clubs and different events going on around town.
“I played guitar and Travis did most of the vocals,” he recalled.
Once he graduated from high school, Longbotham attended Wayland Baptist College in Plainview. It was at this point that he began learning different instruments.
“I started taking piano lessons, learned to play bass and started playing around with other string instruments. I was a member of a singing group at Wayland called ‘The Spirit of America’ singers, and we traveled all over singing and playing music. We did Charles Stanley Holy Land cruises and were the entertainment on the cruise ship doing several shows during those eight weeks,” he said. “That was one of the best times, being able to travel with such a great group of friends and see so many places all over the world.”
Longbotham graduated with a music degree and his first job was in Crosbyton as the music director at the local Baptist church. The gospel has always been a big part of his life and career, a career that saw him perform live, on TV, and record nearly a dozen CDs in the country, country swing and gospel genre.
“At this time we could sell our CDs at our concerts and it would help with some expenses. Musicians today suffer because no one even plays CDs. Most don’t even have a CD player,” he said. “They can download anything they want off the internet, and that has changed so much about music.
“Country music has changed over the years as well. To me everything sounds the same. There are still tons of good musicians but many things have changed.”
Variety was a big part of Longbotham’s career, starting with his band, the Keith Longbotham Trio.
“The Keith Longbotham Trio just kind of started out with two of my best friends playing at different gigs. Really, whoever would let us play,” he recalled. “The trio consisted of myself, Chris Marion and TJ Klay. Chris played keyboards, TJ played harmonica and I played guitar.
“We started out getting some things going in Arizona at the resorts and it just grew. We would play different resorts for the snowbirds and ended up doing this for about 20 years. We would stay about three months out of the year, so this was a lot of time that we spent together.
“These are probably my most treasured memories, and we are all still the best of friends. We still see each other quite often and these guys are like brothers. Chris plays keyboards for Little River Band and still tours, so he stays busy with touring when we are not dealing with COVID, and TJ still does shows as well.”
In addition, he performed “The Keith Longbotham Show,” which he said was really a solo act with him sometimes bringing in his niece and others to sing or play. He also incorporated comedian Dennis Swanberg.
“It was always clean and Christian-based, so we would do lots of church functions and community functions. I worked with Dennis for about 10 years, and we still are great friends as well,” Longbotham said. “I have been more than blessed with great friends.
“I could always laugh at my own jokes no matter how many times I told them. I think that might have been one of my strong points, being able to have good timing when telling the jokes and coming off as if it was the first time I ever told it. I loved to laugh and I loved to entertain.
“When I was on stage you were like my best friends who were watching, and we were having the time of our lives. It was never on TV or anything like that, but we promoted it as good Christian fun time so we played many churches. I always ended every show with ‘How Great Thou Art,’ and it is still one of my favorites.”
Ironically, Longbotham does not come from a musical family. However, he fell in love with music himself at an early age.
“I started playing guitar young and basically taught myself. I did not have lessons at that time but I loved playing,” he remembered. “I have a niece that came to Nashville and could sing like crazy.
“Nashville is hard. There are so many talented people, and it’s really hard to break in.”
But break in he did. He played the Grand Ole Opry three times, taking the stage with the likes of legends Roy Acuff and Porter Wagoner.
“I was scared out of my mind,” he said with a chuckle. “I just couldn’t believe that I was standing on that stage with those guys. Never in a million years did I think I would be standing on that stage. That was definitely one of the great moments of my life.”
Another great moment was when he was recognized back in Plainview with a star on the Walk of Fame at the Fair Theater.
“I was totally surprised. I am really good friends with many of the people responsible and they pulled off a total surprise,” Longbotham said. “One of the best gifts is being honored by your friends and them saying, ‘We think you deserve this honor.’
“It was one of the last times I played for a big show. I really struggled getting through that show because my Parkinson’s was getting worse. It was an emotional moment for me because I was so honored, but at the same time feeling sad thinking this might be all over.”
But, as with all musicians, the show never really ends. The audience might go home and the lights go out, but in their mind they will always be onstage performing. The same is true for Longbotham.
“I do not play anymore for an audience, except with just friends and by myself,” he said.
“I for sure will just pick up and play for fun, if possible, because I still love it.”