By Mike Sales
Willie BeThere is the stage name of Kip, a seasoned professional singer/guitar player who’s played at Siesta Key area tiki bars and beaches for decades.
As those who read this article may have noticed, most of the musicians I interview play for a living, but Willie has achieved what seems to be the goal of all of us…he plays purely for the love of it.
That’s not to say he doesn’t get paid, as a matter of fact he’s worked professionally just about every week since he started in his late teens, but, as a successful business owner, outside the music field, he’s never had to compromise his musical preferences, just to make ends meet.
Willie plays the music his generation grew up enjoying and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of lessor known hits of his era that would otherwise go unplayed, but for his freedom to choose song over circumstance.
WPT: Where are you originally from?
Willie: I was born in southern Minnesota in a little town called Mankato. There were several colleges there, state and private. The town had a large youth population because of the schools, so Rock and Roll was very popular at the time and I grew up listening to Buddy Holly and all those guys. We also had a robust local music scene with bands like The Jesters, TC Atlantic and The Nova’s…there were a bunch of them. It was a good place to grow up and a good time too, in the early 60’s.
WPT: When did you start playing music?
Willie: My dad was a jazz musician, very good in his youth. He got a day job and raised a family, but he always played, so he had a 1954 Fender Stratocaster that he let me play. It was one of the first production model left-handed guitars, but it was a double cutaway, so I could play it too. I learned to play by listening to Johnny Rivers, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Buddy Holly…all that stuff.
WPT: Did you start singing at that time?
Willie: Yes, I sang, but considered myself more of a guitarist, playing lead in a lot of surf bands (laughs)…in the style of Dick Dale…heavy on the reverb.
WPT: When did you start playing professionally?
Willie: My first paying gig was in 1963 at the YMCA Friday Night Teen Dance. They held them every week and I wound up playing a bunch of them.
WPT: How did you find your way to Siesta Key?
Willie: Well, it was kind of a long journey. I played frat parties through high school until I joined the Navy and was stationed in Southern California and Hawaii. I played in a band in Hawaii, where I was for 2 years and then returned to Minnesota to go to college and supported myself by playing at night with help from the G.I. Bill.
I graduated college with a degree in Horticulture and moved down here, where I used to visit my grandparents when I was a kid.
WPT: Did you start playing down here right away?
Willie: I got a gig with a band called “Dagmar and Hotsauce”, which was Dagmar, Fred Stevens and Mark Mosby, who eventually went on to “The Instigators”, which was a big Reggae band for a while. After that, I joined the “Leon Poindexter Band”, playing Bluegrass, Country and Blues type stuff. I played with them for 20 years. We played a lot of parties and barbeques, but no bars. In the middle of that I also played with a Contemporary Christian group, which also lasted for about 20 years…those two bands kept me busy in this area for quite a while until I got the idea to start playing solo so I could play a wider variety of songs I knew. I’ve been playing solo ever since.
WPT: So, you’ve been playing music in the area for decades; who were some of the bands that were around when you got here and are still playing in the area today?
Willie: Chuck Caudill was big when I got here and still playing around, as well as Mark Mosby and Dagmar is down at O’Leary’s with us. Sal, from the Omni Band and Dan Crawford, were also around then and both a big inspiration for me to go solo when I saw them playing. Dan played what I call ‘deep tracks”, lessor known album cuts from popular artists…he genuinely seemed to enjoy himself.
WPT: How has the Siesta Key music venue landscape changed since then?
Willie: Back in the day there was The Beach Club and there was The Beach Club and I think there was a place called The Beach Club (laughs), eventually The Salty Dog had music, but noise was always an issue back then, because almost every place had a house backed right up to it and across the Mangroves there but the tourist industry has become such a robust contributor to the area economy that the venues are given more leeway. People come down here and want to be entertained. They want to go to the beach during the day and go out and have a good time at night. That’s pretty much what the Village is all about.
WPT: What can people expect to see when they come to hear you play?
Willie: I try to keep it pretty forward and direct with an emphasis on what I’m playing and the tunes I pick. I have a nice collection of guitars and good sound gear. I can tailor the system to the room and the audience. It’s just a good honest performance of songs with special care to selecting songs that really fit my voice and arrangements that work best with my style. I was inspired by the MTV series, “unplugged” which showed how just about any song could be played with an acoustic feel.
WPT: What genres of music do you play?
Willie: It’s a wide variety of genres, from the 1950’s to fairly new stuff. I do some Jimmy Buffett, Jessie Winchester, Beatles, Eagles and a lot of one-hit-wonders like the Beau Brummels, The Boxtops…I try to put an emphasis on songs that not everybody else does. There’s a lot of music to choose from. A customer once came up complimenting my lessor known selections by using the term “deep tracks” which I’ve adopted since to describe my repertoire. He said he hadn’t heard a lot of the songs in years and was happy to be reminded of them.
I even get a request for bands that didn’t even make the charts, but were nevertheless part of lots of album collections. Hearing customers’ shared appreciation of these songs is what really makes this worth it to me.
Willie BeThere performs Sundays 3-6pm at the Best Western PLUS, Siesta Key Gateway.
Mike Sales is a local singer/songwriter for more information log onto mikesalessings.com