Thursday, May 5, 2011

Music from the Mailbox

I’m a Trop Rock fan. Big surprise. If the song is about beaches, bars, or boats, chances are I will like it. Lucky for me, there are literally HUNDREDS of artists out there these days singing about my three favorite subjects – and I’m discovering new ones every week.  As a fan, I listen to this kind of music most of my waking hours anyway. But, I’m also a mobile dj – the only one that I know of in my part of the country that features Beach Music and Trop Rock as a regular part of my playlist, from weddings to pool parties. So, I also get a regular chance to play these tunes for other people - not just Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, Bob Marley, and the Beach Boys – but independent singer/songwriters and bands. My wife and I also have a business – Bahama Llama – that brings “great food and a tropical vibe” to festivals around the Atlanta area. Our booths are always beach themed and, of course, the music we play all day is Buffett and Trop Rock. At some festivals, that could mean tens of thousands of people passing by our booth (hopefully, at least some stopping) and hearing what we’re playing. On top of all that, I have this blog. One of the main reasons I started it was to help expose people around the world to Trop Rock and the folks who play it - hence the second word in the title. 

For all those reasons, hardly a week goes by that I don't walk out to my mailbox and find a package full of cds from somewhere around the country. Some are new releases from artists and bands I have known about for some time, others are from people I've only recently been introduced to. Either way, I'm like a kid in a candy store - I can't wait to get back inside and hear what the mailman has brought me.

Here are some of the more recent releases I have gotten in the last few weeks... 

 Paul Roush "Today's The Day" - Paul is a veteran music maker from Missouri with a storied history. He was a founding member of the band Phins, 2008 winners of the Trop Rock Horizon Award, and also fronted the 12 Volt Band. He decided to go solo last year and the result is this cd. Recorded at Orca Sound Studios in Maryland, it was produced by Captain Quint's Kevin Johnson, who also plays keyboards, bass and drums on the disc. The ten tracks include a few notable covers; "Layin' My Life On The Line" comes courtesy of Jerry Jeff Walker, "Daddy Was A Sailor" is a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band composition, "I Wanna Be A Pirate" was originally found on the Captain Quint cd, "Unsinkable Still", and it doesn't take a die hard Springsteen fan to immediately identify "Thunder Road". The rest of the material is all original, including "Bad Day On Vacation" - a glass-half-full look at a bike ride on the beach, "Today's The Day" - a feel good ditty about discovering a love you already had, and the retrospective "Just To See If I Could". Two of the more melancholy songs, "Three Sailors" and  "Fools, Drunks, And Children", are updated versions of Paul's tunes originally penned for Phins projects (the former can be found on "Welcome To The Beach", the latter is the title track to their 2002 cd). Howard Livingston fans will also appreciate Paul's hilarious ode to the multi-award winning Florida Keys' musician, "I Wanna Be Howie" (with a nod to Brent Burns). 

Captain Josh "Whitecaps & Nitecaps" - Josh Ramsteck, aka "Captain Josh", hails from the Orlando, Florida area and is a true Parrot Head - member of the Parrotheads of Central Florida. "Whitecaps & Nitecaps" is his third cd - following up on 2008's "If I Had A Hammock" and "Music In The Lower Keys" from 2007. Like the first two, it consists of original material with some carefully chosen covers, most notably on this one Ricky Nelson's 1972 hit "Garden Party" and the Motown Classic (later re-recorded by Linda Ronstadt) "Ooh Baby Baby". Josh's original tracks often take a humorous look at the Parrot Head lifestyle, and this cd is no exception:  "Parrotheads in Paradise" boogies along on a bed of Buffett references, the double entendre filled "Deep Vee Bottom" is a tongue firmly in cheek look at boats, "Room Key" tells the (true?) story of an amorous fan at a festival date Josh played in Panama City, Florida, and "I'm Into Leather But I Could Be Suede" speaks for itself. Of the "serious songs", "Ship To Shore" would be a great one to listen to as the sun sets and the title track is a nautical ditty with squeeze box accompaniment. Guests on the cd include Trop Rocker Jimi Pappas and guitarist Rob Seay.

