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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Recording In Key West With Homemade Wine

                              Recording In Key West With Homemade Wine

A little while back I mentioned that I was soon to embark on a new album. Well, there were some delays, but on February 12, 2015 I went into the studio and we got the ball rolling! This part of the album, is a bit of an island from what will be the rest of it.

This section actually is rooted almost two years ago when my friends with Homemade Wine out of Knoxville, Tn. were in town and we had a jam up in the band room at Margaritaville where they were playing.

At my suggestion, we jammed on Marshall Tucker’s song “This Ol’Cowboy”, as we were both major Marshall Tucker fans. Of course they were familiar with the song, but up to that point, had not played it before.

We had a blast playing it and percussionist, Tod Sheley, video taped it. It’s gotten a lot of attention on their YouTube channel. It was a great evening, without a doubt.

After this, we decided we’d love to write a song together. I started it, but whenever they were in town, regretfully there wasn’t time to get together and work on a song.Consequently, I wrote the rest of the song.

It was written musically by design to have a close relation to This Ol’ Cowboy, though at the same time, it’s very different. The song is entitled “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”. Kind of semi-philosophical of how I lead my life. Learn from the past, live in the moment, set goals for the future, based on sailing on a sailboat motif/foundation.

Well, here we are and even though we never got to write the song together, we did record it right here in Key West.

The original plan was to record it with Dan Simpson, however Dan didn’t have the facility to do it live, which was the plan. A block away from me is Lance Taylor’s Key West Studio, so that was made the official destination. We could set the whole band up there and do live takes.

It’s an amazing studio, built into a small Conch House, not far from the Southernmost Point. It’s also Lance’s home, however it’s far more accurate to say that Lance lives in the studio, rather than the studio is in Lance’s home.

As you walk into the house via the front door, you are walking into the drum room, complete with sound deadening, plus,  a set of drums that the late, great Richard Crooks donated to the cause, so that they could be put to use by all who need a set of quality drums to record with. A great philanthropic gesture indeed, by the Maestro, prior to his earthly departure.

From there you enter the control room, where all of the computers are. Mission control, so to speak. The bass was set up here, which gave great proximity to both the drums on one side and the rest of us on the other. On that other side is what would be the dining room, however this is where the rest of the band sets up. For us this day it was two electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, and added percussion.

Before all of this, we met up in the band room at Margaritaville, where the band was playing,  the day before. We actually were doing two songs, the other being another song of mine “Ride to the End of the Line Anyway”. Both songs needed to be defined structurally and the guys need to be versed with what was going on and when.

The guys were superb! What more could you ask for really? They not only gave their undivided attention, but also helped immensely in the arrangements. I had done the arrangements, however they refined and defined them. Ryan Sheley has a very keen sense of what works. Often as a writer/arranger one cannot see the forest for the trees as you become so embedded in it all.  Ryan would say “lets cut that bar before the chorus and just go right into it.” He was 100% correct. Thanks Ryan!

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(Ryan Sheley going over songs in the band room)

Rick Reese was fantastic at defining what went where and what chords were used. Having a Berkley College of Music graduate on hand was the proverbial silver bullet. The rest of the band was fantastic as well, all just falling into the arrangements as we went along.

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(Rick Reese in the band room)

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(Andy Westcott and Brad Williams at rehearsal)

Additionally, after that was done and I left, they continued to work on them later that night. These guys were dedicated professionals. Their efforts are greatly appreciated!

The next day we hit the studio. As always, there were a few glitches to overcome, but that’s expected and nothing was extreme.

The two songs I chose to do with them were both Southern Rock based songs. “Ride To The End of the Line Anyway” was on the Allman Brothers side of the tracks, while “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” was from the Marshall Tucker Band side of town, influence wise. Doing two songs based on Southern Rock, who better that have Homemade Wine backing me?

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(Andy Walcott  of Homemade Wine in the studio, Key West, Fl. C.R. USA)

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(Rick Reese of Homemade Wine in the studio, Key West, Fl. C.R. USA)

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(Bradley Williams of Homemade Wine in the studio, Key West, Fl. C.R. USA)

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(Tod Sheley)

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(Ryan Sheley of Homemade Wine in the studio, Key West, Fl. C.R. USA)

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(Playing acoustic in this picture)

To show progress as it goes, here’s some snippets of the songs. A lot must be added still, but for those not in the business, it might be interesting to see how a song progresses.

Here’s a snippet of “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”

And “Ride To the End Of The Line Anyway”

Some folks only know me from my album “Shanghai’d and Marooned in Key West (things could be worse)”. On that album I tried to bring in a bunch of influences I’ve had over my life in music. Consequently, every song was in a different root genre. Afro/Cuban, Jazz, Brazilian, Bahamian, Country… the list goes on.

The album got fantastic accolades from all over the radio and recording business. The late Jeff Allen said “Shanghai’d and Marooned in Key West (Things Could Be Worse) covers so many different genres, it’s another great addition to the ever expanding sounds of Trop Rock by adding so many different new flavors to it.” Jeff Allen, Beachfront Radio

Also, I received an e-mail from none other than Shelly Liebowitz from Los Angeles, producer of Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dr. John… saying that he loved the album! It really doesn’t come any stronger than that. That’s a seriously heavy endorsement.

