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Over the last few years, Drout says, gigging conditions have changed north of the Road, and the boys in Iko-Iko have accordingly been playing Broward and Palm Beach counties more often. He says the crowds have become more receptive, and more venues have opened to allow them additional opportunities. They frequently traverse into Alligator Alley, Yellow Moon, the A Train, and the Back Room. But it wasn't always that way. Drout remembers when the venues and audiences in Broward and Palm Beach weren't as warm. "It was like if we didn't play Stevie Ray [Vaughan], we were offending them," he says. "And I think people are sick to death of this Stevie Ray thing. It's not the blues, it's Stevie Ray. If I walked into a club with a white jump suit and started singing 'Hound Dog,' people would think I'm some kind of idiot. But if I walk into a club with a flat hat and a Stratocaster and start playing 'Pride and Joy,' then I'm a blues fan? No. I'm Stevie Ray Vaughan, in drag."
Once you've seen Iko-Iko live, you will not mistake them for anyone in drag. The six-piece ensemble is led by the burly Drout, who has rusty hair and rosy cheeks that peek through a slovenly beard and who lops and sways around the mic when he's not playing the guitar. Conversely Williams is slight and gray-haired, smoothly working the strings on his ax. Dziubla is on the side, either blasting his sax or jumping between instruments. Likewise when Leibinger isn't happily behind his keyboard, he's looking for another instrument to play. Mennell is the scruffy one in the corner, taking care of business like a pro who doesn't care about anything except the song he's playing. His unison with Jean, who's pounding away in back of the ensemble, goes beyond rhythm and reaches into vocal harmonies, which mesh superbly with Drout's light baritone.
Drout has not only seen his band grow into a cohesive co-op, he's also experienced South Florida's music scene from its infancy. He says for rock and blues bands, it's better today than when he first started, and the scene in general isn't too bad. Of course that's coming from a fellow in a well-established band. But he also notes that "the music scene sucks everywhere. And down here everyone sits around saying it sucks, and no one goes out to support it. I just got back from Memphis, and I never saw [a bigger] bunch of crap than the bands up there. They're not doing anything musically, they're just hustling pandering to the tourist trade. I got a whole new appreciation for the stuff down here."
Although Drout says he hasn't learned any precious lesson in the last 20 years that he might not have learned if he had been doing something else, he has learned enough to know it's what's down the road that's most important. "After all this time," he says, "I don't know if there's anything that I wish I knew before I started. I think it's the next 20 years that I wish I knew what was going on. No insurance, not much retirement, none of that stuff, it's all me."
So what's his modus operandi? "The greatest thing about being in this band is that you never know what you're going to be doing next. Whether you're going to be on Broadway with Jimmy Buffett (Iko performed the score for the musical Don't Stop the Carnival in 1997) or in a movie with Robert De Niro (the band made a cameo appearance in Cape Fear in 1991). I can go to Memphis or New Orleans pretty much anytime I want to. I spend five weeks a year in Key West, where I have to work two and a half hours every night at Margaritaville, and they pay, feed, and house us. I like traveling and I like playing, so I get to travel and play when I get there, which is better than a vacation. Actually, if I went on vacation, I'd want to play when I got there."
Contact Larry Boytano at his e-mail address: