Jimmy Buffett, Key West, Beer Talk
I lived in Miami for decades before I moved to Key West and that’s actually where I got back into making music. One of the things I did getting back into music, was to attend open mic gigs. For those not familiar with open mics (say Open Mike’s), basically what they consist of is you go there, get on a sign up list and play a few songs in front of whomever is there. I’ll go into more detail on open mics in a future blog, but that’s the gist of it. I attended open mics when I first started getting back into playing live music again and I still do today, here in Key West.
Back after I was playing for a few years I was introduced to a guy by the name of Bobby Ingram, by my buddy, Bruce Turkel. Bobby enlightened me to a lot of information I never knew about the Miami music scene, of which I was entirely oblivious to. Today Bobby is a septuagenarian and a folk/rock musician, so he’s been around the block a few times. Bobby was in a band with David Crosby, before David was with the Byrds. I had learned from Bobby that back in the 60’s and 70’s, Miami, specifically Coconut Grove, was what I gathered, pretty much a retreat that musicians would go to, just to hang out. People like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Joni Mitchell, Steve Goodman and many others, would go there just to hang out. Jerry Jeff Walker bought a house there and called it home for many years, while Fred Neil lived there with his mom. These musicians would play small clubs in and around “The Grove” just for the fun of it. Kind of a dose of their roots I guess, while they weren’t playing huge arenas and football stadiums. Plus, they’d just hang out.
A couple of things Bobby can do well, aside from being just a marvelous performer, is be very funny and true to his Irish heritage, spin a fantastic yarn. Not that I ever detected Bobby embellishing a story, but while it was all factual, he has the ability to put it together in a way that will have you in hysterics.
Now, in his teens back in the late fifties, Bobby was in the U.S. Navy and stationed down here in Key West, which had been a submarine base, as well as the air base it remains today. As Bobby tells the story, one day he met up with his friend and Coconut Grove neighbor, Jerry Jeff Walker. Jerry Jeff had a friend with him who just flew into Miami from Nashville, who was also a musician. Bobby asks the guy “so, what do you want to do?” and the guy says “Well, Jerry Jeff and I are going to go check out Key West”. As mentioned previously, Bobby spent some time in the Navy there about twelve years earlier, so Bobby says “Look, I was stationed in the Navy in Key West. You don’t want to go there, the place is a shithole. You’re wasting your time” The guy shrugged his shoulders and said “Well, thanks for the advice, but we’re still going to check it out”. The guy’s name was Jimmy Buffett. Bobby always laughs heartedly to this day and says “I’m the guy who told Jimmy Buffett NOT to move to Key West!”
Jimmy Buffett has mentioned Bobby in a few of his books, always in admiration. He still lives in Coconut Grove in his home with his very talented and stunning daughter Bryn, who has a phenomenal voice and a certainly, a chip off the old block.
Here they are on stage in Coconut Grove
And here’s the more intimate side of Bobby Ingram
Now, understand, Bobby wasn’t too far off the mark when he called Key West a shithole at the time. What it essentially was, was a Navy town and a Shrimper’s town. It could be pretty rough, particularly in places like Key West Bight. On Caroline Street there was a bar called The Red Doors. It was a shrimper’s bar and while they would go slack their thirst, a fight could start at the drop of a hat, to the point that it’s nic-name was The Bucket of Blood. Today it’s a fashionable dress shop, some say haunted with ghosts of those who never made it out of the bar alive.
My friend Mary Spear told me once, that when she moved here over thirty years ago, women just never went down to the shrimp docks (Schooner Wharf – Dante’s) for fear that they might get tossed on a shrimp boat and not come back for a week, being a “subject of the crew”.
Today, Key West is a different place altogether. My friend Christina, who lived in New Orleans for years, was asked which she liked better, Key West or New Orleans. Christina said “Without hesitation, Key West.” Christina is about 5’3” and 105lbs. and very, very attractive. She continued, “In Key West I can walk down any street at any time of the day or night and I have no fear at all. Plus, Key West is a very, very clean city, which can’t be said for New Orleans” One of the things that time has made great progress on!
The flip side of this is that Key West has always been a town for the creative artist. One goes back to Ernest Hemingway, who was here from 1929 – 1939, and was at his most prolific and productive stages in his career: A Farewell to Arms, The Green Hills of Africa, Death in the Afternoon, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, to name a few. Likewise, Tennessee Williams lived here as well, writing "A Street Car Named Desire" during his tenure in Key West.
