Key West Music Memories
After interviewing 142 Key West musicians, I’ve heard some great stories. I haven’t been able to squeeze many of the short stories into a musicians’ biography or even the weekly music column, so I thought I would share these three with you this week.
Closing of the Full Moon Saloon
For more than one reason, a long-established place, with a loyal following, closes its doors for the last time. It has happened to many places in Key West. The legendary Full Moon Saloon was one of those places. Key West was in transition from Navy town to tourist destination. The docks were full of shrimpers in town after weeks at sea, sailors doing what they had done for eons, smugglers, and DEA agents, all found themselves sitting in the same renegade atmosphere bar which opened in the Spring of 1977.
The Full Moon was originally located in the parking lot of the Southeast Motor Inn. On October 13, 1983, it was relocated to the corner of Simonton and Catherine streets across from the bank. The Moon was famous for its infamous patrons and those of a more respectable stature sitting side by side at the bar. Jimmy Buffett opened that night and was a frequent guest musician. During the 1980s, the Full Moon and Green Parrot would share Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys and the Survivors every few weeks.
While Key West was becoming a tourist mecca, the Moon didn’t seem to attract many tourists. Soon partners Sid Snelgrove, Vic Latham, and John Hellen could no longer afford to keep the Moon open. The Full Moon closed down on July 19, 1993. That night, the saloon was so full that drinks were being served through the side window on Catherine Street. The saloon was usually loud, and the band was often asked to lower the volume. However, on this night, you could hardly hear Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys for all the crowd noise.
On that night, Chris Clifton and Larry Baeder were playing at the Hog’s Breath Saloon and Bobby Donaldson and the Out of Hand Band were playing the Sloppy Joe’s. After everyone had finished their gigs, they met at the Full Moon Saloon. The jam was on. They did an hour-long version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”. On a table, in front of the stage, was a pile of cocaine (the statute of limitations has expired). They played music until 10 am the next day.
Dennis Wally, one of the Full Moon’s bartenders, served spicy pickled string beans in drinks at the Full Moon. When it was closing, drummer and chef Mick Kilgos, asked what would happen to those wonderful pickled beans. Dennis said, “We’re closing. You should start making these and sell them.” Mick’s Caribe Beans were born at the Full Moon Saloon on closing night. They are now served at the Green Parrot and many other locations.
Only in Key West
Joe Dallas, Harry Schroeder, Mike Gillis and a group of jazz musicians held an annual gig at a small church in old town. They call it “The Isle of Bones Concert”. It had nothing to do with Key West history and everything to do with three amazing trombone players in the group. I promised I would stop by and take a few photos.
I got some great photos of all the horns, Mike Gillis was holding court, Bubba Lownotes’ bass was on fire, and the music was great fun. It seemed like every horn in Key West was at this gig. When they took a break around 9 pm, I left to go to Schooner Wharf to hear good friend, Deb Hudson sing and then planned to stop at Hog’s Breath Saloon and hear the Carter Brothers. On the way to Schooner’s, I hear some fantastic blues coming from Island Dogs on Front Street. It was Larry Baeder and Ericson Holt kicking it pretty hard so I stopped to have a beer and listen to some great blues.
I finally made it to Schooner Wharf to catch the last few killer Deb Hudson songs. We decided to go together to the Hog’s Breath to catch the tail end of the Carter Brothers’ gig. Deb almost immediately gets invited up on the stage to sit in for a song or two. It was about 11:30 pm and Larry Baeder’s gig had ended. He showed up at Hog’s Breath to relax and have some fun. The Carter Brothers quickly had them both on stage and the music jam was fantastic. The best part is this happens all the time in Key West.
David Bromberg In the House
Richard Crooks, world class touring drummer, was one of the founding members of the Green Parrot Sunday Jazz sessions around 2010. More than once, Crooks’ long time touring partner and famous roots blues singer songwriter, David Bromberg, would visit him in Key West and sit in with him at the Sunday Jazz gig. Grammy nominee Bromberg has recorded with Columbia Records and has written/produced music with the best in the business. Crooks was his favorite drummer and a good friend. John Vagnoni, managing partner of Green Parrot, was a huge fan of both.
Vagnoni tells a story of one Sunday afternoon when he was behind the bar while Bromberg sat in with Crooks. The jazz band was performing one of Bromberg’s original blues songs. Vagnoni overheard a local patron sitting at the bar say something like “he sounds just like David Bromberg.” Moments like this in Key West are very special, and John Vagnoni couldn’t help himself, he walked over and got the patrons attention and said “That is David Bromberg.”
These Key West music memories are the main reason I do what I do.