by Susan M. Murphy
We headed out of Boston and arrived in the Florida Keys in winter of 1987. We landed in Lazy Lakes Campground on Sugarloaf Key with our Chevy Blazer, 18 foot travel trailer and two dogs, Charlie (the beagle) and Smoky (the black lab). Of course, Alan MacPherson, the campground manager immediately sized us up and sent us to the back of the park where the tenters were and others with dogs. Next morning, we found we were camping next to Hobo and Midnight, who were anti-everything (they ran a skull and crossbones above their tent). There was Jim and Jan, Cindy and Mike, Dan and Lori, Chuck and Gloria all of whom had dogs or motorcycles.
Tall tales were told around the campfire about the square groupers that were picked up in the canals and off shore when the drug planes would come in to make a drop and the speedboats would miss a pick-up. Many people around town made their millions running drugs from the Caribbean. I’m talking about a cross section from politicians, to the local bar keeps, to high end restaurant owners (prominent folk) on Duval Street. Things were changing though with the new administration George H.W. Bush and his “war on drugs”. Even a “weather station” was installed on Cudjoe Key with a high flying blimp tethered to it, loaded with sophisticated equipment to track drug runners.
People talked about going to church on Sunday and it took us a few weeks to understand “Church” was across the street at Mangrove Mama’s Restaurant, owned then by Gary who came from the mountains of eastern Tennessee. There was incredible music flowing out of this place. And to boot the bar was packed with “dead heads”, painted busses outside and the hippies from the woods of Big Pine Key. You didn’t see them often with their long grey hair and beards, but they came out dressed in full tie dye, hats, and colorful clothing on Sunday nights. The band, the Survivors, were playing a mix of reggae and jazz, they were masters of the laid back Keys vibe. Everyone was flowing, dancing and pulsing, it became a tradition to attend each week meeting with neighbors and welcoming newcomers like ourselves. After the nightly sunset celebration on Mallory Square in Key West ended on Sundays evening, the majority of the street performers would pack their vans and make the 25 mile drive up US1 to Mangrove’s and began performing again on the lawn and the parking lot out front. An unforgettable happening.
In the spring, Steve formed a jazz trio, Tropea with Tim McAlpine and Rick Peterson. They opened up the newly built Hyatt on Front Street in Key West. When Gary sold Mangrove Mama’s, the new owner Tom Kelly asked Steve to take over the Sunday night reggae gig. Tim and Rick flipped a coin. Heads, Tim was the guitar player in a newly formed reggae band.
A few weeks before this, we had been sitting at the La Concha Hotel at the bar when we met two new musicians in town, Steve Mello (drummer) and Rick Steffan (bass guitar). They didn’t have any gigs and were hungry for anything. They told us about their experiences in Daytona Beach. We talked to them about joining the band and they said they’d be happy to come out and play the following Sunday.
At that time Steve Mello and Steve Murphy were talking about the brand new “zero tolerance drug policy” and how the coast guard patrols were stopping boats in the harbor to search for contraband. Boats were being confiscated for as little as a joint or a seed. We weren’t talking about big drug lords either, these were normal everyday people getting their boats boarded, searched and impounded. When Steve Murphy and Steve Mello were brainstorming for names, Mello said it has to be something that is the opposite of Zero Tolerance and the crazed drug policy. After all, the Keys were built up in recent years on drug money and now there was this major crackdown. They laughed together throwing out ideas on the porch of a conch house on Simonton Street (now called the Seaport Inn or Old Historic Seaport Inn now owned Courtney’s Place) – one happy hour later a higher Mello returned with the name – “Infinite Tolerance”- it was done, that was how the name was born.
Shortly thereafter, Steve Murphy wrote Breathmaker – Oil and Water Don’t Mix an anti offshore oil drilling song while living on an offshore island called Cook Island (in the Newfound Harbor Keys), Steve Mello wrote “Hey Mr. Coast Guard” which continued …”Please don’t take my boat”. These two songs as well as other originals were being played on the air waves. Steve Mello recalls when he was recording “Hey Mr. Coastguard” that three coast guard officers showed up at Conch Republic Studios, Blair Mooney’s studio in Summerland Key to hear it. They had already been playing these original tunes live all over the Keys, so when word got out that they were in the studio; some unexpected fans showed up.
Rick Steffan left the band a few weeks later as he was hitting the road for a tour. He was replaced by Keith Ricks and the Infinite Tolerance band went on to play at every venue throughout Key West and the lower Keys for the next two years gaining popularity and a number of devoted fans with regular gigs at the Parrot, Schooner Wharf, the Cedar Inn in Big Pine Key, Looe Key Reef Resort, Little Palm Island, The Quay, Hawks, Cay Resort in Marathon Key, Ricks Bar, Sloppy Joes, the Strand, for many benefits at the Reach Resort, Faro Blanco Resort, Dockside Bar, the Marriott Casa Marina Hotel, for Reef Relief benefits at East Martello Towers. They opened up for Black Uhuru, Aswad, the Wailers, Yellowman, Bigga, Inner Circle, and at the jump ups on the Beach.
When Keith Ricks left the band to form One World with Bob Boyd, Infinite Tolerance stopped appearing at these venues. Steve Murphy went on to work with Robyn Fear in the band, Fear and Murphy. They recorded a cassette tape together of original tunes and played at many venues in south Florida concentrating on South Beach in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and the Upper Keys including the Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada. He also played with Marian Joy Ring and Phil Embry in Murphy and Company.
After a brief sabbatical and care taking a 4 acre home on Summerland Keys, the Inner Revolution Band was formed and recorded original tunes on the independent label, Inner Revolution Records, Inc. The IT Band was formed with Phil Embry on guitar, Rick Cleaver on bass, Rob DiStasi on keyboards, Gary Guancione on guitar and trumpet. Many fans were writing, yearning for the days of Infinite Tolerance and the original music they loved to dance to on a weekly basis such as Radical Notion, the Richest Man in Babylon, and Holy Wedding Invitation. They performed many of the same originals at keys venues for the next three years. Shortly after the passing of Phil Embry, the Murphy’s moved to Melbourne Beach where Steve met many fine musicians (Kenny Page, Micah Reed, Joe Calautti, Shannon Kori, Chili, Kerry Morris, Ana Delgado Kirby and many more) from the Space Coast area who then recorded together on the upcoming 15 song CD “Nobody Knows How Deep It All Goes”.
Many people ask me how the band was formed and the history of the band. I hope this sheds a little light on the subject.
Susan M. Murphy
The Progression Of Infinite Tolerance