Nik Sharp could sell anything — songs, sandwiches, shoe shines, Sinatra. But he wasn’t a salesman.
He was a performer.
Sharp, whose legal name was Nikolas Panagopoulos, was an entrepreneur and musician, but neither of those titles really fit.
“Nik was a genuine rock star,” said friend Seth Kushner.
Rock stars call their local newspaper for an interview from the bathtub. They sell out shows. They crackle with electricity on stage and off. And they make people feel something.
Sharp, who spent years performing as the singer-guitarist for the band Suburban Tragedy before moving to Nashville, Tenn., in 2015, died Dec. 15 of a heart attack. He was 42 and just starting his next big thing.
All shook up
No one quite remembers when Nikolas Panagopoulos took on the stage name Mister Nik Sharp. But his mom remembers when he took on the stage.
He was 5, maybe 7, when the animatronic version of Elvis Presley singing at Chuck E. Cheese captivated Sharp.
“Within two visits, he had all the songs and all the moves,” said Sharp’s mom, Dawn Reese, “and people were there watching him.”
At the Brown Derby in Palm Harbor, the drummer would invite young Sharp up to play. At his grandparents’ and great grandparents’ homes, he’d croon along to Sinatra.
A little more than a decade later, “Nik Sharp is ready for rock stardom,” the St. Petersburg Times reported in 2002. “The 23-year-old guitarist of the Pinellas County alt-rock band Suburban Tragedy calls from the bathtub of his Palm Harbor home.”
“I’ve got the rubber ducky and everything,” Sharp told the reporter then, laughing.
“I’m a fun person,” he said later in the interview, water splashing in the background. “We’re a fun band. Music can get so depressing. We’ll never be like that.”
One year later, at 23, he was back in the paper, which called Sharp a restless artist and now a businessman. He ran Blue Moon Studios in Largo and had just launched the label Co-Dependent Records to help develop artists left behind or ignored by major labels.
He was a brilliant musician with an ear for poppy hooks, said friend and fellow musician Chris Nemzek. Sharp was the guy in the band, and later the business, who made things happen.
“He had this amazing ability to will things into existence,” Nemzek said.
From 2001 to 2011, Suburban Tragedy sold 40,000 records and appeared on MTV, according to a website Sharp maintained. In 2014, he performed a Sinatra show at a Greek restaurant in Tarpon Springs. Soon, he started performing “Nik Sharp Sings Sinatra” to sold-out crowds.
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He didn’t just care about the business or the audiences, though; he also labored over the details. He’d call Kushner any time he had a new song. They’d meet up in a parking lot in Palm Harbor or Tampa. Sharp would play the latest and remind his friend that it wasn’t yet mastered.
“I loved that side of him,” Kusher said. “He wanted it to be perfect.”
After J.D. Clark moved to Nashville, someone suggested he work with a songwriter originally from Florida. Clark called Sharp, who asked what kind of music he liked writing.
Clark, a country musician, said he liked writing classic stuff.
“Well, I’m into writing hits,” Sharp said.
Then he hung up.
Clark, now kind of mad, called back.
“I’m into writing f---king hits, too,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
The two met up and clicked. Sharp went out and got a bottle of bourbon, and they stayed up all night writing music.
Sharp stayed busy in Nashville, writing songs and running a printing company. He even launched an e-cigarettes brand. Sharp and Clark were working on getting Clark’s album out when the pandemic hit. Sharp didn’t stay home and bake sourdough, though. He created another new company, a livestreaming app called Audidio.
“Basically it was MTV before MTV became crap,” Clark said.
The company, with offices in downtown Nashville, had five employees including Sharp.
“There’s not a lot of people that can do that and do it so quickly,” said Stephanie Arias, Sharp’s girlfriend.
But when Sharp decided to do something, she said, he did it.
Sharp lived the last day of his life like all the ones before it — as big as he could. He danced on a table. He sang his favorite songs. He told the people in his life what they meant to him. And he left outrageous, hilarious and genuine stories that they’ll be telling, probably over strong drinks, for years to come.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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