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Bob Greenlee (1944-2004)     Remembering the King of The Sanford Blues
By Rick Whitney
If you were a serious follower of Blues music in Jacksonville Florida in the 1970's and '80's, you no doubt often found yourself at Applejacks, a small, but no less legendary club/listening room situated in the old San Marco section of the city. >From it's humble beginning days in or around 1975 up until 1988, this tiny brick fortress of a building single-handedly played host to a virtual who's-who parade of blues legends, as well as showcasing many up-and-coming local and statewide artists.
In a continuing tradition of presenting unique, roots-style music, Applejacks was the only game in town. If you wanted to see these artists, it was the place to go.
One night in November of 1986, I was there to see just such an act; an ultra-rare appearance by Oklahoma singer/songwriter J.J. Cale.
Opening the show that night was a band I had been hearing of, but had never actually seen; The Midnight Creepers.
Starting the night off with a bang, and wasting no time, the extremely tight and red-hot 5-piece Creepers (which included 1950's legendary R&B sax player, Noble "Thin Man" Watts) proceeded in easily stealing the show that night, with a kicking performance and fury I had not seen in a long time. In short, they left J.J. with a hard act to follow !!
After their set ended, I got a chance to briefly speak to them all, while I traded cash for the graphically cool Creepers t-shirts they had for sale.
This was my introduction to a man, who (as I would later learn) was already a virtual icon on the Florida blues scene; bass player, producer, and founder of King Snake Records, Bob Greenlee.
I became a Midnight Creepers fan that night, seeing the band whenever they came back to Jacksonville many times over the next few years. I would only learn more as time when on, about the level of ultimate importance Bob had, and would continue to have, on the developing musical landscape in Florida and the South itself.
Bob had actually (and fittingly) come from Chicago, eventually moving south to the Daytona Beach area. Highly influenced by many late nights spent listening to the Nashville-based R&B radio station WLAC, he caught "The Fever" early on, and from that point , there was no turning back.
The early 1960's music scene in Daytona was a perfect mixture of races and musical styles coming together…Surf meets Soul. While still a student at Sea Breeze High School, Bob began his career singing and playing bass guitar in such mixed bands as The Pearl Notes, and The Houserockers/Untils, which included the local talents of Floyd Miles, Pete Carr, Jim Shepley and two blonde brothers known as Duane & Gregg Allman. They played many places within the Daytona teen-scene, including George's Place, The Paradise Inn and the area's main dance club/hangout, The Ocean Pier.
Eventually lured elsewhere, Bob attended prep school in Ashville, NC and then onto Yale University where he received an undergraduate history degree in 1967. He also briefly attended law school there, and as captain of the Yale football team, was seemingly headed towards a career in professional sports. He was a 4th round draft choice for the Miami Dolphins (also in '67), but turned it all down, choosing to focus instead on a life in music.
As the 1970's progressed along, Bob hooked up with a former Yale fraternity brother known as"Root Boy Slim" (Foster McKenzie III) in Washington D.C., and formed the now legendary/cult punk-blues group, Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band.
With some initial national success, and a tour of England under it's belt, the band left it's permanent mark on rock history with an appearance on "Saturday Night Live". Bob continued to record and stayed in touch with Root Boy until his death in 1993.
In the early 1980's, Bob returned home to Florida to assume running his grandfather's celery farm in Sanford.
At the same time, he converted the family's 2-story garage apartment into a recording studio. Only 100 ft. away from the massive, 1920's-era main house, this marked the birth of King Snake Records, thus beginning a rich tradition of recording and producing of dozens of artists there over the next 20 years. It was also the beginning of an ever-revolving stable of studio musicians and the house band named The Midnight Creepers.
It is surely an understatement to say that Bob Greenlee was a saving grace for the blues in Florida and a savior for many overlooked and/or forgotten R&B artists throughout the 1980's and beyond.
He also had an eagle eye (and ear) for many new and talented musicians, providing them with great guidance, generosity and above all, opportunities to record and seek success through King Snake.
Saxophone veteran Noble Watts, who was a regular fixture at the studio for many years, said "He was one of the greatest friends I ever had.
I was in bad shape and he revived my career. I give him credit for keeping blues alive here, because it would have been dead if it hadn't been for him."
International blues star, and Alligator Records recording artist, Kenny Neal remembers being stunned when Greenlee traveled to Baton Rouge just to persuade him to record again. "He believed in me more than what I thought I had in me", Neal said. "You just don't get people too often who come to you and say you have a special talent. He meant that and he knew he wasn't gonna get rich off of it."
It would take another entire article to list all of the talented singers and musicians who passed through the doors of King Snake studios during it's relatively short existence on the planet.
Some of the best of them included : The late, great Rufus Thomas, harmonica whiz Raful Neal, Floyd Miles, Lucky Peterson, Sonny Rhodes, Alex Taylor, Guitarist Dru Lombar and his Dr.Hector and the Groove Injectors, Bill Wharton, the unique gonzo comic/musician, Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, longtime collaborator and lead guitarist Ernie Lancaster, and the late Oklahoma southpaw guitarist, "Cherokee" Ace Moreland, who Bob began working extensively with after seeing him play one night in 1987.
Along with Ernie, Ace, bassist Augie Antoine, drummer Ronnie Foster, and guitarist Warren King, Bob set up a core-group that became like family as the years and sessions blew by. To date, over 100 albums/projects have been recorded and produced at King Snake.
The 1990's saw a steady continuation of Bob's intense dedication to all he had created, discovering many unknown talents along the way.
Throughout it all, King Snake was indeed "the house that Bob built".
His own homespun creation of a nurturing , and above all, creative environment, resulting in a recorded legacy that will remain for years to come.
On Thursday, February 12, just a stones throw away from his beloved studio, Bob Greenlee passed away. After a long battle with pancreatic cancer, his final hours were spent there at home with his wife Sonja by his side.

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