I have a very personal connection to the album I’m writing about for this installment of Beyond the Wonder, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment.
Like a sadly large amount of people in the U.S., I grew up a child of divorce. My parents split up when I was around 5 years old, and not long after that my father made the first of his many moves around the country and away from my home state of New Jersey. He spent some time living in south Florida in the early ’80s, and I made a few visits down there. As you might expect, I cherished every chance I could get to spend time with him.
The Florida Keys (Key West, specifically) were a favorite destination for my father, and it was right about this time that an obscure singer/songwriter from Tarpon Springs (but then based in Atlanta) named Bertie Higgins made it big with an album of songs largely inspired by tropical Florida (not to mention Humphrey Bogart). My dad fell in love with Just Another Day in Paradise and gave me and my older brother each a cassette copy.
Despite having already started my musical shift into hard rock and heavy metal, this now-forgotten soft rock gem quickly became a favorite of mine too. Initially I suspect there was a largely emotional component at play — the tape was a link to my dad, one of the few I had at the time, and so I felt a connection to it that I never would have if I had stumbled across it in a record store.
But I did actually grow to love the album on its own merits, as flawed as it is.
Just Another Day in Paradise was the first solo album from Higgins, who had been performing professionally since the early 1960s (with his band The Roemans). On the strength of the single “Key Largo,” the record cracked the Top 40 in the U.S. “Key Largo”, a damn fine slice of Yacht Rock if I’ve ever heard one, peaked at #8 on the Hot 100 but nabbed the top spot on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart. It even made it to #50 on the Hot Country chart!
While “Key Largo” is in fact the most accomplished and memorable track from Paradise, the album does have more to offer soft rock aficionados. The opening title cut, with its lyrics full of tropical longing, features a melody nearly as strong as “Key Largo” and was the only other charting single from the album. There are a couple other mellow tunes of note, namely “Candledancer” and “She’s Gone to Live on the Mountain.” Neither is particularly strong melody-wise, but they’re damn breezy and pleasant, and there’s no crime in that.
The thing that may surprise people new to Paradise is that nearly half the album is much more rock-oriented (well, as rock as a guy who wears puffy pirate shirts in concert can be). “Port O’ Call (Savannah ’55)” has that unique rock/funk vibe that seems to be solely of that era. The most notable thing about it is the lyrics which, as far as I can tell, are about a sailor who hooks up with a prostitute who may be his mother.
Higgins returns to the relatively more normal world of a cocaine dealer with the dark and slinky “White Line Fever.” For my money it’s the definitive statement on early ’80s drug running, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” be damned. The album ends with a pair of winners. First there’s the boisterous “Down at the Blue Moon,” a raucous paean to bar fights, drug use, and gettin’ laid (“I’m gonna get paid, I’m gonna get laid / I’m gonna get real, real high!”). Finally there’s “The Tropics,” which at seven minutes long is about as epic as soft rock gets.
Higgins released his second album, Pirates and Poets, in 1983. I never felt compelled to check it out despite my love for Paradise, and I guess I wasn’t the only one. The record sank down to Davy Jones’ Locker and Higgins’ time in the spotlight was done. He’s released just a handful of records since then, with a shocking percentage of them being compilations. He still performs for his loyal cadre of fans, whom he’s dubbed Boneheads, and has embraced the whole pirate theme big time. More recently Higgins has dabbled in movie production with his son Julian.
In 2003 I returned to Key West, this time as a married man on his honeymoon. You better believe that this album was my mental soundtrack for the entire trip. Well maybe not the songs about doing blow or sleeping with prostitutes. But the pleasant stuff, that was with me the whole time.