Fact is however, that although so many people within the industry had such good things to say about the album and played the heck out of it (and still do! Thanks everyone!), it hasn’t sold as much as I hoped for.

It was funny because as we were in the studio last night, Dani Hoy said to me with a smirk while listening back to Ride To The End Of The Line Anyway, “That’s not Trop Rock” to which I replied “No, it isn’t”. We both laughed. I then replied “It is Conch Rock however!”

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As sales within the Trop Rock community hasn’t been supportive enough, I need other options to augment sales from other angles, in addition to Trop.

Everything is my passion that I’m doing, that’s the most important thing for me, in addition to carving new trails to go down. The one thing I insist on is not sounding like anyone else…. even myself sometimes. Not necessarily the creed of a pop artist, but I’m a songwriter and a progressive artist anyway.

What will it sound like?  Key West and the Florida Keys, naturally!

You can take that to the bank.

More to come as it proceeds!

Thank you again!
To obtain my music:

My CD is available on iTunes, CD Baby, CD Universe, Rhapsody, and Beachfront Radio.
Search: Key West Chris

Thank you everyone!!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Key West - Cuba, The Potential part 1

Key West - Cuba - The Potential part 1

(listen to the Afro Cuban All Stars while you read the blog!)

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On December 17th, 2014, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba would be restoring diplomatic relations. On January 19th 2015, the U.S. announced that they will be holding talks with Cuba ending travel curbs for U.S. diplomats. As it stands at the moment, both Cuban diplomats in the U.S. and American diplomats in Cuba are restricted in where they can travel. What this is however is a first step in the right direction.

The interesting thing here is, as far as U.S. politicians go, it’s a non-party issue. Some Republicans are for normalization of relations, while some are not. Likewise with the Democrats.

As far as citizens go, Gallup polls in December showed American citizens favored restoring diplomatic relations by 60%. Other polls went as high as 63%.

Just going by what I’ve seen on Facebook was remarkable. Bear in mind that I don’t take political sides on issues in public forums, such as Facebook, for the most part. In addition, I side with both parties on different issues. Because of this, my friends on Facebook are pretty evenly divided 50/50 as far as being Republicans and Democrats.

While the Gallup polls showed 60%, what I found from my Facebook friends posts, as well as reaction to my post on the announcement, was well over 90% in favor. It was to the point that one had to actually search out those against it. Those in favor came from both political parties.

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As I said earlier, the meeting in January was to improve diplomatic travel. They will also be establishing American credit card use in Cuba, which currently is not allowed and consequently, not in place. In addition, the talks in January were including agricultural subjects. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Havana will re-open.

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On February 9th, 2015, the American company Netflix announced that they will be servicing Cuba. Expect to see more and more companies starting to do likewise as time goes on.

What will come of all of this should be normalization for travel for everyone. I say should, because Congress will have to approve ending the fifty something year old embargo first. Politicians often put their personal agenda ahead of that of their voters, so there’s the possibility it could be rejected.

It’s clear what the people of the United States want however. Hello, Washington D.C.! Please be sure you are listening! Right now, I can fly to Beijing, Communist China, invest millions of dollars in investments, even live there, if I choose. However, at this moment I can't go to Cuba and spend a dime. Congress, please take note. The majority of your constituents are NOT in favor of this. Make your decisions accordingly. 

While there are many hoops of fire to clear, the end result should be for Americans being able to travel freely to Cuba.

Assuming Congress does what the American people are in favor of, lets jump ahead a bit to the point that, say I, a U.S. citizen, can get on a plane and fly to Cuba on a whim.

That’s how it used to be! I recall when I first moved to Miami well over thirty years ago (I’ve been in Key West for almost seven), I recall hearing stories from all sorts of people. They would tell me how they would head to Havana for a weekend, prior to the restrictions being put into place. It seemed that clubs and bars were the normal attractions at the time. Of course they were talking about the 1950’s, and of course, things have changed there since then. However, albeit a bit behind the other communist countries in Europe, Cubans are discovering that making money isn’t such an evil thing after all.

The bottom line here is: How will opening up Cuba effect Key West?

It takes some thought and for myself, it’s such a stimulating thought that when I think about it, ideas flow like cocktails out of a shaker. More often than not, as one idea springs up, three more replace it, in the refining process. So where do we start? The question can be overwhelming. There is so much to talk about and options are literally endless. Additionally, the thought of all of the legal snaggles, obstacles, and headaches that have been created in the political porcupine over the last fifty four years, is mind boggling. For what I’m doing here, that would only be a quagmire for creativity, so I’m going to omit those thoughts for the time being. Repeating the aforementioned question, where do we begin?

There’s only one place to begin logically and that’s at the beginning.

