Passports and planes: South Florida and the Beatles in 1964

Story written for the Stuart/Port St. Lucie News (on Florida’s “Treasure Coast”) in February, 2004, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America.

I had asked readers with any connection to that momentous event, however tenuous, to call me and share their memories.

These were the responses I got. The big surprise came a day or two after this story was published … I’ve included it at the very end.


Stuart resident George Lowe isn’t a Beatles fan, and never was, but during his tenure as a vice counsel at the American embassy in Paris in January 1964, he got closer to them than many fans ever would.

Just before their trip to New York and the Ed Sullivan shows, the Beatles were playing a two-week stand at Paris’ Olympia Theatre. Manager Brian Epstein arranged for the quartet to get their H1-H2 visas, which would allow them to work in America.

“Normally they would’ve had to go back to their hometown in Liverpool to get their work visa,” says the 75-year-old Lowe, a resident of Stuart. “But their manager didn’t want them to go back to England; they’d lose money. It was just time and a problem.

“I think they asked somebody in the embassy, probably our boss, for a waiver for the Beatles. They were give the exception and didn’t have to go back to Liverpool.”

As a visa agent, it fell to George Lowe to interview the Beatles before giving them clearance to work abroad.

“They came all together with their agent, and they joked around in the outer lobby,” Lowe says. People were laughing because they had to wait. They put their names in, and they went through the same system as everybody else. We got little cards on them, and the cards said ‘Don’t ask them any hard questions, they’re OK.’ In other words, they’re pre-approved by somebody.”

There were two agents in the office, and the four Beatles were split between them.

“I don’t remember which two I had,” says Lowe. “They were young and they were very pleasant. They had those haircuts and those Cockney accents.”

The brief questions asked were routine – were they returning to England? Did they have permanent places of residence?

“They said yeah, they were coming back,” Lowe says with a chuckle. “And I remember them saying they hoped they’d make money.”

One of the original jet pilots for Pan Am, Dean Postlewaite often took the big birds from London to New York.

On Feb. 7, 1964, Postlewaite – who has spent the last 20 winters on Hutchinson Island with his wife Betty – flew into history. He had the Beatles on his plane, on their way to America for the very first time.

“He didn’t even know who they were, although they had told him in London,” says Betty Postlewaite (at her husband’s request, she told his story for this article). “They told him these characters were getting on the plane, but it didn’t mean anything to him. He didn’t know who the Beatles were.”

The pilot had no interaction with his passengers, and didn’t think much about it – until the end of the flight.

“When they got to the airport in New York, there was this big mob there,” Betty Postlewaite explains. More than 3,000 teenagers were there to greet the plane. “He came home and told us and, of course, our three kids got all excited.”

Dean, now 87, retired in 1976.

“When I think of all the others that he’s done – he had John F. Kennedy on his plane once – everybody seems to think the Beatles were the most historic,” says Betty.

“He doesn’t like to talk about it – he’s pretty quiet – but it was his claim to fame. We’ve always joked about it.”

For Lovedy Lytle of Port St. Lucie, talking about the Beatles brings back bittersweet memories.

Lytle’s late husband, Hub, was a saxophone, clarinet and flute player for Ed Sullivan’s orchestra in New York City. IN 1964, not long after the couple had retired to Florida, Hub got an offer to do “pickup” work as part of he studio band for the Beatles’ second Sullivan appearance, which was to be broadcast, live, from the Beauville Hotel on Miami Beach.

“He was hired for the gig because they knew he was down here,” Lytle says.

“When he got this call about them, he said ‘Who the hell are the Beatles?’” Lytle says with a laugh. “He was far from a teenager.”

Still, he got the job, and during rehearsal on the morning of Feb. 16, he came out through the hotel lobby and handed his wife three tickets.

“So my daughter and her boyfriend were privileged to see the Beatles at the Deauville,” Lytle says. “And in their age group, of course, that was a big thing.”

For her part, Lovedy Lytle was a jazz fan and none too impressed. “Well, the kids enjoyed it,” she says.

Hub spent the next six years as a member of Jackie Gleason’s Miami-based TV orchestra. He died in 1992.

Stuart resident Pamela Hurst Bachmann was at the Deauville that cold Sunday in 1964. She was 15 years old and living with her parents in Hollywood when a man for whom she baby-sat offered her four tickets to the Ed Sullivan broadcast; he couldn’t go. She was already a huge Beatles fan and couldn’t believe her good fortune.

Along with her boyfriend and her parents, Bachmann waited for hours in the Deauville lobby to get inside the ballroom. Her father wanted to go because singing starlet Mitzi Gaynor was also on the show that day.

“We had pretty decent seats,” Bachmann recalls. “But when the Beatles came on there was so much screaming and noise, because it was not a large place, with a low ceiling.”

It was hard, she says, to discern which songs the group was performing, because of the screams around her. “And I was actually doing my fair share.”

Published in the Stuart News Feb. 7, 2004.

And then there was this …

Paul Cole, of the Barefoot Bay community (near Vero Beach) respondent to my request just after the above story had been published. I told him it was too late, but I wanted to hear his Beatles story anyway.

It blew me way.

Shortly after I published Mr. Cole’s incredible tale, I was contacted by several British newspapers, asking how to get in touch with him. They didn’t get it from me, but they soon found him, and made him very briefly famous.

@2004 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

You want to talk about being in the right place at the right time?

Paul Cole, a retired salesman on Florida’s Treasure Coast, is in one of the most beloved, most reproduced and most iconic photographs of the past 35 years.

Get out your copy of Abbey Road, the final Beatles album, and still the best-selling record of their illustrious career. You’ll see the four Beatles walking single-file on the crosswalk in front of their recording studio, which just happened to be on Abbey Road in north London.

In the background, just behind John Lennon, is Paul Cole.

The picture was taken on the morning of Aug. 8, 1969. Photographer Iain McMillan brought the four Beatles outside, had them walk back and forth a few times, shot for 15 minutes and called it a day.

The picture everybody liked found the Beatles stepping symmetrically.

At that very moment, Cole – on vacation from Deerfield Beach – had opted out of entering a museum on Abbey Road with his wife.

“I told her ‘I’ve seen enough museums. You go on in, take your time and look around and so on, and I’ll just stay out here and see what’s going on outside,'” says the 93–year-old Cole, who was in his 50s at the time.

Parked just outside was a black police vehicle.

“I like to just start talking with people,” Cole says. “I walked out, and that cop was sitting there in that police car. I just started carrying on a conversation with him. I was asking him about all kinds of things, about the city of London and the traffic control, things like that. Passing the time of day.

“I don’t know why he was sitting there for so long; maybe he knew that was coming, I don’t know. But he showed no evidence of it at all.”

Cole and the police van are visible in several of McMillan’s available alternate shots, all taken from the same spot (atop a stepladder in the middle of the street).

“I just happened to look up, and I saw those guys walking across the street like a line of ducks,” he recalls. “A bunch of kooks, I called them, because they were rather radical-looking at that time. You didn’t walk around in London barefoot.”

About a year later, Cole first noticed the Abbey Road album on top of the family record player (with Paul McCartney sans shoes). He did a double-take when he eyeballed McMillan’s photo.

“I had a new sportcoat on, and I had just gotten new shell–rimmed glasses before I left,” he says. “I had to convince the kids that that was me for a while. I told them ‘Get the magnifying glass out, kids, and you’ll see it’s me.

“And they saw it, and they went ‘Oh, boy!’ We had a laugh about it.”

The story of River Phoenix and Aleka’s Attic

When Josh McKay’s friends learned that the 22-year-old guitarist was considering moving to Florida to play in a band with teenage actor River Phoenix, they suggested he might be crazy. Movie stars, they said, can’t make music. You’ll be back in Texas in a month.

But in 1988 Denton, a suburb of Dallas, was nowheresville as far as Josh McKay was concerned, and the primitive recordings he’d received from Phoenix were encouraging. “It was really nice, these really tight jam-box garage tapes,” McKay remembers. “It definitely struck me that, ‘This is about music. It’s not about some hobby trip.’” He’d had a couple of long, deep phone conversations with the young actor, about music, and creativity, and what they meant. He hadn’t seen any of River Phoenix’s movies.

River Phoenix, 1988 in Micanopy, photographed by John Moran.

Phoenix, who was not yet 18, had recently moved to a farmhouse near Micanopy, Florida – a rural town outside of Gainesville – with his family. At the time, he was onscreen in Running on Empty, which would bring him an Academy Award nomination.

River was passionate about music. He’d been playing guitar since the age of 4, and wrote his first song when he was 8. As a teen, his obsessions were punky singer/songwriter Elvis Costello, Ireland’s deep-thinking U2 and the feisty British pop band XTC.

On the basis of his original songs, Phoenix had secured a development deal from Chris Blackwell, president of Island Records, which had U2 on its roster. Island laid out funds to put a band together, to rehearse and record demos, and – provided the music was good enough – they’d promised to record a proper album at the end of the two-year deal.

So when the Phoenix family relocated to Florida from Eugene, Oregon in 1988, the first thing River did was claim the detached garage behind the house as his rehearsal room. He called it the Attic.

