Bill’s life is one big blues set at an amazing gig
William Andrews Blue – “one big Blues music set at an amazing gig”
Once in a while a special person comes along and has an impact on your life, music, and everything special. Bill Blue impacted everything and everyone he touched. On July 14, 2022, we lost this extraordinary talented and well-loved blues musician.
William Andrews Blue was born in Aberdeen, North Carolina on July 23, 1946. The family moved to Yorktown, Virginia when Bill was very young. His life was changed forever on September 9, 1956 when Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. On Monday morning, Gibson guitars had their best sales day ever.
Like millions of other young men, Bill was amazed by Elvis and started playing the guitar. Later one night in Richmond, a very scared young Bill Blue got on stage for the first time at the Crossroads Coffee House and played a few of his own songs. He was very young and very good. He went on to make a living playing guitar all of his adult life – he even later got to meet Elvis.
Bill’s life changed again when he met Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup who wrote, “That’s All Right, Mama”, the first song Elvis Presley ever recorded. Big Boy also wrote “Rock Me Mama,” which Led Zeppelin recorded. Crudup was living in a shack in a migrant worker camp (aka “truck farm”). Bill and Big Boy put a band together and started performing locally. Around the same time, Bonnie Raitt’s new manager, Dick Waterman, was gathering old blues musicians to tour. Crudup got a call and was asked if he could put a band together and join their tour. The following week Bill Blue was playing with Crudup while touring with Bonnie Raitt – pure serendipity.
Crudup, who passed away in 1974, never received any royalties for his work. Bill wrote a song about Crudup called “On the Road for Big Boy”. He played it at almost every gig. Bill began touring on his own, sharing the stage with B.B. King, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers, and countless others.
His first musical gig in Key West was at Sloppy Joe’s on July 4, 1979. Bill was going through some tough personal times and touring had taken its toll. He returned to Richmond, told his band he was moving to Key West and offered them the opportunity to join him. They all thought he was absolutely crazy. In early 1980, after years of touring and a failed marriage, Key West became a safe harbor, a port in a storm that has lasted for over 35 years.
When Bill arrived in town, he hooked up with a group of musicians and formed a band called “Bill Blue & the Nervous Guys”. Regular gigs at Sloppy Joe’s put the group on the music map in Key West. In the mid 80s, Bill had a houseguest for six weeks – St. Petey Twig, known today as Barry Cuda. The two had met while touring Northern Europe. On his way to New Orleans, Cuda stopped in Key West to see Bill and play a few gigs. He began rolling a 350-pound upright piano to and from gigs around Key West and never made it to New Orleans.
One night, in 1994, while performing at Sloppy Joe’s, Bill’s high school sweetheart walked through the front door. Bill and Beverly immediately made eye contact. On a break, they spoke, reconnected, and began to fall back in love. Coffee Butler performed at their wedding – Bill’s fourth. They lived in a small houseboat. Beverly sang backup at Bill’s gigs. She dove for lobsters behind Garrison Bight. It was an amazing twenty-five-year love story.
The Green Parrot was hallowed ground for Bill. He was the first to play music, in 1983, at this most famous venue. He probably performed on the Green Parrot stage hundreds of times to tens of thousands of adoring fans. It’s a cathedral of Bill Blue music, a magical place.
After a twenty-year hiatus, Bill was working on a new CD release, Mojolation, an album of original blues. He asked me to plan the album cover a year in advance and suggested the shoot be in the Key West graveyard on a gray overcast day. He asked me to locate statuary of angels there. I wanted to get the best cover photo for my good friend so I surveyed the entire graveyard and located all the angels. It didn’t work. We shot hundreds of photos at three other locations. Nothing was working.
He was getting frustrated and tired. We drove around town, passing a home on Whitehead Street that Bill lost in a divorce, and continued down Whitehead passed the Green Parrot. They had just opened the side doors by the back bar, showing local artist Dave Wegman’s caricature art of Blues legend Robert Johnson. We looked at each other and both had the same idea at the same time. This was the shot!
As Bill and I walked into an eerily still and empty Green Parrot and casually strolled passed the stage, you could feel a ghostly chill from his thousands of fans in this special place. We had searched all over Key West for a cover shot, we both instantly knew we would get the album cover photograph we needed.
Bill loved the Green Parrot stage and especially his sound check fans. Caffeine Carl would often perform with him, and they would both rip up the stage. Carl performed Bill’s song, “Hunker Down”, at the recent Key West Blues Festival, and someone posted a video of the performance on Facebook. Bill saw it and sent Carl a message, “Thanks for doing my song…made me feel better…love you buddy.” Nothing could have made Carl feel better.
Quite fittingly, Bill Blue’s last performance in Key West was at a Green Parrot sound check on March 12, 2020, when he released his last album, The King of Crazy Town. Five days later, the world shut down with COVID.
