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Rockin’ in Florida
By Liz Doup
Gainesville Sun — Sunday, August 5, 2001
Roving exhibit chronicles links to popular music.
Florida offers more than sunshine and beaches. It’s a hotbed for creative musicians, past and present.
Did you know that…
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, a hard-rocking band from Jacksonville, took its name from a high school gym teacher, Leonard Skinner, infamous for his discipline of longhaired students.
- Gloria Estefan was already a hit in Central and South America when she and the Miami Sound Machine hit the charts with “Conga” in the mid-’80s.
- Jim Morrison — during a 1969 Doors concert at Dinner Key Auditorium (now Coconut Grove Exibition Center) — was accused of going oh-so-public with his most private part. Indecent exposure, said a judge, hitting him with a little jail time. The wannabe poet’s eloquent reaction: “Jail — that’s a bad place.”
- Tom Petty’s uncle, working as an assistant prop man for the 1961 Elvis Presley movie “Follow that Dream,” being filmed in Ocala, took Tom to see Elvis in action. And young Tom was hooked. As the story is told, one of his next acquisitions was a guitar.
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but you like it. So much, in fact, that you hang on to anything that ever got near a rock legend.
The belt Elvis wore at a 1956 St. Petersburg concert.
A shirt worn by guitar genius Duane Allman.
And, get this, the Doors’ door. That is, the door to a rundown Tallahassee rental house briefly inhabited by the Doors’ mercurial singer, former Florida State University and hopeless alcoholic Jim Morrison.
It’s all here in “Florida’s Rock & Roll Legends,” a potpourri of 400 items including concert posters and programs, musicial instruments, gold records, stage outfits and high school photos.
The exhibit, culled from hard-core fans, avid collectors, former band members, and, on occasion, the musicians themselves, is at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in Miami.
For those who think Florida’s best-known exports are orange juice and Elian Gonzalez, get with the beat. This place is rockin’.
In the past 50 years, the Sunshine State has filled the world with sweet, sweet music; gospel and rock, rhythm and blues and, yes, disco, too.
We claim R&B icon Ray Charles, who grew up in Greenville in North Florida and attended the State School for the Blind in St. Augustine. And the Allman Brothers, who started their groundbreaking Southern rock band in Jacksonville in the late ’60s.
Don’t forget KC and the Sunshine Band, the Miami group forever linked to ’70s disco, and Jimmy Buffett, the musician/mogul who now calls Palm Beach home.
And let’s not ignore Gloria Estefan, who may be the most successful contemporary singer to meld Latin and American sounds. Plus, the pop parade marching out of Orlando, from Britney Spears to the Backstreet Boys.
Ready to boogie through the exhibit?
Let’s start with the seven-foot black Baldwin piano, a little worn about the edges from hard use.
Aretha Franklin pounded those keys when she recorded at Miami’s Criteria Studio for Tom Dowd, a legendary producer for Atlantic Records, who also recorded the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton.
Fans of Tom Petty, whose roots are in Gainesville, can see pictures of young Tom and his family at a beach in the mid-’50s. Gainesville High School supplied a yearbook picture of a somber Tom with his high school band, the Epics.
Miamian Jeffery Lemlich, author of “Savage Lost,” a book about Florida’s garage bands, lent dozens of items, including Sam and Dave’s first album on Roulette, made in 1964. The album didn’t offer up any hits. In fact, the Liberty City duo didn’t have a major hit until ’66.
For sheer quirkiness, nothing tops the exhibit better than bits of Morrison’s eclectic history in Tallahassee. There’s a police mug shot and a 1963 arrest record for drunk and disorderly behavior. And the door, of course, with peeling pink paint.
“It wasn’t a house, it was a shack,” says Daniell Revenaugh, the landlord who salvaged the door when he razed the house in the late ’80s. Morrison is most memorable to Revenaugh, who now lives in Berkeley, Calif., for his bounced checks.
The man in charge of collecting all this stuff is Bob McNeil, senior curator for the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. The collector opened in Tallahassee in October and moves to Orlando after its Miami gig.
Before McNeil’s search was over, he’d scavenged around Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio and all over Florida.
McNeil ate collard greens with Bo Diddley at his Archer home and left with a handmade guitar.
A curator by profession, McNeil turned detective trying to authenticate items that didn’t come directly from the artists.
“We used photographs, newspaper clippings, and books to check things out,” he says. “Sometimes I called reputable people who had known connections, but sometimes you have to take things at face value.”
FYI: If You Go
- What: “Florida’s Rock & Roll Legends” exhibit
- Where: Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami
- When: Through Jan. 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday to 9 p.m.; Thursday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
- Admission: Adults $5, children 6-12 $2, younger than 6 free.
- Information: 305-375-1492; www.historical-museum.org museum