One of Blackwell’s A&R reps knew Josh MacKay and his (defunct) Texas band, Joshomisho, and thought she heard a similar, free-form element in River Phoenix’s songs.

Phoenix was making his home tapes with Josh Greenbaum, also 17, who came up from South Florida just to help his friend start the band. Greenbaum’s mother had grown up with Arlen “Heart” Phoenix, River’s mother, in the Bronx, and the families stayed close through the years.

Greenbaum had drummed for a metal band – after he left, the group changed its name to Saigon Kick and got famous – and he had to learn a whole new way of playing, softer and with complex rhythm changes, to jell with River.

Greenbaum’s fondest memories are of the days he and his friend sat on the trampoline in the Phoenix back yard, working out songs.

Out in Texas, McKay was half-heartedly taking anthropology classes and wondering what to do next. He found himself drawn in by the songs on the cassette tapes, and began inventing basslines around them, although he was a guitarist by training and hadn’t ever seriously played bass.

Still, he was intrigued, and once he discovered that he shared other interests with Phoenix – a vegetarian lifestyle, and a strong belief in animal rights – he decided it might not be so strange after all.

“I left as soon as my finals were done; I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McKay recalls. “I just said ‘this is a very unusual thing to fall down from out of nowhere’; some people down in Florida, in Gainesville where I’ve never heard of, want me to come out and hang out, and maybe play together. I didn’t have anything in Denton happening that looked like a musical forward motion.”

Included in the development deal was a retainer fee for the chosen musicians, so McKay’s room and board was picked up as long as Island remained on the line. Both he and Greenbaum lived with the Phoenix family for the first year.

Josh Greenbaum and River picked him up at the Gainesville Airport, and McKay loved the area, the home and the family – River, his parents and his four siblings – as soon as he got a look at them. It was very much a ‘Yes,’” he says, smiling at the memory. “Really, really good feeling together immediately.”

McKay was accepted into the extended family; he and River hit it off and furiously began writing and singing together. Sister Rain Phoenix, two years younger than River, was recruited to play keyboard and sing harmony, and the band was completed with the addition of 17-year-old Tim Hankins, a Gainesville native, on viola.

Hankins met Rain through a mutual friend. A member of the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra, he’d never before played pop music – a good thing, because the band wasn’t about to do things in the usual way. The key word was experimentation.


Toys in the attic

Clockwise from left: Tim Hankins, River Phoenix, Rain Phoenix, Josh McKay and Josh Greenbaum.

Aleka is a poet and philosopher. The Attic is a meeting place where he lives, and he has a secret society. They come and visit him and read his works.

He then dies, and they meet regularly and continue the readings of his works, and from that learn their own, and become filled with this new passion for life.  And they express it through our music.

River Phoenix, 1989, interview with the author

Following a two-week tour of east coast clubs in early ’89, the band – now called Aleka’s Attic – joined the Gainesville music scene. River, his bandmates agree, was dedicated to his craft and paid little attention to those who said Aleka’s Attic was nothing more than a vanity project.

“He was the most annoyingly committed guy you’ve ever met in your life,” says Greenbaum. “Nonstop, every moment.”

Adds McKay: “For him, everything that mattered, he would cram in at the same time. So each limb was independent, because his time was precious. His time to enjoy was just as precious as his time to be creating music.”

The pattern began almost immediately: River was off to Los Angeles to make another movie, and then another, and each time Aleka’s Attic sat dormant in Gainesville for months at a stretch. The two-year development deal was frozen each time he left on a film assignment.

“There was a lot of change and readjustment of lives,” Greenbaum remembers. “It became a problem at times, it definitely did. Never to the point where there were big fights or anything.”

McKay: “He was at the mercy of a lot of other forces, and we were second generation from that.”

Greenbaum: “We were kind of at the mercy of his career.”

Tim Hankins, in particular, grew to resent the interruptions. “We’d practice for six or eight months, and we’d kind of reach this apex … and then he would go off for three months and do a film,” he says.

“It was like coitus, you know? It was like we worked toward something that never came to fruition.”

Hankins says River went out of his way to be nice to fans, to distance himself from the 40-foot-tall guy on the movie screen.

“He always took this posture of trying to dissolve this myth that had been created,” Hankins explains. “If you saw the way he dressed … if you didn’t know him, you’d think he was a homeless person.”

Likewise, he didn’t play bossman with his bandmates. “River was one of the most diplomatic people I’ve ever known,” Greenbaum says. “He had a way of making things flow – of taking energy from one place and driving it in another direction. He was constantly trying to keep things peaceful.”

In 1991, the Phoenix/McKay composition “Across the Way” appeared on Tame Yourself, a benefit album for People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A multi-layered, stream-of-consciousness piece about hypocrisy, it is the only Aleka’s Attic song ever to be officially released in River’s lifetime.

That year, Phoenix made the films Dogfight and My Own Private Idaho back-to-back. “After we did two-and-a-half months’ touring, up the East Coast twice, then we came back and  did the ‘Here’s where we’re at’ demos,” Greenbaum says.

“But as soon as we finished it, River went off to do press stuff for three months. And so Island was just sitting there with the demos. That was really the big period of change.”

Tim Hankins says he “just couldn’t get along” with River any more, and by late spring he’d left the band.

In August, Aleka’s Attic re-convened as a quartet, with the intention of really getting their album into gear. River returned all excited, McKay recalls, because he had ben offered the big-budget movie Sneakers.

“We started talking about going to L.A.,” the bassist says, “and instead of making the record the band would practice when he wasn’t doing the film. And I just sort of crumbled under that concept.”

Remaining in Gainesville, McKay and Hankins put together another band, Emperor Moth.

Greenbaum went to California with River and Rain; with T-Bone Burnett producing, they cut a couple of demos for Island while Sneakers was in production, using guest bass players.

“Those two demos that we did in L.A., those were pretty much the crux of the deal,” according to Greenbaum. “This was it. We had already gone over the two-year thing, and we had got to the point where we had to make a decision. It was overdue.”

Island heard the tapes – and passed. “It wasn’t like they just dropped us; they heard the demo and it wasn’t – in my opinion – marketable enough for them.”

A man possessed

River was actually relieved; he decided to finance and record the album on his own, at his own pace.

Today, there are 20 or more incomplete songs “in the can” at Pro Media Studios in Gainesville, the result of several furious months of recording in 1992 and ’93. Those who were at the sessions say River worked like a man possessed, as if he knew his time was short.

River Phoenix played his last two Gainesville shows in October 1992, with Rain, Josh Greenbaum and a bassist named Sasa Raphael.

“We still considered ourself a band – it was Rain, Sasa, River and I,” Greenbaum explains, adding that the group billed itself as the Blacksmith Configuration.

“It was rawer, and I think more nitty-gritty than ever. We became the tight garage band that we’d started as. We came full circle, in a way, but more mature.”

Hollywood beckoned again, and this time River accepted three movies in a row. “At that point, I began to look for things to keep myself busy,” Greenbaum says. “I decided I just can’t live for this one thing any more. I gotta make stuff happen.”

Greenbaum joined the jazz group Scarf & the Happy Dragons (later renamed Mindwalk) and Big White Undies.

River died Oct. 31, 1993, two months after the last session at Pro Media. A lethal combination of drugs killed him on the sidewalk outside L.A.’s Viper Room nightclub; he was expecting to jam that night with the house band. He was 23.

Josh Greenbaum maintains his friend didn’t abuse drugs. “I know that the time I spent with him was spent trying to be as healthy as we could,” he says. “Not only physically, but in lots of other ways, mentally.

“He was totally pro-life, and pro-happiness, and was constantly trying to make himself and everyone around him better.”

He wasn’t an angel – name one musician who is, Greenbaum asks– but he wasn’t a junkie. Josh believes River simply got run down on the Los Angeles fast lane.

“L.A. is a swamp, it’s a pit,” he says. “And I think it was just one night of … having too much fun. Simple: Young person making a mistake.”

Tim Hankins had settled his differences with River – he even played on some of those last sessions – and was chummy with him again before leaving in the spring to study music at the University of Miami.

“I spent three years of my life devoted to this thing, and we had some pretty amazing adventures,’ Hankins explains. “Some pretty difficult times, and some pretty great times. It was just a really amazing journey to be on.”

Josh McKay was two weeks into an extended tour of Indonesia when he got the news. On Nov. 5, he was scheduled to check in with his brother in Gainesville, for the first time since he’d left. His travels were taking him through jungles and over mountains, away from telephones and newspapers.

Before he left Bali for Sumatra, Josh intended to give his brother a forwarding address – River had expressed an interest in joining him, and McKay was hoping to spend some “quality time” with his former bandmate and songwriting partner.

Over dinner in his hotel, McKay struck up a conversation with a man from Finland, a musician and composer. They talked about music, mostly.

“Our conversation was just a real nice exchange,” McKay recalls. “And it ended up turning very abruptly and very unexpectedly, with him mentioning having read an article about some young American actor who died.

“And instantly, the hammer struck.”

