Hello, everybody, and welcome to my final installment on the Flora-Bama Lounge and Package on Perdido Key, Florida, at the Florida-Alabama state line. This month I'm going to tell you of three very colorful characters who were the first entertainers at the Flora-Bama. The good news is that they all still play there.
Ken Lambert (I mentioned Ken when I was writing of my early visits to Flora-Bama Land) was the first singer-songwriter, and first entertainer of any kind to play the club back when it was still very small.
He is a Georgia native who taught himself to play the guitar when he was fourteen and did a world of traveling (and I mean a "world" of traveling) before landing and staying on the Gulf Coast.
At age twenty-four, Ken traveled to California and ended up honky-tonking his way to Norfolk, Va., where he hopped a coal barge to Belgium, and landed with just enough money for a double brandy. From there he played for tips and meals in France, England, Spain, North Africa, Italy, did a short stint as a spaghetti western stunt man, then on to Germany and Denmark. This was all in the mid-1960s. What a time!
Ken returned to the States in 1967 and headed for Nashville. Upon meeting Kris Kristofferson, and living with him for about a year, he got serious about songwriting.
Since those early days, he's had songs recorded by Mel Tillis and Alabama, and recorded three albums of his own material.
Always a treat to hear in person, Ken Lambert delivers his country-folk originals with believable soul and a dry sense of humor. Here's to the Flora-Bama's pioneering troubadour! If you ever drop in, ask for "Slings and Arrows." You'll be a Ken Lambert fan from then on, trust me.
The name J. Hawkins may not be unfamiliar to some Louisvillians or Kentuckians since J. hails from the Bluegrass State. Though he hasn't spent much time there since 1976, he has on occasion dropped in to perform at some L.A.S.C. gatherings.
J. Hawkins was the second performer to play Joe Gilchrist's little beach bar just prior to Jimmy Louis, who we'll talk of shortly. When I think of J. Hawkins, I think of hard-core country music. I think of smoky bars, juke boxes, and dance hall couples swinging each other around the room in uninhibited joy for living. My earliest memories of J. are watching a gang of fifteen or twenty motorcyclists roar up to the Flora-Bama on a sunny Sunday afternoon to hear and see their hero. It was the mid-'80s and the crowd in the club was a total mixture of college kids, U.S. Navy cadets, tourists, and local clientele, and these bikers! All was peaceful. All was fun. It was a wonderful time.
J. Hawkins has a repertoire of original songs as bawdy and raunchy as you care to get. He also has some great honky-tonk tunes and he would pull them out one by one as the crowds on those Sunday afternoons would call them out and sing along with all the words. J. once let his mailing list know of his next independent release and collected over two hundred advance orders. Not too shabby!
J. is an energetic magnet on stage, especially at the Flora-Bama where he is loved by many. He was named Best Male Singer by the Pensacola News Journal's public opinion poll and Best Honky Tonk Club Singer of Birmingham, Ala., in 1992. He has written and recorded with the likes of Hank Cochran ("I Fall to Pieces") on his last album, Honky Tonker, and travels the road as well as playing frequent dates on the Gulf Coast. FOR A GOOD TIME, GO HEAR J. HAWKINS!
Jimmy Louis was born in Kansas City, Mo., swiped his brother's guitar at age seven, played covered-dish suppers at fifteen and never looked back. Jimmy, you see, was born to travel, born to sail, born to make music. He has owned and operated two nightclubs, a recording studio, and a booking agency, headed up show bands in Vegas and Reno, and plays nine instruments (mainly guitar). He has been a professional yacht captain, sailing to the Bahamas, West Indies and Mexico, as well as a policeman for a short time, once having been thrown through a large plate glass window. Take all this and add Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and David Allan Coe recording his songs, and you've got Jimmy Louis by the time he was thirty years old.
For the last ten years Jimmy has lived on his sailboat when he wasn't making trips to Nashville or playing clubs along the Gulf Coast. It's told that Jimmy and some friends were once out on the beach having fun when Jimmy picked up a mullet fish and threw it down the beach. His friends tried to see if they could better his throw and hence a new sport was born. "The Flora-Bama Mullet Toss" now draws about ten thousand people to the beach each April. Thanks for the party, Jimmy.
On a good night, Jimmy Louis is one of the finest blues singers alive. He has had two bands together that I have heard since the mid-'80s, including the hot sax playing of Larry Brown and Captain Eddy McCook, who I elaborated on last month. Jimmy has made a few records along the way which are pretty hard to find now, but he has recently adopted the name Chili Blu and has a new release on CD and cassette entitled Blue Sunset. He's hit the festival, club and concert trail again, playing basically delta blues. Jimmy's songs and voice are full of hot-blooded truth. He's lived it and you know it the minute he opens his mouth. Rock on, Chili Blu!
All three of these men are brothers of an elite kind. The "We Helped Start It" brotherhood of the Flora-Bama. Joe Gilchrist and Pat McClellan know this, and smile thankfully — a lot.
'Til next time, adios.
Alan Rhody is a Louisville native and hit songwriter who has resided in Nashville, Tenn., for the last 16 years. He can be reached for concerts and workshops at P.O. Box 121231, Nashville, TN 37212, or phone 615-251-3325 (Double J Music Group).