When all else fails I play Dead – Grateful Dead

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Mary Spear     “When all else fails, I play Dead”

Her unmatched style has a distinct sweetness.

Mary Spear was raised in Carroll, Iowa. At fourteen, she listened to recordings of Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan and started playing the guitar.  While in high school, Mary attended summer music programs at the University of Vermont. 

She lived on Lake Okoboji in Iowa, which had numerous dinner clubs and tea houses.  She said she couldn’t get a regular job but would play and sing in the clubs. Mary moved to Wisconsin and played with the seven-piece, Wisconsin River Song Band. They played festivals along the northern tier states. Several in her band played Key West in the winter. Mary said they were “the smart ones.” After her divorce, she sold everything in Wisconsin and packed her personal belongings, including her handmade twelve- string guitar, in her 1972 Dodge van. With the band members, Mary headed south for the winter of 1977. She has been in Key West ever since.

Mary Spear sings with the Sunday Jazz Jam at the Green Parrot.

Her first gigs in Key West were at Las Palmas (now Cafe Sole), Amy’s, Casa Marina, and on the Schooner Diamante (before it moved on land and became Schooner Wharf). Her band mates moved on to Hawaii, and Mary stayed in Key West, playing mostly solo gigs. Her special gigs were with Grateful Dead cover bands, playing at Barefoot Bob’s (now Willie T’s). She played in the house band, The Crispy Critters, with Pete Jarvis, Wayne Hammond, and Walter Yarborough.


Her daughter, Natalie Wood, was conceived on April Fool’s Day 1984 and born in January 1985. Natalie was raised in Key West, graduating from Key West High School, and now runs her own floral design. Today, Natalie McIntyre is married and has given Mary three beautiful grandchildren.

Mary Spear and Bubba Lownotes perform together often.

Mary played at Blue Heaven when it opened in the early 1990s and has had a steady gig there for over thirty years. This may be a Key West record. For over nine years, Mary performed with Viki Cateri as the Twysted Sisterz, playing all over Key West.  Through the years, she has also appeared with Coco Channing and Amy Lee as Twysted Sisterz. Some of Mary’s biggest fans are the members of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer band. When in Key West, they would always make sure that Mary was playing when they visited Blue Heaven.


With her eclectic wardrobe, striking hats, and her sweet voice, Mary is a highlight of the Sunday Jazz Jam at the Green Parrot. Mary has performed all over town with almost everyone. A favorite gig was the Little Room Jazz Club.

Like many artists, Mary performed online during the Covid pandemic. She focused on changing habits, eating better and getting healthier. Mary says the result is she’s “half my size, twice as good, and ready to play more”.

Currently, Mary performs at the Artisan Market, Gardens Hotel on Wednesdays, and often at the Old Stone Church. On Sunday nights, she performs with Coco Channing at Blue Heaven. She has performed in Tampa periodically with Uncle John’s Band, a Grateful Dead tribute band.

Her voice is simply wonderful and delicious.

Lately, Mary has rediscovered her jazz roots. The all new Jazz aficionado Mary is covering many more Diana Krall tunes like “Peel Me A Grape”. She’s also reaching back for some old Linda Ronstadt tunes and Joni Mitchel. Mary says, “When all else fails, I play Dead” … Grateful Dead.

In a 2017 Music Scene article, Bucky Montgomery said, “Mary Spear is a Key West icon who never loses her sense of optimism. The hippie chick, a folk singer with an angel’s voice, has a lesson for us all: “The world is better at peace.”

She also is an enthusiastic participant in community fundraising events and benefits for her fellow musicians. Mary doesn’t fit into any category and that’s the way she likes it. After 45 years, Mary is happy to call Key West home.

Mary Spear at the Key West Musicians Festival


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