@1994 Bill DeYoung/The Gainesville Sun













When Elvis followed his dream to Florida

@1999 The Gainesville Sun


On a lonely stretch of State Road 40, the pine forest gives way to sawgrass and sabal palm as the Gulf of Mexico draws near. A concrete bridge spans the Withlacoochee River, angling slightly left before the road flattens out again and continues toward the big water. Eleven miles to the south, the twin towers of the Crystal River nuclear power plant loom like smoking concrete volcanoes. These days, nobody comes out here much, except fishermen looking for a boat ramp or teenagers looking for privacy.

For six weeks in the summer of 1961, however, this place had everyone’s attention. It was here that Elvis Presley, at the height of his fame, brought a whole Hollywood contingent to make a movie called Follow That Dream. Before he left, Presley had Levy County, and much of North Central Florida, all shook up.

Eugenia Burns was 14 and lived in Cedar Key; her mother volunteered to drive her and some friends the movie set. Off they went one morning to Yankeetown, four in the car with Mom at the wheel, followed by a load of girls in another car. “We drove up there, and they must have been between takes,” Burns recalls. “We could see Elvis, and my mother cautioned us about being real quiet and not screaming and yelling. Well, he looked up and he saw us, and we were being calm and everything.

“We went to the end of the road and turned around, and we were driving real slow, and when we came back to the set he had walked up to the side of the road as if he was waiting for us. My mother stopped the car, and he reached into the back seat where my friend Susan was sitting, and he squeezed her hand. She wet her pants, she was so excited. He reached in and squeezed my hand, too.

“The other carload of girls were screaming and yelling and that kind of stuff,” Burns says “and he wouldn’t even go near their car.”

Based on the novel Pioneer, Go Home by Richard Powell, Follow That Dream is a comedy, the ninth of Elvis’ 33 movies. He stars as Toby Kwimper, the eldest child in a hillbilly family that “homesteads” on a remote spit of land, much to the consternation of the state government. There are only five Presley songs on the soundtrack.

The film – which was almost titled Here Come the Kwimpers – was budgeted at $1.5 million, one-third of which was spent in Florida. Presley’s salary at the time was $500,000 per picture. “Since the book was set in the Fort Myers area, they wanted to capture the Florida scenery,” explains Gainesville writer Steven Opdyke, who’s working on a book about Elvis movies. “They were looking for a river, and they started down along the coast from Fort Myers on up and found everything too populated.”

Heading west along State Road 40, the filmmakers discovered what they were looking for at Bird Creek Bridge, at the tip of marshy Little Pumpkin Island. Producer David Weisbarth’s location scouts wound up in the Yankeetown office of realtor Ollie Lynch. “They came in and asked who owned that land,” Lynch says. “And I told them that I did.” Most of the three-acre set where they made the picture, Lynch recalls, was sawgrass, almost totally submerged at high tide. “They didn’t pay us anything for the use of the land; they just paid us in fill dirt,” he explains. The Florida Development Commission spent $8,000 to haul in sand, plant palm trees (all of which died before filming was completed) and re-surface the asphalt in front of the set. In the movie, it looks like a tropical beach on the side of the road.

The filmmakers were not permitted to remove a power pole near the bridge; they simply “dressed” it as a palm tree, complete with attached fronds. It’s clearly visible in Elvis’ first “fishing” scene.

Lynch became the moviemakers’ local liaison and arranged for extras. “I was in four different scenes, three of which were cut out before they showed it,” he chuckles. “They used to come into my office and say ‘Mr. Lynch, we need 10 men dressed like fishermen tomorrow morning.’ So then I’d get on the phone and call people. They got paid $10 a day and lunch, if they were there for the lunch hour.”

Presley was put up at the Port Paradise Motel in Crystal River. The star had his 20-foot Century Coronado speedboat docked behind the motel. Reportedly, he rarely ventured out in Crystal River or the nearby towns, preferring to take his boat out into the Gulf and waterski with his co-star, Canadian actress Anne Helm, and members of his omnipresent entourage, the so-called Memphis Mafia. “They basically stayed in their rooms,” says Opdyke. “They had their meals delivered. Anne Helm later said that they would do Dexedrine to stay up, and if they wanted to go to sleep, Elvis would give her Valium.”

Omnipresent too, on and off the set, was Presley’s manager Col. Tom Parker. “The colonel,” Opdyke reports, “was here for the duration, and several people have said that he stuck pretty close to Elvis.” Parker arranged several “publicity stops” for his client; Presley was photographed at Weeki Wachee Springs, and crowned the first king of Tampa’s Latin Festival (the crown was reportedly lost in all the confusion). One Sunday, Presley spent hours signing autographs at a park in Brooksville (according to Opdyke, Parker exacted a hefty fee from the town council for the Elvis appearance).

Mary Ellen Boyette, the 1961 Chiefland Watermelon Queen, visited the set and posed for photos with the star and a very large melon. “He was such a nice person, but I was just completely tongue-tied through the whole thing,” she says. “But it’s one of my treasured memories.”

On July 15, the production moved to Ocala for the first of four days’ shooting at the First Commercial Bank on Silver Springs Boulevard. Hundreds of spectators stood in a roped-off section; many more watched from the library steps across the street. Elvis’ dressing trailer was parked alongside the bank, in the drive-in lane.

“All the girls and boys were watching, hoping for a glimpse of him,” remembers Joanne Parramore, who was 15 at the time. “And he’d stick a hand out, or he’d stick a foot out, and everybody’d scream.”

A police escort would rush Presley inside the building when he was needed. Parramore’s mother worked at the bank, so Joanne and a friend were allowed inside to watch the filming – so long as they remained quiet and out of the way. “When they took a break, he came over to us,” Parramore recalls. “I distinctly remember him saying something like ‘Boy, these lights sure are hot.’ He was very nice and signed the back of a deposit slip.

“My mother was real impressed with how polite he was. They had lines for the lemonade, or water or whatever they had to drink, and he’d stand in line. He wasn’t the first guy in line.”

Earl Jernigan (1997 photo)

With members of her family, nine-year-old Shirley Darnell of Gainesville stood in the crowd outside the bank, after a morning’s fun at Silver Springs Park. “We only really saw him from a distance,” says Darnell, who’s now Capt. Sadie Darnell of the Gainesville Police Department. “My sister and I stared at his chair, the stereotypical movie chair with the name on it, and watched for when he’d come and sit in it.”

Darnell’s uncle, Earl Jernigan, had a job as assistant set decorator and prop man on the film. “I remember we were very proud that our uncle was involved in such a major production,” she says.

In the family group that day was Darnell’s 10-year-old cousin, Tom Petty. “My sister and I weren’t all that impressed about Elvis being there, but we knew that Tommy was very excited about being a part of what was going on,” Darnell says. “He was absorbing it all. It was one of the few times I ever saw him kind of serious.”

Joe Stewart, then 21, had come down from Gainesville with his sister and sister-in-law, and he brought his 8-millimeter movie camera. “Word on the street when we got there was that Elvis and Anne Helm were having lunch at the Marion Hotel on Magnolia Street,” Stewart says. “Locating the hotel, we went around back and discovered Elvis’ white Cadillac parked at the loading ramp. We camped outside the fence surrounding the area, and were lucky enough to catch Elvis and Anne on film as they came out the door.”

In Stewart’s dim, scratchy home movie Presley – still dressed in his blue Toby Kwimper shirt and jeans – feigns surprise as he and Helm, accompanied by their driver, spot the crowd and climb into the Caddy’s back seat. The next shot shows the big car passing through downtown Ocala on its way back to the Commercial Bank. “The temperature actually reached 102 degrees before the day ended, Stewart says, “but it did nothing to disperse the crowd outside the bank.”

The film’s finale was shot in the county courthouse in Inverness, with dozens of local people hired as extras.

Presley left Florida after six weeks in front of the camera; the film’s interiors were shot later, on a California soundstage. Within a month he was knee deep into his next movie, Kid Galahad.

Follow That Dream had its world premiere April 11, 1962 at the Marion Theatre in Ocala. Presley was in Hawaii, working on Girls, Girls, Girls, but he sent a telegram thanking everyone for their help on the picture. The movie opened a week later in Gainesville, at the Florida Theatre, and shortly thereafter around the country. It was, at one point, the No. 2 box office attraction according to Variety. “It generally got good critiques,” Opdyke says. “Variety equated it to Lil’ Abner and The Real McCoys. The Hollywood Reporter said Elvis did well playing comedy.”

It’s not much of a movie, but among Elvis aficionados it’s considered one of his better vehicles. “Most of his fans said, all we wanted to see was Elvis three times a year, performing new material,” reports Opdyke. “We didn’t care what it was, we just wanted to see him performing.”

Thirty-eight years after Follow That Dream came and went, Ollie Lynch still owns the land by Bird Creek Bridge. It’s overgrown with trees and weeds now, but he can still find the place, just off the set, where Presley’s personal trailer was parked.

“My mother was up in her 80s, and she’d always read how wonderful Elvis was to his mother,” Lynch says. “So she thought he was pretty fine, and she wanted to bake him a pie.