The start of this is imperative to begin now, not run around like headless chickens once the embargo and travel restrictions are lifted. This way, when they are lifted, Key West is hopping into the drivers seat in the fast lane, while everywhere else is scrambling.

 Lets face it, Key West is the closest point in the U.S. to Cuba. From the Southernmost Point at the end of Whitehead Street states that it is 90 miles to Cuba. Key West is closer to Cuba than the closest Walmart. It’s also closer to Cuba than it is to Miami, both by a good deal at that. Both anchor points of local tour guides, here in Key West. So, from a geographical point, Key West is an ideal location for a Cuban connection of any sort. Additionally, the Cuban population here is not the radical Cuban population that one finds in Miami. Key West has always been more open to friendly relations with Cuba.

The Key West International Airport currently isn’t hosting any regular international flights. However, it is a registered international airport. Additionally, in 2011 Key West was authorized by the U.S. government to send and receive flights from Cuba. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Cuba also has to authorize the flights and if I’m not mistaken, this has been in progress for several years. Hopefully, now with the resumption of diplomatic ties, this will be expedited.

The Key West airport director, Peter Horton, the mayor, Craig Cates, and the city commissioners must all be commended on getting Key West International Airport authorized as an airport for service to Cuba. The foresight they had by getting it completed as far back as 2011, gives a lot of confidence in the overall Key West’s overall outlook for Cuba. Lets call ace’s, aces. They had the foresight in getting it done well before any of the current developments announced in December 2014. That’s beyond a good move in anybody’s book.

Strictly thinking on my own behalf, the next move would be giving an attachment between Key West and Cuba. My preference would be:

“Key West - The Gateway To Cuba”

To begin with, this is an accurate statement once flights can be re-established. Key West’s first name was Cayo Hueso. The nickname for Key West in Cuba was “Habana Norte” (Havana north). Cultural ties with Cuba run deep and well established. The cigar industry was huge here in the 1800’s. All of the tobacco came from Cuba and was rolled here.

On the 600 block of Duval sits the San Carlos Institute. The San Carlos was originally a school for Cuban children whose parents came to Key West. It’s a beautiful facility, the current structure having been built in the 1870’s. It was owned by the Cuban government up until the Cuban revolution.

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The classrooms have ceilings that are 20ft high! It’s the type of structure you would find in Old Havana.

The underlying point here, of course is that Key West and Cuba are very closely connected.

Years ago, I had heard that Key West and Havana were “Sister Cities”. In doing this piece I researched that and found nothing unfortunately. Perhaps I was mis-informed? I’m not certain. However, as at one point the citizens of Cuba referred to Key West as “Habana Norte”, what could they be other than sister cities? Perhaps this can be a quest to be achieved?

Most of my professional life was in sales. In my time in Miami, I worked for a man named “Joe D”, or “Mr. D.” who owned a large firm and not only owned it, but was also the general manager and took a very active role in the sales department.

Mr. D. would hold weekly sales meetings and one of the things he instilled on the sales staff was “selling the sizzle” that our product offered. Sure, someone may come in and say they were looking at a Corvette, but wanted to look at a Porsche as well. Of course the Porsche was a better car, but we had to show the potential customer why it was better. Such as Porsche won thirteen victories at Le Mans, plus two victories in cars that used their engines. Things like that. Nothing B/S, just highlights that make a Porsche a thoroughbred and not a run of the mill car. The Porsche costs significantly more than the Corvette, a cost that must be justified.

The exact same thing is true with Key West being the ideal point of disembarkation to Cuba, in the very near future. Sure, anyone can take a flight out of Miami to Havana, or Tampa, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, San Juan, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles, for that matter. All are already authorized to fly to Cuba. Plus, lets face facts. When the time comes and Cuba frees up for the average person to fly to Cuba, on a whim, at that, the vast majority will fly out of those aforementioned cities.

Key West is a small, quaint little town that is an island less than two miles wide and four miles long sitting on the very outer fringes of the United States, only ninety miles from Cuba. It’s “Habana Norte”, perhaps by then, a sister city. Perhaps one can fly to Key West for a week and take a day or two excursion to Havana? The Hemingway connection alone, between Key West and Havana, is unparalleled.

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 There are all kinds of ideas people can have use Key West as the Gateway to Cuba. Like the aforementioned Porsche, one sometimes needs to show the attributes, the panache, and the romance as the reason to go to Cuba from the Key West. Another very wise sales manager and friend I worked with, Rick Asci, often said “Often the best deal is not always the best price”. If that’s not the truth, I don’t know what is!

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As Time goes on, I’ll visit the subject of Key West and Cuba as things develop. We’re only at the embryonic stage at this point.

However, there’s no reason at all that Key West can’t be considered “The Gateway To Cuba”.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee

Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee

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Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano is a staple throughout south Florida. Key West, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, you name it!

My friend from Louisiana, a Cajun, Gus Gravot, who moved to Virginia in the last year (I bet he gets a lot of comments on that Cajun accent there! HA HA! Go Gus!) sent me this piece in the New York Times from February 6, 2015 entitled “In Key West, a Taste of Cuban Coffee Culture”, written by  Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.

