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Opening Remarks

Tribute – Kenny Oliverio

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Beachcomber contributing writer and photographer Nikki Hedrick calls this her favorite photo of the late great Kenny Oliverio (Dread Clampitt, Old Bull Young Bull). “Not because it’s that strong of a photo, but it was one of those nights you were simply grateful to be in the room,” she says. “Everything felt right and felt good, including some light jokes about the fruit maracas.”

By Chad Thurman

 

When I first moved to the beach the summer of ‘02, I didn’t own an electric bass or an amp. Let’s just say it was necessary to liquidate these tools in order to get down here.

 

My second day of being a Floridian, by happenstance—as is most often the case with the best things in life—I struck up a conversation with a guy at Leitz Music store in Fort Walton Beach. His name was Kyle. I told him I was a bassist but that I didn’t have an electric, only a double bass upright. His eyes lit up. He invited me to play with him and a friend of his, a guy named Balder, the next night at a place called Indigo Café in Grayton Beach.

 

So there I was, on the third day of my Florida journey, on the way to play with two guys, one of whom I’d never met. I was a little late because this was in the days before smartphones, and Kyle had me looking for “Highway 38.”

 

Nonetheless, I still arrived before Balder and after setup, Kyle introduced me to Sarabelle, Joleen and a guy named Eric who everyone called Slinky. Eventually Balder got there, introductions were made, and we played the gig. The first song we played was the Duke Boys theme. I liked these guys.

 

After the gig, Slinky asked if I could play the electric bass. I told him yes, though unfortunately, I did not own such a creature. He said, “No problem, got you covered! My buddy Kenny has a bass and amp you can borrow.“

 

The next night I made my way to a place called Theo’s to play my second Florida gig with Slinky and another dude I’d never met. When I arrived, I noticed an amp and a purple fretless four-string on the stage all set up and ready to go.

Slinky met me at the door, welcomed me in and introduced me to two guys at the bar laughing through shots of Jager. This is how I first met Corbin, the guy who everyone called “Sugar Lump,” and a guitarist named Kenny Oliverio.

 

The first thing Kenny asked me was if I could play 12-bar blues. As a jazz player coming from Memphis by way of Nashville, I told him through a smirk that I’d heard of it. “We’ll play ‘Pride and Joy’ first. It’s in E,” he said as we walked up to start the first set. We played the song. Only afterwards did he shake my hand. Though he didn’t know me from Adam, he had loaned me his instrument and amp and welcomed me into his musical world.

 

As I know it, that’s how—in one week—the bands Dread Clampitt and Clueless got their starts.

 

Moreover, this is how I’ve met those of you all in South Walton over the last 14 years—through Kenny, Justin, Kyle, Balder and Slinky, just because I had the dumb luck to be able to play a bass guitar. Because of music. The people I’ve met. Ineffable comes to mind.

 

When I met Kenny he couldn’t drive for various reasons. In exchange for loaning me the bass, I taxied him…and I got to know him. We fast became close friends. He understood me. I cracked him up, and he did the same for me. We laughed a lot. That smile—his laugh! He could read me and just start laughing. Wow, did we have some inside jokes and esoteric quips. The only musician I know who could write a silly song about a “crazy ol’ banana” and keep a serious face while singing it.

 

Later that fall, after Kenny’s well-deserved and much needed month-long vacation at the DeFuniak Hilton, he moved in with me. We became roomies, bandmates, and even better friends. Thinking of all of the beautiful and super cool women we met through music at Capo’s and those sunrises on the beach…Summer Song.

 

Just being beach musicians, watching South Park after gigs, writing songs together, traveling and talking about life. Laughing…simply laughing together. His voice—I never tired of hearing him sing “Treetop Flyer.” I’d never before or since met a more manly man with an obstinate and resolute disposition toward his life’s goals. He knew who he was, no question. I’ve never seen another guitarist pogo on his guitar…more than once. Fritz knows.

And yes, he would be there for you if you needed him. Always.

 

I ran into Kenny last week at the grocery store. He was back on the horse. We shared a laugh about how one only needs two fingers to play bluegrass bass. He was looking up about life. It was so good to see him.

 

Before we parted ways, the last time we made eye contact was one of those moments where he looked at my face, knew what I was thinking, and he simply busted out laughing.

 

That’s how we left each other.

 

That laugh, Kenny, will be missed. Thank you for this memory and all of the others. Without you, brother, things would be different. I know you know what I mean.

 

Chad Thurman is a local musician and writer currently performing with the band Fearless Heights.

 

ABOUT OUR COVER PHOTOGRAPHER

Jordan Walker, whose stunning springtime photo trumpets the return of model Casandra Mae to The Beachcomber’s cover, was born and raised in Crestview. A single mother to a beautiful little girl, Walker has been doing photography since 2011. “I love to shoot anything, from weddings and couples to families,” she says.

 

Discover more at facebook.com/Lovabelle/.

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