“I pulled up there and went around the corner, and Elvis was just coming out of the trailer with those hoody-looking friends that he traveled with. I told him ‘My 80-some year-old mother’s out here, and she’s got a pie for you.’ And he said ‘Well, bring it around.’ He was very gracious.

“So I got mother out with the pie and took her around there, she gave the pie to him and he handed it to these guys and said ‘Take that in there; we’re gonna have some of that real soon.’ And then he leaned over and kissed mother’s cheek.

“And I swear she didn’t wash her face for 3o days after that.”

Burt Reynolds and the ‘Miracle at the Truck Stop’


JUPITER, Fla. – During the late 1970s and early ’80s, whenever he appeared on the Tonight Show, Burt Reynolds rarely failed to mention Jupiter, where he lived and was planning to build a “top quality” theater.

Johnny Carson always seemed to think he was kidding.

Groundbreaking for the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre and Institute for Theatre Training, on five acres at A1A and Indiantown Road, took place on May 19, 1978.

“What I’m trying to do is pay back the people here who have been so loyal to me,” Reynolds, who’d grown up in nearby Riviera Beach, told reporters. “There’s a real need for a theater here. This has been a dream of mine for a long time.”

Reynolds was, at that moment, the top male box office star in America. His Hollywood buddies, who knew of the actor’s dedication to home and hearth, never doubted his sincerity.

Actor Charles Nelson Reilly, a friend from Reynolds’ days in New York theater, remembers his first trip to Jupiter. Reynolds drove Reilly and Dom DeLuise down Indiantown Road – one unpaved lane a mile east of the U.S. 1 truck stop – and stopped the car.

“There was a mound, and he said ‘I’m going to build a theater here,’ and we all thought he was crazy,” Reilly says.

Still, Reynolds persevered and the $2 million Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre and Institute for Theatre Training made its debut Jan. 30, 1979. Reilly takes credit for coining the phrase “Miracle at the Truck Stop,” which they had printed on bumper stickers.

“When it opened,” Reilly recalls, “the L.A. Times said ‘Burt Reynolds Institute? What’s next, the Anson Williams Conservatory and the Sonny Bono Academy?’ And he got so depressed.”

Still, no one had seen anything like it in Jupiter, and the opening season was sold out months in advance.

“I want a theater for people who haven’t seen live theater, and at prices they can pay,” Reynolds said before the opening. “I imagine we might have as 75 percent of the audience guys who climb out of pickups. I hope we’ll also get knowledgeable aficionados of good theater.”

First-night tickets cost $18.95; all other shows were $14.95. Season tickets were sold for $74.75 per person.

To enter the 400-seat auditorium, audiences passed an elaborate fountain, and a commissioned statue of Reynolds by Miami sculptor Manuel Carbonell.

“Vanities,” directed by Reynolds and starring his then-girlfriend Sally Field, came first. The cast also included Tyne Daly and Gail Strickland. Reynolds and Field next co-starred in “The Rainmaker,” also directed by Reynolds. Karen Valentine (of TV’s “Love American Style”) starred in “Born Yesterday,” followed by Stockard Channing in “Two For the Seesaw.”

“I’ve made friends who grew up in theater,” Reynolds said that first year. “They’d like to do it again, but they just don’t want to get clobbered by the New York critics. They want to have fun.”

Indeed, the first seasons were jammed with A-list actors Field, Martin Sheen, Charles Durning, Farrah Fawcett (making her stage debut in “Butterflies Are Free”), Richard Basehart, Carol Burnett, Jose Quintero, Robert Urich (Reynolds’ old footbal pal from Florida State University), Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis, Jim Nabors and a then-unknown John Goodman.

“I would just ask the actors ‘What’s your favorite play?’ or “What’s your biggest challenge?’,” Reynolds wrote in his autobiography. “Singers want to act. Actors want to sing.”

Reilly himself replaced an ailing Channing in a production of Ernest “On Golden Pond” Thompson’s “Answers,” a collection of three one-act plays about friendship. He played opposite Reynolds; the other vignettes were acted by Ned Beatty and Charles Durning, and Kirstie Alley and her husband Parker “Hardy Boys” Stevenson.

Joshua Logan came to Jupiter to direct Martin Sheen and Simon Oakland in “Mister Roberts”; Sheen’s son Emelio Estevez, yet to make his mark in the movies, also was in the cast.

Later, a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” directed by Reynolds, starred Sheen, Andrienne Barbeau and Sheen’s other son, Ramon Estevez – later to be known professionally as Charlie Sheen.

Reilly lived on and off at Reynolds’ three-story home on Jupiter Island for 17 years, teaching daily at the institute and working on shows, behind the scenes and on the stage.

It was, he says, a wonderful time for everyone associated with the place.

“I lived on the beach, and you could go out and look left and right, and not see another human being on Jupiter Island,” Reilly says. “We would have parties, and nobody would go in the water. Reynolds had all these towels that were the size of blankets, and hats for the sun.

“But there was so much to do in the theater, with the teaching and the kids and the mainstage plays, that you never thought of the beach. It was rather sad in a way, but there was so much to do.”

The audiences ate it up, and, Reilly says, the performers were only too happy to receive such genuine appreciation from a theater-starved community.

“There were always elderly people, and sometimes someone would get sick in the middle of a matinee and have to go to the hospital,” he remembers. “And I would go into the ambulance with them and say ‘Don’t worry, it’s not that good a show. You didn’t miss that much.’”

After two seasons, several rows of seats were installed to augment the dinner tables, and the venue’s name was changed to the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theatre.

There were three private dining areas overlooking the auditorium, for VIPs. “They had waiters and waitresses,” Reilly recalls. “It was like you’d died and gone to heaven. The china and the tablecloths were unbelievable.”

Often, Reilly or another actor would return to Los Angeles after many months in Jupiter, only to be called back in a pinch.

One year, living at the beach house, Reilly was being visited by actress Julie Harris, who was laying low after an illness, and veteran character actor Vincent Gardenia, who was at the time teaching at the Reynolds Institute.

“Brian Keith was making a movie, and it got delayed, so he couldn’t come do the show he was scheduled to do, whatever it was,” Reilly recalls.

“We were to start rehearsals Tuesday, and we had nothing. No attraction. So I said to Julie and Vincent, who were sitting in the kitchen, what about ‘Death of a Salesman?’ and they said OK, that’s fine. And we did it, and it was amazing.

“It was the best ‘Death of a Salesman’ I ever saw, not because I did it, but because of the quality of the acting.

“One critic in the area wrote that it was like ‘having Christmas and your birthday on the same day, with no limits to the gifts.’”

“Death of a Salesman,” Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater, 1981: l-r Julie Harris, Vincent Gardenia, James Nemec and Kenneth Kay.

The Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training put on lunchtime matinees; classes were every day. Each season, 10 theater students were awarded scholarships.

Among its successful alumni are singer Lisa Felcoski, who does TV jingles, and stage actress Anastasia Barzee, recently seen opposite Kevin Kline in “King Lear” on Broadway. According to Reilly, Reynolds was fiercely dedicated to teaching. “I never knew who that person was on the posters and in the movies,” he says. “Because he was always this wonderful man.

“He and I would teach at midnight, because he liked to teach then. I mean, no one teaches at midnight. But they’d stay till 4 a.m., then we went to the truck stop and had breakfast.”

Sadly, the dream ended in 1989; Reynolds’ financial woes cost him the facility, and it spent the next 10 years under several owners who tried to keep things going, but for one reason or another couldn’t rekindle the old magic.

Beyond the blues: TC Carr travels a rocky road

billdeyoungcom TC CarrIt might have been that first, massive heart attack in 2003, or maybe it was the second one seven years later, or the third, just six weeks ago.

TC Carr says he got the message.

“I’m trying to enjoy things,” the 68-year-old musician shrugs. “Absolutely, I‘m here for a reason. I don’t know what it is. But I’m looking.”

Carr has been a fixture on St. Petersburg stages for more than 40 years. His virtuosic harmonica playing, which can trill like a bird in springtime, honk like a freighter or roar with the ferocity of a hurricane, has provided the defining edge for a dozen of the most popular blues, rock and Americana bands to play the bay area circuit.

Everybody knows TC. These days, TC is struggling to know himself.

Always, in the front of his mind, is the memory of his son Dylan, who was born with a defective heart and suffered from physical and learning disabilities all his life.

In 2013, TC and Dylan, 24, had just taken to the St. Augustine surf for an afternoon of boogie boarding. A wave drove TC downward and his neck crunched into the sand.

“Basically, I drowned,” Carr says. “I had no vitals. They dragged me up on the beach. I was grey.”

Paramedics thought his neck was broken. “I had to fight really hard for my life, but I came back.”

Six months later, Dylan – who had discovered his dad in the water that day, and had dragged him onto the beach with no thoughts of his own physical limitations – died.

“He wasn’t supposed to lift over 10 or 15 pounds because of his heart problems,” Carr says softly. “And, possibly because of that, he passed away. So I had to deal with that.”

That, Carr says, was the most awful of awful times for him and Eileen, his wife, Dylan’s mom. “He wasn’t supposed to live three days, and we had him for 24 years,” he says. “He was a gift.”