John Patti "Cabana Breeze" - From appearances on various Trop Rock records, to a tropical take on the Folger's Coffee theme with John Reno (top ten finalist in a national contest), to the recent Coral Reefer Soul show in Tampa, and upcoming dates in Costa Rica with Jim Morris, John Patti is a busy guy these days. Playing the steel drum from an early age, Patti cites a chance encounter with the Coral Reefers in Key West back in 1998 as a turning point in his musical career. "Cabana Breeze" is his second cd and features Buffett band members Peter Mayer, Doyle Grisham, and Nadirah Shakoor, who adds vocals to the soulful and sexy "Steamer". The other ten tracks are all-instrumentals. Songs like "Start The Party", "Catamaran Race", "Tiki Groove", and "Tauranga" make you want to run, not walk, to stick a lime into a long neck and your toes in the nearest sand, and "Wonderful Tonight" is his reggae-fied (and slightly more upbeat) take on the Clapton classic. John is a member of the Deb Grisham Music group of artists, which also includes Nadirah Shakoor, and both Peter and "Uncle" Jim Mayer.

Scott Kirby "Row Me Home" - As an unabashed Scott Kirby fan, I was thrilled to connect with him via telephone recently to conduct an extended interview (found elsewhere on this very blog) and talk about some of his music, including tracks on this - his sixth cd, released last year. Produced by world renowned drummer Russ Kunkel (Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg and countless others) and featuring an all star cast of musicians like Leland Sklar, Dean Parks, and Coral Reefers Jim and Peter Mayer and Roger Guth, "Row Me Home" is full of Kirby's trademark warmth and poet's eye for detail. Favorite tracks include "Blow Me Down To Cayo Hueso" - an ode to his own song line, which has taken him from New England to Key West, "Port Outbound Starboard Home" - a catchy Jackson Browne type rocker about not looking back, the pretty, country tinged "Out Here Near The Edge" and the cleverly titled acoustic ballad "Row Me Home To Juliet". Kirby recently kicked off his Spring/Summer tour in New Hampshire and will be travelling South and West, with dates in Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Washington and more through July.

 Hana & Satchwell "Chillaxin" - Another group featured in a full length interview on this blog, Ricky Hana and Alan Satchwell split their time between the California coast and Hawaii. Successful musicians in their own rights, 2010's Chillaxin is their second cd as a duo and the second to win a Hawaii Music Award as "Pop Album Of The Year". As the name implies, "Chillaxin"' is all about slowing down and taking things one day at a time. "Island Daze Island Nights" rides a lazy horn-driven groove, the beautiful and relaxing "My Sunset" features their trademark smooth vocal harmonies, "Duval Street" and "Cali Samba" are jazzy instrumentals, "Island Gurl" is the perfect soundtrack for a cruise along the North Shore, and "First Day Of Summer" and "Lighten The Load" are reggae tinged and danceable. Much Aloha!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Shurl Gates: Passionate Parrothead

When it comes to music, Shurl Gates is the first to tell you she can't play an instrument, isn't going to win any karaoke contests. But, she more than makes up for that lack of performing skills with a deep love - make that an unbridled PASSION - for music. "I'm not much of a tv person, but I have music playing in my house 24/7. I love listening to it, going out to hear it, being around it", says Gates. That passion has led her to become one of the most familiar faces in the Trop Rock world and most ardent supporters of the people who make the music.

Shurl Galiher Gates story begins in the small Oregon coastal town of North Bend, where she moved as a kid. She went to school, married, and raised a family there. But, as all great stories go, something happened that changed her life forever. In Shurl's case, that "sudden twist of fate" was divorce.