This set the stage and was the incentive for me to write this piece. I'd thought about it before, but put it aside. However, when I saw this in print, with the New York Times no less, I knew it was time to set the record straight as to what is Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano, and what is coffee from Cuba. While it is a fantastic subject and I thank Ms. Tan for writing it, Ms.Tan no doubt got her information from people in Key West who are not that well educated in Cafe Cubano. Here I'll try to make things clear regarding the coffees from Cuba that we throughout south Florida imbibe.

First, to set the stage from where I'm basing what I'm saying, I lived in Miami, the largest Cuban enclave outside of Cuba, for over twenty five years. While there, I was also married to my first wife, a wonderful Cuban girl named Mercy (formal - Mercedes), who brought me into her wonderful family long before we were married. I've been living in Key West seven years this May.So, thirty two years total.

In Miami, as well as being part of the Eguizabal family, I was immersed into Cuban culture. When I moved to Key West, almost seven years ago, I found the Cuban culture to be interesting. Some things were different here than in Miami culturally.

One thing that's different is that Key West has a constant flow of people moving in and out of town, from all over the globe, the majority from the U.S., however many from eastern Europe as well.  Miami has a constant flow of people moving in from Latin America, and also the English and Creole speaking Caribbean. In Key West, population flows like the tides. People come and go. In Miami it's a lake that continues filling up. People come and they stay. Key West is much more of a transient town.

With the scenario set, lets move on to Cuban coffee, or Cafe Cubano.

What is Cafe Cubano, or Cuban Coffee? For starters, Cafe Cubano and Cuban Coffee are correct terms for the brew, just in different languages. Either can be used.

Professional establishments that serve all types of coffees from Cuba, use Italian espresso makers virtually exclusively.  After all, Cafe Cubano, of course, is a style, or type of espresso.

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In the home, often you will often find these little "Cafetera" brewers, as they are called in Spanish, also from Italy. For less than $10, they do surprisingly well, though they are not set up for scalding milk, obviously. Cuban homes with these usually scald their milk, when needed, via stove top.

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Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano


Cuban Coffee is one thing and one thing only. Cuban Coffee is espresso made with a good sized helping of sugar. Done the proper way, three or four tbs of sugar are placed in the brewing carafe prior to brewing, in a proper espresso machine. As the espresso brews and flows into the carafe, the brewer stirs the mix creating a medium-brown head on the coffee called "espumita".

This is Cuban coffee.

Here in Key West when someone orders Cuban coffee, often the person taking the order will ask "With or without sugar?". The only reason they do this is because a lot of visitors don't want it with sugar. The key word here, of course, is "visitors". The question would never arise in a place such as Little Havana, Miami.

The reality of it is, those people ordering "Cuban Coffee" without sugar, are not ordering Cuban Coffee at all. They are ordering espresso. Cafe Cubano is full of body. Espresso is much thinner.

The aforementioned formula of making Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee with the sugar, is what makes it Cuban Coffee!

When one takes into consideration that sugar is the number one crop in Cuba, it's easy to see how Cafe Cubano came into existence!

                                      Types of Cuban Coffee
Cuban Coffee is all the exact same thing, the differences is the quantity in how it's dispensed.

A) Colada - The colada is the largest serving. It's purpose is to be shared with others. It's served in a small Styrofoam cup and it contains several ounces of coffee, around 4 or so. It is also served with several thimble cups for sharing.

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B) Cafecito/Buchi - This is an individual serving the size of one of the thimble cups that the colada is served with, a slight bit larger when served in a restaurant in a demitasse cup. Depending on where you are, determines the name. In Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Tampa/St. Petersburg it's called a Cafecito. Translated it means "little coffee". In Key West it's called a Buchi, which is short for Buchito, or "a small sip".

* = For reasons unknown, many people spell buchi in what they think is Italian, bucci. You'll see this in the article that Gus sent me in one of the pictures. Fact is, there is no Italian word bucci. The Ch sound, as in the English word "Crunch", in Spanish is spelled "ch". There is no such spelling in Spanish that has "cc". The word is spelled "Buchi"

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Cafecito, or a buchi


Now that we have established what a Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano is, lets look at two other coffees that originate from Cuba.

A) Cafe Con Leche - Cafe Con Leche is the Cuban variation of what in Italy is a "Latte" and in France, "Cafe Au Lait" or, "Creme". The coffee and scalded milk parts are exactly the same. With the Cafe Con Leche, often called "Con Leche", Cafe Cubano is mixed on around a 2 to 1 mix with scalded milk holding the 2 side of things.

Cafe Con Leche is not Cuban Coffee!

Many who come to Key West from parts where Cuban culture doesn't exist, just toss cafe con leche into the whole Cuban Coffee mix. They developed this idea that there is Cuban Coffee with milk and without. This is incorrect. Cafe Con Leche is from Cuba, however it is not Cuban Coffee, though it uses Cuban Coffee in the process of making it. Cafe Con Leche, is Cafe Con Leche. Period.

