Born out of wedlock, Zephyrhills musician Paul Guy Bovee rarely saw his father during the course of his childhood. Then when he was 18 and playing in a band, this native New Yorker welcomed an unexpected guest at one of his shows.
"I was playing the song From a Jack to a King and I saw a guy walk in, get up on a picnic table, and start dancing," said Bovee, 61. "I knew that had to be Dad. I dropped my guitar, jumped up on the picnic table and gave him a hug. He said, 'Hi, Paulie.' "
After the show Bovee and his father, Herb Krebs, sat together for a chat and a beer.
"Then he walked out the door," said Bovee. "I didn't see him for another 37 years."
In 2008, father and son were brought together again — this time under less happy circumstances. Diagnosed with bladder cancer, Bovee went to New York to visit friends and family members. An aunt told him that his father was also ill, an Alzheimer's patient with other health complaints staying in a North Carolina nursing home.
Bovee drove 17 hours straight to Asheboro. He carried a guitar into Krebs' room.
"I walked into his room singing and playing From a Jack to a King," Bovee recalled. "He started crying and said, 'Oh my God, I know that voice.' "
Bovee beat his cancer and made regular trips from Florida to North Carolina to sing for his father until he died four years later.
"My dad would smile like a big kid when I played," Bovee said.
He wasn't alone. Others at the home enjoyed the music, requested songs and sang along.
"When you sing to someone in a nursing home, you see the light come on in their eyes," he said. "They remember. They're alive again."
Bovee began to offer his services at other nursing homes across the country.
He gave up a career as a roofer and contractor to become a full-time musician. He performed more than 200 shows a year at first, until a 2010 car accident forced him to scale back.
"The flesh is a little weaker," he said, "but the spirit is still there."
Now he plays as many as 10 shows a month, many of them at local sites such as Heritage Park Nursing Home in Dade City, the Commons on Pretty Pond in Zephyrhills, the Zephyrhills Rehabilitation Center and the Edwinola in Dade City.
In Bovee's eyes, the seniors who make up his audience are far more than casual listeners.
"These people are part of my family," he said. "I have 500 new moms and thousands of uncles. They care about me because I make them laugh and I make them cry."
During a June 4 performance at Heritage Park, Bovee interacted with some of his biggest fans. He accepted an enthusiastic request for a Conway Twitty tune and serenaded a woman with the romantic classic Spanish Eyes. During a rendition of the love song Roses Are Red, he tossed a rose to a woman in a wheelchair who flashed thumbs-up at activities director Nila Premer.
"Residents are always asking when Paul is coming back," said Premer. "He makes them remember their favorite songs. He makes them smile."
Guests also sing along to their beloved tunes, especially time-honored spirituals that include Amazing Grace and Will The Circle Be Unbroken. And sometimes they dance.
"I've seen people stand up from their wheelchairs and move to a particular song," he said.
And that, says the nursing home singer, is the whole idea.
"I plan to keep on doing this until God takes me home," Bovee said.
"I just want to make people happy."