"It was 2001, I was single again and looking to make some major changes in my life. Two of my kids had moved to Florida so I decided to go there." "There" was just outside of Tampa, where she met and started dating a Parrothead. "I had always loved Jimmy Buffett's music, but had never been exposed to the whole lifestyle". Looking to make friends in her new home, she joined the Tampa Bay Parrot Head Club. A former Mormon, it didn't take long for the colorful, and gregarious Phlockers to get her life going in a new direction. "That was it. I found myself - the 'me' I didn't even know was missing. It was a celebration of a new beginning." Through the TBPHC, Shurl began attending events and hearing her first "Trop Rock" bands. "I LOVED it, became a huge fan. I've always been a very social person, so I would make a point of going up and introducing myself, telling them how much I enjoyed hearing them," explains Gates. "One of the great things about Trop Rock is that the people involved are so down to earth, so approachable." Before long, she counted among her friends hard working musicians like Jimi Pappas and John Frinzi, and started getting calls from artists that were looking to play in the area. "Guys would call and say, 'I'm coming down there on my way to Meeting of the Minds. Do you know anyplace to play around Tampa?' So I'd make some calls. I started getting to know the clubs and the people who ran them. It was just something I would do as a favor to friends. I also got to know the people at Radio Margaritaville, like JD Spradlin and Steve Huntington. Steve, it turned out was a big baseball fan, so we had that in common" (Gates' son in law is All Star Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Roy "Doc" Halladay - Fred). In 2007, she was introduced to Deb Grisham - wife of Coral Reefer Doyle Grisham and owner of Deb Grisham Entertainment, which represents a number of artists, including Nadirah Shakoor, The Mayer Brothers - Peter and "Uncle Jim", John Frinzi, and John Patti. "We became on line friends, trading emails and talking about music and places for artists to play in Florida." Her list of connections continued to grow until 2008, when Michelle Becker of the Margarita Mafia called Shurl to see if she might be able to help bring in some well known presenters for that year's Trop Rock Awards in Key West. "I called Doyle and asked him if he'd be interested and he said 'YES'! Then Nadirah and Tina Gullickson agreed to do it." Her efforts not only helped cement her reputation as a true mover and shaker in the Trop Rock world, but also won her the first ever "Fan Of The Year" award.

Things REALLY changed for Gates the next year. "I was having dinner with (trop rock artist) Rob Mehl. He mentioned to me that he was looking for a Manager and I replied, 'I need a job!'", although she says she wasn't being serious at the time. "The truth is I was looking for something constructive to do - alimony only goes so far!", she jokes. "But, I had never thought that what I had been doing for all those years just to help my friends might turn into a business. Later, I was talking to Steve Huntington and he encouraged me, said it would be perfect for me". Gates Music Management was born. "It really just came out of me trying to create a job for myself, doing something I loved to do."

Two years later, Gates Music Management boasts a close working relationship with a number of top Trop Rock acts, some she managers and some she helps and supports in whatever ways she can. "I feel it's important for them to find work however and wherever they can. So, in that regard I'm not exclusive with anyone. And I only work with artists I truly believe 100% in." 

"I don't expect to get rich from this. I do it because it makes me feel good and that makes it worthwhile"

I asked Shurl to give me the low down down of some of her favorite artists (note: Some of the bands mentioned can be found in previous posts in Beaches, Bands and Bars - Fred):

Homemade Wine - "They're from Knoxville, Tennesee. They started as a three piece, by brothers Ryan and Todd Sheley. Now, they're a full band and one of the most sought after acts in Trop Rock. They'll be playing on Thursday night at this year's Meeting Of The Minds."

Jimmy Parish & The Ocean Waves Band - "From Jacksonville, Florida. They stay extremely busy. He was just down here to play a pre-Buffett show party and will be back later this month to play at The Yard (more on The Yard later - Fred). Jimmy is the complete package. A great singer, songwriter and a true gentleman."

John Reno - "John is originally from New Orleans, so he has a definite jazz influence in his music. He lives in Fairhope, Alabama now but he spends alot of time here in Florida - especially in the Ft. Myers to Tampa area. He plays a wide variety of music, from soft, romatic ballads to over the top funny songs. The one everyone always wants to hear is 'Jello Shots'. He's an amazing songwriter and has a great feel for the audience when he's playing live."

