From Smoked Mullett to Greek Sponge Divers to Sports City U.S.A: The Outlaws’ Henry Paul On What Makes Tampa Awesome

Henry Paul
John Gellman

Henry Paul whose band the Outlaws broke out of the Tampa Bay area.

The Outlaws’ founder and prime mover, Henry Paul, may be one of the biggest rock stars to hail from Tampa, Fla. Though he no longer lives there, he visits every year, partakes in its culinary delights and actively roots for its sports teams – which, with top NHL, MLB and NFL teams and host of this year’s Super Bowl,  one could make a solid argument for it being “Sports City U.S.A.” Here then, Paul recalls building his career in the area clubs, the region’s hidden gems including smoked mullet and the historical Columbia Restaurant, it ascendant sports scene and, of course, Greek sponge divers.

Pollstar: You grew up in Tampa. What’s the overarching thing people visiting there should know? ?

Henry Paul: Mine is culinary because the Spanish personality of that city is incredible. Cuban sandwiches, deviled crabs, black beans and rice, chicken and yellow rice. The Columbia Restaurant is the crown jewel of that culture and a very important part of Tampa.

??What other Tampa spots would you recommend to visitors?
?Ted Peters is a smoked fish restaurant in a little town between St. Pete and St. Pete Beach called Pasadena. They have smoked mackerel, smoked mullet, just the greatest smoked fish in the world. If you go to St. Petersburg, there’s a beach at the south end called Pass-a-Grille. Artsy fartsy, really small, old-school Florida beach community. If you go north you get to Tarpon Springs on the Anclote Bay and that’s where the Greek sponge diving community is. There’s a barbecue restaurant in the Black community on 40th Street called Big John’s Alabama Barbecue. I swear to God, on my mother’s name, it is the high tabernacle of the best barbecue on the planet in the Deep South. And the Columbia Restaurant is a fine dining destination and out of this world. ??Wait, did you just say Greek sponge diving community? ?Yeah, the Greek sponge diving community. Sounds like a band name. It does. It has an incredibly European feeling. It’s like a little enclave. The tourists love it. They have great restaurants.

Sponge Diver Tarpon Springs
Martha Barreno/VW Pics/Universal Images Group/Getty

The Sponge Diver Memorial Statue in Tarpon Springs just outside of Tampa known as the sponge capital of the world.

So Greek sponge diving is a real thing?
That’s a real thing. And the Tampa Latin cigar rolling community is a very real thing.??When I looked at the music history of Tampa, going way back, it looked like there was a Blues thing there. ?Ray Charles was there. I know the Blues Image was there. Stephen Stills went to high school there. There were bluesmen like Tampa Red and there’s an enormous Black community. And it’s a seaport, which brings another dimension to the town and incredible musical culture. The Beatles, obviously, were the advent of this culture, because everybody who was consumed by what that was went out and started a band. And there were so many bands in Tampa and some really good ones. Early on The Tropics were a huge success. They were a Beatles knockoff band and had dance steps. They were the first, the biggest, most popular band in Tampa. They got to play opening slots in front of a lot of different groups and clubs. ??

What were the clubs?
?The In-Crowd, a club out on Waters Avenue, a big one called the FCA, the Florida Confederate Association. It was big building, they had a band called Mike & the Hurricanes who were really good. There was a coffeehouse in Pinellas Park, halfway between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, called Beaux Arts. Jim Morrison played there. All these folk music luminaries would come through and play. I would go and hang around in back with my guitar and play with different people and eventually got the nerve to get on stage and sing a few songs. It was a very important cultural destination, it was the Jack Kerouac crowd. Kerouac actually lived there and wound up dying in Tampa or St. Petersburg.

??I know you were in NYC trying to get a label deal as a solo artist, what brought you back to Tampa?
?In 1972 a friend of mine in Tampa put on a show at The Armory, which held about 3,000 people. There was a guy named Milton Carroll, myself, and a group called Baldwin &; Leps. And all three of us were living in New York and having some success. We were getting ready to get a record deal and he invited us back and do a show at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. A couple of thousand people showed up. I put a band together in New York and brought them down.  That was the launch for me to go from being a singer-songwriter to being in a band

Then how did you end up staying in Tampa?
?I moved my band from New York to Tampa. Monte Yoho, who was the original drummer in the band, lived in Tampa and became our drummer. Then different members would become homesick or disenchanted and they’d quit and move back to New York and a local guy would join the group. So now it’s Monte, myself, and Frank (O’Keefe). Hughie (Thomasson), who was playing in New York, moved back home and joined the band. That was ’72 and the band was called Sienna. We played some college dates and clubs and tried making a commercial venture of it. Hughie, Frank and Monte were at different times in a band called The Outlaws, a local high school dance band. They said, “Maybe if we change our name to The Outlaws, we could get more bookings.” And I said, “Well, that would be great. I love that name.” So we all became The Outlaws four-piece. We played for another six or eight months and Billy Jones, who had played with Monte in a band, moved back from Boulder and wanted to be in the group. Now we had a five-piece group and all these songs and this handful of clubs we played in North Tampa and we carved out a following.

