A Good Natured Hippie

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Photo Credit to Richard Watherwax

Bill Huckel   “A good natured hippie”

In the 60s Counter Culture Era, the Navy was closing the submarine base and Key West was becoming a haven for the Hippie movement. Bill Huckel was one of the first to arrive and became very entrepreneurial and successful. He was part of the local environmental supporters with a huge, smiling personality. He loved music and his nickname was “dancing Bill.

Gallagher Music, a music store located in the 600 block of Duval Street, was Huckel’s first record and music store. Clayton Lopez, a young local musician, had just formed a new band called Brothers Incorporated. Huckel loaned Lopez an expensive and very large transistor Standel amplifier. Later, he dropped the amp off at Clayton’s home for long term storage.

Clayton’s brother Calvin would “borrow” the Standel amplifier and roll it down the sidewalk to the city’s pool meeting rooms, for afternoon rehearsal with his music group. Calvin formed the beginnings of the now famous Soul group that would later include Buck Henry, brother Clayton and sister Mina’s vocals and became known as Masterpiece.

Bill Huckel continued with more community work, got married, had a child, and was a big part of why the renovation of the city pool (now the MLK pool) was restored in the 70’s. He helped raise money from the community for over three years. He was also one of the organizers of the march on the segregated skating rink.

His community activity would lead to his formation of an alternative newspaper, Solaris Hill News which was named after the highest elevation in Key West, eighteen feet above sea level. It would feature the views of environmentalists and other opponents of rampant development and focused its attention on a myriad of Key West conflicts. Solaris Hill featured original artwork and poetry along with advertisements for local businesses. The paper was unique and continued Bill’s sometimes irreverent highlighting of important civic issues, including civil rights struggles in Key West.

Huckel would return to his musical roots once in a while. An early story documented the music of the first formal gig of a “young Nashville folk gypsy” named Jimmy Buffett, at a local hippie scene musical retreat called Crazy Ophelia’s. Owners John Young and Hank Villate invited this Key West newcomer to perform January 27, 1972 at their non-alcoholic coffee house restaurant.

Crazy Ophelia’s became a hangout for local hippies and musicians. There was already some buzz around the island about this new talent. The place was filled with anticipation. The review of the two-set show by Huckel, a leader of Key West’s counterculture community, was prophetic. He said Buffett “picked and plucked at the strings of his guitar and the hearts of a hushed crowd…” He went on to state that Buffett was “a spokesman for this generation.”

Bill Huckel got Tom Corcoran, the famous Chartroom bartender/photographer/mystery writer and friend of Buffett, to write stories for Solaris Hill about what he overheard from the many famous, and sometimes infamous, patrons at the Chartroom. Tom wrote the column, “Mock Turtle Soup”, under the alias named “Lyle Johnston”. He named names and used a lot of stories he overheard but avoided anything hard hitting. Everything was going well until one day the local sheriff, who was a Chart Room regular, asked one too many questions about Lyle Johnston. “Have you seen him around” the sheriff asked Tom. Tom responded, “I heard he died yesterday.” That was the end of the Mock Turtle Soup column and Corcoran made sure Lyle Johnston stayed dead.

Later, Huckel would go on to form Solaris Hill productions and recorded a series of 45 vinyl records. Good friend and longtime Key West musician Terry Cassidy, very generously, gave me a copy of one of the records, called Key West Memories. It was recorded in Dan Simpson’s Private Ear Studio and included two original songs written by Ellen Welters Sanchez, “The Beautiful Isle of Key West” and “I’m Yours Truly”. Both were performed by Coffee Butler.

Miss Ellen, as most referred to her, taught piano to everyone in Key West for over 50 years. “The Beautiful Isle of Key West” was written for President Harry Truman in 1948, and her favorite piano student, Coffee Butler, perform it for him at the dedication of Truman Avenue in November 1948. Her godson Lofton Coffee Butler always remained her favorite and Bill Huckel loved them both.

This good-natured hippie, as Tom Corcoran called him, was a force in the changing Key West civic development of the 70s and early 80s, a lifelong music lover, and later, a born again Christian. Like many others of that era, he was overwhelmed by the demons of addiction. He lost nearly everything because of it but always remained a hero of the hippie-artsy community of Key West. He passed away in 2011 and is remembered by those in the early Key West music scene, especially his life-long friend, musician, and now City Commissioner, Clayton Lopez who encouraged and helped me to tell this story.

One Comment

  • Clayton Lopez says:

    Thankful that Bill’s story is being told. There’s so much more to it than can be told here. But, his contributions to the entire community need to be acknowledged. Thank you Ralph DePalma

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