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At sundown, they come. From all over South Florida and all over the world, they come to hear and see him. They are his loyal subjects and he is their king. He rules over no country, no state, no province. Just a street. A glitzy, noisy, congested, exhaust-choked street. His fans sit at the bar or at tables. They stand five-deep on the sidewalk, to keep from overflowing into the slow-moving traffic. They gather across the street as well, packing the sidewalk, lying on the grass, hanging out of trees.
At last he appears, acoustic guitar in hand, on an elevated stage about four feet square. Tall and tan, he has blue eyes and sun-bleached, shoulder-length blond hair. He wears a black silk shirt (the top three buttons undone) and pleated trousers. Like royalty, he is adorned in gold. A gold chain circles his neck, a gold bracelet decorates one wrist, a gold watch the other. He wears a gold ring on each hand. A small gold hoop clings to his left earlobe.
His name is Alex Fox, though his devotees know him as the King of Ocean Drive. In four years of gigging there at I Paparazzi restaurant, the 40-year-old Argentine crooner -- whose appearance and manner suggest nothing so much as Fabio unplugged -- has transformed himself from a mere restaurant performer into a one-man cottage industry.
He plays five sets a night, three nights a week, almost inevitably to a full house. He plays his own songs (an amalgam of Italian, classical, Argentine, and pop music, with a dash of rumba), as well as covers of Carlos Santana or Ottmar Liebert. He is, to put it mildly, exuberant. He swings his guitar around as he plays, lowering and raising it to hide and reveal his crotch. He tosses his mane back; he turns around and shakes his butt, to the delight of the crowd.
Although Fox once followed standard restaurant-performer protocol, playing from a seat in one corner of the room, his style expanded a few years back. He began standing when he played, then grew more daring -- he crossed the street or climbed onto the restaurant's roof or the hoods of cruising cars, playing his guitar all the while. People loved it. Things eventually got so out of control that the police intervened. "I had to stop because it became a mess," Fox recalls. "The police told me 'You can't do this here any more.' So I stopped."
These days two or three off-duty cops are often necessary for crowd control, but Fox has toned his shtick down a bit. The wildest part of his act comes about every other song when, he invites his limber accomplice Liza Luna to join him. She hops on-stage in strappy silver heels and one of several revealing outfits -- sequined bikini tops, sparkly hot pants, and Lycra sarongs are her staples -- and prances about in a mix of lambada, salsa, cha-cha-cha, and flamenco.
A slender 31-year-old from Australia, Luna was just a tourist enjoying a drink at Paparazzi's bar when she first discovered Fox. Overcome by his music, she jumped to her feet and began dancing. Almost four years later, she is Fox's designated dance partner and biggest cheerleader (the de facto mistress of ceremonies, she introduces him as the "Great Alex Fox").
And while it may be alarming to see a woman in three-inch heels bouncing up and down like a kangaroo, Luna says her only close call came during the first few months of her collaboration with Fox, when he nearly whacked her on the head with the neck of his guitar.
The moment one of Fox's 30-minute sets ends, he and Luna plow onto the sidewalk to shake hands, pose for pictures, sign autographs. She hawks his three CDs, which sell for twenty dollars a pop. Purchases are placed in a white plastic "Alex Fox" bag, decorated with a poorly rendered silhouette of the guitarist and phone numbers for more info.
Fox came to Miami in 1984 from Buenos Aires, where music had occupied his life from an early age. At six he began piano lessons. Soon he moved on to classical guitar. As a teenager he received a scholarship to train with the director of the Symphony Orchestra of Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires; it was there he learned to conduct and write his own music. Fox earned a living teaching music and playing in his own band, but it wasn't the good life he had envisioned. "I came here to follow my dream," he says simply.
In Miami, Fox became a student of Jose Adan, a disciple of contemporary Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero. For five years he worked at odd jobs and played the occasional weekend show. In 1989 he began strumming at the former Cafe des Arts. Plunked right on the then-narrow sidewalk lining Ocean Drive with only his guitar and a small amplifier, he played pop covers, classical pieces, and the occasional bolero or cha-cha-cha.
After a few stints in Coconut Grove and Coral Gables restaurants, Fox returned to Argentina in 1992, just in time to avoid Hurricane Andrew. The eight months he spent away from South Florida lent him a new perspective on where he should take his talents. Coconut Grove was a college kid's paradise, no longer a place which to make a living performing solo in upscale restaurants. The hip crowds were gravitating to South Beach, and Fox quickly set his mind to going back there.