A Saucy Singer

A couple of times a year count on Bill Wharton and the Ingredients, modern-day troubadours from Monticello, a little town in Florida's panhandle, to pass through some juke joints between Del-ray Beach and the Keys. During a New Year's Eve bash tonight and an encore performance Saturday, Wharton (a.k.a. the Sauce Boss) and his Ingredients mix it up at Miami's Tobacco Road. Led by a smokin' slide guitar, Wharton's own recipe of inspired world-beat blues and spicy gumbo, which he cooks on stage and zings with his homemade hot sauce, transmits the band's messages of harmony and generosity.

Musical purists may scoff, calling the act nothing but a gimmick to sell Wharton's sauce, Liquid Summer. But onstage antics have elevated him from a musician-cum-snake oil salesman to a full-fledged gumbo preacher pushing his creation along with a good meal and a great night of music. Wharton explains that hawking Liquid Summer at his shows is part of a natural progression that began in the early Seventies: "People would come over to my house to eat and ask for some of my sauce. It got to the point where two or three gallons would be gone in a few weeks, so I decided to bottle it and sell it at the gigs."

On a New Year's Eve about ten years ago cooking was added to the musical shtick. "We decided to make a big pot of gumbo to prove to everybody in the audience how good Liquid Summer hot sauce can be," Wharton boasts. "And 60,000 bowls later, here we are." Cooking on stage turned into a major part of Wharton's routine, but he's quick to add that the food just complements the music. "A lot of our songs are almost spiritual. We do a lot of tunes about cooking, but that's not all there is. It's pretty upbeat music that has a message of sharing. And the cooking plays into that."

Wharton's culinary skills will also figure in his next project. In March he'll release Recipes, a CD-ROM featuring new tunes and a cookbook, which will include, of course, recipes for everything from gumbo and low-country barbecue to soups and salads. Wharton will nevertheless continue, as he puts it, "spreading the gospel according to gumbo" at approximately 170 gigs each year. With his fire-breathing blues and tasty gumbo, the Sauce Boss won't leave anyone hungry or craving ear candy.

-- Larry Boytano

Bill Wharton and the Ingredients perform at 10:00 p.m. Thursday, December 31, with In Your Pocket, and at 10:45 p.m. Saturday, January 2, at Tobacco Road, 626 S Miami Ave. Thursday's cover charge is $22 with a lobster dinner, a champagne toast, and party favors (reservations required), or $10 without the dinner. Cover charge Saturday is $5. No extra fee for the gumbo. Call 305-374-1198.

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Larry Boytano