If you've never heard of a sauce-making, guitar-slinging gumbo chef, then chances are you've probably never heard of Bill "Sauce Boss" Wharton. But if you've got a deep yearning for a the blues and a hot bowl of gumbo, then you might want to get a taste of what Wharton is dishing out at Boston's on the Beach in Delray Beach tomorrow night.
His act: cooking up massive quantities of gumbo spiced with his signature sauce and with a thick slice of blues on the side, all while playing live on stage. Half chef, half musician, Wharton is the inventor of the gastronomic boogie woogie.
Born in Orlando, but lives in Tallahassee, Wharton started playing the blues in the mid-1970s. One morning he woke up and discovered a 1933 steel guitar leaning against his daughter's bike. Wharton has always enjoyed listening to the blues, but since that day he has taken a journey deep into the blues shed.
Wharton became the Sauce Boss while performing at Tobacco Road in Miami in the mid-1980s. He was set up behind the ladders with his kick drum and amplifiers. At the time, Wharton was carrying his hot sauce with him. Then all of the sudden, he launched into what he describes as a "snake oil hot sauce salesman" lyric. Highly impressed with the performance, his friend approached him and called him the Sauce Boss and the name stuck.
On New Year's Eve in 1990, Wharton once cooked up enough gumbo to fill 190,000 bowls. Since then he's been traveling the world and is on the road for at least 100 days out of the year.
Wharton's blues is heavy with the slide guitar, a style prominently featured in many Delta Blues artists, a pool of musicians from which Wharton derives his inspiration. He credits John Lee Hooker as one of his top influences.
All of his music is original and he can usually be found playing at small festivals throughout America. Wharton tries to make it to his home state three or four times a year playing in the cities of Key West and Tampa. One of his more popular songs is "Killer Tone".
The sauce is Wharton's own recipe made with the datil pepper, an exceptionally hot pepper similar to a habanero that he used to grow in the garden.
He calls his sauce "liquid summer" and describes it as falling somewhere between the culinary worlds of New Orleans and the Caribbean. It's a hot sauce with lots of vegetable pulp. He doesn't use that much in the gumbo because it's more about the flavor than the heat.
"It's the type of thing that excels your cooking," Wharton said. "It's got the funk of New Orleans and the salsa of the Caribbean, like my music."
Wharton says he is fortunate to have been the Sauce Boss all of these years. Is he a chef or is he a musician? It doesn't matter because if you crave a free bowl of gumbo and dig the blues, then Bill "Sauce Boss" Wharton is obviously for you.
Wharton's show begins at 9 p.m., it's open all ages and there is no cover charge.