John Bartus was the Mayor of an island town in the Florida Keys (Marathon). He is or has been, at one time or another, part owner of a newspaper group, radio talk show host, partner in retail shops, record producer, city councilman, recording studio owner, voiceover talent, marine biology student, advertising consultant, and – no lie – prop man for a circus.
But what John Bartus is best known for is being one of the premier singer/songwriters in the islands Jimmy Buffett once called home. After over a quarter-century of entertaining audiences, John is far from putting the guitar down. And even with all the other careers, John still performs over 200 shows each year. From opening for artists like Kansas, Rick Derringer, and Edgar Winter to headlining the Florida Keys’ best St. Patrick’s and Independence Day parties, John leaves even the locals wanting a bit more of the islands he calls home.
John's solo acoustic shows combine modern looping and harmony generating technology into an enhanced performance that's still 100% live, without any sequences, tapes, or other invisible musicians. John is able to accurately recreate challenging harmony-laden songs, as well as lay down a guitar/vocal/percussion part, loop it back, and perform with the musical passage he just played. John and the audiences both have a lot of fun!
As diverse as his interests outside of music have been, so too are his musical paths. There are the Taylor-, Chapin-, and Lightfoot-influenced solo acoustic guitar performances. There’s the Fogelberg- and McCartney-like studio perfectionist. There’s the Billy-and-Elton-influenced piano balladeer. And there’s the electric band leader/lead guitarist, equal parts Neil Young, Dave Gilmour, and Mark Knopfler.
John’s two recent CD releases highlight this diversity. John’s Live From The Florida Keys CD showcases his solo acoustic guitar and piano work in a live Florida Keys club setting. And John’s newly re-released Keys Disease CD is a one-man studio tour de force – Like Paul McCartney and Prince, John produces, sings, and plays all the instruments on his records. His influences range from Bob Dylan, the Beatles, James Taylor, and Elton John to Pink Floyd, Garth Brooks, Steely Dan, the Eagles, R.E.M., and Tom Petty, just to name a few. Although hard to pigeonhole, John's music has traces of rock, alternative, pop, acoustic, and country - all unified and held together by his characteristic vocals.
John Bartus left the road behind back in the mid-1980s, after a three-year stint at the University of South Carolina studying marine biology, and just after releasing his first album with then-partner Sallie Foster (Feed the Fire, out of print). John currently performs solo acoustic shows, as well as gigs with his band, Storm Watch.
John works as a solo acoustic artist as well as a full-bore 4 piece band called Storm Watch, featuring keyboardist Marc Davis, drummer Glenn Faast, and bassist Christian Davis. When booked as a band, please bill as JOHN BARTUS & STORM WATCH. (Thanks!)
John Bartus - acoustic & electric guitars, piano, harmonica, lead vocals
Marc Davis - keyboards
Glenn Faast - drums
Christian Davis - bass
MORE INFO: www.johnbartus.com
John Bartus & Storm Watch - Live at the 2009 Marathon Seafood Festival - CD (2009)
Live From The Florida Keys - CD (2004)
Keys Disease - CD (2002; re-released 2006)
Velvet Elvis - cassette EP (1995; out of print)
Feed The Fire - vinyl EP - (1984; out of print)
WINNER: 2009 Best Local Celebrity - The Weekly Newspapers
ALSO: Multiple time winner of WAVK People's Choice Award as Best Local Entertainer and the Keynoter newspaper's Best of the Keys Best Musician.
John Bartus – Solo or Storm Watch – The Perpetual Island Tour Rolls On
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By 1984, John Bartus was already a seasoned road veteran. Based out of South Carolina, he had alr... By 1984, John Bartus was already a seasoned road veteran. Based out of South Carolina, he had already performed at clubs and on stages from Pennsylvania to Florida, and had released an album with fellow singer/songwriter Sallie Foster called Feed The Fire. The Compass Lounge at the old Holiday Inn in Marathon was just another stop on the road, a chance to escape the February winter in South Florida for three weeks.
