There is no doubt about it, the Tampa Bay music scene currently has some extremely talented bands and solo artists performing and recording in the area. With bands and artists such as Diamond Gray, Zig Zag America, Amber Lynn Nicol, Jeff Vitolo & The Quarter Mile Rebels, The Muphin Chuckrs, Gary Schutt, and Lee Pons, just to name a few, it’s no wonder that there has been a resurgence in the scene within the past 2-3 years. But how far back does the Tampa Bay music scene go? When were the two major “booms” that took place in our music scene?
Tampa Bay's history as a "professional" music scene can be traced as far back as the 1910's with the formation of the American Federation of Musicians-Florida Gulf Coast Chapter in 1919. However, the music scene in Tampa Bay didn't really start to kick into gear until the 1930's. During the 1930's and 1940's there was a huge blues movement forming in the Tampa / Ybor City area, specifically in the Central Ave. district. Before relocating to Chicago, blues legend Tampa Red grew up in the area known as "The Scrub". It was also in this area during the 1930's where Tampa blues musician, Charlie Brantley, first learned how to play from a local musician known as "Piccolo" Pete. Brantly would eventually become a member of the Florida Collegians, which was a group of various professional musicians based in Tampa.
As the local Tampa blues scene continued to thrive during this time, several venues in the area would feature live music regularly... places such as the original Cotton Club owned by the Joyner family, located on Central Avenue. There was also Club Chiffon, Charlie Moon's Pool Hall, Johnny Gray's Bar, and The Blue Room owned by Watt Sanderson. All of these places featured local musicians, as well as various national acts.
It was during this time in 1944 when Charlie Brantley formed his rhythm & blues band, Charlie Brantley and his Original Honey Dippers. The band not only became extremely popular in the Tampa Bay area, but throughout all of Florida as well.
Outside of the strong blues scene that was highly evident in 1940's Tampa, there was other significant events taking shape in the local music scene as well. It was during the 1940's when the Tampa Symphony Orchestra was formed. On the other side of the bay during the mid-late 1940's, several community and city orchestras started forming in St. Petersburg as well. Eventually this would lead up to the members of the Carreno Music Club in St. Petersburg forming the St. Petersburg Symphony in 1950.
By the time the 1950's came about, the once thriving blues scene in Tampa started to die out due to the birth of rock n' roll. However, it wouldn't take long before Tampa would start producing rock n' roll acts.
During the 1950's, Florida would start to play a major part in the national music scene. Much like any other state, Florida would eventually become divided into several regional music scenes within the state. Gradually, five of these regions would eventually expand to become five of the predominately strongest regional music scenes in the state of Florida These regions were: Gainesville, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, and the Tampa Bay music scenes. Due to these five music scenes, Florida had given birth to some great bands that ended up moving on to the national circuit. Out of the five music scenes mentioned, the Tampa Bay music scene has always been among the strongest ones, giving birth to countless bands and artists.
In 1958, The Arena Twins (Sammy & Andy Arena) become the first recording artists from Tampa to be signed with a record company when they signed with Kapp Records to release their single "Mama, Cara Mia" / "Little Pig". The Arena Twins would follow up two years later with the release of their second single in 1960, "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)" / "This Could Be The Night", also on Kapp Records. Their third single, "Notify the FBI" / "Oh, What A Shame", would be released on Columbia Records in 1960, after they left Kapp Records.
1959 had also seen the formation of another local rock band out of the Plant City area that would eventually have a large following, The Satellites.
That same year, the Tampa Symphony Orchestra changed it's name to the Tampa Philharmonic. This name change would be just one of several changes to come for the orchestra.
When the national music scene became entranced by the sounds of the British Invasion in the mid-1960's, the Tampa Bay area music scene fired back with an explosion of bands themselves. In all actuality, the 1960's could arguably be considered the 2nd largest boom of the Tampa Bay music scene, the largest boom occurring roughly 20 years later in the nid-1980's - mid-1990's.
