ST. PETERSBURG — In the early 1970s, a band led by Laddie "Fat Laddie" Hutcherson nearly tore down a hot new club call the Upper Deck — literally.
Patrons packed the dance floor. Rooster, a popular blues band led by Fat Laddie, tore through an Allman Brothers cover. The building, which stood on stilts, seemed to move.
"It was shaking so hard we were afraid the ceiling was going to collapse," said drummer Jerry Thompson.
Fat Laddie, one of the best-known local musicians in the 1970s, continued to rock the house for decades.
He played on stage with B.B. King at Tampa's Fort Homer Hesterly Armory; on a paddleboat near the Pier with Jimmy Buffett; and at Elvis' birthday party at Graceland.
Though Fat Laddie never made it big himself, he drew crowds for years at some of the Tampa Bay area's most popular nightclubs.
Mr. Hutcherson died Saturday, of lung cancer, in Cherokee Village, Ark. He was 64.
"Laddie was a black-white blues player, like Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs," said Vic Waters, 65, who 40 years ago played in a duo with Mr. Hutcherson. "He cut his teeth on Beale Street."
As a teenager in Memphis, Mr. Hutcherson worshiped bluesmen from the 1930s and 1940s such as Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins. He played his way into otherwise black bands.
In 1972, he returned to St. Petersburg. He formed Rooster, a peppy blues band that packed hot spots like the Courthouse in Clearwater and Ron's Highway Lounge on U.S. 19.
"Laddy was a great blues player and a great front man," said Randy Edwards, 62, who joined Rooster for a while "because they were the best around."
Once a radio DJ, Mr. Hutcherson's antics entertained crowds. He was known to single out couples who left the show early, saying he was sorry to see them go.
As soon as they left, though, he would tell the crowd that he "couldn't wait for them to leave."
"People who didn't know too much about music would come just to hear Laddie's between-tune patter," Thompson said.
He smoked heavily. "He had bouts of drinking, and then he would get a grip on things," said his wife, Nancy Hutcherson, 62.
The band broke up in the late 1970s. Mr. Hutcherson formed other bands and also played solo, keeping time with his foot on a wooden crate. He moved to Atlanta, then back to Memphis and Arkansas. Mr. Hutcherson returned to St. Petersburg in 2006 until his health declined.
Many of the musicians who played with Fat Laddie have died by their 60s, including five of Rooster's original nine members, said Ron "Bubba" Gregg, 62, who replaced Thompson in the band.
"With the lifestyle that musicians lived then, it's catching up with them," Gregg said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]