Don Middlebrook prefers to find inspiration between shows on the back roads and byways of the country.
The Michigan-based songwriter/singer, who fronts the Pearl Divers, was traveling between shows more than a year ago, heading from South Florida toward New Orleans, when Mexico Beach caught his eye.
“If I just drove from show to show I would not be much more than a truck driver,” Middlebrook said.”I liked the sound of Mexico Beach.
“I need adventures, I need song inspiration.”
And on his sojourn into Mexico Beach he happened into restaurant Mango Marley’s and in turn a bartender named Ashley.
“It just felt more and more like a song, you know,” Middlebrook said. “My heart goes out to a teacher who has to go out and have an extra job because she doesn’t make enough money.”
Middlebrook and Ashley got to kibitzing, as a bartender and customer are wont to do, and the conservation turned to Middlebrook’s songwriting.
He was already scribbling out lyric ideas, using the menu as a jumping off spot.
Ashley, Middlebrook said, was pretty skeptical about the whole thing until Pandora, playing in the bar area, followed a song from the Zac Brown Band with one of Middlebrook’s songs.
He has a few.
Two years ago Middlebrook was named the “Trop Rock” songwriter of the year and he has put out several CDs.
A phone conversation with her boss, who happened to google Middlebrook’s name, convinced Ashley of Middlebrook’s bona fides as a songwriter.
He then retrieved his guitar from his vehicle.
Before the night was over, some of Ashley’s friends stopped by Mango Marley’s to converse with Middlebrook, her boss bought him a beer and the rest of the night was an informal pseudo-jam session.
After leaving Mexico Beach, Middlebrook continued to communicate with Ashley via Facebook, becoming, he said, good friends as he learned about her family, including husband and children and teaching.
“I get to Facebook with her and she tells me about the Forgotten Coast and what was on the menu, research so I wouldn’t sound like a fool later on,” Middlebrook said.
The later on, now some 18 months since he stopped in Mexico Beach, is Middlebrook’s new CD, “Mexico Beach Road Trip” which has the sound of Jimmy Buffett mixed with some Carlos Santana guitar and includes a song named for the town.
The tale becomes crazier.
Sometime back, following a show, Middlebrook was approached by a music company representative who said he wanted to train a brighter spotlight on Middlebrook.
In this instance, that meant Middlebrook, and in turn the song “Mexico Beach”, is now in some 25,000 jukeboxes around the country.
“You never know who you are playing for,” Middlebrook said. “That song is now in 25,000 jukeboxes.”
While Mango Marley’s does not have a jukebox, opting for Pandora music streaming, several local establishments, such as St. Joe Bar, Haughty Heron and Gracie’s do have jukeboxes which include among their offerings “Mexico Beach.”
The song is an ode to the night he spent in Mango Marley’s, the friends he met and pays tribute to Ashley the teacher and bartender.
“You hear that in the chorus, ‘A beer in my hand/I followed her lesson plan,’” Middlebrook said. “I was trying (with the song) to get the feel of what that night was like.”
Additionally, Middlebrook will bring the song and a show directly to Mango Marley’s.
Middlebrook managed to carve out a June 14 show in the midst of a tour which will take him and his band from Michigan to Key West, St. Augustine and back.
While the Pearl Divers will not be with him physically at Mango Marley’s, Middlebrook said they would be present in spirit.
And to think, it all started with a detour into Mexico Beach.
“As a songwriter, an artist, when all the pieces come together and it’s a little out of your hands, you feel like there is a God,” Middlebrook said. “And he loves Trop Rock and he loves Mexico Beach.
“It was just one of those things. It’s all just taken off. And to think now I am going back there to play.”