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Oh, those 'Cedar Key Sunsets'

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By Claude Lewis

Alabama, Johnny Nash, Bertie Higgins, Dennis Yost, Starbuck, Artimus Pyle and Bo Diddley are just a few of a diverse group of stars that Irwin has worked with in his long and storied career.

Seeing the music industry eat up a lot of his friends, Irwin chose to take the low road some 20 years ago, moving to rural Levy County to chill out, spend time with the family, collect some royalty money and play a little music.

It's worked out well in some respects.

"The only part that hasn't worked out are the royalties," said Irwin, insisting that he is owed considerable sums of money by national publishing company ASCAP. "I thought the royalty checks would be rolling in. I need to get a lawyer and get it all straightened out. The only problem is, the cost of the lawyer would be about the same that I could collect. It's a Catch 22."

While life would be a lot easier with that money, there are still plenty of positives going that Irwin can build on.

Now 56, Irwin hasn't had a drink in eight years. He's lost some 75 pounds. He finds his loving wife a joy and immensely enjoys watching son Trip play quint drums in the Williston High band.

"I want him to get a scholarship," Irwin said. "Florida A & M may be interested."

Irwin still has plenty of things going on musically, himself.

"I'm trying to resurrect myself," he said. "I have a CD out. I have a song that is No. 37 on the All Southern Rock Internet list. I have a song about homeless people. I want to draw attention to their plight."

The well-seasoned guitarist/singer/songwriter has recently released a CD titled "Cedar Key Sunsets."

It is a mixture of country/blues/r&b/rock with several tunes hitting close to home.

"I'm like a one man chamber of commerce promoting the Cedar Key islands," said Irwin, who plays at Brian's Big Deck every Sunday from 3 p.m. until sundown. "I have a love for the place. There's stories behind a lot of my songs."

Like the CD title track "Cedar Key Sunset" - a reggae-based tale of laid-back life and beauty of the islands. Irwin is no stranger to reggae, as he penned two songs on Johnny Nash's "Twenty of My Favorite Songs" LP.

Or how about "Tin Roof Shanties," which spins a yarn about the Florida cracker way of life, coastal version.

Or "Crystal Z," which is about a local woman who loved to sail to pristine ports around the Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas.

There are nine cuts on the CD, which is available on Sunday nights at the Big Deck.

Irwin's show at the Big Deck may include some of the above along with "Buffet-like" island music mixed in.

"I try to do more than just play songs," he said. "I tell some jokes. Talk with the people. I try to entertain."

Folks call out requests and Irwin obliges, knowing how to play them all. His excellent guitar work and deep voice serenade the audience.

Irwin first began playing guitar in high school back in his hometown of Chatannooga. From there, he went to New York, Canada, back down South to Atlanta. He has toured with many bands, playing a wide variety of music from soul to blues to rock to country.

Having worked with former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, Irwin wrote a tribute to Ronnie Van Zandt, leader of the lengendary Southern and Classic Rock band who died in a plane crash in 1977.

"Curtis and the Kid" strikes an emotional chord as it traces Van Zandt's life as a young musician up to the Skynyrd superband status days.

The All Southern Rock Internet began playing the song recently and it has been well received.

"It totally surprised me," Irwin said. "I didn't even know about the site."

The Website is www.allsouthernrock.com.

Irwin also wants to kelp out people who are down on their luck. He wrote a thought-provoking song called "Homeless People are on the Streets" that he plays at the Big Deck and other concerts and benefits.

"A lot of them are Vietnam veterans who should be in mental institutions," he said. "We need to take care of them."

Adding insult to injury, Irwin claims Bertie "Key Largo" Higgins is now playing the song at his shows.

"It's my song he's playing," said Irwin of Higgins. "There's a lot of stealing songs in the business. I'm not that close to him anymore since he stole my song."

Irwin, who has seen most of the United States in his younger days of touring and producing in big cities, said his love of music keeps him going.

"I've tried some other things, but this is all I can do well," he shrugs.

Keep playing into those "Cedar Key Sunsets," brother.