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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Is Trop Rock Music? - Part III

What Is Trop Rock Music – Part III 

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What is Trop Rock today?  A lot will call it escapism. The idea behind this is suggesting that listening to this type of music is a get away from living in say, Peoria, and imagining they are in say, Key West, or perhaps Sanibel Island. Sure, this would be escapism. For that particular analogy, it’s spot on.

However, let’s look at it from another angle. I’ll start off with myself and my girlfriend, Dani Hoy. We live in Key West. There’s also Scott Kirby, who lives here as well. Captain Josh, Howard Livingston, and Ray West, live up the Keys a ways in Summerland, Cudjoe, and Big Pine Keys. I can’t even begin to count how many Trop musicians live on the SW coast of Florida from Naples to St. Pete, not forgetting those on the east coast of Florida, and a few in the center of the state as well. Additionally, there are those in Hawaii too!! The point being, there’s a market for what we’re doing here in the tropics for players and fans alike, we’re not escaping anything. This is our lifestyle. We live here and so do a lot of fans of the genre. 

So, while escapism may pertain to some, it’s definitely not something that’s across the board. Therefore, in my view it isn’t an accurate overall definition of the genre.

What the music does do is emulate the tropics feeling. How it accomplishes that today is a multifaceted fascination that is worthy of investigation!

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In the last two blogs I mentioned the Country music rooted side of Trop. Some use the great name of Gulf and Western for this style. Think of players such as Kenny Chesney, Steven Youngblood, Tom Shepherd, Todd Sparks, or Zac Brown. These are just a few of many who are deeply rooted in the Country side of Trop.

Here’s the great Thom Shepherd doing his song “Sand In Her Shoes”, which the video was recorded in Key West, for those who might be curious. Thom, along with his wife Coley, a highly respected songwriter in her own right, is deeply involved with Country music, with having written several number one hits He is an excellent example of how an artist can wear more than one hat at a time. Thom’s main hat is Country, but he has the option of being a Trop artist at the same time.

There are a lot of Trop musicians who fall on the outskirts of Country music and the outskirts of Rock. These would be the singer/songwriters, those troubadours with a very serious gift for weaving the best stories and amazing word structure, to music. With their roots in both Rock and Country, they wear both hats, as well as the Trop Rock hat. A few great examples of these artists would be Scott Kirby, Kelly McGuire, and the late Hugo Duarte. 

Here’s an incredible song by Scott Kirby “The Last Flying Boat” from his album “A Night on the Beach”.

Okay, so now let’s take a look at something entirely different. Many Trop performers don’t focus at all on the Country side of the genre. Many performers will anchor themselves on the English speaking Caribbean islands music. This of course, is nothing at all like the Gulf and Western Country influenced music I was just talking about. 

As Americans we often tag it all together, when in fact it’s quite individual. Reggae for instance, is rooted in Jamaica. The steel drums are from Trinidad. The Bahamas don’t have Reggae, or steel drums.

Here’s an example of Bahamian music with Ronnie Buttler doing his famous song “Who Put the Pepper in the Vaseline” which quite a few Trop artists have covered.

The beat to the music is Junkanoo, which is nothing like Jamaica’s Reggae and likewise, we don’t hear any steel drums either because they don’t use them in Bahamian music.   
All are utilized in Trop Music, often together, which in their native countries would be scowled on. Myself, I always feel that it’s good to know the history of any music you play. However, the English speaking Caribbean has a large influence on Trop Rock music.

Let’s look at Hawaii, while we’re at it. Hawaii is often emulated in Trop Rock as well. Back at the beginning of this series in the first blog I mentioned Martin Denny. More currently many know Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole, better known as Bruddah Iz, who did the beautiful version of Over The Rainbow on the ukulele. That song struck into the hearts of so many. Additionally, Bruddah Iz was considered a national hero of the Hawaiian Islands, long, long before the song became a hit.


 Bruddah Iz passed away at 38 years old, nearly twenty years ago in 1997. He was Hawaii’s greatest promoter for all things that were naturally Hawaiian, especially its music!

Today you will find Hawaiian Ricky Hanna quite easily in Trop Rock, as well as Renn Loren, a native Hawaiian who has spent years on both the North American continent, as well as Scandinavia.
Here’s a piece by Renn Loren  

Okay, so now let’s toss a real monkey wrench into the mix. I know I’m not the only one who’s heard the phrase “New Orleans is the northernmost city in the Caribbean”!

Well, when one considers that much of the African/American culture, as well as French decedents, came there from Haiti, it seems to fit in quite well actually, especially their music, which is derived from Haiti, by way of Africa.  

Here are The Neville Brothers doing “Yellow Moon”.

