Roosevelt Collier: from Purple Hatter’s Ball to Suwannee Getdowns

Sunday at the Purple Hatter’s Ball culminates in the Roosevelt Collier Suwannee Jam, and now that magic has replicated itself during the summer in two Roosevelt Collier Suwannee Getdowns. This has been an amazing and well-deserved ride for a very soft-spoken man who does his talking with the pedal steel guitar and its little brother, the lap steel (which Roosevelt plays standing up, of course!)

I first saw “The Dr.” at the 2009 Wanee Festival with the Lee Boys, but I did not know who he was. When the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival was announced that year, I saw that Shak Nasti had the opening slot at the amphitheatre. Score! They turned in a superb set, but afterward guitarist Tim Turner kept fretting (not that kind). “Roosevelt was supposed to be here, but he couldn’t make it in time.” Roosevelt who? I had no clue.

I found out the next day when Roosevelt and Ras Trent Spears joined Shak Nasti in the Music Hall. Turner thinks that was the first time they played together. I’ll let the audio speak for them:

I had seen Roosevelt with Shak Nasti a half dozen times, always mind-blowing, but the last one was at Bear Creek 2011. Turner on guitar and Roosevelt on the pedal steel guitar are perfect together. Bassist Matt Lapham has teamed with Roosevelt often, including a New Year’s Eve gig in Miami. Lapham is a player of immense talent, and his polyrhythmic section mate, Rion Smith, and he are monstrous together.

So it had been more than four years since I had heard them collaborate. Was I going to drive to Orlando on a school night for Roosevelt’s Birthday Bash with Shak Nasti? Like you need to ask.

The Orlando Beer Garden is attached to St. Matthew’s Tavern (although I never saw a sign for either one). Shak Nasti was set up outside, and the small garden area was packed. The Shak Nasti trio was joined by Ito Colon on percussion and Roland Simmons on guitar. More about him shortly.

There is a reason I’ve seen SN 41 times: they blow my mind every time. They claimed to be rusty, but this was as great a set as I’ve ever heard from them. They had just launched into “Circles” as I arrived. Smith and Colon are a perfect tag team on percussion, and I continue to tout Matt Lapham as one of the best bass players anywhere. It was excellent.

Lapham rolled up to the mic and said, “It’s gonna get gooder’n hell!” With that, Turner’s guitar lead introduced “Postizos” with its Latin overtones. And then. And then.

Simmons plays guitar in the Gerry Williams Band, and excellent soul/R&B group from Orlando. He also plays in a group with Lapham called Brownote (look that up). He is a fabulous guitar player who reminds many of Hendrix, and there are similarities, but he is closer to Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel. Yeah, that guy.

So SN was closing the set with one of Turner’s best compositions, “Mind Bomb.” He gave the nod to Simmons, and Simmons TOOK. OFF. Stratospheric. Incredible. Let me get the blasphemy out of the way early. Simmons stole the night for me.

Before we talk about the second set, inside, with Roosevelt, let’s broach another subject: top [pick a number] lists. Who are the greatest bands? Singers? Guitar players? Forget it. This is all subjective, and recent memory is stronger than old. Here is my point. In this building, this night, were four, count ‘em, four superb guitar players, and make that five with Roosevelt. FIVE. And chances are most people will never hear a one of them. And that is happening all over the US. And the world. So don’t tell me who the “best” players are. It would be much more productive to tell me WHOM you like and WHY. That I’ll listen to.

Music moved inside the bar, no less crowded, it seemed, but perhaps it held more people. Whatever. We were there. Space for the band was tight, and Roosevelt was playing his “lap” steel (no room for the big rig). Shak Nasti (with Colon entire evening) started a jam with Roosevelt that blew up in epic fashion almost immediately. There were smiles all around.

The Roosevelt proclaimed it was his birthday and wanted to call a couple of his favorite Shak Nasti songs. First up was “Lemon Lime,” and Lapham and Smith were nailing the bouncy groove of the song. They had called Bobby Koelble to join them on guitar. Koelble is another Orlando guitar wizard. He and Lapham play acid jazz together as the Absinthe Trio with Tom Damon, the incredible drummer for Bobby Lee Rodgers.


Koelble sounded great on “Lemon Lime,” and then they began one of Shak Nasti’s all-time greatest covers, Bobby McFerrin’s “All I Want.” It was positively unreal! Turner, Koelble and Roosvelt were just romping through the tune. And the place was going crazy. I believe Koelble stayed up for “Treelocks,” where Roosevelt ripped one of his best solos of the night.

As Koelble left the “stage,” the opening notes to “Monster” rang out, and Simmons was called back up. Remembering my caveat that everything is subjective, I will say that – for me – this was perhaps the best guitar solo I have ever heard. I’m just sayin’…

Way over curfew, they managed to squeeze out one more song, “Reckless Side.” Roosevelt and Lapham held a superb back-and-forth battle between lap steel and bass. Clay Watson’s trombone somehow appeared on stage – with Clay attached – and he played a great solo to put some icing on the birthday cake. It was amazing. All the boys from The Groove Orient were nodding with me in agreement!

So I said FIVE guitar players. Roosevelt Collier, Tim Turner, Bobby Koelble and Roland Simmons. That’s four. He did not play, but Savi Fernandez was in the house. He is likewise a superb player there to pay respect to Collier and Shak Nasti. This to me is such a great trend: musicians out supporting and respecting each other. And you need to check out Savi’s new album, From My Heart. It is a blessing, disguised as a CD.

Fast-forward to the upcoming Purple Hatter’s Ball May 7-10. There is spectacular music all weekend, but Sunday is special. There are only two stages on Sunday, so there is no excuse to miss any of the amazing bands performing.

Consider Future Vintage, an excellent jamtronic trio from St. Petersburg. They play jazz and fusion and funk and rock with that electronic pulse. Matt Giancola on keyboards and bassist Trevor McDannel are also part of the Juanjamon Band, which has developed into one of the best funk bands anywhere.

After Future Vintage, the stunning Parker Urban Band from Jacksonville will lift you up courtesy of their gospel-tinged music and the amazing voices of Juanita Parkerurban and Myrna Stallworth. I missed their Wanee performance, but Bobby Lee Rodgers had them sit in with his band on Thursday, and it was heavenly. Prepare yourself!

I have not had the chance to see Aaron Lebos Reality yet, but their videos and audio are wonderful. They play beautiful electric jazz, led by Lebos on guitar. This promises to be a tremendous set.

You know by now where I stand with Shak Nasti. They will be joined again by percussionist Ito Colon and by Keegan Matthews, the versatile keyboard player for Leisure Chief, who also plays with Lapham in Con Leche. That will be killer. And, as I understand it (my prayers have been answered, as I had speculated earlier), Shak Nasti will just leave their equipment on stage and play with Roosevelt for the Suwannee Jam.


And the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park has just announced two summer events: the Roosevelt Collier Suwannee Getdowns. The first will be June 26 & 27, and the second will be July 31 & August 1. More information should surface soon. Several excellent Florida groups have mentioned that they will participate. These should be a blast and an opportunity to get to explore the park in a relatively uncrowded family atmosphere. I could Get Down!

Roosevelt’s summer schedule is jammed with festivals all over the country, including pairings with Oteil Burbridge at Summercamp (May 22-24) and the Peach Music Festival (August 13-16). We are so fortunate to have him here in Florida and at the park.


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