Mike Aiken - "I've known Mike for many years. Back in the days of MySpace, I would look around for new music. I came across Mike's page and liked what I heard. But, I couldn't buy his cd - there was something wrong with the site. I'm not one to give up easily, so i looked around until I found a phone number, called and spoke to a woman. I asked her if Mike ever came down to Florida. The woman turned out to be Mike's wife, Amy, who put Mike on the phone. We developed a friendship and FINALLY, after six years, I was able to get him a gig down here at the Yard!"

Mike Miller - "Mike is from Illinois, a retired police man and founding member of the Boat Drunks. When he retired, he moved onto a sailboat and now spends his winters in Florida. We hosted a cd release party for him in September."

Freebo - "Bass player from California, has played with Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Dr, John - lots of great people. I met him at Meeting Of The Minds one year and loved his music. It's not traditional Trop Rock but it fits in with it. He played a gig here with John Frinzi."

Jim Hoehn - "From Wisconsin. I also met him at a MOTM and became a fan. He's an amazing storyteller and has been a big support to me."

Rob Mehl - "He's from Hawaii where they have a long history of 'talk stories'. He's a great storyteller."

AJ Swearingen - "Another local guy. He was hired to play my son's engagement party. There were lots of things going on but, in the middle of it all, I kept stopping to listen to him. I thought, 'I really love this guy!' He reminded me alot of John Frinzi. When it was over, I went up to talk to him and it turned out he knew John - had grown up in the same area! He's not really what you'd call Trop Rock, but close enough that Jeff Allen has started playing one of his songs on BeachFront Radio (Trop Rock internet radio station, featured previously in BB&B - Fred)."

Michael Weiss - "One night I walked into one of my favorite places in Tampa, the Hideaway Cafe, and Michael was playing. I became an instant fan. He's starting to make a big splash around here - played a Pre-Buffett party, has a song on BeachFront Radio."

Trop Rock Junkies - "They're from the Tampa area, do a Buffett tribute but also some originals. They played the B Stage before the recent Buffett show last month."

"Also, people like Paul Roush, John Friday, Bob Karwin. And another guy I have been talking to is Eric Stone, from the British Virgin Islands. Eric stays very busy there in the BVI, but I would love to work with him if the opportunity came up."

I also asked Shurl about her favorite spots - for live music, as well as food and drinks - in the Tampa area:

The Yard- It is literally a backyard of a home owned by a wonderful couple, Mark and Sharon Leveratte. About three years ago, they decided they wanted to host a House Concert. It was such a success that they decided to do more. As guys would come to me, I would suggest it as a place for them to play. Before you know it, they had built a palapa style stage with a tiki bar and were hosting shows once a month. Now they have a fire pit, bathrooms in the backyard, they're building a bunk house for travelling artists to crash in. It's amazing. They won "House Concert Venue Of The Year" at the Trop Rock Awards in 2010. And they don't make a dime. Every thing collected at the door goes directly to the artists and every dollar raised from raffles (of Sharon's handmade jewelry and Mark's carved wood signs) goes back into making the venue a better place for artists to play.  They do it all because they love the music!" (note: they are currently in need of a website and looking for a Trop Rock fan who might be willing to donate some time to make that happen - Fred)

Hideaway Cafe - "In St. Pete (St. Petersburg, FL), owned by Josh Kelly, who is an artist himself. It's a great listening room that hosts all indy artists, playing all original music."

The Palm Pavilion - "It's my favorite beach bar. Right on the beach in Clearwater, owned by a guy named Ken Hamilton. Great food, lots of room, a great place for artists."

Whiskey Joe's - "On the Causeway right as you come into Tampa. The Tampa Bay Parrothead Club meets there every week. They're building a brand new music venue right on the beach that will hold about 1500 people. I can't wait to do shows there!"

Skippers - "In Tampa. We just did the Coral Reefer Souls Show there, which was a huge success. Lots of possibilities for the future there."

Rapscallions - "In Land O Lakes, a suburb of Tampa. The bar there is named after Billy Peoples, a well known Florida Parrot Head. They host alot of Trop Rock."

"Also, two other places I love that are outside the Tampa area are Archies in Ft. Pierce - It's sort of a biker's bar, but with a Pirate theme - a great place, and The Nav-A-Gator near Arcadia, Florida- It's famous in Trop Rock circles."