As much as I love our part of the world, it has always lent itself to being a place people move to and move from. To maintain much of anything here for 17 years deserves recognition, and when it is a band that has forged ahead for close to two decades, the area takes notice.
Current Cadillac Willy members are Louie Antoon (percussion), Metz Barnes (vocals, keys), Clayton “Bubba” Bonjean (guitar), Shawn “Shack Attack” Shackelford (drums), John David Sullivan (guitar), and Capt. Patrick Wilson (bass, pedal steel).
The very first seeds of Cadillac Willy were planted while Bonjean and Wilson bonded over Widespread Panic songs. The two played together while attending college in Oxford, Mississippi, and then reconnected and began playing for friends at a house Wilson had in downtown Destin.
Slowly, the project earned the nickname Widespread Patrick, and the house became a party spot.
The story should stop there, as Wilson was splitting his time between Destin and Montgomery, Alabama. But before that happened, Wilson connected Antoon with Bonjean, and the beginnings of the band took shape.
Antoon was playing with Salty Dog, but being able to play the jam band music he loved was an exciting prospect. Antoon and Bonjean began recording music, with Allman Brothers bassist David Goldflies as part of the process. They knew something was there, and recruited Josh Pace for drums and vocals. Then they called Wilson up to see if he would be interested in playing bass.
Bonjean’s cousin John David Sullivan finished out the first Cadillac Willy lineup and is credited for the band’s name origins. “When we started, John David told us about an old store where you can get a beer in a brown paper bag outside of Memphis,” says Bonjean. “He always thought that the store’s name would be a great name of the band.”
In 2000, Cadillac Willy was officially born.
They took the handful of songs they learned, and played every Destin area bar and club they could. Their extended breaks—filled with handpicked jam music—helped create a loyal following. “It was a big party,” says Bonjean.
After a couple years, lineup changes became part of the Cadillac Willy story. Fill in musicians were often needed, meaning a wide collection of local musicians have been a part of the band’s legacy. Many are considered honorary members.
Even when Bonjean temporarily stepped away from the project to focus on starting a family, Antoon and Wilson kept the band alive.
Around 2007, the band got a reboot as both Barnes and Shackelford joined the project as full time members.
Barnes answered a Craiglist ad and found himself invited to a Cadillac Willy gig at Hog’s Breath a few days later. There, his feet were put to the fire, and he performed a couple songs on the spot. “For the first few months, I didn’t know,” says Barnes of his integration as an official band member. “But we’re still going strong.”
In 17 years, Cadillac Willy has been the house band at Harbor Docks, opened for Edgar Winter and Robby Krieger of the Doors, outlived many area hotspots, and won a slew of local awards including Beachcomber Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2016. They don’t show signs of stopping. Wilson is even hopeful that his son will take his spot in the band someday.
“The Cadillac Willy band has kind of evolved, and I don’t think you can kill it,” says Bonjean with a laugh. But he might be right—the band formed from its members’ love of jam bands, and that love keeps them going even in the face of lineup changes and a shifting music scene.
Discover more, including information about the band’s May 26 Widespread Panic tribute show in Santa Rosa Beach, at cadillacwilly.com. Cadillac Willy will present this year’s Beachcomber Music Awards Hall of Fame honors Monday, March 6, at Graffiti & the Funky Blues Shack in Destin.