What he didn’t count on was the End of the Road.
“We got so many offers to play here in the Keys, and there were so many places to play back then,” Bartus recalls. “I had always wanted to move back to Florida anyway, and things worked out in ways I could never have dreamed.” Sallie and John had a house gig at the Holiday Inn (which by then had become the Marathon Inn) that eventually morphed into a five-piece band called the Red Hots at Sombrero Resort. After several months in that band, John left to pursue a solo career and went back to the Holiday Inn (now the Days Inn) and took up residence there five nights a week.
It was around 1987 when a position opened up in Freddie Bye’s band at the Brass Monkey. “Freddie and [Brass Monkey owner] Bob Sorenson approached me with their idea that I’d do Thursdays through Saturdays with the band, and Sundays and Mondays solo. Best of both worlds. So I did.” John played bass and occasional guitar in a version of the band that included Freddie, Ron Barfield on drums, and ex-Silver Bullet Band keyboardist Robyn Robbins.
“I was also working with Roy McAdams in an acoustic duo called Death & Taxes. John and Roy eventually hooked up with drummer Glenn Faast and became the Dead Parrot Society. When John wasn’t playing lead electric guitar with the band, he would play his solo acoustic show in venues up and down the Keys.
Oh yeah. In John’s spare time, he helped Marathon incorporate as its own city, ran for and won a seat on Marathon’s first City Council, and served three terms, with two years as Mayor of the City of Marathon. He also co-founded The Weekly Newspapers, and assisted his wife Marlene with their shops – The Tropical Island Outlet and Marooned in Marathon. He served on the Board of Directors and was President of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce. And he owns a recording, production, and publishing business called John Bartus Productions.
For most of the past 20 years, Bartus has maintained his dual musical career path – solo acoustic shows mixed with band performances. He just realized that what he’s been doing all these years in the Keys is his Perpetual Island Tour. “I may not have to travel as much, but it’s still been a long road.” That road includes, by John’s calculations, over 7,000 performances in the Keys since 1984.
John has also kept busy in the studio, producing a number of recordings. In 1995, John released a cassette album called Velvet Elvis. This was followed by the 2002 CD Keys Disease and the 2004 CD Live From the Florida Keys. John’s music has been called “…reminiscent of the soft sarcastic style of Warren Zevon… in the story song style of Joshua Kadison with the Florida themes of Jimmy Buffett.” There is definitely a Buffett/trop rock influence in some of John’s songs, as well as James Taylor, Tom Petty, and Dan Fogelberg. There’s also a bit of Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, and Neil Young as well. His most requested original songs include “Carolina,” “Keys Disease,” “Velvet Elvis,” “Captain of His Own Destiny,” “Vegas Town,” and “Victim of Gravity.” Then there’s “Keys Disease.” “That song is basically a true story that’s also the story of a lot of people,” Bartus says. “The character is a lawyer who left his legal career up north to become a bartender in the Keys. There are a lot of stories like that down here!”
In 2007, John put together a new band with Glenn Faast called Storm Watch. In 2009, John Bartus & Storm Watch released their Live at the 2009 Marathon Seafood Festival CD. After a few personnel changes, Storm Watch now consists of John, Glenn, and new bassist Jason Poff, a talented guy who used to work at Ardent Studios in Memphis. “Jason is an amazing player,” Bartus says, “And Glenn is rock solid. It’s a good band.” Look for John & Storm Watch at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar for dates in August, September, and October, as well as one of the headliners at Conchtoberfest 2011 at Hawks Cay, Sept. 30 – Oct. 2.
John’s solo acoustic shows incorporate new harmony generation and looping technologies that enable him to pull off songs one person normally can’t do. “It’s totally organic, nothing is pre-recorded,” Bartus explains. “This technology lets me do stuff like Pink Floyd that I normally wouldn’t be able to do solo.” John has solo shows at Sparky’s Landing (Thursdays), the Sunset Grille, and Hawks Cay Resort. Saturday evenings usually find John at the Key Colony Inn where he often plays piano (“It’s a totally different side of my musical schizophrenia.”)
