‘The destination became Florida’

Carlson aims to fill musical niche

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Sam Carlson plays several nights a week in Key West.PAUL BLATT/Contributed

Young Sam Carlson was only planning to come down to Key West for a few days at the end of a long road trip in 2017. Previously, he had been working just outside of Boston as an outdoor educator for middle school students.

“My friend was a bass player, and another played accordion and we played music whenever we could,” he said. “There were day trips with the students, and then we played all night.”

Originally, Carlson was going to teach in Boston, but began busking and while traveling, got gigs in California.

“I had never been west of the Mississippi. I met a friend in New Orleans who knew Jerrod Isaman (Billy & the Squid, Love Lane Gang) who told me to seek him out in Key West. Another friend said go find ‘Happy Dog’ if you go to Key West. So the destination became Florida,” Carlson said. “I played music, and my friend made and sold jewelry and we traveled all over the country. I was lucky when I came to Key West. Someone gave me a place to sleep. On the third day on the island, Raven Cooper invited me up on stage. She got me my first gig at Captain Tony’s.”

Carlson had to decide whether to pursue the master’s program and teach, or make music, write songs, and become successful here in Key West. “I grew up singing all the time, starting in church,” he said. Self-taught on guitar, Carlson was surrounded by folk and bluegrass music close to his house in college.

Carlson plays solo as well as rhythm guitar in the Key West band “Billy and the Squid.” You can see him with “Billy and the Squid” at Sunset Pier on Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m., at Salute’s on Sundays from 6 to 9 p.m. and solo at Blue Heaven on Thursday nights, and at Viva Saloon on Sundays and Mondays from noon to 3 p.m.

Carlson is working on a couple of other local musical projects that we can expect to see soon: Bea Bea Banda, a gypsy band led by Martin the violinist, and a jug band project at Mary Ellen’s complete with a tuba, banjoleles and kazoos. Carlson will also take some time this summer to record some of his songs. “The niche I’m trying to go for is country blues/country folk, like Pokey LeFarge.”

“I want to thank Pete Jarvis and Raven Cooper who helped me a lot to get my first gigs, and Jesse Wagner and Jerrod Isaman for their musical guidance and friendship,” he said. “Walking through the doors that opened have led me here. It all just happened when I got here! Been a good year!”

Daryl Brooke

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