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Singing Sailors of the Caribbean

Singing and sailing seem to be a popular combination in the Caribbean. Cast an ear to the wind or waves and you’ll hear examples, such as St. Thomas’ Davis Murray, St. Croix’s Llewellyn Westerman, the BVI’s Michael Beans, and Trinidad’s Sylbert Jackson-Smith.

Murray, a native of Brookfield, Massachusetts, is best known in the Virgin Islands as the long-standing fleet captain for the Caribbean 1500 Cruising Rally. As a professional compass adjuster, he’s logged over 100,000 ocean miles between the rally and five transatlantic crossings. Along the way, he’s picked up the rhythm of the sea and has just released his first CD, “Daydreamin’.”

“I had always wanted to learn to play guitar,” Murray explains. “One night, I sat with Lightening Phil (Phil Robinson) after the Caribbean 1500, handed him a Heineken and asked him to show me a couple of chords. He did. When I tried, he told me I had rhythm and that encouraged me.”

Llew Westerman says, “Sailing is in my blood. My father and his brother, and my grandfather, were all sailors. My father was very good at reciting limericks too. He had a great sense of humor. Growing up in Nevis, we were always singing in school. I just kept on singing.”

In 1960, Westerman moved to St. Croix. Two weeks after he arrived, he was standing on the dock in Christiansted watching a native sloop sailing out. “I said to the captain later, ‘I’m going to sail that boat’, and I did, doing day charters over to Buck Island,” he recalls. Westerman continues his Buck Island charters today on his Crucian-built Mongoose 37 trimaran, Charis+.

Born in Grand Haven, Michigan, Michael Beans began his musical career in 1977 playing the nightclub/festival circuit in Michigan during the summer and the Florida Keys in the winter. Ten years later, he bought his first boat, Esperanza, on which he took his music to the Caribbean.

Beans says, “I was absolutely enchanted by the beauty and sailing conditions in the American and British Virgin Islands. Also, as an entertainer, I was not interested in becoming a national act. Well, maybe at first, until I got a taste of the freedom that every sea gypsy knows. I never wanted my music to become a stressful job that the listener doesn’t understand. I got a taste of that back in my Nashville days and it left a bad taste in my mouth – that I’ve replaced with mango. Now, I get to spread joy and good will to every place I visit as a way to give back for all the fun they’ve allowed me to have.”

Today, Beans lives aboard his 42-foot sailboat and plays one man band—
acoustic guitar along with a harmonica on a rack, all while singing and adding vocal percussions to the beat of a stomp box that he plays with his feet—at Marina Cay for his popular ‘Happy Arrrrrr’ show.

Sylbert Jackson-Smith, aka ‘The Mighty Yachtie,’ and his wife Susanne live on their yacht, Sarah Noble, six months of the year in Trinidad and the other six in Port Charlotte, Florida. “I’m fairly new at this game,” Smith says. “It all got started in 2001 when The Boaters’ Enterprise Ltd. in put on a calypso competition for cruisers. I entered the competition with my calypso ‘Call Jesse’ (referring to Jesse James, the owner/operator of Member’s Only Taxi Service) and won.”

He adds, “I don’t consider myself a professional musician. I play all of the instruments that you hear on my CDs, but I cannot read music. I am sort of a Jack-of-all-trades, master of none, with musical instruments. You will hear the steel drum, guitar, cuatro, keyboard and numerous percussion instruments on my CDs.”

Needless to say, the sea has inspired these singers when it comes to song-writing.

“I hit the inspiration jack pot in the Caribbean,” says Beans. “Take a good look around. Have you ever seen a more colorful cast of characters in one place in your life?”

Davis says, “I call my music ‘island country’, meaning that the lyrics come from a particular experience or something that meant something to me. For example, ‘Rum is the Answer, What is the Question’ grew out of a popular phrase that a day sail captain on St. Thomas coined when he wanted to get the crew’s attention.”

Westerman’s song, ‘Sail, Sail, Sailor Boy’ is a double entendre ditty, he says, “about a woman who asked me to take her for a sail to Buck Island. I recorded it back in 1984 and it always gets a lot of laughs from the crowd at Cheeseburgers (St. Croix’s Cheeseburgers in Paradise restaurant) where I play regularly.”

Many cruisers come to Jackson-Smith with topic suggestions they’d like to hear as songs. “’It’s Your Fault’ and ‘Life On The Hard’ were written as a result of their suggestions. ‘It’s Your Fault’ is probably the funniest calypso on the CD but ‘Don’t Come A Knocking’ is the calypso that gets the best response when I perform,” he says.

Davis, perhaps, best sums up what sailor-singers best like about the islands. “The Caribbean is an atmosphere conducive to music. No propane heaters. No frozen fingers. No TV news. No stateside politics. I’m in my element here and I like the comfortable sound of life here.”

LOOKING FOR A GREAT CHRISTMAS GIFT?

 

Give friends and family the sounds of the islands. Take them out to a singing-sailor jam or buy CD’s at local music shops or online.

Davis Murray:                 CD: Dreamin’
www.barefootdavis.com
Every Monday night at Latitude 18
Every Thursday at Jack’s in Tillett Gardens
St. Thomas, USVI

Michael Beans:               CDs: Happy Arrr, Refried Beans, Milleni-hum,
Windward Lewis and Bean, Blue Nose, Captain’s Log
www.beansmusic.com
Mondays-Thursdays, 5:30-7:30 pm, Marina Cay,
British Virgin Islands

Llewellyn Westerman:    CDs: Unity, Color, Sailor Sailor Sailor Boy
The Traveller’s Tree, Paradise Café, Sundial
Cheeseburger’s in Paradise
St. Croix, USVI

Sylbert Jackson-Smith CD’s: Calypso for Cruisers, Wise Advise from de
Islands, Hurricane
Trinidad; Port Charlotte, Florida

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