Sam Cooke saved my life

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Les Greene   ”Sam Cooke saved his life.”

On the bar at the Green Parrot last year.

Les Greene, youngest of three brothers and one sister, was born in Baltimore, Maryland but his family moved to Guyana where he lived until age nine and then, they returned to Baltimore. His mother, Pinky Greene, home schooled him.

Interestingly, Guyana television stations did not broadcast commercials. Instead of commercial breaks, they showed photos/stills and played old 50s and 60s music like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Ben E. King. After returning to Baltimore, Les remembers seeing Little Richard, for the first time, on a rerun of Sesame Street and was reminded of the music he had heard in Guyana.

Les was starting to come to terms with his sexuality and remembers not being able to be himself around his siblings. Their misconception and lack of acceptance of his identity would almost lead to tragedy. His mother worked nights and his older siblings were usually out late. One evening, a teenage Les Greene was depressed and contemplated taking his own life. With no one home they would just find him later. While listening to a documentary playing in the background, he heard Sam Cooke singing “A Change Is Gonna Come”. The first words, “I was born…”, stopped him. Sam Cooke’s voice was like “resting his hand on my shoulder.” He listened to the rest of the song while crying on the floor. Les said that beautiful voice “spoke to my soul” and helped him get through his depression. Les became stronger – he was “… able to carry on”. To this day he credits Sam Cooke with saving his life.

Les can’t help himself every once in a while he gets airborne.

A few years later he took a job as a massage therapist on a cruise ship where he met Chris Toler from Key West who was entertaining onboard. Chris kept pulling Les up on stage to sing during his gigs. After the cruise ship gig, Chris invited Les to Key West and, in November 2014, he accepted. Key West reminds him of growing up in Guyana. He lived with Chris Toler and Jack Wolf on Caroline Street. Another roommate, Robert Pirtle, and Les started a duo called Applerouth Lane and performed on the Schooner Hindu.

Greene was invited to an open mike at the Coast Art Collective on Stock Island with Jerrod Isaman and his new group, Patrick and the Swayzees – a word play on the famous actor’s name and the group’s bass player, Patrick Stecher. Les sang a couple of songs and was invited to perform with them at their next Sunset Pier gig. At first, they had three gigs a week. Soon their meteoric popularity wouldn’t allow them to take a day off.

With Les Greene, everything has a backstory, everything has a connector, every song he writes and many of the covers he performs has an important meaning. A perfect example of this is the song lyrics to their original doo-wop hit, “My Baby Left Me In The Keys”. The music follows the melody of the 50s hit “Earth Angel”. He tried to think of how a songwriter in the 50s would write a song. Les thought it was the dumbest thing he ever did. He thought the audience would laugh them off the stage but the affect was totally opposite -the audiences loved it. No one was writing doo-wop in the 2000s – except Patrick and the Swayzees.

Les Greene and Patrick Stecher share a reunion moment at the Green parrot last year.

They became a real band around that song. They cherished their new original song. Everyone in the band chipped in to make it better. Patrick and the Swayzees have changed and evolved through the years but that original version of the band still has a special spot in Les’ heart.

After Patrick Stecher and Jerrod Isaman left the band, the name changed to The Swayzees although Les was called “Patrick” by the fans he met in Key West for several years. In addition to Greene, the current version of The Swayzees include Adonnas Jones (drums), Ricky Risquez (bass), Tony Armas (trombone), Alex Coombs (guitar, trumpet), and Ori Aravena (guitar). They performed at the Green Parrot last summer where I photographed Les jumping off the stage into the crowd. They will return to the Green Parrot stage Wednesday, April 24.

Les and Jerrod Isaman still get together once in a while. Shown here with Jerrod new band Jerico.

Its hard to determine who is the most acrobatic on stage Les or Jerrod.

Jerrod and Les still get together once in a while and rip it up. One such event occurred last month at the Aqua Complex Side Bar, Bird Cage Lounge. Jerrod was performing with his new band Jerico and Les joined in for almost thirty minutes of impromptu acrobatic joy. They still have a special magic connection on stage. Earlier that day, he and Jerrod recorded the 1965 Righteous Brothers hit “Justine” at the Key West Theater Recording Studio for a possible collaboration release.

In 2018, Les joined the 100,000 competitors of American Idol. He was included in the top 200 and invited to Hollywood. He made it through the top 50, realizing it’s more reality TV than musical competition. He returned to Key West and started a duo, with fellow band member pianist River Seine, called The River Les Traveled.

One day while rehearsing with the original Swayzees at Coast, they practiced Little Richard’s “Rip It Up.” Band member Tyler “T-Bone” McHone recorded it on his iPhone and posted it on their YouTube channel. Years later a producer working on the movie “Elvis” typed in “Little Richard covers” on Google and Greene’s recording was almost at the top of the list. They contacted Les and asked to use his voice for the movie. He flew to Nashville and recorded Little Richard’s famous hit “Tutti Frutti “in one take. The Producer ask if they would record a second take just for fun and add some Little Richard ad libs like “Let it all hang out”. He was nervous when the movie was released. He wasn’t sure if they used his recording or if Hollywood had cut it. He saw the movie with Chris Toler’s mother Camille and loved hearing his recorded version with a couple of his Little Richard ad libs included.

Les Greene is planning something special for his tenth anniversary in Key West coming this November. Stay tuned – don’t change that channel. He wants it to be big with lots of musicians.


Les and his money shot from a standing jump.




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