Al Subarsky was born in the Bronx, the youngest of four boys, but ended up in Belmar, N.J., on the Jersey Shore, by the time he was 5. “Alfonse” is a nickname derived from his Jersey Shore roots that just stuck — like Cher, Madonna or Prince. His parents passed away fairly early, but music was in the family. “Two of my older brothers were drummers and the other was a DJ.”
As far as his early inspirations, he’s quick to note, “Ricky Nelson from Ozzie and Harriet. And James Burton, his guitarist, who also played guitar for Elvis.” He also notes the influences of Southern Rock, like the Allman Brothers, and old R&B such as Brook Benton and Lou Rawls. “I started applying myself when I was around 12 years old.” Although he says he was self-taught, “I did take a one-hour lesson once, but my watch had stopped. I was 45 minutes late. I thought I was on time. My instructor kicked me out.”
But that didn’t stop him. “I surrounded myself with good players,” he recalls. “When I was 16, I had to get an ABC license so that I could play in bars.”
After graduating high school in 1971, he hooked up with Alan Berger (the bassist with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes) and Danny Federici (the organist with Bruce Springsteen’s
E Street Band) and formed a band they called Banana Breath. “We met in a music store. They were all older than me. They called me the ‘The Kid.’”
In 1976, Al played a winter in Fort Lauderdale with Art Stock’s Playpen, but during that time, he never made it down to Key West. “My first visit to Key West was in 1982,” he said. “I went to Captain Tony’s campaign party, and after that, I visited here maybe half a dozen times.”
Then, from there, he got really busy musically for 11 years. “From 1988 to 1999, I toured halfway around the world with the Party Dolls, out of Jersey. We were like Key West’s Fabulous Spectrelles, but with a full band. I was the lead guitarist. We did Chuck Berry and Little Richard. It was like a Dick Clark party, hosting corporate parties and events.”
After he left the band, “I came to Key West,” he said. “That was 20 years ago. I had a friend in Jersey, Colleen, and she said, ‘What are you going to do now?’ and I said, ‘I think I’m moving to Key West.’”
He met Frank Dudeck from La Concha Hotel in the hotel lobby. “He had never even heard me play or sing. He said to go back to Jersey and get my equipment and he’d let me play four or five nights a week at the bar up on the roof. That turned into 15 years.”
Unfortunately, that locals’ favorite rooftop bar (one of the best sunsetwatching locations on the island) gave way four years ago to a health spa, so that left Al without a regular gig. But it wasn’t long before his dance card was full again. He currently plays at Two Friends Patio Restaurant three days a week: Sunday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. (the earliest gig in town, by the way), Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m., and Friday from 4-7 p.m. for happy hour. On Thursday he plays Rick’s downstairs from noon to 4 p.m., and on Saturday he plays the Pier House Beach Bar from noon to 3 p.m.
He also does corporate party gigs on occasion with friends Brian Roberts, Rob Distasi and Ray Spence. Performing as the Prime Movers, they provide a mix of dance music, classic rock and funk at private parties, at Virgilio’s and up at Looe Key Tiki Bar on occasion.
“I play Sinatra to Buffett and everything in between,” he says, estimating his repertoire at around 500 songs, enough to please the early morning cruise ship tourists who are often his main audience that early.
When he takes time off from work, he likes to go back to Red Bank, N.J., to visit his friends and family. “Exit 109 off the Garden State Parkway,” he smiles. “But only in the spring or fall. Not winter! I’ll eat pizza every day for two weeks.”
Al’s a single guy, but he does have a rescue Maltese schnauzer named Bailey, who is 5.
As far as original music goes, Al recorded a CD around 12 years ago called “Almost Live from Havana,” but it’s probably hard to find.
Coming up for him next month, for the eighth year in a row, is the Pat Guadagno Fest Feb. 7-11. American troubadour and saloon singer Pat Guadagno’s music was featured on the award-winning Showtime series “Californication.”
For the festival Al says about 150 people will come down from Monmouth County, N.J., for gigs at Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, Shanna Key and at Dante’s Pool Bar. “I’m looking forward to that,” he adds.
Twenty years have come and gone since Al first stepped into Cap’n Tony’s for that historical mayoral campaign, enough time for him to have seen a lot of things change in this town and for a lot of people come and go.
“I failed to mention I also played at Cap’n Tony’s for a year and a half when I first got here,” he says. “It was a rite of passage.” ¦