Devo founding guitarist Bob Casale died Monday after medical complications unexpectedly led to heart failure, his brother Gerald said. Bob Casale was 61.
Bob had recently been hospitalized due to stomach ailments, his brother said when reached by phone Tuesday, but had been thought to be recovering. Gerald said his brother was otherwise in good health and had been working on numerous Devo-related projects.
“During testing, he de-stabilized. They were a little flummoxed,” Gerald said. “He was sitting up, talking and the next thing he was in an ER, life-and-death situation. His blood pressure dropped too low and they couldn’t stabilize it in time.”
Devo was formed in the early 1970s in Akron, Ohio, by singer Mark Mothersbaugh and bassist Gerald, who met while at Kent State University. With a love for marketing and a world view that was steeped in irony, Devo straddled the avant-garde and pop worlds with a twisted, technologically savvy take on rock ‘n’ roll.
Gerald recruited his brother Bob for guitar/keyboards. Mothersbaugh’s brother, also named Bob, played guitar, and drummer Alan Myers rounded out the group. Early on, the band was seen by some in the press as sort-of a new-wave version of KISS.
“We were a real machine. We were white Jame Browns. We were real tight, we played real fast and people didn’t believe what they were seeing,” said Gerald.
By the time Devo released “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” in 1978, the group had cemented an oddball presentation that left audiences guessing, whether it was the group’s deconstructed version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or its yellow lab suit costumes.
Devo, said Gerald, had been deep into the planning stages of 40th anniversary concerts that were to begin this summer. Longtime Devo drummer Myers died last year, and the plan for the upcoming shows was to have regular collaborator Josh Freese sit in. Gerald said the dates were to focus on rarely played songs recorded between 1974 and 1977, songs that appear on the 1990 release “Hardcore Devo: Volume One.”
“We never played that stuff in concert again,” Gerald said. “We were going to do that, re-creating that feeling of those times and that experimental music. Maybe we can still do that. I think it’s worth thinking about. I would to do it for Bob and to do something to possibly benefit his children.”
Devo’s commercial success peaked in the early ‘80s with the MTV hit “Whip It,” but the members also found culture-shaping day jobs. In 1989, Mothersbaugh established his Mutato Muzika facility and became an in-demand writer for television and film. Mothersbaugh recently wrote the score for the early 2014 smash “The Lego Movie.”
“We are shocked and saddened by Bob Casale’s passing,” Mothersbaugh said via a statement. “He not only was integral in Devo’s sound, he worked over 20 years at Mutato, collaborating with me on sixty or seventy films and television shows, not to mention countless commercials and many video games. Bob was instrumental in creating the sound of projects as varied as ‘Rugrats' and Wes Anderson’s films. He was a great friend. I will miss him greatly.”
Both Mothersbaugh’s brother and Bob Casale worked closely with Mutato. Gerald established himself as a director of commercials and music videos. Devo in recent years had performed on-and-off, occasionally releasing new material. The band performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2010.
“When we were new, we were shocking and so different, only we owned that aesthetic,” Gerald said in 2010. “Now a lot of bands cite Devo as their influence. A lot of music sounds like Devo, especially a lot of the new music from groups like the Ting Tings, the Kills, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip. We love that stuff. It sounds like the kind of energy we had in the beginning."
Gerald said he and his brother were deep into a project that would have been something akin to a “Devo online school.” Consider it a trade school, Gerald said, that would have taught participants how to write music with digital tools or how to score a commercial.
“Devo was known for innovative music and videos in the first place. We thought it would be a good idea to have an online, no-nonsense trade school taught by people that are professionals who work in the business and have a track record of success, so that included Mark and Mutato and the people who work with him there. “
Gerald said that the project is largely finished and that he is looking for investors.
“It is all the more sad that something Bob had spearheaded by putting a team together is now done and he is not here to see it through,” Gerald said.
Bob is survived by his son, Alex, his daughter, Samantha, and his wife, Lisa.