Larry Strickland releases fact based novel set across from The Flora-Bama
By Fran Thompson
Larry Strickland’s second book, the recently released “Redbeard’s Revenge,” is being marketed as fiction, but it is obviously based on true characters, including the protagonist, Strick9, Larry’s nickname since he was first added to the Flora-Bama possible-probable list back around 1992.
“Well, The protagonist is Strick9, which is my nickname. He lives in Boystowne. He is a honky tonk keyboard player at the Flora-Bama, and he’s a private investigator. So, there you have it,’’ Strickland said from a rocking chair in his two room cottage east of the Flora-Bama Yacht Club at the AL/FL line. His crib looks out upon Old River near what used to be Boystowne. He has a raised bed garden outside.
An RV Park mostly for wayward musicians, Boystowne (see pages 54-58) was a mass of maybe a dozen campers, broken down vans, tents and the occasional abandoned 5th wheel located on land then Flora-Bama owner Joe Gilchrist owned across from the famous bistro. Boystowne even had its own mayor, Dennis Arsenault, Captain D in Strickland’s book.
Also, an authority on catching speckled trout (He still has a fishing charter business), Arsenault passed the mayor’s gavel to Strickland when he moved away in the early aughts.
“Dennis passed the torch to me,’’ Strickland said. “There was no pay, just headaches from people coming over to complain about this or that. Now I’m the only resident. So, I guess I’m the mayor of myself.’’
How Strickland came to be Boystowne’s lone wolf is a great story in itself.
Hurricane Ivan’s northeast quadrant in Sept. of 2004 destroyed Boystowne, the Flora-Bama, the road from Perdido Pass to the Intracoastal Bridge and many homes in Grande Lagoon.
According to Strickland, the wooden porch in front of his camper was still standing after Ivan. When John McInnis III rebuilt the Flora-bama and eventually turned that old Boystowne area into the Flora-Bama Yacht Club, he moved Strickland up to a camper behind the liquor store for four months.
“He said as soon as the Yacht Club was up and running, he’d move me back down here,” Strickland said. “He didn’t have to do that. But he is a man of his word.
“There are always rumors going around that the Flora-Bama is going to put another restaurant here and I’m going to have to move out. But John put his arm around me and said I don’t ever have to worry about moving anywhere.”
Strickland works a few hours a day at the Flora-Bama making sure there is recorded music playing from all three stages when the bars open at 11 a.m. He also sets up the bingo mics for caller Sam Morgan (who is also writing a book) Monday thru Friday.
“I set up the mics and do whatever else might arise,’’ he said.
Although he clocks only a few hours daily at the ‘Bama, Strickland said he tries to work on his writing every day. He also sometimes sets up a table in a Flora-Bama hallway to sell copies of his two books, and his CD with Men of Leisure, a combo he formed with old school ‘Bama sax and keyboard man Downtown Larry Brown.
Strickland penned the memoir, “Tales from the Davenport,’’ 15 years ago. He describes it as “revealing,” which does not seem to say quite enough about a book full of graphic stories that you just can’t make up.
A graduate of Pensacola High (1969), Strickland first played at the Flora-Bama around 1985. Impressed by then majority owner Joe Gilchrist’s love for original music and musicianship, he decided to make playing at the beach dive a priority and, eventually, Boystowne his home base.
“I’d never met a bar owner like Joe before – a guy that encouraged us to play original music,’’ he said. “I thought, wow, this guy is incredible. This is where I want to work, and that’s what I did, thank God.’’
Strickland said he rarely even plays keyboards these days and he last played a gig for pay in March of 2018.
“I tell people I’m on sabbatical (from playing music). But what we were doing with Men of Leisure was not what you would call family friendly stuff anyway, and we had no desire to play anything but original music,’’ he said. “Not that there is anything wrong with playing the hits for people. I’ve done it all my life. But I’m through with it.’’
Almost upon moving here, Strickland started playing keyboards with one of the Bama’s most popular bands ever, Jezebel’s Chill’n.
Trading sets with Rusty McHugh and Mike Fincher, Jezebel’s Chill’n would rock out the Flora-Bama every Sunday afternoon. Donna Slater, Cathy Pace and Strickland clicked immediately and it showed in their harmonies.
Strickland said he worked on “Redbeard” daily for a year, but the book was seven years in the making. Flora-Bama based writer Chris Warner provided much guidance as editor and mentor.
“My mantra was to make sure I worked on it every day,’’ Strickland said. “I’m now taking that same mantra for my third book, ‘The Weather Cannon.’’’
Redbeard’s Revenge begins hundreds of years ago when a pirate, Redbeard, sails into a hurricane. His ship sinks entering Perdido Pass, which until a hurricane shifted the sands two miles west (it’s true), was located on the site of the present day Flora-Bama.
Redbeard is captured and beheaded before he gets a chance to find his gold, but he puts a curse on the treasure before going under the guillotine. Fishermen and beach strollers start finding coins. Gold fever emerges. People get murdered. Strick-9 investigates.
Just like Boystowne, circa 1993, the book is filled with various musicians, artists, bartenders and vagabonds all looking for treasure buried in the sand beneath the ‘Bama.
In addition to Arsenault, Strickland includes characters based on Perdido Key fixtures, such as Bobby Rodriguez (Possum) and a meth addict from Innerarity Point. Lillian’s Pizza and Doc’s Seafood are also mentioned in the book.
“I didn’t have to borrow any money to print my first order of books. I don’t have a woman. I don’t have a desire to go anywhere. I’m happy right here doing what I do. John (McInnis) told me I’m not going anywhere. So, all I have to worry about is another hurricane,’’ Strickland said.
Pictured: Larry Strickland outside of his two-room cabin on Old River near the Flora-Bama Yacht Club.