At 70ish, bluesmaster Bill Blue is a master showman, grabbing the audience by the cojones as soon as his rocking persona hits a stage. He’s toured with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (writer of Elvis’ “That’s Alright Mama”) and shared the stage with ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers, Albert King, Johnny Winter and Hank Williams Jr.
Settled on the rooftop of the houseboat where he lives on Garrison Bight one morning (and into the afternoon), we chatted about music in general, the island, our mutual friends and whatever else came to mind, while his wife Bev served us Bloody Marys in between sunbathing down on the dock.
One of Bill’s many stories was about being on a boat at Turtle Kraals with Bruce Springsteen the day he met Nils Lofgren … but I digress …
“I came to Key West in 1979 to check it out and see what the scene was,” he told me. “I was in a touring band at the time. I knew about Sloppy Joe’s. It was on what was known at the time as a ‘white boy’s chitlin’ circuit.’”
He had been playing places as far north as New York and even Maine, but mostly in the south, in R&B-type rooms.
“In North Carolina, there were plenty of places to play everywhere. Every town.
“Then the DUI laws killed them all. Once people were too afraid to go out and have drinks, it killed it.
“They all closed down. They’re gone.”
So he considered life in the Southernmost City.
“Everybody wanted to play at Sloppy’s,” he said. “We got our first gig there Fourth of July week back in 1980, when it was twoweek gigs.”
The band’s second gig in Key West was also at Sloppy Joe’s, during the third Fantasy Fest. And then, in 1983, the Green Parrot opened.
“We were the first band to ever play at the Green Parrot Bar,” he said.
If you’ve ever wandered up to the men’s restroom at the Parrot, the life-size cut-out of the young rockstar affixed to the door is none other than Bill Blue himself.
After nearly 20 years on the road, he decided to call Key West home.
“Key West after a divorce couldn’t have come at a more perfect time,” he said.
His band at the time was an eightpiece band. “I told them they could all come along, but they didn’t.”
And here he has remained, playing his music and watching countless other musicians roll through. Some haven’t made it; others have.
“I was sitting with Jimmy Buffett in the Full Moon Saloon once (where Camille’s Restaurant is now, on Simonton Street). and he said ‘I’m going to make $1 million dollars this year.’ Wasn’t long till that was $1 million a week.”
Four years ago, Bill recorded “Mojolation,” his first new studio album in years, to great critical review.
“I’ve never, as long as I’ve lived here, written a song about Key West,” he said, although that might change with his next release. One of the songs on the release, he explained, is called “King of Crazy Town,” and although it’s a metaphor, it could encapsulate the crazy Key West lifestyle.
The new CD will offer 11 new songs, all originals except one.
“I’m a big fan of Eddie Hinton, a Mussel
Shoals guy who died a long time ago. Every CD I ever do from now on will have one of his songs on it.”
Hinton wrote Dusty Springfield’s 1969 hit “Breakfast in Bed,” which was also recorded by Shirley Bassey, UB40 and Joan Osborne. “He ended up homeless,” Bill said.
Now an elder statesman of the Key West music community, Bill has time to oversee and observe the new kids on the scene, both critically and with praise.
Unlike many other places, he said, “You can make a living playing music here.” And because there’s never a cover charge to see bands in Key West, he added, music lovers “can see every player in town every night for free.”
Bill contributed one of his songs, “Sink or Swim” to the Best of Key West CD, Vol. 1 (available at www.CDBaby.com digitally and at retail outlets all over town). Seventeen fellow singer/songwriters did the same, and $1 from every CD sold benefits the Sister Season Fund. If you want some great Key West music, buy a copy.
Bill prefers to keep his gigs around town nowadays, only venturing from the island on occasion to play festivals and to tour Europe.
Do yourself a favor and expose yourself and your friends to a case of the Bill Blues. I guarantee it’ll be just what the doctor ordered. ¦