John’s new CD, Live From The Florida Keys Vol. 2, is just about to be released. He’s also working on a Christmas CD, and a new original studio CD, his first since Keys Disease. “I’ve been working on these songs off and on for four years now,” Bartus says, “and I can’t wait to get it out. Glenn plays all the drums, and it really sounds good.” The new CD Time & Tide is expected to be finished in early 2012.
All John’s music is available online at iTunes and Rhapsody as well as CDBaby.com, and locally where he performs. To keep up with John’s schedule and check on CD release dates, visit John’s website at www.johnbartus.com.
TOTALLY IN TUNE - Musician/politician hits the right key in Marathon
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BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Sun-Times Columnist KEY LARGO, Fla. -- John Bartus looks out at the Gulf of Mexi...BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Sun-Times Columnist
KEY LARGO, Fla. -- John Bartus looks out at the Gulf of Mexico and sees a world of tropical beauty. This must be just like when Mayor Richard M. Daley gazes at Grant Park and daydreams of tumbling tumbleweed.
Bartus is the former two-term mayor of Marathon (population 11,000) in the Florida Keys. He also is a popular singer-songwriter who just re-released his CD "Keys Disease." (Radio Active Productions, www.JohnBartus.com.) Bartus sings original songs about palm trees, a tribute to the Challenger and Columbia astronauts and an exotic dancer in Key West.
Daley always has professed to be a big country music fan. And for several consecutive years during Chicago's country music festival I tried to get a comment from Daley on his favorite country music. Anything. Even something about Alabama. I never got a response and finally gave up.
Living his mojo
Bartus puts his mojo where his mouth is.
He is a 45-year-old plain-speaking native of Fort Wayne, Ind. In 1984 Bartus was booked into the Compass Lounge at the Holiday Inn/Marathon Inn as part of a top-40 duo with a singer named Sallie Foster. He never left.
"There was no reason to leave," Bartus said during a February conversation down the road from Marathon at the Caribbean Club (mile marker 104, U.S. 1) in Key Largo. "At that time there were more places to play music for a living on a few square miles than anywhere else I have seen. Of course, that was the tail end of the cocaine cowboys and the smuggling. You could tell when somebody had a deal go down. They'd be in the bar that night buying everybody drinks. The $100 bills would be like wallpaper."
The Keys are rich with subjects for songs and folks like Jimmy Buffett and Jerry Jeff Walker who took that to the bank. The title track of "Keys Disease" is an Allman Brothers-meets Tex-Mex workout about a guy who was a successful New England attorney. He gave it all up, moved his family to the Keys and has been bartending along U.S. 1 for 30 years.
Trying a new key
Bartus is working on new songs and they reflect new issues in the Keys.
Like Cuban exiles.
"Drugs don't come through any more, but refugees get dropped off at shore," Bartus said. The Keys are ramping up for an exodus of Cubans who are expected after the death of Fidel Castro. Officials are looking at options such as closing down marinas and shutting airports. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been conducting mock drills in preparation for any mass migration.
Bartus explained, "What we understand is happening is that Raul [Castro, Fidel's brother] is trying to model his government along Chinese lines where free market is encouraged. I don't see a mass exodus. Any change after Fidel is going to be incremental. It's not going to be like Fidel dies and everyone from Miami is going to be on the next plane back."
Bartus said Marathon has a substantial Cuban-American community for a town its size. The community also has a large number of Hispanic commuters who take buses from Homestead to work in the hotels and resorts in and near Marathon. "Down here they pay higher wages," Bartus said. "There's a lot of businesss that really depend on that for their staffing."
Marathon didn't incorporate as a city until 2000. Bartus was a councilman between 2000 and 2006. As part of the council, he was chosen mayor in 2002-03 and again in 2005-06. Unlike Chicago, a city charter forces a two-term mayor to take a year off. Bartus is now running for council again in the March 13 election. The Marathon council chooses the mayor.
