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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!!