THE BEST TROP ROCK BAND IN THE WORLD
This last Saturday evening I had the great thrill to hear what is easily, the best Trop Rock band in the world. The funniest thing is, I’d be willing to wager that if they were told that, their first response would be “Thank you!”, as they’re all very polite people. Their next response from at least 2/3’s the band most likely be “uh… what is Trop Rock?” Ironic, as it's a style they virtually spearheaded the invention of!
(R - L: Quint Lange, Richie Ciavolino, Ken Fradley, Din Allen
The Survivors formed in the late 1970’s in Key West. They brought what was a true tropical twist to the songs they played, be it one of their own, or a cover song that wasn’t tropical. Often you’d hear a song they’d start playing and after a bit you realize it’s a song you know, only the arrangement is changed entirely! Imagine Cream’s song “I Feel Free” done as an Afro/Cuban song!!!! Their influences spread from around the Caribbean, Afro/Cuban, Bahamian, Jamaican as far north as New Orleans and as far south as Brazil. Hearing songs in English is the norm, however singing a song in Spanish or Portuguese is not at all uncommon for them, if that’s the style called for. Of course they are rooted in U.S. music, having grown up and cut their teeth in the U.S. The styles they play range from Funk, to Bossa Nova, to Reggae, to Calypso, to Rock, to Junkanoo. What they actually developed was a true sound of Key West, along with the amazing Bill Blue, who to this day is playing his original Blues about town. Both have been around for over thirty years and it’s a fantastic complement to each other, as their styles of music are so different from one another.
(Din Allen and Kenny Fradley)
The Survivors music is “ALIVE”. It’s a living, breathing entity. Every time they play a song, it’s a bit different than the last time they played it. There’s nothing sterile or canned about it and its seat of the pants the whole way. Improvisation is a main ingredient of their music. This is a fantastic feature as well, as it’s here that every version is different, plus, for folks on the dance floor rocking to the Survivors, instead of dancing to a song for 3:45, they are jamming for maybe 8 minutes into the coolest groove you can imagine. And these guys are focused on the groove! Who knows with the Survivors? They may just get the impulse to sague into another song with no warning, no plan. It always works too! Additionally, it never gets boring, as some improvisational pieces are prone to get. They know how to keep it interesting.
The core of the band are brothers Woody and Din Allen on guitar and bass, with Quint Lange on percussion. They’ve been at it for thirty five years or so, here in Key West. This year they were joined by Trumpet/Cornet/Flugelhorn extraordinaire virtuoso Kenny Fradley, who's worked with U2 and did arrangements for big bands such as Cilia Cruz, plus that evening they had long time Key West drummer Richie Ciavolino, who handled the skins with authority and fit like a glove. For this gig, Quint played congas throughout.
It’s kind of funny regarding Trop Rock musicians in general. 99% of them live in places like Tennessee, Michigan, mainland Florida, California, New Jersey.. ext. and when they write songs about Key West, their music sounds like they came to Key West, visited and left. They are writing music from a tourist perspective. The Survivors songs are written from a perspective of someone who lives here on a day-to-day perspective. They are not living in a fantasy world. Day to day Key West is their canvas, not the Key West of someone who arrives for a week and writes about tiki bars. I fully understand and empathize with those who do that. It’s those memories of being here at a tiki hut that get them through the winter in Peoria. It’s an escape. Well, for those who live here, it’s not an escape, it’s a reality and that’s what people like the Survivors write about, the reality of living here. Additionally, it’s not written with a pie in the sky view of everything is wonderful, because the reality is, it never is, or will be. It’s written with the viewpoint of the person that works every day to make ends meet and loves living here.
I have an analogy I often use regarding the people who come here for vacations and that is that they are divided into two groups. One is a tourist. A tourist comes here and has a great time, then goes back home. The second is a visitor. A visitor comes to Key West and wants to become part of it, but for reasons that life throws at us all, perhaps they can’t live here. A tourist will come and see the Survivors and say to themselves “Wow! This is really cool!”. A Visitor will come and say “Woh! I feel the vibe and the rhythm of the Keys, the pulse of the island! This is IT!” Hearing thse guys could be the motivational factor of actually making them pull the plug and move here. The fact is, you can’t write real music about Key West unless you live here and deal with the day to day struggles and oddities that happen. The Survivors have been at this, in the trenches, so to speak, for 35 years.
( Woody Allen)
Seeing the Survivors live is the best way to experience them. Bear in mind, these guys were Trop Rock decades before the genre ever existed and like I stated in the beginning, it wouldn't surprise me if 2/3 of them had no clue what Trop Rock was. Likewise, there are chances that they might not like being pigeonholed with the genre?
If I were to put in a video of them playing into this blog, it would be a complete waste for someone who never heard of them before. It would be a reward to those who have however. In my view, you have to see them live first however. You have to feel the vibe, the pulse, the groove in person, in Key West, otherwise it’s a waste of time.
Here’s the kicker: The Survivors play only once a year these days!!!!
The finest band in Trop Rock, who may not even know they are Trop Rock, who were playing the genre decades before it ever existed, actually unknowingly creating it, and who might even scoff at being labeled as such, only play once a year!
Seeing the Survivors is not going to a concert, it’s a religious experience.
Once a year they play the festival to benefit Womankind, an organization here in Key West which offers woman’s services. The festival is held every November and this year was held at Blue Heaven. Keep an eye on the schedule next year, you REALLY don’t want to miss these guys!!!
This band is a living organism. Not one band in Trop Rock comes within 1000 miles of them.
The Survivors are AMAZING.
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Thank you everyone!!