The Caribbean roots in “Yellow Moon” are beyond apparent.

So again we come back to the original question at hand:  What is today’s Trop Rock?
Through the last three blogs we’ve seen it having roots in Hawaiian music, which itself had roots in South American jazz via Martin Denny,  Jimmy Buffett bringing it to light, Country music, all sorts of Caribbean music, both English and Spanish, again more contemporary Hawaiian music.

In his book that he co-wrote, The Story of English, television news anchor Robert MacNeil states that languages which stop growing are destined to die. Latin, which was set in stone, literally, was used as a prime example.

The same is true with music. If one looks at the musical pieces that were done by Strauss, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, or Beethoven, then compare them to pieces by Ravel, Stravinsky, Varese, or Zappa, music has indeed changed and evolved and Classical music continues to thrive.

Trop Rock music must continue to grow if it is to survive in the long run. The man credited in starting the genre, Jimmy Buffett, just turned sixty nine. The majority of his fans are naturally in his age group known as the Baby Boomers. 

Several years back Country star Alan Jackson did a duet with Buffett “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere”. Jackson is 57 at the tail end of that generation. Zac Brown also did a duet with Buffett, “Knee Deep”. Zac is thirty seven. The Zac Brown Band brings a whole new generation to the table. The quest here for Trop Rock is that The Zac Brown Band’s fans are right at Trop Rock’s table, they just don’t realize it. Likewise with Kenny Chesney. He’s a little older than Zac Brown at 47, but he has droves of fans that have no idea they are Trop Rock fans!

Going back, don’t forget that a musician isn’t locked into one category. When you stop and think about it, a Western Swing musician could easily be classified under Country, Jazz, and Rock!  So we can wear many hats in Trop as well. 

Obviously we must include Rock in all of this!  Back when Jimmy Buffett released his first album from his Keys period, he was a Rock artist. Back then, there was what was known as "Progressive Rock" and that included everyone from James Taylor to Black Sabbath. Some bands from that era, such as The Eagles, or Buffett, today might be lumped into the Country genre. A great deal of today's Trop Rock music has it's basis in the border regions where Rock and Country converge.

So what is Trop Rock?

Potentially pretty progressive music actually, depending on the artist’s vision for a horizon! Any music that feels like palm trees, beaches, warm ocean breezes, sailboats, cocktails in the tropics, where the feel falls under the 30th Parallel North and above the 30th Parallel South in the Western Hemisphere, although those lines are subject to change at the drop of a hat and flex slightly. It’s a style of music that can be constructed on virtually any genre of music being used as a foundation. 

As time goes on, we'll see how it progresses and evolves! It should be a fun ride!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Is Trop Rock Music - Part II Solar Power Not Allowed in Key West, Happy Holidays!

What Is Trop Rock Music?   Part II -  Solar Power Is Not Allowed in Key West, -  Happy Holidays!!!

2015 MOTM Pit Stop Party at Popp's Motel in Key Largo. 

In the last blog we looked at some of the early influences of Trop Rock music. Specifically we looked at Martin Denny and Antonio Carlos Jobim. We also touched on Jimmy Buffett in his early Key West stages. I included a very early recorded piece of his that I have, Cuban Crime Of Passion, which he recorded live at a Steve Goodman gig in Coconut Grove, on their way back to Key West after recording the album “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean”. Interestingly enough, when I posted that clip it had sixty six plays and at this exact moment it has two hundred and five! It’s getting around! 

Maybe one day I can post the rest of the concert, which had the Godman/Buffett duo covering the Hank Williams song “You Win Again”, plus, “I Have Found Me A Home”, “Cuban Crime Of Passion”, “Death Of An Unpopular Poet”, and “Ghost Riders in The Sky”?

I’ll get back to Mr. Buffett in a bit, but first let’s look at a style of music that preceded Buffett and Trop rock has virtually never acknowledged, for reasons that this writer has no understanding, and this would be Latin Rock. The very first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when it comes to Latin rock, is of course, Santana. Let’s face it, he invented it.

Carlos Santana grew up in Mexico and later moved to San Francisco, where he started his group, Santana. It wasn’t long before Santana became a household name after they played at Woodstock a short time later. There’s no way on earth that this music couldn’t be considered as Trop Rock.
The curious thing about Santana was that the music he was playing, was largely Afro/Cuban rooted. Santana was of course Mexican, and in Mexican culture, Afro/Cuban music wasn’t the norm.  This was an oddity.

Samba Pa Ti

For myself, I see the Latin Rock/Jazz/Salsa/Timba as an undiscovered oasis that can easily be also carried under the Trop Rock umbrella. The percussion itself is a particularly interesting influence to incorporate. Hopefully some Trop radio stations will carry more Latin music in the near future.

