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The Gamlin' Blues

Ironically, it is that singular voice, along with Nicole's melodic, idiosyncratic violin phrasing, that caught the ear of a certain parrothead troubadour who holes up in the Conch Republic from time to time. "To tell you the truth," confesses Nicky, "I had never seen Jimmy Buffett work until I was on-stage playing with him."

Buffett ran into the Slicks four years ago when they were playing in Key West at the Reach, and later caught their act in his own club, Margaritaville. He sat in with them at one of their gigs, and offered Nicky a spot with his touring band this past June. The defender of manatees and margaritas gave Nicole a crash course in Caribbean soul, and Yarling is currently in the midst of her second tour as a member of the Buffett juggernaut, singing back-up and playing violin, including a nice solo turn on "A1A."

"That [summer, 1991] tour was like summer camp. We played the Walden Pond benefit at Madison Square Garden with Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt, went sailing with Ted Kennedy, sat in with the Memphis Horns, ate a lot.... I met Black Elvis in New York and I was Black Priscilla. The music has been updated a lot, although we managed to avoid a close call when they wanted to do a rap version of the `Who's going to steal the peanut butter' song," she laughs.

Meanwhile, the Slicks hone their chops and bide their time. An opportunity to tour with Mr. Zevon fell apart at the last minute. The band is wildly popular in Denmark, and would like to mount a short tour this summer, depending on Nicole's availability/Buffett tour plans. The Slicks came close to signing a big international record deal with EMI in Copenhagen, but that collapsed when the German rep inexplicably vetoed the deal, to the consternation of his French, Danish, and Swedish counterparts, and contingency plans would have called for the Slicks to relocate semi-permanently on the other side of the pond in order to save the deal.

"We really enjoy playing in Denmark," says John Yarling. "They're not as jaded about music in general over there. They're still not inundated with hundreds of bad commercial radio stations, they only recently got MTV - it's still special for them to go out to hear music. Here in the States, and particularly Miami, it's like, `Okay, I'm 30 now. I can listen to oldies on the radio, but no more live music.'"

Yarling allows as how that reluctance to support high-quality live music has helped shape the Slicks' approach to music in general and to earning a living as a South Florida band in particular. "The money down here seems low, but it's not as bad as a lot of other places. The big problem here is that too many club owners take the attitude that the quality of the band really doesn't matter, and unfortunately the people who go to clubs prove them right. There's not much band loyalty, either from the owners or the customers."

Little Nicky and the Slicks' response, therefore, is to work toward landing more festival and large-venue gigs, and to de-emphasize club work as much as possible. And what about blues cruises? John Yarling takes a diplomatic stance: "The good thing about this band is that we have a lot of experience playing all kinds of styles in all kinds of venues."

"I think I won ten dollars," adds Nicole Yarling.
The passenger who happened upon them that October night in the mid-deck lounge wasn't complaining, either. He went home a hundred bucks richer and got to hear a surprisingly entertaining rock band in the bargain. The blues would just have to wait.

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