Carrying so much baggage for long has caused him to change his priorities. He dotes on his granddaughter, Autumn, whose father is TC and Eileen’s son Casey, 31. “I’m going to travel some,” Carr says. “I’m going to play music, but I’m not going to kill myself. It’s a different world.”

His lungs – strengthened from four hardwired decades of blowing the blues harp – helped him get through the round of pneumonia that followed that most recent coronary episode. And so harmonica – his lifelong friend and closest ally – has become a life raft and a saving grace.

“I always liked it because it was very physical,” he explains. “You completely surrounded the instrument. It’s like the human voice. You are part of it, your mouth, your jaw, your hands are all the instrument.”

William Thomas Carr was born in Tampa – both parents’ families had lived in the bay area for decades – and grew up in Gulfport. He was always known as Tom Carr, in the St. Pete Boychoir, and as the pitcher on his city league baseball team, until people just started calling him “TC.” He liked to fish, and had a little outboard tied up at the Gulfport marina.

The tow-headed youngster was shy, and when classical piano lessons (at his mother’s insistence) didn’t work out, he sought out a different musical instrument, one he could bring up to his face and hide behind. “I found a voice where I could say things through the harmonica that I couldn’t say any other way,” he reveals. “I fell in love with it and I never put it down.”

It was the late 1960s, and players like Charlie Musselwhite and Paul Butterfield were taking the electrified blues harmonica to lofty new musical heights. And when Carr discovered the source material, the likes of Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, he was stunned. He played and practiced until his lips bled.

“I listened to anything and everything with harmonica,” he says, “which is how I developed my style. I didn’t copy people particularly, but I’d go to the record store and buy anything with harmonica, and I’d study it.

“Down in Gulfport, there was a whole contingent of guys who were blues fanatics. And of course in the rock ‘n’ roll crossover of Johnny Winter and those guys. Johnny was big.”

The early Allman Brothers Band turned his head, too. “They took the blues and said things, and did things, their own way. And that really influenced me greatly.”

From his parents’ record collection, he heard and absorbed country music, and was drawn to the delicate phrasing of harmonica player Charlie McCoy, who seemed to be on everybody’s records.

And it was that strain of music that made Tom Carr’s playing a little different – a little more melodic and thoughtful, perhaps – than that of all the other hardline blues blowers.

“I didn’t try to be, and I can’t be, anything like those blues guys,” he says. “So it appealed to be my own thing, whoever that is. Some guys copy Little Walter exactly, and that’s great – it’s hard to do – but it doesn’t appeal to me to sound just like those guys. I want to be me.”

The “outlaw country” movement of the mid ‘70s – a mix of rock and blues with humor and more rural sensibilities -along with the swift ascendancy of Jimmy Buffett, whose music wasn’t bluesy but was harmonica-heavy, gave Carr more outlets to express himself.

“The minute you hear him play, there’s something about it that’s different from anybody you’ve ever heard,” says singer and guitarist Pete Merrigan, who’s been one of Carr’s closest musical cohorts for four decades. “It’s just the quality of sound that comes out when he plays.”

Carr, believes Merrigan, brings “that wow factor. There’s a million guys that do what I do, go out and play some songs and entertain, but it doesn’t snap anybody’s head around the way TC’s playing does.”

In the mid 1970s, Carr joined Merrigan in the Mad Beach Band (that’s short for “Madeira,” of course), and they’ve played together – with a changing lineup of musicians – on again, and off again, for decades. The re-re-united Mad Beach Band recently sold out a CD release party/concert at the Hideaway Cafe, just weeks after TC had been released from the hospital. “He was pulling out licks that none of us had ever heard before,” recalls Merrigan. “Just when you think he can’t get any better, he’s starting his solos with these rapid-fire machine gun licks that just turned our heads around.”

Similarly, Carr has been a cornerstone of Tom Gribbin and the Saltwater Cowboys – again, with many of the best musicians in the bay area – for almost as long.

He toured and recorded with several national acts, including Melanie and Mama’s Pride, and “struck out on his own” in the ‘90s, fronting the Shooters, TC Carr and the Catch and – in recent years – TC Carr &  Bolts of Blue.

“He’s the musician least concerned about money than anybody I know,” Merrigan observes. “And it’s not because he’s got money. It’s not like he’s a rich guy. But he just doesn’t want the money aspect to interfere with the music at all.”

That’s pretty much true, says Carr. “I was never pursuing becoming a quote-unquote star famous person. That never appealed to me much. It was sort of like a necessary evil. I played the game, but I really didn’t want to, and after a while, I just wanted to stay home. So I did.

“I thought ‘If I’m not having fun, why do it?’ I could make about the same money at home as I did on the road, and not kill myself. And not leave my family.”

When Dylan was young, TC was a stay-at-home dad, so Eileen could work during the day and qualify for much-needed health insurance. He gigged nights, while his wife stayed at home with the boys.

He took a few daytime jobs eventually – working in building maintenance, and as a boat-engine repairman. For four years, he was facilities manager at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

Times have changed. Dylan is gone, and TC’s own health problems are continually cause for concern.

The only constant, always somewhere in the room, with a voice too loud to ignore, has been music.

His focus, Carr says, has become much more spiritual and centered. He’s trying to take better care of himself.

He’s been writing songs, for the first time in years, at a fever pitch. “I used to think,” he muses, “that I wasn’t any good, or I can’t be a songwriter, I have nothing to say and anything I have to say isn’t very good, anyway. Well, that may be true, but I’ve come to this conclusion: There’s a bird on the wire, singing their ass off all day long. Why? Because they’re supposed to. They have something to say.

“If I have something I need to say, or if I feel it, I’m not in denial any more. This is supposed to come out.”

This story originally appeared in, and the copyright is owned by, the St. Pete Catalyst.

The whales

This was the first feature story I wrote, after a couple of concert reviews. I was 18 years old. It was published in the St. Petersburg Times Sunday, Feb. 20, 1977. It’s reproduced here exactly as it was written.

MAYPORT – A large school of pilot whales (globicephala melaena) committed suicide in a mass beaching at Fort George Inlet two weeks ago near Jacksonville. Less than 48 hours later, I was there dragging dead whales out of the surf and observing post-mortem scientific activities.

The pilot is a toothed whale. It does not exceed 20 feet, but is very muscular and bulky. It is completely jet-black, prompting the common name Blackfish.

Fort George’s Inlet is a deep, choppy channel barely 65 feet wide, running off the Atlantic in a mushroom-shaped bay. At one side of the bay is a bridge, behind which lie salt creeks and marshes. All around the rest of the bay is broad, white beach, running back to high dunes and seaoats.

ON THE DAY of the beachings, commercial fishermen spotted a herd of upwards of 200 pilot whales headed, rather deliberately, for the mouth of the inlet. Because the pilot whale is a deep-sea mammal, the fishermen knew something was wrong.

“As the fishermen saw the whales going past and towards land at high speed, it was all they could do to get their nets up in time,” said Quentin White, a member of the scientific crew from Jacksonville University.

Mass suicides, while not common, have appeared with some degree of regularity on Florida coastline. Last summer, a small group of spinner dolphin beached and died at Casey Key near Sarasota. Within the following month, larger groups of False Killer whale beached at Fort Myers and Loggerhead Key. Whether these suicides are deliberate or accidental is a point of speculation. In autopsies taken on self-stranding whales and dolphins, the common factor seems to be two kinds of parasites found living in the animals’ inner ear.

THE PARASITES, the theory goes, throw off the animals’ delicate sonar, a hearing mechanism that allows them to navigate and locate food sources. Thus impaired, the whales swim frantically, and when the pod leader, or “pilot,” swims too close to shallow water, the entire group follows him straight into the shallows and right into the beach. In such shallow water they cannot maneuver, and having neither the strength nor the will to return to deeper water, they eventually roll on their sides and drown. The animals’ blowhole, or nostril, is located at the very top of its head. When they roll over, water gets in the blowhole, and they lay helplessly, waiting to die. The ones that make it onto the beach die of exposure.

As soon as word got around, volunteers of all ages came to the stricken whales’ rescue. Frogmen came from nearby Mayport Naval base, skin-diving clubs turned out in wetsuits and rough weather gear, and scientific researchers from several Florida colleges arrived in vans full of equipment. More than 150 whales, ranging from monstrous bulls 20 feet long and weighing close to a ton, to calves five feet in length and barely a year old, were lined up at various points on the beach or in shallow water.

SOME WERE floundering off the bay’s entrance, still others were stranded on a sandbar several hundred feet into the chilly water. The volunteers’ objective was to right the whales and drag them into deeper water.

The volunteers worked long into the night, and all the next day, trying to keep beached whales alive and grouping up to drag larger animals into deep water.

But beaching whales seem to have a death wish, and, to the workers’ horror and dismay, the unencumbered whales turned right back around and beached again.

During the first day, the situation became so frantic that the Marine Patrol had to block off entrances to the beach, to keep the ever-expanding mob of residents, curiosity-seekers and by now unneeded extra volunteers from getting in the way.

Someone came up with the idea of herding the whales back out of the channel with boats. Several dozen whales were tagged on the dorsal fin with red plastic tags. These were mostly in the deeper parts of the bay, where a little maneuvering was still possible. At the first high tide the boats were brought around, and the roundup began.

