His first musical group experience was with the Love Lane Gang, but before that he was living the life of a soloist vagabond with no thought about being part of a band and settling down. Then it just kind of happened.
Jerrod Isaman was jumping trains and hitchhiking to nowhere in particular with always somewhere else to go. He started his travels in his hometown of Olean, N. Y., just south of Buffalo. Jerrod made his way down to Key West after meeting a violin player and horn player at a basement gig in Philadelphia. They were driving south for a few days and invited him to go with them. Well, why not? he thought.
A few days into the trip, while drinking whiskey on a beach, Jerrod met “the coconut man” who convinced him to stay on the island and sell coconuts with him, and so he did.
That was roughly eight years ago. He’s now had the same apartment for almost seven years as opposed to couch surfing and sleeping in hammocks like he did when he first made the move.
“I got lucky,” he says. “I figured, I guess I’m just gonna call this place home.”
The Love Lane Gang lasted for two years and it was the talk of the town during those days. Then came the Phlegmatics. The group started as a surf rock band, but then vocalist Les Greene joined the group and the name was changed to Patrick and the Swayzees (because people just couldn’t remember the name Phlegmatics). It became a little bit more rock-’n’-roll and it too, turned into a local sensation almost seemingly overnight. One day it was new and the next day it was playing to crowds on packed dance floors with everyone twisting and shouting.
These days though, Jerrod is a part of Billy the Squid and the Seacow Drifters and, just like the other bands, it has gained quite the following in town.
“It’s hillbilly rock-’n’-roll,” Jerrod says of Billy the Squid. “It’s a blend of string, surf, country, gypsy jazz. It’s just everything I like. I’ve finally figured out how to be in a band with all the sounds. When you find the right people, it is really great.”
He’s also a member of the Bea Bea Banda (which I am told translates in Romanian to “something like Hooray Beer Man!), a seven-piece full-out gypsy jazz band that includes a tuba and accordion along with other of vintage instruments. Think modern day Django Reinhardt or the Great Gatsby.
Its dream is to become a feel-good street act, like the way they do it in the Big Easy.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing to have that kind of street music down here,” he asks enthusiastically, “like in New Orleans where there’s a 20-person band on every corner?”
In addition to his other ambitions, Jerrod just finished performing in a play called “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at the Key West Theater and also co-hosts the Variety Show at Mary Ellen’s very Thursday.
The Variety Show is an invitational series for serious performers to take the stage, 30 minutes at a time, like a talented open mic night.
One show in particular featured a rather experienced pianist who was traveling with his piano on a boat that he was sailing around the Caribbean. Apparently, Jerrod had to borrow a truck just so that he could transport the piano from the boat to the bar.
In the end, the hard work paid off. When he did play, the guy was “just awesome.”
People who get the opportunity to see Jerrod perform with Billy the Squid and the Sea Cow Drifters tell me how amazed they are by the group’s ability to seem as though it has been transported right out of the hot-rod era.
Their voices, their electric guitar riffs, their clothing, they say, are so incredibly authentic that they wouldn’t have known the difference between then and now.
Every great act needs a style and its includes cuffed shirts, overalls, oxfords and Johnny-Cash cowboy hats.
It’s just as amusing to see them all dressed up as it is to hear them reincarnate their favorite songs.
They play the old hits like “Pipeline” by the Chantays and “Surfin Bird” by the Trashmen, songs from long ago that are still prevalent in today’s pop culture.
They are the same songs that Jerrod used to hear from outside the window of the Hickey, a bar in upstate New York when he wasn’t old enough to get in.
Today, with no professional lessons, he is able to play them due to his dedication to practice and because he has found others who are passionate about playing the same kind of music.
“I really prefer the energy of playing with other people,” he says, remembering a time when he was doing solo acoustic sets.
“My band is my security blanket.”
Billy the Squid and the Sea Cow Drifters play at such venues as Salute!, On the Beach and Sunset Pier at the Ocean Key Resort. For the band’s current schedule visit it on Facebook.
A three-piece surf rock band that Jerrod is involved in plays most Saturdays at Tiki House located at 430 Greene St.
His gypsy jazz band, Bea Bea Band, can be seen every Thursday at Mary Ellen’s on Applerouth Lane, or if things go as planned, spontaneously somewhere outside on the street. ¦