Saturday, May 26, 2018
Human Interest

Sound advice: 'Drop on Down in Florida,' 'The Bouzouki of George Soffos'

I've always thought no state boasts such diverse music as our own. On my iPod you'll find songs from Greenville's Ray Charles and Gainesville's Tom Petty. I've got Orange Blossom Special, a famous bluegrass stomper from Gladesman Ervin Rouse, and Zora Neale Hurston's a cappella rendition of an old Bahamian tune that migrated to Florida, Crow Dance. In the guilty pleasure department, I listen to Miami Beach Rhumba by Xavier Cugat without a blush. Now come a couple of new treats.

Drop on Down in Florida, assembled by folklorists Dwight DeVane and Blaine Waide, features now-gone African-Americans singing their forgotten tunes in the orange groves, bean fields and churches of rural Florida in the 20th century. Some sing without instruments, some are accompanied by homemade, one-string guitars as roosters crow in the background. It's impossible to highlight everything great on this double album, which is accompanied by a wonderful book, but how about Polk Country Blues by Ella Mae Wilson and Richard Williams?

The Bouzouki of George Soffos is thrilling and heartbreaking. Soffos, a Tarpon Springs fixture, was known as one of the greatest Greek musicians in the world. He could make his six-string bouzouki sound like a full band. In 2011, he won a prestigious Florida Heritage Award. In January, he died only hours after performing in Tarpon Springs at the annual Epiphany celebration. He was 59. His close friend and Tarpon Springs folklorist Tina Bucuvalas drew from four decades of recorded work to produce this album. You don't have to understand Greek to appreciate Soffos' electrifying and emotional playing. He was known as the "Eric Clapton of the bouzouki.'' It's also accurate to say Clapton was the "George Soffos of the guitar.'' Really.

Listen to clips from the albums at tampabay.com/floridian.

 

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