2017-05-18 / Arts and Entertainment News


Storyteller Pete Jarvis
Florida Weekly Correspondent

Pete and Wayne (the Sonny and Cher of Key West) have been embarrassing, offending and delighting the never-ending audience rotation at Sloppy Joe’s bar for 21 years with their Pete and Wayne Show, a mixture of music and comedy that entire families come to see year after year. If you’re easily offended, you might exercise second thoughts. They generally have the crowd in stitches with their Key West-style lyrical antics and verbal slapstick, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The guy on the left side of the stage playing guitar is Pete Jarvis (whether he’s Sonny or Cher I’ll leave that up to them to decide). Pete was born in upstate New York, near the Canadian border. “My dad worked in a paper mill,” he said. “My parents weren’t that musical, but mom played piano.” He grew up in Lake George in the foothills of the Adirondacks until he joined the U.S. Army in 1973.

“Army airborne. I did my basic at Fort Dix, jump school at Fort Benning, 2nd infantry division,” he said. “But I never used my airborne training. I got attached to an infantry division and headed off to the DMZ in Korea from ‘75 to ‘76.”

Watching all the recent conflicts with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has brought it all full circle back to him. “I see it on TV, and I remember those places. I walked all around that area. It hasn’t changed a bit since I was 18, 19 years old.”

Which lead him to a story about an encounter he had with some North Korean soldiers. “There were these tunnels underneath the DMZ that everyone used back then. We had a thing called a ‘fire mission’ where we’d roll a couple of joints and go down into the tunnels to smoke. We had this Korean liquor, it was like beer or wine, called Oscar. So, me and a buddy took our joints and our Oscar down into a tunnel, when two North Korean soldiers came around the corner in the tunnel in front of us with weapons, pointing their guns at us. All we had was our joints and Oscar. We held it up and said, ‘you like to smokey?’ So they put their weapons down and we partied with them.”

While in Korea, Pete went from base to base playing his guitar for the guys as a solo act. “I wasn’t very good,” he admitted. However, he did win a talent contest at the rec center with a song he had written based on his episode in the tunnel, called the “Ballad of the DMZ.” Some of the lyrics went, “We’ll stand on the line and offer them a joint. Then maybe people will get our point.”

“That was back during the time of protest when morale was usually pretty low.”

Pete had always played music throughout his youth, mostly in high school cover bands. “I was in an Alice Cooper cover band. We did the whole show. We hung a guy from a beam. I wore pink patent leather bellbottoms. We won a battle of the bands contest.”

After returning stateside, he continued playing music while cooking for his brother-in-law in upstate New York, traveling to St. Thomas and other locations to play with his trio, Bittersweet Harmony. After they broke up, he played with the Crispy Critters out of Lake George before coming down to help open a store called the Silver Mine on Greene Street in 1989.

“The first night here, while we were unpacking boxes, I walked into this little dive called the Port Side near Mallory Square just before sunset and asked the guy if he wouldn’t mind if we played, just for tips. We made $200 apiece. Then we got a steady gig at Crazy Daisies where the Wine-O Bar is at the La Concha Hotel, and played there for three years. I started playing at Sloppy Joe’s with Kevin McNamara. We called ourselves Two Guys Having Fun, and played together there six nights a week for four years. Kevin met a bartender at Rick’s half his age, retired and left the band to be with her.”

That left a vacancy. “Sloppy’s is a big stage for just one player. It can be brutal,” he said. Then, one night while watching Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones perform at the Hogs Breath Saloon, Pete was impressed by the bass player and later saw him standing outside on the corner. “I said, hey, I’ve got a gig over at Sloppy Joe’s, you want to join me? And he went ‘okay.’” That’s how Pete and Wayne got started, 21 years ago in 1996.

Pete’s band, Crispy Critters, was the house band at the infamous Barefoot Bob’s, and he still does occasional gigs with That Hippie Band with a rotating cast of local musicians. The original crew was Pete Jarvis, Terry Wetmore, Tom Conger, Will Hoppy, Russ Scavelli and founder Gary Hempsey. “We still play every couple of months for special occasions, like for Schooner Wharf’s Wharfstock. We also played once at Cowboy Bill’s. The only hippie band to have ever played there, I’m sure.”

Pete counts among his influences folk singers who tell stories, like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Beatles. “I enjoy finding two people who can do harmonies with me,” he said. “I have a shitty voice. But I’m a good ‘blender,’”

You can catch the Pete and Wayne Show from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday and Fridays at Sloppy Joe’s. From noon till 5 p.m. on Saturdays, Pete has instigated a little impromptu showcase. He invites local musicians, or as he likes to call them, “unsuspecting victims,” to join him onstage for anything goes. “They’re used to having set lists, or using loopers. That all goes out the window. It’s wood, steel and balls. No set list.” So far, this has included Tony Baltimore, Anthony Picone, George Chapman and Bill Krause. Coming up, he says, is Bill Blue and Larry Baeder, Adrienne Z, Dora Gholson and Raven Cooper. “Some of them are like my kids. I’m old enough to be their dad. I’m just trying to pass on a little bit of what I’ve learned about performance to them.”

When asked what he enjoys most about living and working here in Key West, he glanced around at the tropical trees and blue skies beyond the veranda where we sat drinking our wine midday, and answered simply, “Duh.” ¦

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