Many Trop Rock artists use the congas, and the congas of course come from the Afro/Caribbean influence on Trop. Here’s one example from my upcoming album, this is a fade in snippet to my song “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” where you can hear Tod Sheley, then of the band Homemade Wine, on the congas.

One thing that I have forgotten to mention regarding Trop Rock music, and music in general, is that no one has to be locked into a particular genre. I talked about Carlos Santana earlier. If you look at his Wikipedia profile, he’s listed as Latin Rock, Chicano Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Blues Rock, Jazz Fusion, Tejano. Jimmy Buffett is listed as Rock, Country, Country Pop, Folk, Gulf and Western. So being listed as multiple genres is very acceptable. An artist doesn’t have to be locked into just one.

When Jimmy Buffett’s album “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean” ( a tung in cheek take off of Marty Robbins’ song “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation”) came out,  it brought to light, perhaps by chance, a type of music that was focused in a tropical island setting, namely Key West. Buffett stayed with the theme all along and it stuck. Today,  almost forty three years after its release, Buffett is one of the world’s wealthiest musical artists, with an estimated net worth of over $400M.
Many performers who were inspired by Buffett, fall into the singer/songwriter category. Kelly McGuire and the late Hugo Duarte are two prime examples. Buffett hit a chord (pun intended) with singer/songwriters on many of his ballads, such as the aforementioned “I Have Found Me A Home” and “Death Of An Unpopular Poet”. Many feel the ballad is his greatest forte. If the ballad is Buffett’s greatest forte, that would make “A Pirate Looks At 40” his greatest song.

In 1982, Bertie Higgins released his song, Key Largo.  It charted #8 for that year. Higgins later anointed the style of music he was playing as Trop Rock. The name has stuck ever since and Bertie Higgins is the one who is credited on christening the name.

The interesting thing about Trop Rock today is that, while many performers are considered what’s known as “Parrotheads” (Fans of Buffett), many are not. In its evolution, Trop Rock has taken on new artists with influences that are not Jimmy Buffett, while some of those artists and fans don’t even care for Buffett. Growth is always good. If something stagnates, it will die. New influences are always part of growth, so on the one hand, while some are surprised to hear that some musicians in Trop Rock are not fans of Buffett, it’s expected.

To Be Continued…. 

Solar Power Not Allowed in Key West

Now that statement sure sounds strange, doesn’t it? The number one reason people head to Key West is because of abundant sunshine! Sunshine, from the Dry Tortugas to Key Biscayne, is the entire Conch Republic’s biggest asset. One would think that city government would embrace something like solar power, wouldn’t you? 

However solar power is not permitted in Key West! Well, the city can set up solar panels to power lighted street signs and the word on the street says that old City Hall on Greene Street may soon become solar powered. However, for the average citizen or business, solar power is, as the Germans say, Verboten!*

No, I can’t attach solar panels to my roof in order to conserve energy. God forbid, I may get more than I need and have to sell it back to the electric company! The electric company could then sell it to say, New Jersey, and make a profit.

The rumor mill says that the city and the electric company have struck some kind of a deal with freezing the price of oil for an extended period of time… a.k.a. Years?

Want to hear the biggest oddity of all? Christine Gorham was running for the utility board as pro-solar. Her opponent, Mona Clark, who already held the office and was against solar power, won in the October election.

Make what you will of the voters in Key West.


It’s the Holiday Season! The Shanty Hounds, (Dani Hoy and myself) along with our dear friend Bobby DeVito, wrote and recorded a holiday song “Happy Merry Christmas From Key West”!
The objective was to capture the Key West bacchanalia atmosphere!
Everyone wrote their own verse (I’m first, Dani’s second, Bobby’s third) while Dani and I co-wrote the bridge.
The song captures the fun, partying, festive atmosphere that is Key West and also features our dogs, Cajun and Tooloulou! Let’s also not forget our friend Schmegly, who happened to stop by while we were recording!
This is 100% a Key West production. Everything was done right here. The song was written and recorded at our house, The Conch Rock Shanty, and was mixed and mastered at Private Ear Studio here in Key West by none other than the great Dan Simpson!
If you love Key West, this will complement your Christmas music collection perfectly.

To purchase it, here’s the link to CD Baby. It’s less than a dollar! That’s right!  $.99
So, please, help support the blog! Have a bunch of joy, fun, and laughs and download it from CD Baby!

Thank you for reading the blog!!!

