Jose Wejebe – full tilt boogie
Jose Wejebe, born January 18th, 1959 in Cuba, immigrated with his family to Miami in 1961. He grew up loving the waters of Biscayne Bay, and learned to fish at a very young age. In the 60s and 70s, Miami was very difficult for the fast migration of 600,000 Cubans. Help wanted ads in the Miami Herald would read “must speak English” and “must be citizen”. These ads would soon change to read “must be bilingual” and the large Hispanic population would become a dominant force.
At age 17, Jose was training dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium where he met his future wife, Lynne Calero. Lynne was originally attracted to Jose because of his inner drive to be the best at whatever he attempted. They fell in love, married, moved to the Keys, and had a daughter, Krissy. They lived on Big Pine Key in 1981 and later moved to Summerland Key. Jose worked as a charter captain and Lynne worked at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon.
Jose originally wanted to name his first boat “Tarpon Terror” but longtime friend and mentor, Stu Apte, cringed at the thought. Apte suggested to Jose, who was a young good looking Cuban that loved fly fishing and was an expert at tying great fishing flies, “Why not name your boat a play on words of the famous (aphrodisiac), Spanish Fly?” Jose loved the idea.
Soon after moving to the Keys, Jose met Keys musician Terry Cassidy while playing racquetball, and they became great friends. Terry discovered Jose was a fisherman who loved music, and Jose discovered Terry was a musician who loved fishing. That began a great friendship sharing both passions that would last until Jose tragically passed away.
According to Terry, Jose went “full tilt boogie” regarding his music as he did with his fishing. Jose learned ‘flatpicking’, a difficult guitar skill made famous by the Doc Watson bluegrass style, playing up and down every single note. Jose got very good at it.
Terry and Jose started playing seriously together around 1986, about the same time Terry started playing a lot of solo gigs. Terry could tell when Jose struggled with some songs that he loved like “Brown’s Ferry Blues” or “Salt Creek”. Terry would notice this struggle and make snarky comments like “Hey little buddy, are you having some difficulty?” or “Are we playing too fast for you?” Jose would get even with Terry when out fishing. If he saw Terry struggling with a 35-40-pound tuna, he’d reach over and say “Hey little buddy, you having trouble with that little tuna?”.
Jose had a natural gift when you were speaking with him – he made you feel as you were the most important person in the world. He was always a conservationist and practiced ‘catch and release’ constantly. He hated to take more fish than needed for a meal.
Once on a road trip to Miami, Terry suggested they do a video of them playing music together and then switch over to fishing together and then switch back and forth. Jose thought it was a great idea, and it became Jose’s first Spanish Fly fishing show on ESPN in 1995. The show was an immediate success and Jose’s fame and fortune quickly expanded with major sponsors of boats, engines, and tackle.
The soon famous ESPN weekly show became part of the Keys culture and lifestyle for over seventeen years. Jose was a very good storyteller at passing along his passion for fishing to his soon large audience. The fishing details that Jose would put into his shows were unique, and his shows would always include very cool music. Usually, he would end playing acoustic guitar. Long before I moved to the Keys, I was hooked on the weekly Spanish Fly fishing show.
I would often run into Jose with his tackle spread out all over a dock at Murray Marine where he kept his boat. One evening at Virgilio’s in Key West, Jose walked in with General (aka Stormin’ Norman) Schwarzkopf after a day of fishing.
One Friday night, in 2001 at Rob’s Hot Dogs, formerly of Summerland Key, two musicians were playing great acoustic guitar music on the seawall – it was Terry Cassidy and his close friend the “Spanish Fly”, Jose Wejebe. It was a great night of music and fun. Jose played guitar with Terry almost weekly at Sloppy Joe’s and on stage all over the Lower Keys.
On the morning of April 6, 2012, I received a call from a fishing buddy who was an air traffic controller at Key West Airport. He told me that Jose’s private plane had crashed on takeoff at Everglades City and in an instant, Jose was gone.
From the very first Spanish Fly fishing show on ESPN with Jose and Terry out tuna fishing until his untimely death, they were two close friends sharing two very different passions – only possible in the Florida Keys. The guitar that Terry plays today is Jose’s. The Jose Wejebe Foundation will host the Spanish Fly Music Festival, January 29th from 1-6pm, at Boondocks Grille on Ramrod Key.
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