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King Snake Records, back-porch jams, memories of the chitlin’ circuit

How the small Central Florida city played a pivotal role in keeping blues music alive in the Sunshine State

Photo: Photos by Christopher Balogh, License: N/A

Photos by Christopher Balogh

Photo: , License: N/A

Doc Williamson runs a regular blues jam at the Alley – the last venue in Sanford dedicated to blues music

“I was in bad shape, and he revived my career,” Watts says. “I give him credit for keeping blues alive here, because it would have been dead if it hadn’t been for him.”

Fields says he thinks King Snake even developed its own particular sound – an authentic take on blues that combined the old sound with his own touch.

“It was funky blues,” Fields says. “[When I listened to something] I could just tell right away that it was a King Snake. Bob’s recording method felt more live than most blues albums. Others became so sterile and cleaned up. King Snake was earthy.”

In 2006, Mr. Greenlee’s achievements were posthumously acknowledged by the Florida Chapter of the Recording Academy – the same organization that awards the Grammys – for his contribution to the music world.

Without Greenlee and King Snake, the onus now falls on people like Fields and a handful of others to make sure Sanford doesn’t forget its connection to the blues.

Today, the best place to explore that connection is the Alley, a Sanford bar that sits inside a 1930s-era building on Park Avenue in Sanford’s historic district. The exterior makes it look like the kind of place where you’ll walk in to find dancing girls and guys playing three-card monte at the tables.

Inside, though, it’s got far more character than that. It’s a bar with tabletops and walls covered with words written in Sharpie marker that date back to its opening in 2004. The Foster Wallace Stage, named for a local musician, is the bar’s main focal point. Every Wednesday and Sunday night, Doc Williamson heads up a blues jam here where musicians can come to get to know one another and play together – just like they used to do on back porches in the ’60s and later at King Snake in the ’80s.

“Anyone can sign up,” Williamson says. “Doesn’t even matter how old you are or how bad you are – we are here to play music.”

Williamson, 62, was born in Iowa and moved to Seminole County in the early 1960s. He sits in with the makeshift band, playing keyboard. He wears a white fedora to match his long white goatee. There are years behind his voice and behind his playing.

“Ray Charles was it for me,” he says. “I heard that around 8 years old and it changed my life. I’ve been playing music ever since.”

The audience can tell that Williamson runs the show, not only because of the fliers that have his face superimposed on Uncle Sam’s, but his command of the stage and band.

The way Williamson sets up his blues jam is like most open mics: Sign up in a binder book and wait your turn for the stage. One of the factors that makes his jams so different is that people of all ages and all walks of life play together, some for the first time. Some of these people don’t know each other.

They don’t know all the songs. Some are still learning. But at the Alley, that just seems to be part of the show.

“We’ve had 12-year-olds on the stage, playing guitar beyond their years,” he says. “We also have singers in their early 80s belting out with amazing voices.”

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