There was a point in time that Key West was the wealthiest town in Florida, yet later it west bankrupt in the 1930’s. The government brought in an economic expert to assess and rectify the situation. He decided that Key West should be a tourist destination. Hemingway was furious with the guy and eventually built the red brick wall that surrounds his property, in order to keep the tourists from his property. A reason that partially had to do with him leaving the island in 1939. The other was his divorce from his wife Pauline. Pauline died however in 1951 and Hemingway owned the property until his death in 1961. He never really lived there again however, only using it as a retreat for a few days to a week or so at a time. He spent most of his time at his other homes in Cuba and Idaho. The tourist trade didn't work for Ernest.
Going back to Jimmy Buffett, when he came here in 1971, it also was a very creative environment for him. It was the works he created here that launched a 40+ year career that today includes restaurants, Clubs, even a casino. It all started here in Key West singing about events here that inspired his songs. This was of course long after Hemingway blew town, but Key West was still a very funky little town. It was earthy and full of characters. In one of the songs he sings about it being the end of the line and so many are running from an ex-wife, The IRS, or something that makes one crack a smile and chuckle. In an interview, singer/songwriter Michael McCloud, who arrived in Key West about the same time as Buffett, says that there is something unique about people who want to live at the end of the line, where you just can’t go any further. Jimmy Buffett moved out of town twenty something years ago. Why? Because he felt it was getting too much like the mainland. We’re twenty something years beyond that now.
On the flip side, there are those who the town is best absorbed as a tourist. I have a woman I know who has been planning on moving here from North Carolina for four years. Couldn’t wait to get out of N.C. Then she moved not to Key West, but to the west coast of Florida for about a year. Then a few months ago she decided now was the time to move to her ultimate living fantasy, Key West! After about a month of looking, suddenly she decided she’d move back to the place she just couldn’t stand and couldn’t wait to get out of, North Carolina. Go figure. I guess the reality of moving to Key West just wasn’t the same as fantasy for her. It’s not for everyone, or the faint of heart.
What’s happening in Key West, and it started back when Hemingway started to get frustrated, is that it’s been changing. I equate it with watching a task bar on a computer slowly move from left to right, filling the task bar. Everyone has different tolerances. Hemingway split soon after the task bar started. Jimmy Buffett moved over twenty years ago because he felt it had moved too far away from the island he fell in love with years earlier. For Buffett, the salty dog atmosphere has largely left the island. While I fully agree with him and I see that task bar much further along on its path, it still hasn’t hit the end of the line yet.
As the task bar has moved further, so has a lot of the characters. Of course many have passed on, yet there are still those true treasures to be found walking the streets of Key West.
The issue from my perspective is that Key West gained its reputation from being an almost unattainable outpost at the end of the line. Salty dogs, pirates, the Navy, writers, musicians, artists, and those who wanted to escape society and live on an island, which still was part of the U.S., yet at the same time, wrote its own rules, with a flippant attitude to the state government up in Tallahassee. In 1982 the Key West and the rest of the Keys seceded from the U.S. albeit for only about a minute or two, but they made their point. Here was an island, over one hundred miles from the mainland and the only way to get there was by boat, plane, or a road with over forty haphazard very narrow bridges, built on a former railroad track. You took your life in your hands when you drove it and that’s no exaggeration. Trucks would regularly lose their mirrors to one another, passing in different directions. Bottom line was, Key West and the Keys in general, was difficult to get to and lived life on their terms, not by the terms of the rest of the state of Florida. As a matter of fact, as long as English speaking people lived here they would say when traveling out of the Keys “I have to go up to Florida”. I recall on March 17, 1980 I was sitting out on the newly decommissioned Bahia Honda Bridge, drinking a beer with my age old friend Kerry “Gonzo” Dwyer and looking at the first brand new bridge across the channel and saying “I bet they’ll replace all of the bridges and that will ruin the Keys. They, of course did replace all of the bridges.
Today I look back and while I wouldn’t say they destroyed the Keys, I have no doubt whatsoever that is the reason that I pay the same for my single bedroom loft apartment here in Key West, as I did for a three bedroom house with a beautiful back yard and built in swimming pool, only 138 miles north of here in Cutler Bay. The flip side is I live a reality here and not a fantasy of wanting to live here. That makes it worth it, because I truly love it here!
