October 02, 1999
Lubbock native P.J. “Papa Jelly” Belly, died just hours after performing in concert at the Sand Dollar Blues Lounge in Las Vegas on Thursday night. He was 50.
Belly originally was named Robert Gamble, but had his name legally changed when his music career began to progress.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Sanders Funeral Home. Belly’s brother, Jim Gamble, said Friday a funeral service will be Wednesday at First United Methodist Church, with The Rev. Ted Dotts presiding.
The time of the service was pending Friday.
Belly stated in a 1993 A-J interview, “As far back as junior high, the girls called me Papa, maybe because I was already giving them money by buying Cokes and candy for them. Then I got called Papa Jelly Belly, and gradually I shortened that to P.J. Belly.
Glenn Burch, a former bass player with P.J. Belly & The Lone Star Blues Band, said Friday, “P.J. was colorful. He always had that benevolent Papa quality in the club; he was the godfather-like club owner and everyone liked to pay their respects.”
Jim Gamble said, “He was friendly and he loved people. He loved to please them. I have the privilege of saying I bought him his first guitar and amp when he was in the seventh grade.”
Belly graduated from Monterey High School in 1967 and immediately hit the road with a band called P.J. Belly & The Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival.
He decided to quit after playing 14 dates with his idol, Chuck Berry, telling The A-J in 1987, “I got married, for one thing. And it was also that old road story: living on crackers and waking up in Nebraska to find the producer had split with all the money.
“Oil was in my family blood, and I thought I’d give that a whirl and concentrate on being a businessman.”
While still working in his father’s oil business, Belly and his friend Randy Smith combined efforts to stage a Buddy Holly music festival called the Budfest in 1986.
Belly soon began playing music again. He opened a successful rhythm ‘n’ blues bar called Belly’s near the corner of 50th Street and Avenue Q on Jan. 23, 1990.