RIFFS 2007

Published September 30, 2007
The Rebellious Duke of Topanga Canyon
Bob Dewitt 1913 - 2007

Those of you hip to the mad scene that was The Church of the Living Swing will be brought down by the sad news that His Lordship's dear buddy cat and artistic coconspirator Bob DeWitt has laid down his brush and swung it up to the Higher Beat Flip.

Bob was a real estate agent and his wife Doi owned and ran a restaurant in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles when Lord Buckley came into their lives. Dewitt and Buckley immediately took to each other and Bob was quickly dubbed "The Rebellious Duke of Topanga." A 1999 interview with Michael Monteleone reveals the origins of Bob's Royal Court name:


Did Lord Buckley give you a Royal Court name?

I was named - he had 2 Rebellious Dukes and I was the Rebellious Duke of Topanga. But he had another Rebellious Duke that he liked - a younger guy. Younger than me.

Why did he call you the Rebellious Duke?

Well because I wasn't structured. I thought it was a good title. I used it a lot. I used to sign my letters "The Rebellious Duke."

Did you enjoy the Royal Court idea?

Yes, I did because the people that were involved with that they didn't have any life until Buckley got a hold of them and told them they were something. Like Helen was a big, fat, slobbish woman that couldn't do anything, but she was Helen, Royal Helen. She was a Queen. And Lady Buckley was teaching her to do the ballet. Yeah and those people would respond. He said it was like the Army. He said the Army they gave you a title and make you a sergeant or a captain or whatever and it was the same thing that he was doing with those people. He was giving them a status. He was the king cat and he had his lieutenants and I was one of them, but I was rebellious, but I wasn't really in his court.


Soon The Royal Family was in residence in the canyon courtesy of Bob's real estate prowess. And shortly after that Buckley proposed doing a series of shows at Doi's restaurant. These shows were the legendary "Church of the Living Swing" which included a sassy jazz band, belly dancers, the passing of the sacred herb, and His Lordship wailing up an endless mardi gras of life lessons taken from his impossible deep well of hip wisdom. According to Buckley collaborator Mel Welles these "services" were the only religious events ever raided by the Vice Squad.

Dewitt also joined Lord Buckley at the Musicbox, a little theatre in Los Angeles one night in 1956. While Buckley, backed by Milt Hinton's jump band, performed, Bob DeWitt painted the backwall of the joint. He continued to paint throughout Buckley's performance. Jazz photographer Ray Avery, who witnessed the event remembered the scene,

"And then the most amazing thing I thought was that the stagehands were still painting the backdrop. And they painted the backdrop all the way through the performance. And I thought, now is this a rehearsal or is this the real thing? Are they kidding me?"

For the last forty-five years Bob and Doi made their home in Mariposa, California, living outside town on twenty glorious acres of oak trees and rustic wooden buildings. They were always welcoming to visitors and a guest never wanted for good food and conversation.

Bob swooped the scene on August 22, 2007 and is survived by Doi and various offspring. A memorial service in Mariposa is scheduled for 2 PM on Sunday, September 30 2007.