“AT FIRST, it looked like it might work,” said one local observer. “They played cat-and-mouse for a while, with the boats trying to stay between the whales and the shoreline.”

Apparently, the attempt was partially successful. “They were playing it right, getting the whales into the channel. Some of them went out into the Atlantic. But then” – and then the Mayport resident speaks quietly – “one of the big whales made a shrill noise and they all turned and dived under the boats.” Moments later they went back in the shallows, dying with the remainder of the school.

Dr. James Mead, curator of mammals from the Smithsonian Institution, was expected to arrive the next day to begin autopsies.

Slowly the volunteers dispersed, leaving an aura of hopelessness and sadness to the scientists and onlookers. The last glimmer of hope for the living died away and finally no one made any attempt to save the last few suffering individuals.

The beach at Fort George Inlet is long and wide, and the sand, continuously shifted by the cold Atlantic wind, made travel by car extremely difficult. As I walked from the last road to the first group of scientists, I could see the Marine Patrol digging a Humane Society van out of the sand.

The tide was high and I spotted a black fin protruding from the breakers.

There were several whales there; all dead, all on their sides. Up the beach researchers from the University of Florida were standing around a group of whales. These were cows and calves, the smaller whales pulled far up on the sand for autopsy. The creatures were beautiful, so streamlined, so perfect. Their dorsal and pectoral fins, stiff and cold, jutted up into the air. Their expression was that of a creature from a different planet: very distant, very foreign.

They all had the same trace of a smile; and I had trouble visualizing them as carefree, free-swimming creatures. One calf, I noticed, was completely decapitated. “They arrested some guy here yesterday,” volunteered one of the scientists. “He came down here in the middle of all the activity, and cut off its head with a chain saw.” He had wanted to take home some whale teeth.

A DISTANT FIGURE on the far point of the bay, near the mouth of the inlet, was Dr. Mead, who had arrived a few hours earlier and was investigating the situation.

As I hiked the good mile of beach to the point where I would find Dr. Mead amid a large concentration of dead whales, I heard a blast of air and looked out into the water. There, about 60 feet out, lay the last live whale, floundering in two feet of water. She twisted and turned, and every 10 seconds or so she would raise her tail and blow out her blowhole.

I stared hopelessly from my isolation on the beach, wondering if I should try and help her, as she blasted out her pain in gradually weakening spurts. Then I realized her destination was already planned, and, remembering the admirable but vain efforts of the volunteer corps, I moved on, as the tide slowly carried her shallower.

“THIS IS AN extremely large beaching,” Mead said, gazing at the scores of fins sticking up from the now receding tide. “Pilot whales are very sociable animals, but usually the big school will split up out at sea and beach at different locations.” Mead said he expected the group of whales driven out of the inlet the previous day would merely beach themselves somewhere else. Several different accounts of the number of dead whales were circulating, but most believed the figure was about 100.

Mead explained that studying beached individuals in such detail may not provide the answer as to why such suicides occur. “The most valuable thing here,” he said, “is not to find answers but questions. Things to look for.”

He said the problem with the parasite theory is that scientists don’t have the opportunity to examine normal, wild pilot whales to check for the parasite. “The narwhales and belugas, both northern dwellers, also have parasites in their inner ears.” To further complicate the situation, the beached spinner dolphins, when examined, were found to have parasites in what would well have been normal amounts.

“The pilot whale’s way of life is quite different. While the narwhales, belugas, and bottlenose dolphin are close relatives, there is one important difference: they all live in coastal water, that is, close to land mass and shallows. The pilot whale, as well as the spinner dolphin and false killers are deep-sea dwellers and as such, they don’t realize the ocean has sides and a bottom,” Meade said.

“THEN, WHEN their sonar or hearing, is impaired, they swim right into the shallows, get confused, and try to keep swimming.  They don’t understand confinement. They’re virtually helpless in shallow water.

”We don’t fully understand the hearing mechanism, so we can only assume that these parasites, in abnormal numbers, are driving the animals into these frenzies.” The beachings then may be more a case of running into a land mass than looking for a beach to kill themselves on.

Whales have beached en masse for thousands of years and it is easy to remain detached when you hear about it on the news, but being there, seeing so many, beautiful, intelligent creatures lying still on the edge of their world, I felt a kinship with them.

THE DOLPHIN is the most intelligent animal next to man, and I wished I could see these whales slide back into the water, out of this foreign tomb. I wanted to shout to them, “Prove it!” But everywhere along the coast of the small bay, still flukes and stiff fins revealed that the story had run its course. The waves would roll them back and forth, revealing the glassy eyes and rows of short, white teeth.

The scientists and workers hauled all of the carcasses onto the sand in a long line. All of them were towed there by the tail, and every one of them faced the ocean.

Walking back down the beach, now at low tide, I again passed the last whale.  She was completely stranded now, on the edge of the receding tide. Painfully she breathed, loud, gasping sounds emerging from her blowhole as she exhaled.

I WET MY HANDS and stroked her head. Her sides heaved and she made several feeble efforts to raise her tail. I was alone. The scientists, reporters and officers were all busy with the autopsies. I wet her dry skin and talked quietly to her. I looked down at her eyes to see if she was watching me; they were closed tightly, the skin around them contorted as if she was straining to keep them closed.

And coming from both her eyes in a slow, steady stream were thick tears. I knew that whales, as well as other marine animals, did this as a way to dispel excess salt from their system. Still, if she had ever had reason to cry, this was it.

‘He was freckled like a spotted dolphin’

It’s only right that this tribute to Fred Neil begins and ends with one of his most beloved and personal songs, “The Dolphins.” With few exceptions, Fred Neil preferred the company of dolphins – sleek, sensitive, majestic mammals of the oceans – over people.

The native Floridian was very much like a dolphin himself, enigmatic, mysterious and intractably smarter than he let on. “I met Fred in Coconut Grove during the Flipper years,” recalls Ric O’Barry, who trained the bottlenose dolphins used on the popular 1960s television show.  “We became good friends. Diving and sailing buddies.”

They were approximately the same build, with curly reddish-brown hair. “Except,” O’Barry says, “he was freckled like a spotted dolphin.”

Neil had complete access to the animals in O’Barry’s care at the Miami Seaquarium, where the trainer lived on-site. “Fred spent a great deal of time trying to communicate with the Flipper dolphins using his 12-string guitar,” adds O’Barry. “His human/dolphin communication work progressed into dolphin protection; something that he became passionate about.” He would sit for hours at the edge of the lagoon where a dolphin named Kathy lived, strumming his guitar for her.

It was Fred Neil who introduced Stephen Stills to O’Barry in 1970 – the three of them went sailing in Biscayne Bay, and the talk, naturally, turned to dolphins. O’Barry discussed his recent epiphany, that dolphins were sensitive and highly intelligent creatures, and that keeping them captive, as playthings, was inhumane.

Lit up like a roman candle, Neil told his pal the rock ‘n’ roll star about his sonic experiments. “It’s not necessarily the music,” he said, in a conversation recounted in O’Barry’s book Behind the Dolphin Smile. “It’s the tone and the sound of sustained chords. When Kathy heard a chord on the 12-string, she had the gentlest way of putting her snout on the vibrating strings themselves and on the wooden box, feeling it like it was something special. And it is, to them. I’ve worked with them a lot, and they seem to like the D chord best.”

When O’Barry left the Seaquarium to begin his Dolphin Project, it was Stills – already a multimillionaire at 25 – who provided the initial seed money. “Fred didn’t have any money in those days,” O’Barry said. “He didn’t donate money, but he donated much of his time to the Dolphin Project.”

“People idolized Fred Neil,” says John Sebastian, who knew the Floridian troubadour from the early 1960s folk scene in Greenwich Village. “Once you’d heard him, you realized there was no competing with him: ‘There’s no doing this any better than he does it.’”

“His throat gave out those deep sonorous, mellifluous tones,” Eric Andersen explains, “like the kind of tones you hear in the low range of a tenor sax of Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young, or in the low-tones of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. Fred’s voice actually bore the trademarks of having its own unique intrinsic thing, not found anywhere else on the scene with the possible exception of the amazing Tim Hardin.”

“There were always beautiful women chasing him,” declares Sebastian. “We were growing up in Greenwich Village, and all our cute girls were Italians, and Jewish. And here was this guy whose girlfriends all looked like Yvette Mimieux.” It was said that Fred could “pull waitresses from 40 yards,” Sebastian laughs. “It came down to a kind of Piscean sadness about him that women could not resist. As well as the fact that he sang so well.”

His big baritone voice could reach down so low – often when you least expected it – and hit a note that would rattle your ribcage. His songs brought blues, jazz, rock and roll and the fluid rolls of Indian ragas together.

No, there was no one like him, not even close.

“I always trusted and felt of Freddie as a big brother I never had,” Andersen adds. “Of all the Village people and songwriters, he was my favorite, the real deal. I didn’t see him a lot, but we connected.”

