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Monday, December 10, 2012

Key West Music - The Foundation

KEY WEST MUSIC - The Foundation

^ Listen to "Mile Zero" while you read the Blog!^


KEY WEST MUSIC - The Foundation

If one takes a trip and goes, say to Jamaica, you’ll expect to hear music from that island. Likewise you expect the exact same thing with Trinidad, the Bahamas, or Cuba; music indigenous of each of those islands. As no doubt for anyone who reads this blog has seen, here in the Conch Republic, we consider ourselves a country unto itself, and an island at that, albeit part of the United States. Having stated that, wouldn't anyone visiting here expect a music which is native to this island?

The name of this blog is Key West Music and Happenings. So, let’s look at Key West music specifically for a moment. What exactly is Key West music anyway? There are certainly a lot of musicians and writers who hail from all over the United States, who come, visit, go home and write about Key West. I recall back when I wrote one of my first songs about Key West, ”Mile Zero”, the thought of writing about drinking on Duval was immediately dismissed because way back then, in 1996, the subject of writing about getting hammered on Duval was really worn out. Consequently, Mile Zero was a song about other goings on here, highlighting the virtual circus atmosphere found in Key West. Besides, my quest was to emulate the vibe of the locals, not the tourists. We hear from artists from all over writing about Key West. Why? Because it’s so inspirational! It’s often funny to hear someone from out of town write about Key West. Often they’ll make a slip and mention something like “Sunset Key”… of course everyone who lives here knows that there is no such thing as a Key named ”Sunset Key”, is there? If there is, please be kind enough to point it out on Coast Guard Chart # 34.

However when writing about Key West, and I’m not talking about any of the other islands in the Conch Republic, as great as they all are, but specifically, Key West, in this case; if one wants to get a feel for the life’s blood and the SOUND that emulates from the island itself, it’s vital to look into the roots of what we have here. In order to write music about this town… the true music of this town, one has to live here day to day really. It’s an entirely different thing if one lives in Albuquerque and travels to Key West for one week out of a year, then goes home with the same preconceptions they came with and writes a song about it. Nothing wrong with that at all, however, it’s more of a fantasy of their idea of a status quo of the town, where reality is quite a bit different.


I've also stated before that Key West has its own creative energy; a force which has attracted well known artists and writers, all of whom have some of their finest works created here. These artists and writers didn’t come here for a day, a weekend, or a week’s safari blow out. These artists and writers lived here. The artists, who set the tone for this island’s music over the years, are no different. They live here on a day to day basis. They are the writers and performers who live the island life on this creative focal point of artistic energy we know as Key West. They made their life here, many raising families and became fixtures, not only of the town itself, but of the core of what we call our own island music.

Just as in traveling to any foreign destination, Key West has its wonderful little secrets. Sure, some tourists are content with going to some shithole and listen to someone play “Brown Eyed Girl” or “Margaritaville”. However, there are visitors who come who want to feel the real pulse of the town. They want to know what makes it tick. They want to feel the town’s real rhythm in the floor where they’re standing, feel that vibration in their chest and consequently, in their soul. They’re not looking for what the rest of the tourist brigade is in search of, which they can and will find in every city and town in the United States. They want to find the real deal. It’s just like commercial cuisine versus local. The tourist will go eat a burger, while a true travel explorer will seek out the local treasures that are unique, in every port of call. Here in Key West the seasoned travel explorer will find that in the Keys, a local fish is known as by its true English name of “Dolphin”, rather than its Polynesian name of mahi-mahi, for instance. Likewise, music is unique and very special. Both are essential in feeling the rhythm of the island. It’s all about the sights, sounds, and the flavor!


An interesting note: Often when hearing songs about Key West it’s very easy to see who the weekend visitor was and who is the local is. The weekend visitor comes to Key West, gets that creative vibe found here, goes back to Peoria and writes a song about coconuts and palm trees. The great local songwriters write about the day to day and night to night life found here and the things they encounter, both crazy and benign. While it may mention a coconut, or a palm tree, the song is about something else, or a metaphor  for the most part. Having stated that, I’d doubt that if a Key West songwriter went and visited Peoria they’d write about a sycamore tree.

Key West, Is Key West however!


For anything to be truly geographically established as its own genre, it has to stand the test of time and likewise, be unique, for the beginning is the foundation of all that is to follow. Without a solid coral rock foundation, the genre will dissolve. These are the core of what we will be looking at here, which is Key West music.


