A new book on the history of the Bay Area could be a good addition to your ever-expanding social distancing reading list.
From the “Images of America” ââseries by Arcadia Publishing Tampa Bay Music Roots, a succinct and airy collection of photos and facts about the music and musicians who have lived and worked in the region, from the 1940s until today.
âI made a lot of friends in the area and just wanted them to feel honored,â says Charlie Souza, co-author of the book (with Keith Wilkins). âAnd I found a lot of things while I was researching. I was very impressed with everyone here.
Souza has been a staple of Tampa Bay rock ‘n’ roll since the 1960s. He was the bassist of the Tropics, arguably the most popular band of that fertile era. The first singles of the Tropics, produced by Phil Gernhard, “I Want More” and “You Better Move” are garage rock classics; on tour, they shared the bill with the Who, the (Young) Rascals and the Herman’s Hermits.
âI had struggled as a child, so I made music part of the healing,â Souza says. âBeing with your friends is what really helps you make great music – loving your friends you make music with.â
The Tropics (Buddy Pendergrass, Mel Dryer, Bobby Shea, Charlie Souza and Eric Turner) came as close as any other band in Tampa Bay from the mid-’60s to âmaking itâ nationally.
âWe look back and those were the best times of our lives,â says Souza, who still performs today. âOur manager, Margie Sexton, gave us a Battle of the Bands spot in Chicago, and at that point there were actually people chasing our limo through the streets! I felt like a Beatle. Just a minute.
The Tropics won the 1966 Battle of the Bands, defeating Big Thing (which would later become the Chicago Transit Authority, then only Chicago) and Tommy James and the Shondells, among others. They recorded a single, “Time”, on Columbia Records. It was a composition by Charlie Souza.
The single was produced by Columbia house producer Ted Macero, who also brought Free time and Miles Davis Spain sketch and Bitches Brew in the world.
For Charlie Souza and his teenage mates in Tampa, it was something exhilarating. âIt was wonderful, I don’t know how to put it another way,â he explains. âThen I started to expect to be on top. And then, of course, the ’70s started, and that was a whole different time.
Arcadia approached Souza due to her involvement in the ongoing Tampa Bay Music Hall of Fame project. Souza enlisted the help of Wilkins – another local music historian – to complete the 127-page soft-bound book (“They only used about half of what I submitted”).
Tampa Bay Music Roots (Amazon link) is understandably heavy on the rock ‘n’ roll era of the 1960s and early 1970s (Tropics founder Buddy Pendergrass later formed the ‘heavy’ southern rock band White Witch, for example), and soon-famous acts (outlaws, Lobo, Bertie Higgins) have their due.
The book is filled, however, with tidbits and anecdotes, with more than half a century of cultural history.
âIt was a rewarding experience taking note of all the other musicians, performers and artists who have come here to the region,â said Souza. âI’m just a little grain of sand on the beach now. It took away all of my ego.
“I mean, Ray Charles wrote one of his first songs about his girlfriend in St. Petersburg.”