Singer-songwriter Bobby St. Germaine—known in the music industry as Bobby Bullet—has earned many accolades in a career that spans 50 years. These include a 2010 induction into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame and a 2012 fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
But the journey for the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa to achieve Hall of Fame status has been filled with just as much discovery as there have been obstacles.
Throughout his childhood, Bullet, now 72, wasn’t aware of his Native roots. He was raised by his mother and stepfather as “Robert Hollis,” in Madison, Wisconsin, away from the Lac du Flambeau region. It was only through an aunt that he even knew the last name on his birth certificate.
“I was adopted when I was three or four years old,” Bullet says. “I had a [maternal] aunt who would tell me occasionally—when she had had too much to drink—'Bob Hollis, that’s not your real name. Your father’s name was Bob St. Germaine.'"
As a teenager, making visits to the Lac du Flambeau Reservation, Bullet began to put the pieces of his Native identity together, realizing that there were similarities between other Ojibwa children and himself.
“I remember playing with some young kids there,” Bullet says. He recalls thinking, They talk like I do, and they act like I do. "It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I started on a quest to find out who my relatives were. I started asking questions. I went to my first powwow when I was about 30 years old. I remember sitting up on the steps there, and I had big tears in my eyes. I felt some kind of pull there, something there that grounded me.”
In the 1970s and the early 1980s, Bullet was traveling back and forth from Wisconsin to Nashville, Tennessee, trying to break into the country singer-songwriter scene. His manager, Jim Dawson, had given him his stage name, a reference to the Billboard magazine chart's practice of identifying hot tracks with a bullet. The same magazine gave Bullet a favorable notice for a single, “Gonna Get Your Lovin,” in 1978.
According to Bullet, Nashville was a difficult place for him. He grew his hair long, and was “perceived,” he says, “as a hippie. … I got a lot of doors slammed in my face.” Beyond the rejections, there were many other traps and pitfalls there, most noticeably in the form of alcohol and drugs. However, Bullet credits the Creator for pulling him out of the Nashville lifestyle.
“I think the Great Creator pulled me out of that Nashville scene at that time,” he said, “or I would have probably got pulled down into all that drugs myself. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Since being out of Nashville, Bullet’s songwriting inspiration stems from an openness about his Native identity, spiritual beliefs and his struggles with alcoholism. These include titles such as “Lac du Flambeau Reservation,” “Strawberry Island” and “The Devil’s Mouth.”
“'The Devil’s Mouth' is a song about myself, about my drinking days, he says. “That song probably came from the Great Spirit as a testimony to my own self, an example about trying to keep sober and be an example for the younger people. You can pull yourself out if you want to and live a clean life.”
His current musical project addresses domestic violence and abuse toward women. One of the these songs, “Juicy Eyes,” is told through a child’s perspective, describing the way a mother’s eyes look before she begins to cry. Another song, “I Don’t Think So,” depicts a woman’s resolve when she’s had enough and leaves a relationship.
In addition to songwriting and performing, Bullet also mentors upcoming songwriters and travels to schools and prisons to teach about Native culture, as well as the importance of an organic diet to control diabetes. Bullet also says he sponsors traditional ceremonies at his home “for whoever needs it.”
“I try to walk through life in a peaceful manner,” Bullet says, “and I try to share what I learn as I go along my trail.”