Pop music is full of great brother acts from the Everly Brothers to the Allman Brothers and the Brothers Johnson and beyond. Not all became household names but that doesn’t mean they weren’t as talented.
Count Chuck and Scott Kirkpatrick among that group. The siblings were never a brother act per se. Throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, they often played together in the same bands or on the same records making others sound not just good, but great.
Influenced by their mother, who played guitar and sang—and who also instilled tropical rhythms in their collective rock ‘n’ roll soul from her travels throughout the South Pacific, the boys honed their craft in a series of popular South Florida bands that eventually evolved into a rock group called Game. (Game included future Eric Clapton sideman, guitarist George Terry.) Along the way the brothers became enamored with groups that emphasized harmony: The Beach Boys, The Bee Gees, The Four Seasons and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
None other than industry heavyweight Charles Koppleman signed Game to a recording contract. The band opened concerts for Johnny Winter, Ten Years After, The Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin, Rare Earth, Van Morrison and others and sold thousands of records, scoring several regional hits. But Game broke up before it broke big.
With Game over, Scott and Chuck remained in-demand as recording studio session players and, more often, singers over the course of two decades. The Kirkpatrick brothers spent so much time at Criteria Studios, the legendary hit-making emporium in North Miami, they were almost like staff. Artists on tour also sought out the pair to serve as members of their backing band.
So, it’s a good bet that while you may not have heard of the Kirkpatrick brothers, if you’re a ‘Boomer’ you own a record on which they’re playing, singing, or in Chuck’s case, engineered. Older brother Chuck could replicate almost any vocal sound, style or range. For sheer amusement (and as a tribute) he once made a tape –Remember those?—of a medley of Beach Boys hits on which he played all the instruments and sang all the parts to perfection. It was so good, several South Florida rock and pop radio stations, tightly formatted as they were, couldn’t help but put it on the air.
No wonder heavy hitters including the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Eddie Money and Meat Loaf felt fortunate to have Chuck contribute to their albums as musician and singer. His engineering skills also were sought out, and he lent enduring magic to hits such as America’s “You Can Do Magic,” and the Derek & the Dominoes evergreen “Layla.”
Younger brother Scott, whom I first met when he and Chuck replaced original members of Firefall in the early ‘80s, is the only musician I have seen simultaneously play drums and trumpet in concert during the same song. (That would be Firefall’s “Mexico,” never a hit but the most dynamic rocker in the band’s songbook.) During their Firefall tenure, Scott and Chuck injected new life into the band as a live act.
Scott had just finished a stint recording and touring with former Byrds-men (Roger) McGuinn, (Gene) Clark & (Chris) Hillman and over the years had also played drums backing everyone from Chuck Berry to Aerosmith either on stage or in the studio.
The brothers were consummate professionals, laying back and allowing the stars of the show to shine—whether in studio or on stage. They left their egos at the recording studio and stage doors and immersed themselves in the music always playing to serve the song and the artist, intuitively providing just the right amount of sparkle and musical edge.
The same was true even when they backed local heroes like Capt. Harry Hann, performing note-for-note Crosby, Stills & Nash classics so beautifully that you felt like you had snuck into a CSN concert. The ‘un-blendered’ truth, however, was those heavenly harmonies were emanating from a North Miami Beach raw bar. Bottom line: Scott and Chuck simply loved—and still love—to make music whether on tour with celebrated artists who have a carved a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or on a cramped stage at a local watering hole on a Sunday afternoon.
Finally, after years of making others sound so great, Scott and Chuck, with support from lyricist, percussionist and friend Scott Ellis, have finally become a brother act, writing, playing and singing their own songs and forging their own sibling sound.
They call themselves the Coconut Boat Band. The name may sound a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the group’s musical heart beats with an array of influences admired, absorbed and distilled. It’s all here: the folk-rock of the Byrds, the harmonies of the Beach Boys, the Jimmy Buffet-like equatorial tales both humorous and sentimental, and the island rhythms--introduced by mom--that colored their music, tanning it like the tropical sun under which they were raised.
After years at the edge of the limelight, the brothers Kirkpatrick have stepped out of the shadows and on to center stage. For those of us who have been in on this well-kept secret, it’s been a long time coming. For those of you reading about them for the first time, they’ll sound as fresh and upbeat as dawn at ocean’s edge.
Ladies and gentleman, please give a warm welcome to “Rum Is A Many Blendered Thing” by The Coconut Boat Band!
Scott Benarde, January, 2007
Author of “Stars of David: Rock and Roll’s Jewish Stories” and former Rock Critic for the Palm Beach Post and Ft. Lauderdale News/Sun Sentinel.