Making it as a young band is tough enough, but perhaps even more so when, geographically speaking, you’re literally on an island. Such is the case with Key West-based doo-wop surf rockers Patrick and the Swayzees.
For a band with such a sunny sound, it’s ironic none of the members of Patrick and the Swayzees are native Floridians. Like so many of our transplants, they hail from the Northeast: Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. The group arrived separately to the Sunshine State before eventually coming together in paradise as a band.
In terms of Florida residency, lead vocalist Les Greene is the newest of the band, having only lived in the Keys for about a year. Sick of winter, he came down on vacation to visit a friend, fell in love with the area, and decided to stay. It might seem crazy to some, but there’s a nomadic spirit that inhabits Greene’s body. It’s the same disposition that drives him to keep moving both in terms of physical location and where he wants the band to go.
A former cruise ship massage therapist, Greene didn’t sing in front of a live crowd until he made the big move to Key West. Watching one of their live shows, that hardly seems the case. Greene looks right at home on stage, under the lights, holding onto his retro mic as tight as a lover. But the fact is that, even now, the experience is still nerve-wracking for him.
“I used Key West to get over stage fright,” he says. “My cruise ship buddy used to sing and would call me up on stage. He started doing that more and more and this is the buddy that moved there [to Key West]. So he let me crash, and wherever he would sing around town, he would call me up. That happened, the band happened, and slowly, it gets better and better. It’s never gone. I deal with it in different ways.”
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Originally, the band – Jerrod Isaman on guitars and vocals, drummer Tyler “T-Bone” McHone, and the band’s namesake bassist, Patrick Stecher – was an instrumental three-piece called the Phlegmatics. After switching to the name Patrick and the Swayzees, a clever take on both Stecher’s name, the way their music makes people groove, and of course the late Dirty Dancing and Roadhouse star, they held an open mic, and Greene answered the call enthusiastically.
“They asked if I wanted to do two songs with them at one of their shows. I did that, and it ended up sticking. They kept getting gigs because of it.”
A selection of covers that features “Great Balls of Fire,” “Runaround Sue,” and “Twist and Shout,” a bow-tie-and-suspenders aesthetic, and a fiery, jangly energy during live sets, made Patrick and the Swayzees a huge hit across the island. With Greene the face and voice upfront, people often confuse him as the “Patrick” of the group, much the same way Darius Rucker was always “Hootie.”
“All the time people call me Patrick," Greene laughs. "It’s a small town and there’s a lot of older folks, people that don’t know me. The young people know me because I’m out drinking and hanging out with them, but the older folks call me Patrick. Even when my mom was in town they were like, 'You must be so proud of Patrick.’ She was like, that’s not Patrick. I correct them if need be, but otherwise it’s just funny. My friends think it’s hilarious.”
What Greene takes more seriously is the business side of the band. Patrick and the Swayzees play a lot of gigs where people want to hear the covers, including parties and weddings. In his mind, it’s a cultural service to the community, a sort of musical education.
“These songs are songs that need to go out back into the world. Music is going crazy right now and I feel like people need to realize where music started and how it started and what it sounded like. The stuff we do has that. Everybody knows it. Like my nieces and nephews who were born in the 2000s and my great-grandparents know it. We’re doing something weird because all generations like what’s going on.”
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While he wholeheartedly enjoys those shows and the exposure it affords the band, the ultimate goal is to write and perform more originals, of which they already have a few. According to Greene, the group has enough original material for an hour-long set. During their upcoming tour in July through Florida and several East Coast states, Patrick and the Swayzees hope to not only polish their own work, but also lay down some of those tracks on record. Getting off the island and pushing forward with the band is the first step in achieving a series of humble goals.
“Everybody essentially wants to travel. We want to travel and play music. We’re all so used to being broke, and happily broke though. When you live in Key West, you have so many odd jobs, but you’ll never meet a happier bunch of people. I think it’s not really about money. We find a lot places to play that are hole-in-the-wall shitholes and it’s just such a lively crowd and they love music. And then it’s not a judgmental thing, because we’ll play at swanky places and those people are just as crazy.
Being able to capture a room and turn their expectations upside-down, we’ve been in some places where people turned noses up at us like, ‘Oh, what’s this going to be?’ And at the end of it, I’m standing on their table dancing and their up and out of their chairs. I feel like that’s my goal every time we play.”
Patrick and the Swayzees
10 p.m. Saturday, June 11, at Rhythm & Vine, 401 NE 5th Ter, Fort Lauderdale 33301. No cover. Visit Facebook for more info.