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B) Cortadito - The Cortadito is quite similar to the Cafe Con Leche, with the exception that the Cortadito is 1/2 coffee and one half scalded milk. It's often referred  to as a "Half and Half" or a "media y media"

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So there's a brief explanation of the coffees of Cuba that contributes to the whole Florida coffee culture.

Big thanks to Mercy Irene Eguizabal and Gloria Nunez Turkel for helping with some of the translations!!!! Gracias damas!!!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Key West Open Mic Closes

The Key West Open Mic Has Ended

We had a good run overall, however every gig, with the exception of the Card Sound Machine playing at Alabama Jack’s in Key Largo for 27 years and counting, comes to an end.

The Key West Open Mic was no exception. I was notified by manager Paul Murphy  that music on Wednesday nights would cease as of February 4th 2015 and no music would be brought back on Wednesdays for “at least a month”. It was kind of funny because there was a different band’s poster in the window when they told me this  and that band was playing there on February 4th. Odd indeed. I shoot straight with everyone I deal with and perhaps I’m expecting too much in return if I expect the same?

Why did they decide to end the open mic? Good question. We stuck with them through thick and thin. in 2013 when we hit the slow season, everything remained the same. This year, they asked me to take a pay cut. For the sake of McConnell’s and the folks who attended it, I agreed. I also went to court in support of the bar on some legal issues they had, in addition to giving the court written statements in support of the bar, it’s owner on said legal issues. I did this several times.

McConnell’s reason for stopping the event was because we were not generating the sales needed to continue. I understand this. However, we’re right on the cusp of tourist season starting. Another week or two and all would be rocking for everyone.

A very big thank you to those who have supported the open mic between August of 2013 and February 2015!!!!

I will say that they were correct in the overall numbers we had in the fall. In 2013, the place was packed every open mic. In 2014 we just never had the local support we had the previous year.

A lot of people have suggested new venues, or asked where I’ll go next. An open mic is culturally something very important for any city. It cultivates upcoming musicians and helps refine those who are pros. You get everyone in an open mic!  And lets not forget the comradery it cultivates as well! This town deserves a great open mic! However honestly, I’m not convinced I want to go with anything myself. McConnell’s was correct in saying we weren’t generating the numbers last fall.

If the local musicians and music supporters in Key West are not supporting an open mic, I’d be beating a dead horse if I tried to set up another at a different venue. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone without the support and interest.

Thanks to all who supported the open mic and to McConnell’s for giving us the venue. We also had so many come in from all over the United States and Canada to play at the open mic! Where do I start? New Hampshire, North Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Alberta, Ontario, Oregon, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Washington, Washington DC, Ohio,Michigan, Wisconsin, Japan, Italy, Great Britain, ... the list goes on and on. and all of these people found out about the Key West Open Mic through here... The Blog! 

Thank you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Richard Crooks Memorial

Report on the Richard Crooks Memorial

As seen in previous blogs, The Richard Crooks, widely regarded as the finest musician in Key West,  memorial was Sunday, January 23. The gathering started at The Hog’s Breath Saloon and went flawlessly. The Hog’s Breath were very generous with their time, space, and furnished free Bloody Mary’s to all whom attended… and a lot attended!

We arrived there early with our friends Brian Fields and Michele Tafoya, who were visiting from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a perfect day as well for January, 66 degrees ( 19C) and sunny!

As I say, a very, very good crowd was on hand and everyone was in good spirits to celebrate Richard’s gift of sharing his life with all of us. It was a very good thing indeed!

I saw Nina Robinson Crooks, Richard’s widow, whom I’ve known since shortly after I arrived in Key West, almost seven years ago. As anyone might imagine, this wasn’t easy for her. I did my best to comfort her. The crowd had several posters with a great picture of him on it for the parade. A great idea and they looked fantastic, but I knew that it was hard on her seeing his likeness. I gave her a few hugs of comfort.

Key West has had what’s known as a traditional New Orleans style funeral procession that has been going on since the beginning of time. Drums, Tubas, Trumpets, Flugelhorns, clarinets, saxophones, and percussion of many types, followed by a procession that headed down Duval St. from the Hog’s Breath to Sloppy Joe’s, where “The Pianamal”, Barry Cuda was playing. The parade marched right in! Of course, ‘Cuda had played with Richard for years at Sloppy Joe’s, the Hog’s Breath, B.O.’s Fish Wagon, The green Parrot, and many more venues about town.  As a matter of fact, they cut several albums together as well, with the same fabulous producer I used, Dan Simpson. A great rendition of “When The Saints Come Marching In” was done and then the parade, headed down Duval again and on to Southard, where it finished up  at the Green Parrot, for it’s final stop of the day.

When I was originally asked to help spread the word on the event, it was emphasized to me that this was not an “Event”, but a memorial for Richard. This was something that was asked to be emphasized.

In that vein I stated in the previous blog:

“For those planning on attending, understand, this is not an opportunity to suddenly be in the limelight and have an ego-explosion on the stage of the Green Parrot. “

First of all, the music was fantastic! Lot’s of people from all over. Key West, of course, New York City, where Richard spent around thirty years as a session drummer, even as far away as California! What a great honor. A sign up list was put out for those who wanted to play. I was right near it and signed in the number one slot.

Those who are familiar with my open mic know that I stick to the signup list like the Bible. It just saves mountains of headaches. People play where they sign up. This event I knew would be different than mine however. The musician who was doing stage management  has his own way of doing these things, which I respect. Seeing him have a signup list was a first, but when it was all said and done, there were around twenty signups, so it was really essential. It was a good call in my book.

As I say, the music was great! However, after the first set of musicians finished their set, it became very apparent that what had set out to be a memorial for a fallen friend, had turned into something akin to “The Ed Sullivan Show” or “Don Kirschner Presents!”. This was no longer a memorial, but an “Event!” or a “Show!”.

In addition to that, as it turned out, the Green Parrot had a 5:30 Soundcheck with a band they had contracted with prior. Bottom line, this event was ending at 5pm. The Green Parrot was not stage manager, for this event either. How the guy who was running stage management figured he'd have acts doing five, six songs each when there were a total amount of thirty people there ready to play... well, lets just say he has better musical skills, than he does stage management. We all have our fortes.

 However, this was Richard’s event. Everyone was there to pay their respects to him.

Richard had played with virtually everyone. Several albums with Bob Dylan, a good amount of recording with Paul Simon. David Bromberg was kind enough to fly into Key West and do a song in his honor and say some great words about his friend Richard. Much appreciated to all who came, be they from New York, California, or just around the corner.

As I mentioned, David Bromberg came in from New York and played one song, I think he got the idea of what a memorial was. David came on stage, said his piece regarding Richard, funny too, played a song, and left the stage so that others could do likewise. He's seen here playing with Paul Cotton of Poco. Thank you David Bromberg.

I was so fortunate to have cut an album with Richard, Shanghai’d and Marooned in Key West (things could be worse). Plus, there are two tracks of his that will be on my next album “Jump Into de Fi Ya” as well. What an honor and a blessing indeed, not only to play with the maestro, but to get to know such a beautiful and damn funny human being! Damn. I’m lucky!  

Additionally, I’ve been to a lot of his gigs here in Key West and had a lot of laughs with him too. Richard and I had a similar view on life that included a good deal of mirth. My personal favorites for catching him play was most likely at B.O.’s Fish Wagon with Barry Cuda. Maybe Kenny Fradley on trumpet/flugelhorn, or perhaps Chief Billy on upright bass and harmonica.

Richard Crooks with Bong Hits For Geezers at B.O.'s Fish Wagon

The great part about it all was that a vast amount of people came to pay their respects to Richard, which was a great tribute to the man who so many loved, admired, and respected. The Green Parrot was stuffed to the gills! As mentioned, The parade was just super fantastic as well!

Godspeed Father Time. You are loved!  

Richard Crooks. Photo by Ralph DePalma Photography, Key West photo RichardCrooks_zpsb5e82787_1.jpg

Richard Crooks - Photo by Ralph DePalma Photography, Key West


To obtain my music:

My CD is available on iTunes, CD Baby, CD Universe, Rhapsody, and Beachfront Radio.
Search: Key West Chris

Thank you everyone!!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bucket List II: Boca Grande

^ Listen to Misty Loggins singing my song “Island Blue” (Dani Hoy on background vocals) while you read the blog!^

Bucket List II: Boca Grande

Back in September I wrote a blog on achieving one of the goals on my “Bucket List”. As many who read this blog have English as a second language, I’ll explain what the “Bucket List” is. To begin with, it’s a slang phrase based off of another slang phrase, so the interpretation isn’t obvious. The original phrase comes from England and is hundreds of years old. That slang phrase is “Kick The Bucket”, referring to someone dies. The phrase “Bucket List” means a list of things someone wants to do before they die. In the blog a few months ago, I achieved one of my bucket list goals by going to the Dry Tortugas, which lie 75 miles (122km) west of Key West.

Dry Tortugas Bucket List Blog: 

On my birthday, January 3, 2015 I achieved another item on my “Bucket List” and visited Boca Grande Key, an island in the Mule Keys, nine miles (15km) west of Key West and part of the Florida Keys.

The only way to get there, is by boat. I was very fortunate in that I hired Captain Bob Cadzow’s “Beyond Key West” to take us there. Captain Bob has been on the water all of his life, so it puts you at a state of ease, being on a craft with him. He’s also very knowledgeable of the area and waters. A big plus was that the boat itself, “Beyond”, had two brand new engines on it. Less than twenty hours on them. A comfortable, honest confidence that leaves nothing in the imagination for those whose first thought is “what can go wrong?”. Captain Bob left no room for that with both himself and his boat. Plus, Captain Bob’s personality has the laid back approach one expects to find in the Keys. It goes without saying that Captain Bob is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed 50 GRT Master.

We arrived at the dock in Key West Bight, right off of Turtle Kraals restaurant, armed with sandwiches, beer, and water. We were all set!

We left Key West around 11:30am. Captain Bob told us we’d be an “hour or so” to get there and that we'd run into a bit of choppy seas just off of Key West, but that would only last about a mile. Sure enough, it lasted about a mile and wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We actually arrived in less than an hour. I like conservative estimates!

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(leaving Key West Bight)

The group I was with included Dani, of course, in addition to our great friends Chris Robinson Kirstin “Butoxi”, and Beth Schreier.

Out on the water here is always fascinating for me. There are so many islands that are completely uninhabited here, that stirs the imagination! You’ll see one in this bow shot looking over Chris and Kirstin’s shoulders.

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I don’t think I mentioned, Boca Grande Key is an uninhabited island and is part of Florida  National Marine Sanctuary. Although the name is in Spanish, meaning “Big Mouth”, it is always referred to in the English pronunciation of “Boca Grand”. Interestingly, the word “Key” is never used in the local vernacular. This can be confusing for visitors, as there is a town on the west coast of Florida named “Boca Grande”.

When we arrived somewhere past noon, there was only one boat there, a sailboat anchored about 100 yards off shore. No one else was there.

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(Arriving at Boca Grande Key)

Boca Grande Key is an atol. This is the inlet to the lagoon

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(Boca Grande inlet)

One thing that amazed me was the amount of Cormorant birds! Usually there are one, two, maybe three seen flying about. Here there were hundreds!

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(Cormorants at Boca Grande wreck)

We pulled up and anchored on the beach. The beach here is absolutely beautiful. As I mentioned, the only other boat here was the sailboat anchored off shore.

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(Captain Bob, Beth Schreier, Dani Hoy)

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(sailboat anchored off of Boca Grande)

The beach itself was stunning and as I say, at this point, the only other boat that was there was the sailboat anchored off shore. It was the most peaceful and serene afternoon.

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After a couple of hours we had some neighbors roll in. They appeared to be a nice family and had the addition of a grill on the back of their boat. Nice touch! , We headed back to Key West about an hour later.

A great day was had by all and another bucket list was conquered! An excursion like this is highly recommended to all visiting Key West!

Our next trip we’ll go with “Beyond Key West” naturally. They’re a proven sure shot for us now. Not sure what we’ll do the next time as they also offer free dive spearfishing, free dive lobstering, paddleboards and kayaks,day, night, and overnight sails, fishing and snorkeling as well. They have two boats, both catamarans. The power boat we were on is a 21’ and for the sails they have a 26 (9m) catamaran sailboat with a 14’ (5m) width.

Maybe we’ll head out to the Marquesas Keys, about 10 miles further west than Boca Grande, or who knows? Maybe Cuba the way things are progressing!

Or phone Captain Bob direct at: 863  835 1427



Thank you everyone!

To obtain my music:


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Richard Crooks Memorial, Where is Key West Heading?

^ listen to “Key West Blues” while reading the blog! ^

Richard Crooks Memorial

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I recently blogged about the passing of beloved musician, Richard Crooks. Fellow drummer Mick Kilgos has organized a memorial, which he wrote to me about. I’ll put it in Mick’s words:

“Sunday Jan. 25th, a Memorial Parade for Richard Crooks will be starting at the Hogs Breath parking lot at 12:00 noon. A complimentary Bloody Mary will be supplied by bartender Art Levin and the Hogs Breath Saloon. At 1:00 the Parade with the Conch Republic Funeral Parade Band leading, everyone will proceed down Whitehead St. to the Green Parrot Bar, where we will be greeted by our friend John Vagnoni. Friends and fellow musicians are encouraged to take part in the Memorial Parade and the gathering at the Green Parrot, where we will share music and stories about our very talented and much loved friend Richard Crooks.”

For those planning on attending, understand, this is not an opportunity to suddenly be in the limelight and have an ego-explosion on the stage of the Green Parrot. This is a memorial for our friend and teacher, Richard Crooks, so please be respectful of that. His family is expected to be there as well.

Where is Key West Heading?

Last year Dani and I, plus the dogs, Cajun and Tooloulou, took a little road trip up to Marathon. Marathon is one of the Keys and is located at the halfway point between the mainland and Key West, or 50 miles (81 Km) north of Key West.

We had gone to The Dockside, a wonderful bar located right on the water at Boot Key Harbor. It started getting late and we were thinking of spending the night. I have a Dodge Conversion van, which has a fold down bed in it. I contemplated the thought of staying in the van right by the Dockside, which is on a back road.

A few years back, I had a friend who actually lived in his van in Key West for five days a week. In his job he would drive a city bus by day and park in an obscure spot at night. He had a trailer in Homestead, Fl on the mainland, that he would stay in on his off days. He had been doing this over the years and would swim and shower at the Key West Municipal pool, so it worked out well for him.

My first trip down to Key West was in 1978. It wasn't uncommon then to see people living out of their cars. Perhaps not on a permanent basis, but rather their place to stay while visiting for a few days, or a week.

Regarding my friend living in his van, as time went on, it seems the city of Key West was becoming less and less tolerant  of people bedding down at night in their cars. The police were instructed to tell the people that they had to move on. My friend would sometimes say "Oh, I got rousted from my spot last night" at which point, he'd have to leave.

So, back to us in Marathon. The thought of staying there in the van on the side of the road at the Dockside crossed my mind and I verbally expressed it, along with the apprehension of being rousted at four in the morning and forced to move on.

I said this to my pal Popeye, who lives in Marathon and formally in Key West. He laughed and said "This is Marathon! This ain't Key West! No one cares if you sleep in your van. No, this ain't no Key West, I'm tellin' ya!".

The comment brought back the thought of "Where is Key West Heading?"
I read a story the other day and it involved Jimmy Buffett during his early years here. It mentioned that he got an apartment on Waddell Street, on the water, and it was $75 a month

My guess is that today that apartment is around $3,000 a month.
While one expects things to go up over the years I think that forty times the original value is a bit strong.

The same piece also mentioned that Buffett would often play for people to buy him a beer. This is an expensive island to live on, as shown above, and while a beer is always welcome, a $5, $10, or $20 in the tip jar is always welcome and helps out greatly with monthly expenses... Thank you!

When I first arrived in Key West in 1978, it was filled with salty dog shrimpers, authors, hippies, and saloons. "A sleepy little drinking town with a fishing problem" was one of the humorous mottos people attached to it. It is still a mecca for authors. If you read the blog I wrote entitled "In The Presence Of Greatness", that  will attest to that.

Saloons are still here as well, although some have been replaced, or had their image changed.

The Red Doors Bar, was a hard drinking bar of shrimpers in it's heyday. A place where on occasional fights would break out. It was nicknamed "The Bucket of Blood". Today it's a lady's fashionable clothing store. I’m not complaining about this, but it certainly is a very odd transformation going from a place with say, a stabbing every week, to a ladies fine clothing establishment.

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(The Red Doors today)

Shrimpers have gone. You won't find one shrimp boat at Key West Bight today. Large multi million dollar yachts have replaced them. You can find about six of them, sequestered over at Stock Island, the next island north however. It's sad. Having a fishing fleet adds so much to the color of every coastal town. Key West has lost theirs.

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(The Provincetown, Ma. Fishing Fleet)

Back when Buffett arrived here, playing original songs were encouraged strongly by people such as Captain Tony, who, in addition to being elected Mayor of Key West, was also a saloon owner.

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(Captain Tony’s Saloon)

It’s not easy finding a bar here that actually encourages original songs. Personally, I think there’s a market for it.

When I came here, be it on vacation, or when I moved here almost seven years ago, one of the things I loved were the street musicians!  It’s called “Busking”. It was just such an offbeat, beatnik-style freedom that one found in places like Key West, Provincetown, Greenwich Village. Pull a guitar out on a street corner in Miami and they’ll run your ass to jail! I recall reading about one such guy who spent a week or so behind bars there.

I played the street a couple of times when I was here visiting and had a great time doing it too!

Today however, it’s quite different. Gone are the days that one could just spontaneously go out on the street, with a guitar and an open case to collect tips. These days, in order to do that, one needs a permit.

It used to be the permits were applied for in November and could be picked up in December. The reasoning for this was the city only wanted locals playing the streets. Fair enough…. if you go to the point that you need a permit to play.

A few years back, it was decided that the street performers required insurance! At the time it ran about $300.00 per year. In order to get a license, a street performer required proof that they were insured and that $300.00 had to be paid up front. I don’t know what it costs today, however, it is required.

The city has a group called “Code Enforcement”. What these people do is walk around town, usually in pairs, and stop at various restaurants, bars, and stores and make certain that they are adhering to the city’s code of ordinances.

In addition to these, street musicians are often asked for their permits by the code enforcement officials. It’s a lot like the scene in the classic movie Casablanca, where the officers of occupied France stationed in Casablanca were asking for one citizen’s papers.

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Then there's the Conch Train. It's been running for about sixty years. A little tour that is loaded with fantastic, historical information. Apparently there are some in town who are now complaining about the speaker system on them, as they drive through their neighborhoods. I'd be willing to lay odds that these complainers have not been living with the Conch Train for sixty years. I'd wager that these idiots moved here while the Conch Train was well established and today want Key West to be just like it was wherever they came from, be it Scarsdale N.Y., Newton Ma., Atlanta, or Michigan.

What they should do is move back.

This ain't the mainland.

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I could go on and on. with things that are shaping the island into something new. As to whether it’s for the better or not, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

However, one thing is abundantly clear: The overall quest of the island’s goal is to be more and more like the mainland cities in Florida, such as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Ft. Lauderdale, or Miami. 

Personally, I think they are not seeing the island's niche, that being an island at a far outpost from civilization. 

Jimmy Buffett saw this thirty years ago and left because of it. That was thirty years ago! A LOT has happened since then.

To obtain my music:

My CD is available on iTunes, CD Baby, CD Universe, Rhapsody, and Beachfront Radio.
Search: Key West Chris

Thank you everyone!!