When Graham Wood Drout and Iko Iko first started playing Tobacco Road in 1981, "the owner, an ex-cop named Neil, kept a shotgun behind the bar, couldn't get any strippers to work for the club, and hired us to play for Mariel refugees under a disco ball till four in the morning."
In the '80s and '90s, Tobacco Road was ground zero for live music in the city. But "it was pretty lawless. There was a dirt road, and the bridge was broken and stuck in the up position."
Times have changed, but Drout remains. Here's what he had to say about his first guitar, livin' in Rio, and his Tuesday night residency at The Road.
Crossfade: What was your first guitar?
Graham Wood Drout: My first guitar was an acoustic guitar, a Digiorgio I got when I was living in Brazil.
Where did you get it?
I bought it at a guitar store in Rio De Janeiro back in 1968 when I was 15 years old. I had a Led Zeppelin I songbook and learned the chords from that.
Did you ever get a chance to perform down there?
I lived down there a little over three years from '68 to '71. That was in high school. I had my first show down there at a school music festival, probably about 1971 with my band Moonstone and The Little Animal People.
Were you Moonstone or a Little Animal Person?
I mighta been Moonstone. I don't know.
How was it livin' in Rio?
I was 15 years old and there were no rules in the most exciting city on the planet. I could go to bars. The transportation ran 24 hours a day, all over. It was amazing, a really terrific experience. I still think Rio probably parties harder than Miami, what with Carnival and all that.
You have a show on January 31, right?
Yeah. It's gonna be me, Mitch Mestel from Iko Iko on bass, Cortland Joyce on drums, and Albert Castiglia on guitar. We're calling it the Reverend Deadman Drout with One Dead, One Missing, Plus One. We're playing damaged boogie and dirt-floor blues with no hope, no fear, no cover. It's a lot of original material. Very casual.
How long have you been playing at Tobacco Road?
Monday and Tuesday since '84. Tobacco Road was pretty low down back then. It was the end of the line. I don't remember any fights really. One night, there was a naked guy just walking around checking the payphones for change. He started walking over, the doorman says, "Hey, we've got a dresscode here," and he turned around and kept walking.
They used to have a place called Shag Nasty, a little bar with a fajita stand outside. The cops all used to go there to hang out and eat fajitas. This is back when Miami Vice was shooting. This car comes screeching down the street going the wrong way, fires a bunch of shots out the window, and then takes off. Everybody thought they were just filming a TV episode. But it was an actual drive-by.
What else about Tobacco Road?
We've had Neil Young and Stephen Stills sittin' in the bar listenin' to us. In the '80s and early 90s it was a world-class blues bar and something like a really important place for music in South Florida, and even America. It was a destination that gave a home to a lot of people who made good music.
And it still is.
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Still doin' it. Too late to stop now.
Graham Wood Drout. Tuesday, January 31, and every Tuesday. Tobacco Road, 626 S. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and there's no cover. Call 305-374-1198 or visit tobacco-road.com.