Robert Donovan Thomas
aka Bob Thomas
A True Rennaissance Man

A Video Documentary is currently in production. The Living History Centre has given ITS a small grant, which we hope to match via donation.

Robert was a bagpiper, lutest, instrument maker, graphic and fine artist, historian and storyteller.
His father was a Rosicrusian and worked in the film industry in Los Angeles, California. His mother was an educator and worked at UCLA.

Robert got his education attending special schools in the LA, Hollywood area. He also spent many hours at the library studying things that interested him on his own. He told stories/sang songs of Plato the Elder, Hermese T. and other characters I'd never heard of. He explained how they tried to turn lead into gold and other such tales. We are putting together a DVD of Bob Thomas' music, art, hand made instruments, and stories of his life adventures. There is also a Bob Thomas festival being organized to honor his revival of several forgotten bagpipe and ethnic music traditions. He was a great friend to Richard Chase and together they recreated the English Morris (dance, ritual) in California at the Renaissance Pleasure Faires. Please refer to Los Californios under ITS projects to read more about the amazing Robert D. Thomas.

Robert had many accomplishments. His artistic ones include:

  • The logo for the Rock group, The Grateful Dead

  • Album covers for The Grateful Dead including; "Live/Dead" and "Bear's Choice."

  • The logo and band name for the Golden Toad

  • The logo and name for the non-profit organization, Institute for Traditional Studies, which you see on our homepage.

  • Logo for Alembic

  • Thomas Piper, a book on bagpipes of the world, written and illustrated by Bob.

Below is a photo and a drawing of Robert playing his much loved Zampogna, Italian pipes with two melody chanters to create beautiful harmonies.

Photograph circa 1968. The drawing was done by Melissa Fischbach in 1991.

Bob Thomas, playing Italian bagpipes  

EXHIBIT OF ROBERT'S ART WORK AT THE SONOMA COUNTY MUSEUM JULY OF 2005. Will Spires (pictured) put this exhibit "Piper of Preston Hill" together, Thanks Will

Will Spires at RDT exhibit

INFORMATION ON ROBERT THOMAS gathered for the exhibit:
Robert Thomas was born in Hollywood in 1939. On leaving high school, he attended the U.S. Naval School of Music (he played tuba), Georgetown University and the Corcoran Gallery School, all in Washinton D.C. After leaving the Navy in 1958, he returned to the Los Angeles area where he attended UCLA and the Art Center School. Bob pursued a musical and artistic career in Los Angeles through 1966 giving many concerts and exhibitions. Moving to Northern California in 1966, he followed similar pusuits until leaving for two years in England. While there, he performed as a musician with the National Theatre of Great Britain and accompanied traditional country dancing at the Cecil Sharp House. Employed as a restorer by Mr. Tony Bingham, an antique musical instrument dealer at the "Sign of the Serpant", Bob started making bagpipes. His research conducted in England led to the revival of several of the instruments. After returning to Northern California, Bob could be seen performing on his instruments at the California Renaissance Pleasure Faires, Charles Dickens Christmas Faires and various other events for many years. A number of his bagpipes are included in the collection of the "Museo de la Gaita" in Gijon, Asturias, Spain. Many others are still maintained (and played) in private collections around the world.

Bear's tribute to RDT with stories and more regarding Bob and the Grateful Dead.

A letter from Alan Keith to the Institute, in the year 2000.
Hi, I ran across the ITS website and the Bob Thomas (video?) project. I appreciate that there's a work in progress on him.
You may not know this, but Bob and I were acquainted as fellow bagpipe enthusiasts since 1969, having first met at the Southern Renaissance Faire, that year (he was playing with 'The [Golden] Toad'; I was piping in the 'Noon Parade'). Bob with his talent as an ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist actually got me interested, and subsequently started on a lifetime of world bagpipe collecting, study and performance. I spent many happy, interesting, and informative hours 'at Bob's knee', gleaning bits of piping and other music information, given out between his folk 'yarns', historical tidbits and biographical cameos (there were always a number of 'leg-pullers' and even a few 'whoppers' added to test his listener's knowledge, intelligence and sense of humor). Anyway, to get to the meat of the message: I have owned a number of Bob's instruments over the years, including ones that he built. I have even ventured to make copies of a few!(You'll find them on the link for Alan, bottom this page, which also includes a note about Bob). As you may already know, most of Bob's private collection of instruments was destroyed in the Preston Ranch fire. But there are still a few items of his former collection still around, and quite a number of instruments that he built for himself and for sale to others. Bob was quite a 'horse trader', so a number of instruments that he owned at one time found their way into the hands of his musician friends and acquaintances.
I presently own three instruments of his manufacture: -Swedish pibsack -Welsh or Flemish (?) double-chanter bagpipe -Lancashire 'wait' shawm These are people that I either know or suspect own one or more of Bob's creations:
Ian Law, Brian Steeger, Shawn Folsom, Oliver Seeler, Will Spires, Jason Adajian, Mickie Zekley, Rick I. Cook, Mitchel Sandler, Museo de la Gaita - Gijon, Spain (I have the catalog!). I'm sure there are many more that I don't recall or even know about,....Bob 'cranked-out' quite a number of instruments for a few years during the '80s that were sold by 'Lark' and other stores, and peddled to anyone and everyone he met on his travels around California. Alan Keith

Edited by Deborah Fischbach, . *1.editor's note; Ernie Fischbach inherited (gift from Mary) Bob's Gaita, bagpipes from Northern Spain and
Mickie Zekley got the English pipes that Bob always played with the English Morris Dancers. I'm happy to say both Ernie and Mickie are playing their pipes.