There were several contributing factors that lead to the “boom” of the 1960's. One of those factors was a hugely successful concert series that was started in Clearwater called the "Star Spectacular." The “Star Spectacular” became a monthly (and occasionally weekly) concert series, showcasing both national acts and local Tampa Bay acts as well. The event was originally conceived and organized by music legend Paul Cochran in conjunction with WLCY Radio and the Clearwater Recreation Department. The first “Star Spectacular” concert was held on Wednesday, August 16th, 1961 at the Clearwater Municipal Auditorium. The headliners for the show were Dion, Bobby Vee, Jack Scott, Jo Ann Campbell and Curtis Lee. Following the success of this show, plans were immediately made for future shows. Many local Tampa Bay bands would get their start at the “Star Spectacular” including Terry & The Pirates, The Fabulous Rockers, The Impacs, Rodney & The Mystics, The Roemans, The Tropics, Vic Waters & The Entertainers, The Tempests, and several others.
Another contributing factor that lead to the “boom” was a music venue located in Madeira Beach called "The Surfer’s Club". Owned and operated by Margie & Dick Sexton, The Surfers Club became the launching pad for countless bands in the area who would eventually move onto bigger and better things both locally & nationally.
One of the bands who got their start at The Surfer's Club was The Tropics, who were managed by Margie & Dick Sexton. The Tropics were formed in Tampa by Buddy Pendergrass as a seven piece horn band which included Wayne Guida on trumpet, Ronnie Ferer on tenor sax and Spencer Hinkle on drums. After taken under the wing of Margie & Dick Sexton, they convinced the band to drop the horns, change the line-up, and go for a more modern Rock n’ Roll sound. The new Tropics lineup would include Buddy Pendergrass on guitar & keys, Eric Turner on guitar & vocals, Mel Dryer on lead vocals, Charlie Souza on bass, and Bobby Shea on drums. The Tropics not only become the house band at The Surfer’s Club, but quickly started touring all over Florida. The Tropics biggest break happened on July 30th, 1966 when they beat over 441 other bands from around the country by winning the “International Battle of the Bands” competition that took place in Chicago Illinois. The Tropics victory landed the band a recording contract with Columbia Records.
Another popular band at the time was a St. Petersburg band called The Tempests. At the time the band formed in 1963, the members were only 13 years old. The original band members included Tommy Angarano on lead vocals, Charlie Bailey on lead guitar, Doug Palmer on rhythm guitar, Bobby Allen on drums, and Bill Hickman on bass.
Another popular band in the area at the time was Providence Records artists, The Soul Trippers. Originally formed in 1964 as The Outsiders, the band changed their name to The Soul Trippers after signing with Providence Records in 1966. Much like what happened to Elvis Presley in the 1950's, The Soul Trippers had one of their songs pulled from several local and national radio stations after it was discovered that the band consisted of 5 white men instead of 5 black men, even though the single sold 20,000 copies.
Tampa Bay bands were receiving Nation-wide attention on television as well. On December 11th, 1965, Tampa Bay bands The Tropics, The Outsiders, and Those Five appeared on the traveling music variety tv show, "Where The Action Is", hosted by Dick Clark. The show was filmed at the Bayfront Center Arena in St. Petersburg.
One of the biggest news events that took place in the 1960's Tampa Bay music scene didn't involve the Rock n’ Roll genre, it involved the classical music genre. On November 23rd, 1966, The St. Petersburg Symphony and the Tampa Philharmonic agreed to merge and form the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony. In a symbolic show of unification, representatives from both the St. Petersburg Symphony and the Tampa Philharmonic traveled by boat to the center of Tampa Bay, where they married the two institutions in a symbolic union. The new, unified Florida Gulf Coast Symphony would have it’s first session two years later on November 14th, 1968. 43-year-old Irwin Hoffman was the music director.
* For more information on the history of the Tampa Bay Music Scenes, visit the Tampa Bay Music Scene Historical Society Online Museum website.
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