* = Verboten, of course translates quite easily to it's English cousin's word of forbidden. Use of the German word is for emphasis. ;-)  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Is Trop Rock Music? Part 1

What is Trop Rock Music? Part 1

What exactly is Trop Rock music anyway? There are a large contingent of people that say it's Country music that has a beach theme. Of those folks, many call it Gulf and Western, referring to The Gulf of Mexico and C&W music. You've got to love it, it's very creative!

No one would be stupid enough to argue the point that the style of Country mixed with the tropic atmosphere, is a very large segment of the music genre.  That however, is cutting the genre short of what it actually is.

I recall back when I was a kid my parents used to have records by Martin Denny. Martin Denny was a musician/composer from New York and Los Angeles who ventured down South America way for 3 1/2 years, then headed to Hawaii, where he developed a style of music called "Exotica".

Exotica incorporated rhythms that Mr. Denny picked up in South America, with mainland America and Hawaiian music combined, not forgetting the exotic bird calls that shortly thereafter found it's way into his music.

Exotica is a musician's style of music in that one has to be an accomplished musician in order to play it. A lot of Jazz is incorporated into it. For the listener, it's quite easy and relaxing to listen to.

Many consider this under the umbrella of Trop Rock today, even though it predates Trop Rock's by decades, having first started in the early 1950's. This is without a doubt, Trop music however.

In the same periods, there was a type of music my parents didn't have, but I heard on the radio and loved. It was related to what Martin Denny was doing in Hawaii, albeit this was from Rio De Janeiro. Now keep in mind that Martin Denny picked up a lot on the rhythms of Rio, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. The music I fell in love with was Bossa Nova, and the composer was Antonio Carlos Jobim.

For me, this music painted a very vivid picture of Rio de Janeiro. Not too far from the equator, this was certainly about as Trop as it got! For me, Jobim painted a warm summer evening, with a light breeze, full moon and stars, on a restaurant patio overlooking Ipanema beach.

Picture that scene while listening to this piece by Jobim ( say Joe Beem)

Many folks credit Jimmy Buffett with starting what we know today as Trop Rock. Buffett moved to Key West and did what any songwriter would do; write about where he was and the things he saw going on there. Here he was, living on a tropical island that was loaded with idiosyncrasies, crazy characters and goings on, drug smuggling, shit hole bars with tuns of salty personality and personalities, authors, a very rich history of pirates, the Navy, shrimpers, wreckers, fishermen, a crazy fire chief,... the list goes on and on, but he had all of this and more to draw from. Here he was, a great story teller and with subjects such as the aforementioned, it was an oasis to choose from, being bombarded with crazy on goings every day for inspiration.

It must be said that he didn't visit, then leave. Buffett lived here 24/7/365 and became part of the island. When writing about the island there's a vast difference between being part of it day to day, versus stopping by for a week, then going back to Kalamazoo and writing a song about it. Michael McCloud is the same as Buffett in this regard, when it comes to writing songs about Key West. Both McCloud and Buffett wrote from a local perspective. That alone gives them a very sincere credibility that is never matched by someone writing about it from afar.

Here' a very, very rare recording of Buffett. He was on his way back to Key West from Nashville after recording his first album that was written in Key West "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean". His friend and co musician and co writer on some songs, Steve Goodman, landed a gig in the then bohemian section of Miami, Coconut Grove, at a little place called "Bubba's". A wonderful friend of mine, Dave, used to do sound for Bubba's, as well as other coffee houses in Coconut Grove and South Miami. Dave was, and is an audiophile of the first degree. He would record all the gigs he did sound for on his reel to reel from the sound board!

Steve Goodman's gig at Bubba's was no exception. You won't here it on this track, but earlier in the recording when Steve brings on Buffett and introduces him, there's but a polite applause. The Pink Crustacean album was still months from being released and at this point in time, no one knew who Buffett was. They did about five songs together that night, plus a lot of back and forth colorful banter. I edited the recording so you can hear this excellent example of Goodman-Buffett live doing a song they had just recorded up in Nashville, "Cuban Crime of Passion". I say excellent example, not because it's played to perfection, but rather because Dave captured the whole feel of the event and song so well on his reel to reel!

The recording this is from is said to be Buffett's oldest live recording, being around late 1972.

More to come in Part 2!

Support the blog! Check out The Shanty Hounds (Dani Hoy and Myself, Key West Chris Rehm, along with our pal Bobby DeVito, doing a holiday song we all co-wrote and performed on "Happy Merry Christmas From Key West"! It's only ninety-nine cents!!! That's right! $ .99!!!! Download it today! Makes a great holiday gift too!

Available at CD Baby! Sound clip available at the link!

FYI, CD Baby is the distributor who issues all recordings to iTunes, Amazon, CD Universe... the industry. :-)