If you have spent much time matriculating at some of central Broward County’s most authentic beach bars, you are familiar with the laid-back charms of singer, songwriter and guitarist Catfish Hunter. And if you went on to pursue an advanced degree in barstool philosophy at the Internationally World Famous Treasure Trove, you also know owner and barkeep Jeff Rudd, only intermittently laid-back and charming.
It is the flip-flop, flip-top Zen of the South Florida beach and boating community and its endangered watering holes that are celebrated on Catfish’s new album, named for Rudd’s salty Fort Lauderdale beach tavern.
“I’m a one-man band, my guitar in hand, trying hard to keep my feet in the sand,” Catfish sings on the album’s buoyant opening track, “Palm Trees & Daiquiris.” (Hear a snippet in video below.)
Most of the songs on “The Treasure Trove” follow that Jimmy Buffett-blazed trail of sunny good times by the water. Catfish, also known for enthusiastic covers of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead, went into Hollywood’s Command Post Studios with producer John Sambataro 15 months ago to record two audience favorites, “Palm Trees & Daiquiris” and “Tropical Vacation.”
Then, he added his Mardi Gras song, an ode to a favorite local restaurant, “Shuck-n-Dive,” written with the Cajun café’s owner, Danny “Staz” Stasi. With other songs forming in his head, Catfish decided it finally might be time for a follow-up to his 2003 album, “Five Day Weekend.” The timing for such ambition wasn’t great: His first child, Axel, was about to be born.
“I wasn’t sure what life [as a father] was going to be like at all, so I wanted to get in and get a couple of things done, sort of as a keepsake. … The legacy for my son, of course, but [the album] just took on a life of its own,” the Pompano Beach resident says.
Born Sean Grady in Rhode Island 38 years ago, the guitarist was stuck with the name Catfish 20 years ago, when older bandmates at a blues gig decided his given name sounded “too Irish and not blues enough.” A Rhode Island College buddy, a Yankees fan, suggested he add Hunter. After doing some research into famous Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter, musician Catfish decided the marketing advantage of the name was too much to ignore, even for a die-hard Red Sox fan.
Catfish arrived in South Florida 15 years ago (the usual story: family ties, college girlfriend, spring break, yada yada) and soon found himself sitting on a barstool at the Treasure Trove with $10 in his pocket. It wasn’t enough to buy the full meal he wanted, so he just ordered a couple of beers and left the rest as a tip.
The appreciative bartender encouraged Catfish to talk to the owner about a gig at the bar. Catfish returned a few times only to hear the bartender tell him he’d just missed Rudd.
“Finally, I think it was Jeff’s partner that hired me, and Jeff was at my first gig, and I realized he was the curly-headed bartender I’d been talking to, and he was just yanking my chain,” Catfish says, with a laugh.
Catfish, now a Saturday-night regular at the Treasure Trove, also performs Monday and Thursday happy-hour shows at Café Aruba in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Wednesdays at the Nauti Dawg Marina Cafe in Lighthouse Point and Saturday afternoons at Bahia Cabana in Fort Lauderdale. He also performed in the VIP area at the recent Zac Brown Band shows at the Cruzan Amphitheatre, and will reprise that role when Tom Petty comes to town on Sept. 20.
A measure of revenge against Rudd is exacted on the title track that closes “The Treasure Trove.” The song begins and ends with sections of Rudd’s famous late-night rants, clandestinely recorded at the bar and at the rehearsal dinner for Catfish’s wedding.
The great thing about these recordings, and of the larger-than-life personality that is Jeff Rudd, is that you can’t tell whether he’s yelling at a crowd of wedding guests or Trove barflies. One snippet ends: “When I talk, you listen. After that, you can do whatever the f--- you want.” The other: “You guys need to go home. We don’t need people like you.”
IF YOU GO
Catfish Hunter will perform at an album release party for "The Treasure Trove" at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Treasure Trove, 2933 SE Fifth St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission: Free. Info: 954-522-8385 or CFHMusic.com.