The Outlaws
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Tampa’s Finest: The Outlaws’ Frank O’Keefe, Henry Paul, Hughie Thomasson and Billy Jones live in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1976.

What’s North Tampa like?
?North Tampa’s near the University of South Florida and a geographical area unique unto itself. It’s a university-driven cultural part of town. The University of South Florida is big. There must have been 15,000 kids going to the University of South Florida in the early ’70s and they would patronize these bars an come and see The Outlaws. And familiarity bred affection. Any time The Outlaws were going to play people showed up. ?

What places to you play? ?
There was a bar called The Whipping Post, The Depot, The Losers, Mi Backyard. One weekend, we’d play at Mi Backyard. Next weekend, we’d play at The Whipping Post. Next weekend, we’d play at Loser’s. Next weekend, we’d play at The Depot. And then we’d start over again. And everywhere the band set up to play, people would come. ?

Ronnie Van Zant Ken Krause
Tom Hill/Getty Images

The Outlaws’ road manager Ken Krauss and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant at the Atlanta Braves’ home opener at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 15, 1977.

Was there local radio or media to promote your shows?
?There was a University of South Florida newspaper called The Oracle and they would advertise occasionally. But it was word of mouth and street-driven culture. I remember we were playing Mi Backyard, it must have been 1973, and the Allman Brothers were in town to play Tampa Stadium or some giant-ass venue. And the drummer Butch Trucks came down to Mi Backyard and sat in with The Outlaws. ??Oh my God, you’re kidding. ?And so, there we were on stage with Butch playing a shuffle. We’re just falling apart, we couldn’t believe it.

What made him go see you guys?
I think he knew somebody who knew the band and just came and sat in. We were beside ourselves with glee. Through Charlie [Brusco, their manager), he booked us four shows in a row in Macon, Nashville, Cleveland and home. The first night, we played Macon at this club, Grant’s Lounge, that was very local. The Allmans, Wet Willie and all the musical personalities in Macon frequented this bar. We wound up having a day off after and went out to The Allman Brothers’ farm and got to see the guys we were starting to interact a little with on that level.

How was the show?

At that time, we had really good songs, we were a cowboy rock ’n’ roll outfit. Two nights later, we played a club in Nashville called Muther’s Music Emporium. And a guy that ran the concert scene in the city booked The Outlaws sight unseen to open a show at Muther’s two nights with Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Oh man. ?
This was 1973 or ’74. Ronnie Van Zant came down and watched the band, went back to his hotel, next morning he called his manager and said, “I just saw a band that completely kicked my ass. And they have a song, they have themselves a ‘Freebird.’” He was referring to “Green Grass and High Tides.” This was the turning point. He signed us to his management company and publishing company and became partners with Charlie, and then real shit started to happen. I mean, we were in a studio recording demos of all of our original songs.

When you got bigger, what Tampa places did you play? ?
The Bayfront Center and the Lakeland Civic.

Lightning Tampa Stanley Cup
Julio Aguilar/Getty

Tampa Bay Lightning’ Stanely Cup Victory Rally & Boat Parade on the Hillsborough river on September 30, 2020 in Tampa with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Luke Schenn.

Tampa is also having a sports renaissance. The Rays went to the World Series; the hockey team won the Stanley Cup; the Super Bowl is there; the Bucs are in the (NFC finals); The NBA’s Toronto Raptors are playing there this season, what do you make of Tampa being Sports City USA? ?
If you take it a step further, the Florida Gators won the Southeastern Conference Championship and played Alabama to within six points. I’m an avid sports fan. I love the Gators. I love the Bucs. I love the Rays, and I love the Lightning. I’m a Tampa fan and lo and behold the Lightning have been threatening for a while. They had won the Cup and now they’ve come back and won it again. The Rays lost Joe Maddon, and I thought, “Oh, what a horrible thing” but the guy that took his place has rebuilt that team into a contender on no money. ??

What’s in the water down there? ?
They’re spending money. The Rays have this beautiful farm system and these really smart guys that can make chicken salad out of chicken shit and everybody else is spending money. The Gators are hot. The whole sports scene down there has always been – especially on the football front – something religious. ??

What will Tampa be like when it hosts the Super Bowl?
We had one before the new stadium was built, the Washington Redskins played the Oakland Raiders. The town lit up. Ybor City and Bern’s was packed. Tampa’s a swinging ass town. And now it’s gotten to be such a big town. The town that I used to live in, it doesn’t exist anymore. ??Do you still go to Tampa regularly? ?I do. I fly there every year and I still have family down there. My wife and I go down occasionally. I drive her around and show her all the places we used to play and the house I used to live in. It’ll always be home to me.

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