Din Allen arrived in Key West in 1978 and remains here playing local establishments on a daily basis. He started The Survivors and wrote all of their songs with his brother Woody. The Survivors are magnificent band which combines a mixture of Samba, Calypso, Afro/Cuban, Reggae, Rock, Jazz, Fusion, and Bossa Nova, all with a tropical flavor. Within this context there always seem to be room for improvisation for whichever musician is taking the solo. What this does is make every performance unique. In short, the music is alive! It is truly a living organism. To add to this, the musicianship of The Survivors, as well as the songwriting, is top level. I’m not talking second tier, but top notch indeed, not forgetting progressive. Always expect the unexpected with The Survivors. They might very well go from something funky to a Bossa Nova, complete with lyrics sung in Portuguese. For thirty years The Survivors packed every venue they played in Key West. They are a Key West institution. These days they get together every year for the Benefit for Womankind, the last three years held at Salute on the Beach, with everyone dancing in the sand.

Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys.

Bill Blue. The name says it all and it’s not a stage name. Bill is a purveyor of the Blues. However Bill’s Blues isn’t just, as musicians know it, your 1- 4 -1-5, Blues progressions. Bill is innovative and progressive. Additionally, every song Bill does sounds different from the last. Bill Blue’s been kicking ass in Key West since moving here in 1980 from Virginia. His song “A Pretty Girl, A Cadillac, and Some Money” just about sums up Bill’s story about moving down here in 1980 and does it with both melody and narration. Bill’s music is upbeat, for the most part, and the crowd is dancing throughout his gigs, which are always also packed. Bill plays slide guitar (in open E) and always has an additional guitarist with him, plus the band, which is a big one, often as large as eight, which can include as many as three of the Nervettes as backup singers. These days Bill pretty much plays the Green Parrot’s Sound Checks, which run 5:30 – 7 on Fridays and sometimes Sunday. If you’re in town check the ‘Parrot’s schedule! You will be very glad you did!

Michael McCloud

Mike arrived here somewhere around the early-mid seventies and has been here ever since. McCloud’s a great songwriter and writes about some of the day to day experiences he’s lived through herein Key West for nearly forty years. Michael’s first two albums are his best works. “Greta’s Tits” and “Ain’t Life Grand” are superb examples of of what a great songwriter he is. His next two releases are, for the most part cover songs. His latest is a live recording, which is about five years old or so. Mike’s originals capture Key West culture and lifestyle. Songs like “She’s Got A Butt”, “Closin’ the Bars”, “Pool Shootin’ Woman”, “Tourist Town Bar”, “Fishin Fool, “Pease and Quiet”, to name a few, capture Michael’s life here. Either that or he’s a hellova good story teller. Knowing Michael, most likely a bit of both! These songs are not about wanting to come to a mental image of Paradise, but rather the day to day existence in this crazy little island. I wish he’s make a full album of brand new originals, although his covers are second to none. He really captures the feel and shares the experiences, often in a very comical way that never gets old. Mike can be found at the Schooner Wharf Bar on Key West Bight six days a week, excluding Tuesday, from noon to five.

CW Colt

CW Colt has been here for decades. He was also knighted by the King of the Conch Republic, King Mel Fisher, so know you are in the presenceof royalty when you catch CW! CW is a songwriter par excelance! He also has one of the best voices I've ever heard, on or off the island. Talk about a baratone!  A lot of his music is influenced by country music of the west. I call that part of his music "Key Western Swing", as he gells the tropic feel with Western Swing so damn well.  Also, CW broadcasts all of his shows on the internet and has been for a few years now. I believe he's well on his way to his second million hits with it as well. Be certain to check him out!

Barry Cuda


Barry Cuda gets an honorable mention here, because, for the most part, Cuda isn’t so much of a writer himself. What Cuda does do so well is capture the ambiance of Old Key West. You’ll see him pushing his piano down the street from gig to gig. In my opinion the best place to see Cuda is B.O.’s Fishwagon, where he plays Friday nights from 6 – 9 with his band, formally known as “The Sharks”, and then revised to “Bong Hits For Geezers”. Back aver a dozen years ago I was writing for Southeast Performer Magazine and I stated that his album “Fish Nuts”, recorded live at B.O.’s Fishwagon, was the best live bar album ever made. Not of his, not of Key West, but in the history of recorded music. I still stand by that to this day! Excellent musicianship (fellow Sharks at the time Steve Mello – Drums/Vocals and “Chief Billy Two Beers” - Bass and harmonica), fantastic atmosphere with spontaneous interaction with the crowd, extremely funny, great songs that fit the venue, guest artists who fit the band like a glove, plus an incredible recording by Dan Simpson of Private Ear Studio in Key West, that captured absolutely everything. Barry Cuda is The Pianamal


So there you have the core of what native grown Key West music is really like…

You know the saying….
“When In Rome…”
And never forget the motto of this town and this blog:



For Key West Chris'music for samples and purchase:


  1. What a great primer for Key West music, including the samples. I'm happy I got to see Michael McCloud and Barry Cuda live back in June. Every time I visit Key West I want to go a little deeper… Thanks!!!

  2. Thank you for one more important write-up. I read your full post. It is really exceptional. I love this post very much. Just collect my Suzuki harmonica at PIJ. Its really great.