Over the years, Bill Blue was always ready to help a friend in need. I’ve joked that he’s raised enough money to buy Miami – probably not too far off. One morning while having breakfast, our server who was a friend of Bill’s, asked if he had heard the news about Marilyn “Chicken” Moyer. Chicken was a longtime friend of Bill’s and a service worker that knew everyone in town. She had been going through cancer treatments and needed a little help. Bill said he would make some calls and host a fundraiser for Chicken. He told his friend, as she turned and walked away, “I’m always good for $10,000.” Bill hosted a big fundraiser, with many others, for Chicken at the Parrot and raised over $15,000.
Bill Blue’s life is a series of legendary and sometimes outlandish stories, that will be told and retold forever. An entire column could be written about how he wrote his famous song, “Hunker Down”, during the raging Category 4 Hurricane Francis, to calm his daughter Molly.
His life was one big extended Blues music set at an amazing gig. He could equally entertain a small group in a club or a huge crowd of thousands. He could master a solo acoustic ballad or rip up the stage with slide guitar magic. Bill had a sense of self that was confident but not overbearing.
Bill Blue was a member of the Board of Directors of the Bahama Village Music Program (BVMP) for over four years. He helped raise thousands for the music program with tireless fundraising. His family has suggested in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to – Bahama Village Music Program —
Bill was a gift to us all. ❤️
My wife and I loved Bill Blue’s music and watching him play was always a great event for all of us including watching him perform at a fund raiser at the Havana Docks bar at the Pier House years ago and watching him in the rain with my 85 year mother at Schooner Wharf a number of years ago. His death is so very sad, he was what Key West was meant to be and is.
What a talented musician and one hell of a guy! He will be missed by many! His soul will always be in Key West! Fly with the angels and say hi to Bev! God bless. ❤️🙏🏻🎶🎶
Wonderful to read – so sad to hear of Bill Blue’s passing ❤️
Always enjoyed seeing n hearing Bill Blue play music at The Green Parrot. He will be missed..😥🙏
Ralph… Beautifully done!!!!
Ralph… Thanks so much.. Your piece on Bill Blue. It is absolutely wonderful.
Great story, although i did regularly visit the key west places mentioned I do not remember seeing Bill unfortunately. Rest in peace.
Bill Blue was a beautiful “note” whose music, heart, and love for all helped us keep dancing.
Thanks Bill for sharing your music for all.
As a festival promoter I get calls and emails all the time from musicians wanting to play. One day I got a call from Bill Blue. In his raspy voice he said “ if you need an old Blues boy at one of your music shows I’d be glad to come up there and and do something.” I didn’t know bill at the time. That would have been 2003, but I did go online while we were talking and even back then there was so much to be found about Bill Blue. I told him I had a spot at the Sunday morning Blues brunch and he took it. He showed up with the Bev and camped in a tent. This set was at 10 AM and Bill was concerned that he would sleep past it, so he never went to sleep. Stayed up all night long around a fire telling stories. From that point forward Bill became one of our regular players at the Riverhawk Music festival. We became close bud’s…
Mitch this was Bill’s favorite activity outside of Key West. He loved Riverhawk and tried to convince me to come up for years. I finally attended in 2018 and I now understand why Bill loved it so much. Music in the great outdoors with a bunch of fun people and a really good facility. I won’t miss any Riverhawk Music Festivals. Save me a trailer this year.
Thanks for sharing the stories of Bill Blue. You are a great photographer as well as a writer! I look forward to your stories aboutKey West!
I knew Bill for about fifty years, never met a better man. I Love him and I miss him every day.
I know how you feel my friend. Its still sinking in that we lost Bill Blue. It’s hard to accept.
Thank you for the poignant and timely memory. Lived, loved, and made a difference.
Thank you, Ralph De Palma, for your perfect tribute. I am one of many Richmond, VA early fans of talented, Bill Blue. He was a gorgeous, kind, fun friend to us RPI (now VCU) students hanging out, having FUN, loving live music and, yes, staying up all night long. May he forever rest peacefully. He would thoroughly approve of your loving tribute!
Thank you. Bill was a great friend who I dearly miss.
God blessed us all with Bill Blue and his amazing talent.So grateful to be a part of his tribute this past weekend in Richmond,Va!!
As an 18 years old high school kid the bill blue band was my first departure from radio pop music. I know it was at hard times in Richmond va in 1978. What a journey he started for me. I remember the band walking through the crowd, across the bar top, out the door and singing in the middle of Cary street. I remember the live album they cut at hard times for adelphi and especially their version of hit the road jack. Unfortunately it was never released. 40 years later I got to ask bill about this and he said the recording was just not that good. Too bad because the show was awesome. Anyway, rest in peace bill, you’ve earned it
A live recording is difficult. A live recording outdoors is really difficult (airplanes, sirens, etc). Someone should check with whomever recorded the gig (probably not Adelphi) and see if some of the songs can be salvaged.