Keeping passions separate
Bartus said, "No one ever made a big deal out of my singing career. I think it has helped. Long before I got into politics, I was high visibility. I've also done radio broadcasting in the Keys and I've written a newspaper and magazine column." His morning radio show on WGMX-FM (94.3) is currently on hold because of FCC equal-time regulations when someone is a qualified candidate for public office.
Bartus does not perform material from Woody Guthrie or Jackson Browne in his sets. "When I play music I stay away from politics," he said. "But if someone wants to come up and talk issues during a break, I'm happy to do that."
He first moved to south Florida in the 1960s. His father John was a Cape Canaveral engineer who was contracted by NASA on the Saturn I-B project. The family then relocated to South Carolina before Bartus came to Marathon in 1984.
Bartus loves his city. He and his wife, Marlene, live in the Hemingway tradition with their three cats. His "Keys Disease" CD concludes with "The Islands of Marathon," a beautiful ballad in which Buffett meets Dan Fogelberg.
The Florida Keys sewer project is the reason Bartus has entered the political arena again. It's the biggest infrastructure project in the Keys since Flagler's Railroad was built in 1905, connecting mainland Florida over 150 miles of open sea to Key West. The railroad was wiped out in a Labor Day 1935 hurricane.
Each jurisdiction in the Keys is doing its own sewer project.
"We have beautiful water surrounding us," Bartus said. "In 1979 the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] said they would sewer the Keys for us. County commissions said, 'We don't need them.' Now the federal and state funding is not what it could have been. But sewers are absolutely necessary. We cannot be pumping stuff into malfunctioning septic systems with the waters we have here close by. There's living coral reef just a few miles off shore. The environment is the reason we are all here and we love this because of what it is. Our duty is to protect this and preserve it."
Marathon got its name when the workers who were building Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway were assigned to build the original Seven Mile Bridge, then known as Flagler's Viaduct. Their first comment was, "Gee, this project is a marathon." Their second comment was, "Where can we get a good margarita?"
Town of plenty
Marathon is now home to the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital. The 34th Annual Marathon Seafood Festival will be held on Saturday and March 11 at the Community Park and Ampitheatre. Bartus, his keyboardist Dave Howell and drummer Glenn Faast will appear at 1 p.m. Saturday at the festival. And on April 21, Marathon will host its annual Seven Mile Bridge Run.
"My original platform was to make sure the economic benefits that were coming down didn't leave people behind," Bartus said. "To a varying degree that didn't succeed. A lot of that had to do with the real estate economy going boom, boom, boom and all of a sudden everything falls out. A lot of people got hurt by that. But there were a lot of people who made out very well. They bought their houses way back when and when they saw how much they were worth they cashed out and left town."
Bartus remained. The alluring song of the Keys always hits close to home.
Keys Disease CD Review
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John Bartus could well be a force to be recorded with, in the very near future. The song, "Velvet El...John Bartus could well be a force to be recorded with, in the very near future. The song, "Velvet Elvis," is reminiscent of the soft sarcastic style of Warren Zevon: a man, eating donuts in the Black Lung Cafe, receives a vision from "The King" through a velvet Elvis hanging on a wall, and is inspired to go to Graceland to steal one for his own, even though it means jail time. The remainder of the CD is done in the story song style of Joshua Kadison with the Florida themes of Jimmy Buffett. A pure storyteller in a minstrel's soul, Bartus' voice is crisp and clear, and the music is easy to enjoy. Let's have more!
Bartus has been many things in Marathon, but prefers the company of musicians
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BY ROB BUSWEILER Free Press Staff After 25 years of playing gigs up and down the Keys, Maratho...BY ROB BUSWEILER
Free Press Staff
After 25 years of playing gigs up and down the Keys, Marathon music man John Bartus says his current band Storm Watch is playing some of the best music he has ever been a part of.
