The isolation of Key West — it being the southernmost point of the continental United States, accessible only by boats and bridges — hasn't exactly made the island a hotbed for rock 'n' roll bands trying to make it big. You're more likely to find a band of drunk college kids than one of actual musicians. But Patrick & the Swayzees are trying to change that, one blistering live show at a time. "A Key West music scene doesn't really exist," Swayzees guitarist Jerrod Isaman explains. "You have a single dude with an acoustic guitar that is a singer/songwriter, and then you have reggae bands, and there's a lot of trop-rock bands that drank the Jimmy Buffett Kool-Aid, but we're pretty much the only rock band on Key West — and definitely the only surf and rockabilly band."
Isaman started Patrick & the Swayzees with two other Northeast transplants, bassist Patrick Stecher and drummer Tyler "T-Bone" McHone. And, no, they didn't choose the band's name because of a deep love for Dirty Dancing and Point Break. "The three of us joked around using the word 'swayzee' as an adjective for sharp, like, 'That's a swayzee jacket.' Since we had a Patrick in the band and we dress up in bow ties when we play, we thought it was a funny play on words."
The trio began its musical life exclusively as a surf-rock instrumental band. Then, about a year ago at a Key West open-mike night, the group's direction changed completely when they saw Les Greene perform. Greene, a Baltimore native, had endless energy, enthusiasm, and dance moves somewhere between James Brown and Elvis. He was — and remains — a tornado of energy onstage, both vocally and physically, and when Isaman saw him, he had no choice but to recruit him.
The band began mostly playing covers and expanded into Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, and the Sonics after Greene came along. They still play a steady dose of instrumentals, which is a good time for Greene to take a breather from belting his heart out in the Florida sun. But he still finds ways to occupy his time during these segments. "He's dancing during the instrumentals," Isaman says. "We joke that we don't know whether he dances or sings more in the band. Nobody knows the secret to his energy. I like to think it's the music that pumps him up."
Patrick & the Swayzees spent much of that first year playing three or four nights a week at every Key West bar, pub, and pier that would have them, running through their repertoire of more than a hundred cover songs. "Some nights we'd do more instrumentals; some nights we'd do more rockabilly. We had our local crowd super into it, and then you had different tourists coming to our crazy little island checking us out." Those three-hour gigs were crucial to the band's growth. "It made us tighter. Playing gigs — any gig — is endless practice. Learning old sounds gave us inspiration to write new, original sounds."
Which brings up the next step in Patrick & the Swayzees' evolution. They are working on their first album of original songs, which they hope will be released in July. The band is planning a tour to showcase these new songs up and down the East Coast all the way to Canada, but first they have a couple of upcoming shows at Miami's Gramps and El Tucán. "We mix the hourlong show into parts. We do a half-hour of originals and a half-hour of covers. We have our surf instrumentals, some rock 'n' roll vocal songs, and then Les steps us into some soul songs."
It's sure to be a long, uphill battle, but Patrick & the Swayzees hope that one day when people think of a soundtrack for Key West, the first song that comes to mind won't be "Margaritaville" or "Cheeseburger in Paradise."
Patrick & the Swayzees.11 p.m. Friday, June 10, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; gramps.com. Admission is free.
David Rolland is a freelance music writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His mornings are spent educating his toddler daughter on becoming a music snob. His spare time is spent dabbling in writing fiction and screenplays whose subjects are mostly music snobs.