With the bridges came, and continues to come, that push to make things more like the mainland. Example: When I first moved here you could bring your dog wherever you liked, so long as it was good with the proprietor. I would walk into a restaurant with my two dogs, belly up to the bar and quaff a few beers. Then some drunk lady tripped over a dog at Turtle Kraals Restaurant a few years ago and sued the place. Mayor Cates and City Hall suddenly had this big epiphany. First dogs were forbidden in all restaurants. Then, after about six or eight months they finally settled on the State of Florida law that allows dogs in open air restaurants and bars of any sort, however not in any closed restaurant. Their reasoning is “Well, that’s the state law”. The city sold this portion of its soul for that $18, 000 law suit, which was against Turtle Kraals. For anyone who may be familiar with former fishing captain, former bar owner, and former mayor, Captain Tony Tarracino, or just Captain Tony, I don’t need to tell you what he would have done. For those who don’t know him, he would have done nothing. If someone actually asked him about it he would have said “You’ve got to be kidding?”. In 1982 the founding fathers of The Conch Republic went to the capital of the state and told them to go shove it. The mayor and 2/3 of City Hall’s attitude are 180 degrees off from this regretfully.
One of the reasons people come to Key West as tourists is because of its long standing reputation for it’s off the meter lifestyle and attitude. A remote outpost for the unusual and the odd. What’s been happening over the years is that it continually gets more and more like the mainland. “Mainland Mentality” . What’s the attraction? In the coming years, If Key West ends up becoming more like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, or St. Petersburg, why would people bother to come here? People come here because it’s off beat, funky, it’s a wild ass place that snubs its nose at everyplace else. 2/3’s of the current administration appears more interested in catering to Tallahassee than standing up for themselves and being independent.
Key West does not need to be sterilized. Let’s leave the “Mainland Mentality” on the mainland and keep Key West a place of bacchanalia, independent thinking, craziness, weird, fun, wild times and artistic creativity. There’s still a good amount of room in that task bar, let’s stop it where it stands!
As of the month of June, I’ve been joining Island Time Radio, with Dennis King and Amo Bennett up in Cleveland as their beer commentator! What a blast that’s been! The first show was recorded at The Porch, a well-established craft beer bar here in Key West, with a wonderful selection of beers from around the country, as well as the world. The Porch is located inside the Porter Mansion on the corner of Caroline and Duval and is a beautiful home that dates from the 1840’s. The show went well, except that there was too much noise being picked up by my phone for the broadcast. It is a bar after all. For the July broad cast I changed the location to The Cork and Stogie, complements of Dave and Leslie Bevens, the proprietors/publicans of the establishment.
The Cork and Stogie at 1218 Duval, around the corner from the Southernmost point, closes at 11 and our call in time was 11:15, so this time everything was quiet! Helping me out was Dave of course and also Cowboy Mark, the bartender, who is very knowledgeable on the subject. As for myself, I have been a beerphile…….There I just made up a word….. for over thirty years, which were an educated thirty years. I started by cutting my teeth with quality beers when I was 17 or 18, with my friend Richard Gillespie, raiding his dad’s Beck’s and Heinekens after he threw a party, which seemed to be about every weekend. That was the start. I accumulated and studied thirty five books on the subject over the years. Having said that, I’m not a “Beer Snob” in the least! Every beer has its moment. Sitting down and enjoying the complexity of a Belgian Trappist Ale in an evening setting, or quaffing an ice cold Bud while out fishing on a 90 degree (32.2C) day, all work for me. Every though I will say that lite beers are a serious waste of time. Below is a link that is the show we were on from the Cork and Stogie. We’re on for the first ten or twelve minutes or so. We’ll be on again on August 5th about 11:15 EST for the next live instalment on Island Time Radio, so if you’re near a radio and like beer, tune in and enjoy the show!
A special Thank You to all who take the time to read my blog! It usually takes me about six hours to write, put music, videos, pictures, and collages together and into it. The blog cleared 30,000 views on July 1st 2013 and that makes it all worthwhile. Your patronage is very much appreciated. Thank you all very much!
To obtain my music, be sure to check my website for downloads and physical CDs!! This site also has material not available on other sites.
Also available on iTunes, CD Baby, CD Universe, Rhapsody, and Beachfront Radio.
Search: Key West Chris