“There is still nothing like a live band,” Bartus said of the difference between his solo and group gigs. “The clubs that still hire live bands realize that, too.”
Bartus has been in the Keys for 25 years, and the former mayor of Marathon knows the terrain all too well. His current bandmates are no slouches themselves, with two of the three longtime veterans of the Keys music scene. On drums, Glenn Faast has a laundry list of bands on his resume. On the keyboards, Marc Davis has more than 30 years of experience behind him, and has been working with local music education programs.
The newest to the group is bassist and guitarist Christian Davis, a fresh face in a band with an endless array of stories to tell.
“Every night is different,” says Bartus, who plays between four and five gigs a week. In addition to the local mainstay venues like Dockside and Sparky’s Landing, Bartus and his crew can also frequently be found playing at the Marathon Community Park or at Sombrero Beach for a myriad of different charity events.
Politics and rock don’t often mix, but Bartus has found himself involved in a wide array of different opportunities over the past 10 years. After being elected to the city’s first council after incorporation in 1999, Bartus was later chosen to serve as the city’s mayor, and was one of two council persons in the city’s history to reach the six-year term limit.
Bartus has also been part of creating a local newspaper group and was a morning talk show host on a local radio station.
“There were times where I would have to put music aside for a while,” Bartus said.
Currently, however, Bartus said he is just months away from the release of a brand new CD with a bunch of original material. “I love being in the studio,” he said.
One of Bartus’ most popular songs, “The Islands of Marathon,” is a more mellow ode to island life than the margarita rock that is heard frequently. Bartus’ style comes from the school of classic rock, as gigs are marked with covers of songs ranging from Pink Floyd to Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Despite the old-school stylings, Bartus has fully embraced the digital distribution chain. He gives credit to the Web site cdbaby.com for getting his music on online distribution sites like iTunes and Rhapsody, acknowledging that it is now part of the game. Bartus and Storm Watch will again be gracing the stage at the Marathon Seafood Festival at the local community park next weekend.
Live From the Florida Keys CD Review
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Ridenour Report - John Bartus I was delighted to receive the latest CD from John Bartus, a superb...Ridenour Report - John Bartus
I was delighted to receive the latest CD from John Bartus, a superb musician who plays in Marathon. John has produced some excellent projects for other performers, but this one is all his own. John sings and plays guitar or keyboard on the tunes, many of which he wrote. He is excellent across the board, with fine technique on both instruments and a glorious voice. His CD is titled Live From the Florida Keys and was recorded live from the Hurricane Lounge in Marathon.
It begins with "We'll All Be Free", which showcases his clear, sweet, expressive voice. Like all his original songs, it's a winner. My favorite cuts are originals "Keys Disease," which explains that mañana is the operative word, "Wasted Days," which says "When time decides to go it travels fast," and "Looking back on what might have been is a heavy price to pay", "Vegas Town" an apt description of the gambling universe with a rolling western feel, and "Velvet Elvis," in which an obsessed fan chases the object of his desire.
John does some great cover tunes on the disc, including James Taylor's wonderful "Captain Jim's Drunken Dream," which is excellent. The covers are fine, as is everything John sings and plays, but it's the originals that will get to you. Bartus is an interesting man. He definitely has the soul of an artist. He's a radio personality and an editor in addition to being performer, and he was Mayor of Marathon!
John's sets will contain songs from the Keys Disease and Live From The Florida Keys CDs, plus material from John's upcoming CD, Time & Tide. Additionally, John & Co. can draw on a repertoire of hundreds of songs, including tropical and classic rock tunes, as well as challenging numbers from groups such as Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, and the Beatles.
John's solo acoustic shows combine modern looping and harmony generating technology into an enhanced performance that's still 100% live, without any sequences, tapes, or other invisible musicians. John is able to accurately recreate challenging harmony-laden songs, as well as lay down a guitar/vocal/percussion part, loop it back, and perform with the musical passage he just played. You have to see it to believe it!
There are no upcoming dates at this time.