Recalled Sebastian: “Fred had something nobody else in Greenwich Village had, with the possible exception of Odetta: A gospel background. He knew what singing in church was. I think a lot of his vocal signatures, also, came from that rockabilly, early rock ‘n’ roll Southern influence … Odetta would always tease him and say ‘You see all those freckles, Fred? You’re one of us.’”

Eventually, Neil left New York for South Florida for good. Bobby Ingram remembered the first time he laid eyes on him, in a brand-new Grove coffeehouse called Trivia. It was 1964. “He was onstage, wearing a sport coat – which you didn’t do in Florida – and he had his cuffs folded up outside the sport coat sleeves, the way we did in those years. And he was wearing these goddam leprechaun shoes. As I recall, they were green. Them stupid pointy-toed things you see at the renaissance fair. And he was playing rockabilly on an acoustic guitar.”

Everyone, Ingram says, followed him.

“It was all about Fred. Fred was the bait. When people knew Fred Neil was hanging around Coconut Grove, the ones that mattered started coming down. Sam Hood built the Gaslight Café South, and Simon and Garfunkel came. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and on and on.”

Unfortunately, the main attraction didn’t always show up. “Fred was always kinda scared,” notes Ingram. “You had to coax him up onstage, until you got him wound just right, or if he was happy with who he was playing with

Between 1965 and 1971, Neil recorded five albums (one as a duo project with Vince Martin). Subsequently, he never signed another contract. It wasn’t so much that he was skeptical about the music business (although he was); it wasn’t that he had fallen victim to substance abuse (although the stories about his intake were legion).

From all accounts, Fred simply lost interest in music. He didn’t burn out; nor did he fade away. He simply slow-dissolved into the universe. He raised a family in the Grove, and eventually moved to Summerland Key, where he died of skin cancer in 2001.

All these years later, what we have are the songs, some fun and frolicsome, others filled with a beautiful, aquatic sadness, weary and blue. The lyrics are prescient: On “Everybody’s Talkin’” he details the life he longs for (“I’m going where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain/Going where the weather suits my clothes”). Then there’s “The Other Side of This Life,” “Ba-De-Da” and “The Dolphins,” all of which chronicle the continuous search for something intangible.

Fred Neil went looking for the dolphins in the sea – and he found them. And he found so much more.


Everybody’s Talkin’ – A Tribute to Fred Neil is available Aug. 12 from Y&T Music.


  1. The Dolphins – Eric Andersen
  2. A Little Bit of Rain – Bobby Ingram
  3. Dade County Jail – Jim Wurster & Omine
  4. Ba-De-Da – Arlan Feiles
  5. The Other Side of This Life – Charlie Pickett
  6. Everything Happens – Diane Ward & Jack Shawde
  7. Everybody’s Talkin’ – Keith Sykes
  8. Candyman – Rodney Crowell
  9. Handful of Gimme – Vince Martin
  10. Mississippi Train – Roger Bartlett
  11. Bleecker & MacDougal – Valerie C. Wisecracker
  12. Country Boy – Tim Krekel
  13. I’ve Got a Secret – The 18 Wheelers
  14. The Dolphins – Matthew Sabatella & Diane Ward



The boat in Tori Amos’s back yard

Oct. 11, 2004/Scripps Newspapers

SEWALL’S POINT, FL- All kinds of people come to visit singer/songwriter Tori Amos at her vacation home on the Indian River – family, friends and sundry showbiz types.

The last thing the rock star or her parents expected was a scene from Gilligan’s Island.

On Sept. 5, during Hurricane Frances, a 42-foot twin-engine cabin cruiser with a white and green hull destroyed Amos’s dock and planted itself, on its port side, in her back yard.

With large chunks of the outer skin torn away, the mortally wounded boat comically came to rest looking like the S.S. Minnow of situation-comedy fame.

Amos, who’s been at her house in the English countryside for most of this year, wasn’t laughing.

Five weeks passed before the mystery vessel was identified.

“If the system continues to fail us,” Amos said Monday in a terse e-mail from England, “then I’m sure our local builders could always turn the boat into firewood.”

The singer’s father, Edison Amos of Port St. Lucie, looks after the property while Amos is away. Since the boat first appeared in his daughter’s back yard, he said, no one – not the owner, not the insurance company, not a salvage company – had contacted him or his wife, Mary.

“If my boat crashes on your property, and certainly if my boat is missing, I’m going to try to find out where it is,” he said.

“And then I’ll notify you and tell you, ‘please don’t worry, we have begun the process with the insurance company. And we will try to get the boat out of your back yard.'”

Known for platinum albums Under the Pink, Little Earthquakes and Scarlet’s Walk, Amos bought the property on her mother’s advice, sight unseen, in 1995. She spends fall and winter there with her husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, and their 4-year-old daughter.

Her father, a retired Methodist minister, said there was considerable damage to the grounds, which he was hoping to have cleaned up before the family returns from England next month.

“What I’m after is just to go through the process to have the owner step up and take some responsibility — that’s all,” he said. “We’ve all been hit by these storms, so we want to be patient, we want to cooperate, we want to go through the process.”

Because the bow was buried in the remains of the Amos dock, the license number was not readable; however, an identification number stamped into the hull was traced to Alphonsus and Sherie Zobec of Palm City.

“I never knew they were looking for me,” said Sherie Zobec, who owns Gold Coast Roofing with her husband. “Every time we go there, nobody’s there. Nobody ever put a note on the boat, ‘Call me, here’s my phone number.’ It goes both ways.”

When Frances hit, the boat, called “Dealer Ship,” was moored four docks up the Indian River from Amos’s property. Alphonsus Zobec said he first inspected it Sept. 6, and immediately contacted his insurance agent.

“The insurance company’s been there like 10 times,” Zobec said. “They’re trying to figure out how to get it out. They assured us the dock is going to be taken care of.

“It’s sitting on a stump, so they’re going to cut it apart and take it out piece by piece. It can’t be dragged into the water and floated.”

Sherie Zobec said she and her husband were well aware their boat had made landfall in a famous singer’s back yard.

“I wouldn’t even know how to contact the woman, but I would have assumed that the insurance company would have written a letter,” she said.

“But I don’t fault the insurance company. That boat wound up in a really strange place.”

Still, she said, “If your boat winds up in Mick Jagger’s yard, wouldn’t you think he’d have people to take care of things for him?”

Tori Amos: ‘An angry 40-year-old is a scary thing’

Published Aug. 29, 2003/Scripps Newspapers


Tori Amos recently celebrated her 40th birthday, and the singer/songwriter says it was no big deal. She’d already had her rites of passage.

“Thirty-five was really hard for me,” Amos says. “Because I wasn’t a mom, I’d had two miscarriages, and in the end I had three, and I wanted to be a mom. I was ready.”

Known for her sometimes painfully intimate songs that combine elliptical poetry with bold expressions of sensuality, Amos – the daughter of a Methodist minister — had been one of the fearless “angry young women” of the musical ’90s. She was a piano-pounding bundle of steely nerves.

Today she’s married to sound engineer Mark Hawley, and daughter Natasha is nearly 3 years old. They share a nice, quiet home, with garden, in Martin County.

Tori Amos has grown up.

“Thank God,” she says. “Let’s be honest with each other, an angry 40-year-old is really, really a scary thing. I’ve been able to stay in this business, and I’ve walked through raving and ranting at the church, and the patriarchy, and the guys who are getting 15,000 boys to chant ‘Die, Bitch, Die’ at their concerts. I’ve gone after them.

“And now I’m going after it in a way that isn’t with anger, but hopefully with a sense of humor. I don’t have the knives out, I’ve got the pen out. And that’s different.”

Her “Lottapianos” tour winds down Thursday at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre. The show is being filmed for a live DVD.

Amos considers “Scarlet’s Walk,” her 2002 release, to be the opening chapter in the second book of her life chronicle.

It’s a musically challenging work, less starkly confessional than vintage Tori; her lyrics are framed by lush aural landscapes. “Scarlet” is the work of an artist who’s come a long way from the bristling canvas of the early days.

“When I was writing (the albums) ‘Little Earthquakes’ and ‘Under the Pink,’ I liked being in that place,” Amos says. “I had embraced the piano again.

“And then, after those two records, relationships were unraveling, I was in a different world. I had moved from the south on the Native American medicine wheel to the west. I was finding out what kind of woman I wanted to be. I got involved in all sorts of relationships with people where I realized I didn’t want to be treated like that, but sometimes it’s a very harsh teaching. And that’s what ‘Boys For Pele’ was about.

“And then I fell in love with this engineer, and it turned my life upside down. I didn’t expect it would be that way. Then I got pregnant by surprise and we miscarried, and that was the beginning of that dark walk.

“So I think now at 40 I kind of see myself more as a lighthouse than one of these ships on the wild ocean. I’ve done that, and it’s better to be a nurturing force.”

Amos’ legions of fiercely faithful fans know her as a woman unafraid to discuss anything in her lyrics, and for her histrionic, sexually charged live performances.

She says she’s comfortable with the changes in her life.

“It’s about power, it’s not about passion. You’ve been in that place and you’ve played ‘Coquette,’ and you’ve done all that. Now it’s time to move. And some women get stuck in that place. Especially in the entertainment industry, and you try and hold onto that place.

