(Editor’s note: As a tribute to the late musician Bill Blue, who died July 15 after a battle with cancer, the Key West Weekly is re-running a tribute column by Ben Solove from April 2021 with minor edits and updates.)
Bill Blue was a Key West musical icon. The blues master moved to the island from Virginia in the early ’80s, when he started his journey to becoming the modern-day godfather of the Key West music scene. Over the decades, Blue has entertained thousands of locals and tourists. One of the world’s best slide guitarists, he dazzled crowds from the Green Parrot to the Key West Theater while playing every venue along the way. His memorable performances as part of the Sunday Ramble, as well as his full band concert performances at the Key West Theater are legendary. Blue’s lasting influence on Key West’s musical story takes a backseat to no one.
In 2019, Blue began to have trouble with his vocals. He was losing his voice for some reason, but continued to perform and showcase his brilliant songwriting and guitar work. Doctors were puzzled as to the cause of his vocal struggles, until they discovered a tumor in his throat. Surgery was required and, as a tragic result, the surgeons had to remove Blue’s voice box.
Blue’s record label, Conch Town Music, hosted a benefit concert — The Bill Blue Most Exceptional Benefit Concert — in April 2021 at The Key West Amphitheater to help and honor the legendary bluesman. The show featured a star-studded lineup of local musicians eager to pay tribute to one of their heroes.
“We all know Bill as an elder, an icon of the Key West music community,” said fellow Conch Town Records recording artist Ericson Holt, who headlined the show. “He was an established headliner with an international following when I started in the business, and I’m grateful that my path eventually led me to Key West and playing on the great recordings that he’s made here in the last few years.”
Blue’s two most recent albums “Mojolation” (2013) and “The King of Crazy Town” (2020) are exceptional blues albums. Both were produced by Conch Town Music’s Ian Shaw.