Henry Paul hasn't lived in Tampa in 25 years. But he still thinks about coming back.
"The Florida I grew up in is hard to find," the singer said in a phone interview from his new hometown of Atlanta. "Everything has been sort of glossed over and reinvented and significantly changed. All the haunts and all the places that were part of my past are very difficult to find. But still, I'm a Florida Gator fan, I'm a Tampa Bay Buc fan, I'm a Tampa Bay Lightning Fan, I'm a Rays fan. I really identify with Tampa as my home."
He's one of the few rock stars who can. Born in New York but raised in Tampa, Paul hit the big time with not one but two bands — Southern rockers the Outlaws in the '70s and country vocal group BlackHawk in the '90s. On Friday, he'll return to perform with both groups, along with his namesake Henry Paul Band, for his third annual sprawling, career-spanning holiday show at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater.
"It's really like a musical mob scene," said Paul, 67. "I would say that if we start it at 8 o'clock, we'll be lucky to be done by 11:30 or midnight."
There's just that much to pull from. The Outlaws have rip-roaring Southern rock hits like Green Grass and High Tides and Ghost Riders in the Sky; BlackHawk brings Nashville heart on Goodbye Says It All and Every Once In a While. The Henry Paul Band never struck as big, but its members are all around and playing, albeit spread across the country.
"Just a ridiculously insane undertaking," Paul says of pulling together these annual shows. But, he admits: "It's fun to have your own musical landscape to dabble in."
The Outlaws fall into a proud lineage of Southern rock giants from the Sunshine State, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and .38 Special.
"It was just everywhere, popping up on the national radar screen," Paul said.
And while they worked the Florida circuit hard, playing bars in Tampa and Orlando and Cocoa Beach, only outside the state did those connections pay off. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant who encouraged Clive Davis to sign the Outlaws to his fledgeling Arista Records.
"Southern rock was extremely popular," Paul said. "MCA had Lynyrd Skynyrd; Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band were on Capricorn; Charlie Daniels was on Columbia. I think he wanted in on that deal. The Outlaws were, as it turned out, in the right place at the right time."
So was BlackHawk. Paul was at a "stepping off point" in his life when he moved to Nashville in 1991, forming BlackHawk right as pop country was taking off. Their 1994 self-titled album went double platinum, giving Paul his second hit project.
He still performs up to 120 gigs a year with the Outlaws and BlackHawk. Only in recent years, he said, have the two fan bases started to discover one another, even though the shows they play still feel quite different.
"The Outlaws, that show is a very physical, very demanding musical presentation," he said. "The BlackHawk presentation is a little more forgiving and a little more spiritual, a little more kind and gentle. The Outlaws thing is a beatdown."
He doesn't often perform with both bands on the same night ("Jesus, God, I don't know if I could survive"), but these local holiday shows are special.
"Everyone that I know comes and supports the band, and we get to visit," he said. "Once a year, we get to have that. I'm lucky to be able to have the kind of job that provides me the opportunity to congregate and bring people together. It's a large part of the appeal. It's not just another show and a paycheck. It's an opportunity to reconnect."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.