“Because I physically wasn’t becoming a mother, the process kept dying. I was in a dark place, and I think that writing the records ‘From the Choirgirl Hotel’ and ‘To Venus and Back’ helped me to move. And then I, surprisingly, got the stomach flu and that became Natasha.

“For me, there’s life B.T. and A.T. Before Tash and After Tash.”

Amos and her family live for part of each year in the Sewall’s Point home they bought in 1995. “I come to write there, and I come to get away from it all,” she explains. “But the husband won’t allow a studio system in the house — he said ‘We have to have a break from the records.’ So I have a piano there, but there’s no work done there. Writing, but it’s more of a creating space and a rejuvenating space.”

Amos records at her other residence, in Cornwall, England. “My husband is British, and he’s difficult,” she laughs. “So we have to be there for football season. My daughter could practically say ‘Arsenal’ before she could say ‘Mom.’ Which I’ve had to come to terms with.”

Her parents, originally from North Carolina, live in Port St. Lucie. “My mother picked the house out for me,” Amos says. “I wanted her to. I was in Europe at the time, touring.

“I’ve always loved my mother’s taste. I just said pick something with a view, and don’t worry about the house because I’m gonna gut it anyway. It doesn’t matter, because I’m gonna make it my own.”

The house, Amos explains, doesn’t exactly have a living room. “I built a treehouse in the middle, which is our entertainment center. It’s a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Paul Bowles’ ‘Tea in the Sahara.’

“I just had this picture of a treehouse with a white canvas tent and wood, and stone steps. One of the architects in town came and helped design everything.”

She says the treehouse had to be large enough to contain her grand piano.

Thursday’s concert in West Palm Beach will be her last for a while, Amos says.

“It’s not that I’m tired of touring,” she explains. “What’s got to happen, as a mom – she starts school in September. They start them young over there. She’s starting ballet, and she’s starting piano lessons, and she wants to learn the drums. She wants to dance. And she wants to go to school and learn to read. So this is what we have to do this fall.

“We can’t go out on the road for a while, so there’s no touring even being considered until possibly 2005.”

What’s next is a “Best of Tori Amos” CD, with the most popular tracks from life B.T., plus two newly recorded songs. “That’s kind of chronicling how I saw things from 1990 to 2003,” she says. “And I’m interested in scoring some music for the visual arts side. I won’t say films, because it’s hard to know what that’s going to be yet.”

The Boy Who Would Be Stills

Two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills went to a dozen different schools in his youth. The ones he remembers most fondly, however, were in Gainesville.

Stills spent two years at Sidney Lanier Elementary School in the mid 1950s, moved away and returned for a year at Gainesville High during the 1962-63 school year. He came back again to briefly attend the University of Florida.

“I remember the humidity,” says Stills, 56. “The Spanish moss. Paynes Prairie. I remember Frances Murphree diving at the Gainesville Country Club, where the college now has its golf course. She was the star of the pool.

“I remember the KA’s blew up the SAE lions. They had some guy from the ROTC get about a dime’s worth of C-4, and they blew them to smithereens. Nobody told forever. It was much too big of a charge, and it blew out all the windows across the street.”

Stills was just 18 when he left school forever to pursue a career in music. As a founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash, he made some of the most significant and lasting music of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Stills was born in Texas, and his parents, Otie and Talitha, moved the family to Illinois and Louisiana before settling – for the first time – in Florida.

“My father was basically one of those entrepreneur types that would just start up stuff, make a bunch of money and then get bored,” Stills recalls. “It would fall apart, then we’d be broke and he would start again.

“We didn’t get to the beach, but we stopped in Gainesville. He thought that was the prettiest place he saw.”

The family’s first home was at Northwest 6th Place and 22nd Street, in a new subdivision called University Court. Otie Stills built the house himself.

“The Dean of Men from the University of Florida lived next door, and he hated us. He almost kept me out of school, I had formative years there. Sold Coca-Cola at the stadium, and I fell in love with the Gators then.”

The dean, Lester Hale, had a daughter young Stevie’s age, Cindy. Today, Cynthia Hale Gross says her father actually liked Steve and his two sisters. Everybody did. “The Stills family built a brick wall around their house with the bricks from the old First Presbyterian Church,” Gross remembers. “And everyone was intrigued by that.”

Gross, who lives in Jacksonville, never forgot her tow-headed neighbor. The families often carpooled to Sunday School. “I always thought he  had one of the most infectious laughs I ever heard,” she says. “You couldn’t hear him laugh without laughing too.”

Stills: “I remember being able to ride your bicycle to school and not worrying about anything. I remember the black people being incredibly friendly. And Mama Lo’s, Jesus, to this day I still have not tasted its like.”

After a stint in the Tampa area, where Stephen attended public schools and a military academy, the family landed in San Juan, Costa Rica. He was enrolled at Colegio Lincoln, a tony prep school.

They weren’t done with Gainesville, however.

“When my father was in one of his flopping around, figuring out what to do periods, I moved back to Gainesville and went to GHS,” he remembers. “I’d gone to Costa Rica, and I came back to Gainesville High School to see about getting out early, and also to see what it was going to take to get into college.”

Stills is pictured four times in the 1963 GHS yearbook. Along with his senior picture, he’s seen playing a bass drum in the band, be-robed in the front row of the chorus, and as part of a folksinging group called the Accidental Trio.

“We were going to be the next Peter, Paul, and Mary,” says Nancy Ruth, the “Mary” of the trio (she was Nancy Willingham in those days). “I always had a feeling Steve would go far with his talent. My mom actually bought him the Goya guitar he played in the trio—I don’t think he could afford a good one—and boy, could he make that thing sing.”

On the back cover of the landmark 1967 album Buffalo Springfield Again, one of the many names listed in the “thank you” section is Peanuts Willingham, Nancy’s mother.

Ruth, who now works as an accountant in Gainesville, remembers that her mom actually knew someone in the music business, for whom the Accidental Trio auditioned. The man was most impressed with Stephen’s guitar playing.

He’d fallen in love with the guitar during that first tenure in Costa Rica. “When I started getting good enough to play, there was nothing to do but play acoustic guitar in the bathroom at night, until my sister came and yelled at me,” he says.

Otie Stills was a land developer, among other things, and he called his teenaged son back to Costa Rica to help him with a project. Stephen finally graduated from Collegio Lincoln in 1963, and that fall he enrolled at UF.

Stills describes his family life as “chaos” and he was determined to get away.

Stills’ first rock ‘n’ roll outfit included his Accidental Trio buddy Jeff Williams, and Gainesville native Don Felder, the resident “hotshot guitarist” in town.

“Me and Jeff got this band called the Continentals, and we got Felder to come in,” Still explains. “He would only show up for gigs. He didn’t rehearse—we never saw him except for gigs. He was too cool to rehearse, and we were just kids. It was a real hoot. Jeff’s big brother was an SAE, so we played fraternity parties.”

Stills had to borrow an electric guitar to play with the band. “I was the drummer first, but Jeff couldn’t play anything. But he could keep time. And he was the one with the car and the mom that was really understanding.” He bunked at the Williams house and taught Jeff how to play the drums.

Felder would achieve superstardom, just a few years after Stills, as a member of the Eagles.

It was during his Joe College days that Stills began to appreciate rhythm ‘n’ blues music; professional soul bands were all the rage on Fraternity Row. There was somebody cool to see every weekend.

Although he attended classes religiously, Stills was not destined to graduate from UF.

“The University of Florida was not the Harvard of the South that it is today,” he says. “It was a step back from that rough-ass prep school in Costa Rica that I went to. That thing was the best school in the area. Presidents would send their sons and daughters to the school because it was so good.

“I came back because I liked it. I wanted out of the house, away from the family. I moved in with friends, and then the college told me that despite my good grades they basically couldn’t accept me because all the records were fucked up. I was there—I know I went to class!

“So I just split and went to New Orleans, then to New York—and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Along with Ohioan Richie Furay, Stills joined a harmony-singing folk group, the Au Go Go Singers. Eventually they found their way to California, where they put Buffalo Springfield together with Canadian singer/guitarist Neil Young.

Buffalo Springfield lasted just 18 months, but the band’s folk, rock and country blend laid the groundwork for so much that was to follow, including Crosby, Stills & Nash (and, sometimes, Young).

Today, Stills has homes in Beverly Hills, California, and in Florida, where he’s registered to vote. He is a lifetime member of the University of Florida Alumni Association.

Stills was the first musician inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice on the same night, for his work in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

In 1968, just five years after he’d left Gainesville for good, Stephen Stills performed in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.  Buffalo Springfield was opening for the Beach Boys.

“I remember what I wore,” he says. “I wore a green Pierre Cardin suit, and a paisley scarf as a tie. I was very much the ‘British pop star.’ Most people didn’t know that I was there, and nobody paid any attention, and there was no review. Nobody cared. It was a Beach Boys show.

“I think some of my running buds were in Vietnam, and a couple more were off in other colleges, or had moved away. But I was a townie.”


@2001 The Gainesville Sun