Goodbye, Rocketman – Middle Keys entertainer passes away

Goodbye, Rocketman – Middle Keys entertainer passes away

Robert Crelock Hudson — known to locals as Rocketman — passed away on Jan. 8. Locals are mourning the death of a true Keys character.

Rocketman, 76, was born in Memphis Tennessee. Among his most prized possessions were photographs of himself and Elvis Presley playing sandlot football, Heffernan said. From there he joined the Air Force and then ended up in Las Vegas where he played the drums at big casinos with the band Wagon Wheels.

“Rocketman came to vacation in the Keys,” said longtime friend and former owner of Porky’s Bayside Capt. Johnny Maddox. Like many others, he decided to make it his permanent home, in no small part because of the square grouper, Maddox said.

“He told me his first job in the Keys was as construction supervisor at the Safari Lounge,” said local attorney William Heffernan. “The workers were building the balcony and they would see a bale floating by. They’d put down their tools and wade out in knee-deep water to retrieve it and then quit. He kept having to replace the crews and it drove him crazy.”

After a brief sojourn in the Upper Keys, Rocketman made his way to the Middle Keys. He lived at a trailer park on Grassy Key for many years, quietly helping his elderly neighbors. But every weekend he was in the spotlight — as a founding member of the Florida Straits Band. The Sunday night jams were a huge draw with a revolving cast of musicians invited up on the stage to play a number or two.

Tommy “Tunes” Stroup, who enjoyed a long friendship and professional relationship with Rocketman, said the popularity of the Florida Straits Band was indirectly responsible for the active live music scene in Marathon. Along with star visits from the likes of Clarence Clemons and Robyn Robins from the original Bob Seger Band, regular Joes were invited to share the stage with the Florida Straits, too.

“We had people in the audience that had put down their guitars for a couple of years, but once they were invited up onstage they got inspired. Next thing you know, they would be doing their own gigs,” he said. “But Rocketman was our drummer and our emcee and master of ceremonies,” he said.

His charisma at the mic is what most remember.

“It was his voice, I think,” said Heffernan. “It was soothing, but authoritarian. And he was the epitome of true diplomat. Everybody got a chance to play, and if they were truly terrible, he would clap and congratulate them right off the stage. ‘All right, all right, thank you very much, next act,’ he would say.”

Rocketman was always at the head of the line to work the many benefits staged in the Middle Keys. So, when his house burned down in 2008, the entire town turned out for a fundraiser to help him replace the belongings he and his daughter, Roxanne, lost. Locals remember the community raised almost $40,000 for Rocketman.

Before he helped found the Florida Straits Band, Rocketman formed the Tropical Depression Band and played regularly at The Hurricane. After, he started a long-running solo act at Porky’s that started when it was owned by Monroe County Commissioner George Nuegent and his wife, Suzy, then Maddox. His friends say he was heavily influenced by Buffett.

“He had a lot of Jimmy Buffett songs. And ‘Midnight Special,’ we rocked that one,” Stroup said. “Of course, then there was Rocketman’s original song, ‘It Beats 40º Below.’” (See sidebar).

In later years, he was very impressed with pop star Katy Perry — his niece.

“He was proud there was another entertainer in the family,” Heffernan said.

Rocketman reportedly suffered a series of strokes in the last few years. Heffernan said he had a chance to see him at Fishermen’s Community Hospital last week before Rocketman was transferred to a mainland hospital. Stroup said his goodbyes a few years ago when he left the Keys.

“We’re two men. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. We knew each other well,” said Stroup.

Marathon councilman and fellow musician John Bartus lamented his loss.

“He was an ambassador of the Florida Keys and a local legend with a lot to give. He was a devoted father, fine entertainer and will be missed in this community,” Bartus said.

A memorial tribute — with plenty of music — is planned in the coming weeks, to be held at Porky’s. Stay tuned to social media for more details.

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Remember the world’s smallest museum? Rocketman was the proprietor of the establishment — a little travel trailer — parked outside Porky’s when he played. During breaks, he invited the public to tour it. Many left donations in a spittoon by the door, or purchased a small trinket. The treasures included Civil War-era relics, pirate memorabilia and more. It was reportedly even in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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“Rocketman was proud there was another entertainer in the family.”    William Heffernan on Rocketman’s pride in his niece, pop star Katy Perry.

——

It Beats 40º Below

By Rocketman

 

My red flag is blowing,

Down in the tropical breeze,

The sky is blue,

The water is green,

And I feel so at ease.

 

[CHORUS]

I’m glad I don’t live in no city,

Feeling no stress or strain,

The nearest thing to stress I want,

Is sunburn on my brain.

It beats 40 below,

Shoveling snow,

And I like it.

It beats 40 below,

Shoveling snow,

And I like it.

There ain’t no place I’d rather be

Down in my Florida Keys.

It beats 40 below,

Shoveling snow,

And I like it.

 

Did a little fishin’ in the morning,

Some diving in the afternoon,

Saw a hell of a sunset,

And danced beneath the full moon.

Sometimes I don’t have much money,

I live like a billionaire.

I got that ocean breeze,

Tropical trees,

And memories I can’t share.

 

[CHORUS]

When Im’ feeling down,

I go out on that sea,

Me and my boat and Mother Ocean

That’s the way it should be.

When I come back to shore,

Everything is fine,

So we break out some rum,

Strike up this band,

Have a night of fun.  

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