If you know much about Key West, you might have heard about Mayor Gonzo Mays. If all you know about Mayor Gonzo Mays is that she wears wraparound sunglasses, a big straw hat and smokes cigars, you don’t really know her.
The Mayor’s real name is Sammie Mays and she’s actually the honorary mayor of Key West, having had the honor bestowed upon her back in 2008 by the Monroe County Commissioner. She is in demand for appearances as a local celebrity and has two published books to her name: “Pirate Night Before Christmas” and her more recent “Damn the Carnations, Full Speed Ahead.” How does one achieve this notoriety? Living a colorful life is the key and that color now includes the tropical shades of Trop Rock music.
Sammie’s earlier years included a couple of dates with the Pop of Trop Rock himself, Jimmy Buffett. She grew up in Pass Christian, Mississippi and later owned a bar in Pasacgoula called the Key West Bar and Grill (wasn’t that some kind of foreshadowing?).
This was one of the places in which Buffett sang early on in his career (before Sammie owned it) and was a favorite haunt of his infamous Uncle Billy, about which the song “Pascagoula Run” is based. Jimmy was allowed to sing for a while there, albeit for free and he also had to clean the bathrooms in the deal. Anyway, Sammie recalls that on a particular date, someone came up to him, snatched the ballcap he was wearing at the time, and took off. Buffett was upset and “threw a Mississippi fit,” according to Sammie!
I could write on and on about the Mayor’s pre-Trop Rock life: how she was responsible for the first photo of an incarcerated Pete Rose when she cleverly infiltrated the SuperMax prison in Illinois that was included in Sports Illustrated Best Photos edition in 1990. S
he had a brief career with the National Enquirer, which was topped off with being photographed wearing a “bee beard,” in which hundreds of live buzzers were applied to her face. Most recently, she joined the ranks of scores of women who came forward as being assault victims of Bill Cosby. Sammie has indeed lived a life full of adventure and now the adventure includes the Trop Rock world.
A longtime friend of Harry Teaford, Sammie watched him start Radio A1A in Islamorada, Florida. She knew the original music genre previously under the label of “Gulf and Western,” but didn’t know Trop Rock artists until she became involved with the radio station.
She loved how the musicians were independent, the music “real,” rather than staged and she decided to “throw my straw hat in the ring!” By the way, her signature straw hat is 30 years old, from Honduras and means the world to her.
Sammie began occasionally co-hosting the “Weekly Trop 40 Countdown” show on Sundays with Harry and before long, she had her own show on Radio A1A on Wednesday nights. She attended her first pre-MOTM Pit Stop Party two years ago and began to know the wonderful world of Parrot Heads.
“I love Parrot Heads,” she told me. “I don’t have to watch my back.” She quickly was granted honorary membership with the Tampa Bay and Music City Fins (Nashville) Parrot Head Clubs and most recently joined the Key West club.
Now you can hear Mayor Gonzo on Tuesday nights on Radio A1A as she hosts the “Trop 40 #1 Club” show. She cleverly interviews Trop Rock musicians whose music has made it to the #1 spot on the weekly Trop 40 Countdown show and showcases their music.
A recent top-spot holder was Jeff Gallagher of the Bubba Beach Band with his song “Drinking With Gonzo Mays.” The song begins with commentary from Sammie and should be heard if you’re planning on attending the upcoming Meeting of the Minds.
During that week, on Wednesday, October 31, everyone is invited to Mary Ellen’s Bar (across Duval from Willie T’s) for a party from noon until 3:oo pm. The Mayor will be broadcasting her radio show and if you come dressed as her (wraparound sunglasses, straw hat, cigar in mouth), you can receive and autographed copy of “Damn the Carnations Full Speed Ahead,” a bumper sticker, a button and a coveted “Free Political Favor” card.
Also currently working on a new book, Sammie is enjoying her new Trop Rock life immensely. She loves getting to know the musicians and the fans.
In her husky voice, she said, “Parrot Heads are amazing and I’m phlocking along with them!”