“Six Pretty Girls in My Black Limousine”: That was the A-side that put Larry Joe Miller and his Rockabilly Rockets on the South Florida map. Though it's not known as a rockabilly destination, South Florida had a small but thriving scene with artists such as Jim Voytek, Steve Alaimo (before he got the TK bug), Tommy Spurlin, and Wally Deane. But Larry Joe, he was one of us. From the beginning to the end, Miller was a real South Florida artist. He passed away Friday, November 3, at the age of 74.
There's a lot of crossover between the visual arts and music in South Florida, where many musicians ply their trade in both worlds. Miller was the hippest of the hep cats, a real rockabilly crooner who did it before it was cool, when the Stray Cats took it to mainstream American homes, and well after the flash had dulled in the pan. You can’t kill cool like that.
“Every time there was an art class at Young Circle, I would bring friends from out of town,” friend Gayle Austin says. “People who had never painted in their lives would feel so comfortable and safe.” Over the years, when not rocking a stage, slapping an upright, or making a ukulele do his bidding, Miller had become a fixture on Broward’s art scene through his art gallery and school at One Young Circle.
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His gallery was a hodgepodge of activity: printing and painting workshops for children and adults, girls-night-out and corporate team-building parties, recordings in a 24-track studio, and paint-for-fun nights. No matter the event, it was always fun and open for everyone to enjoy. That’s the kind of cool you don’t see often these days. It was genuine.
Starting in the teen garage-punk outfit the Thingies, Miller quickly became a key player in bringing Miami rockabilly into the modern era. With the Rockabilly Rockets, he released Rub a Bucket, a must-have cassette, on Jeterboy Records and would go on to perform and record with various outfits throughout the years.
“Larry joined the [DT] Martyrs shortly after Mike O’Brien left the band, and he was already legendary in my mind,” musician Ian Hammond recalls, “the consummate rockabilly cat.”
Richard Shelter, a longtime booker and the driving force behind the archivist project Miami Punk Rock High, booked Miller to perform at a recent reunion show. “Larry played whenever I asked him to; he never said no, reliable as a clock," Shelter says. "Thirty years later, when I asked him to play two nights of the reunion, he said no problem... and even at his age put on great sets on both nights!”
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The response to his death on social media has been overwhelming, but no one sums it up better than his son Clay: “Everyone thinks their dad is the most interesting dad in the world, but my pops really was. He was a touring rockabilly musician for over 50 years and toured with the Clash. He was a great artist who was the artist-in-residence for our community. He went to Woodstock. He was an Air Force vet whose squadron were the key players during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was no one like him.”
Indeed. There certainly wasn’t.
Miller is survived his wife Amy, his children, and the two large South Florida communities of art and music that he was a part of and influenced for many years. South Florida has lost one of the coolest dudes ever. But cool like that? It never dies.
A memorial celebration of Larry Joe's legacy will be held at his gallery in Arts Park at One Young Circle in Hollywood on Saturday, November 18 at 5 p.m.