What Is Trop Rock Music – Part III
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!
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 Kamakawiwoʻole, 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!