Key West is like Trinidad without the mountains

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George Victory    “Key West is like Trinidad without the mountains”

Born in 1950, George Victory grew up in Five Rivers, a small village near Arouca in Trinidad.  He said there was only one river but you had to cross it five times as it snaked its way down Arouca. One of George’s teachers recognized his unique vocals when he was very young. His mother sang in the church choir. His father also sang — George said, “If you closed your eyes, you would think it was Al Green.”

He started performing in Trinidad at age of 9. A friend, Victor Lynch, took some photos of George playing a guitar. In 1959, Lynch entered George in a local competition where he sang an Elvis Presley tune, “Return to Sender”. He won and the local paper’s headline was “A young Elvis wins contest”, along with his photo.

Money was hard to come by and young George worked hard but didn’t have enough to buy his first guitar. His father took him into the city one day, and they went to a music store and looked at guitars. Afterwards his sent him off to another store to buy himself a jersey. When George returned, his father was waiting for him with a big box. They got on a bus and returned home. After dinner, his father asked him to open the box. His father and uncles had put together enough money and George had his first guitar.

George was allowed to play his guitar after he completed his school work and fed the goats and chickens. He taught himself to play a Louie Armstrong tune, “That Old Black Magic”. His father then encouraged him to learn the songs on the Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole albums. By the next day, George had taught himself songs from both albums. His father was impressed and sat in with him, singing Nat King Cole’s “For Sentimental Reasons.”

Victory’s first musical touring began after auditioning in Trinidad for Mighty Sparrow, also known as “Calypso King of the World”. He was hired and traveled extensively between 1965-1977. He also performed with Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff during this period.

In the mid 70s, Victory began playing with fellow Trinidad saxophonist Roy Cape and the All Stars in New York.  They opened for Ike and Tina Turner in Madison Square Garden. He also opened for several other groups — Commodores during their 1980 North American Tour, The Spinners, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Aretha Franklin.

In 1995, a friend called from Daytona Beach asking George to sit in on guitar for a few weeks. He played Spring Break on the Beach. Things went so well that they did not want George to leave and made him an offer that was good enough to match the serious New York commercial work he had been producing. He stayed and ended up buying a house on Daytona Beach.

In 2001, George was called by another friend living in Key West whose guitar player was sick.  After two weeks of playing in what is now Dante’s, the manager made George “an offer he could not refuse” and he stayed in Key West — a pattern emerged. He continued to get calls and would travel to Daytona, New York, and occasionally Tampa to play with friends but George considered Key West home. He said, “It’s like Trinidad without the mountains”. He formed a small band, The Observant Lion, and played in Key West venues.

George loved working with the soulful Robert Albury. He said the only time Robert is not singing is when he is sleeping. George and Robert performed together, often at Island Dogs and Sunset Pier. He also has a special relationship with Rolando Rojas and Yvan Agbo. They would make up excuses to get together and play music. I called them “the Guitar Buddies.”

Victory’s favorite gig was playing for King Mohammed Rashaad of Morocco for New Year’s, and the king’s birthday party. The king would fly him to Rabat, Morocco where George would perform and stay in the palace – not a bad gig.

His favorite music was the Blues. He grew up with all the fads, gadgets, and rock n roll but as he matured, he began to understand the “warmth” of music in the Blues. George Victory lost a long battle with heart disease in July 2016. A celebration of his life was held at Schooner Wharf Bar in October 2016 and was attended by all of his friends.

He is survived by his wife, Claudette, four children: Gregory, Kerensha, Cegee, and Hussain, 12 grandchildren, extended family, and countless friends. His daughter Cegee is a clarinet player with a great voice and has toured with the Wailers.


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