I’m a sucker for 1970s and 1980s yacht rock. Those sweet melodies, sappy lyrics, and catchy hooks are often the most welcome sounds to my listening ears. Sitting by the pool with my wife, sharing margaritas on a bright sunny day with yacht rock on the stereo, shrimp on the grill, and romance in the air – does life get any better? Something about those moments make both of us feel sexy and 17. Yes, I’m eternally the Motörhead and Iron Maiden rocker. I still love punk and metal as much as I ever did (if not more). But there’s a special place in my heart for yacht rock and when that’s what I want to hear, nothing can satisfy my musical thirst quite like one of those tunes. While it’s certainly not my favorite yacht rock song by a long shot, “Key Largo” is one of the quintessential songs from the genre, sitting high atop the mountain of classics along with “Escape (the Pina Colada Song)” and “What a Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers among others.
Since Bertie Higgins went down in history as a One Hit Wonder with “Key Largo,” let’s take a look at some of the players involved, get a few back stories, and catch up with them… where are they now?
First, let’s address the song itself and get some technical details out of the way. The song was released in September of 1981 and was Bertie Higgins’ only Top 40 hit in the US, peaking at #8 and spending 17 weeks in the Top 40. It hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and is certified Gold by the RIAA. It was written by Bertie Higgins and Sonny Limbo. Now… what you might not have know…
Bertie Higgins grew up in Tarpon Springs, Florida and spent much of his time in the Florida Keys. He lived with his girlfriend, Beverly Seaberg, and they enjoyed watching old movie together (such as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall films like Key Largo). Ultimately, Seaberg (isn’t that a great name for a woman who lived by the sea?) dumped Bertie Higgins and he was emotionally devastated for years. In those days, we didn’t have the internet and social media to reconnect with people who were missing from our lives. If you didn’t have their phone number or a way to contact them, they were just “out of touch.” The internet is ripe with stories of people who reconnected after years of separation. But in those days, if you didn’t know where someone was living and had no method of contact, the best you could do was hope and pray… or write a song and try to get it played on the radio. And so it was with Bertie.
He wrote “Key Largo” about Beverly Seaberg as a plea for her to come back to him. The lyrics tell the tale of a failed romance (his own) and the singer is begging for the relationship to be rekindled.
“We had it all
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our own late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo
Here’s lookin’ at you kid
Missing all the things we did
We can find it once again, I know
Just like they did in Key Largo”
Cupid’s arrows must have been freshly sharpened in 1981 because as fate would have it, Bertie Higgins actually scored a hit with this tune and it did generate widespread airplay. The song rocketed its way up the charts, Beverly Seaberg heard it on the radio, got in touch with Bertie Higgins, and the two became engaged. They were married a year after the song was released. Now if that isn’t sappy and sweet, I don’t know what is… I’d love to be able to end this tale here. But unfortunately there is a “rest of the story…”
As Bertie failed to produce any further hit singles (and as he was becoming financially broke due to mismanagement of his royalty payments) he found himself bankrupt, without a record deal, and back in Tarpon Springs, Florida playing some of the same beach clubs he was working before he became famous. In a brief period of time, he went from playing large venues and riding in limos to being a struggling club act and starving musician once again. Beverly eventually left him (again) in 1995 and in 1996 he was involved in a hit and run drunk driving accident where he actually fled from sheriff’s deputies after crashing into a car of teenagers. He was arrested and served some time in jail but this case wouldn’t be finalized with full sentencing for many years to come. Bertie’s defense regarding fleeing the police was that he hit his head on the steering wheel when the wreck occurred and that caused him to behave irrationally.
There was a music video shot for “Key Largo” and that story has a much happier ending. The girl who starred in the music video was a 17 year old high school student who was hand picked for the role as producers looked through high school yearbooks to find just the right star. The girl they chose, Patty Wolfe, was a high school senior in Tarpon Springs, Florida and served as the editor of the yearbook. But she included absolutely ZERO photos of herself in the yearbook (other than her standard senior picture) because she was extraordinarily camera shy and introverted. She was called out of class one day and when she approached the school office, she found her principal standing with two strange men in the hall. The two strangers immediately started touching her face and hair and studying her looks up close while the principal explained that the men were there to offer her a role in a music video. Patty politely refused the job, explaining that she was very shy and didn’t like being the subject of a camera lens. But the men persisted. They contacted Patty’s mom and offered her a sum of money as payment for her daughter’s participation in the video. Patty’s mom agreed.
This would be a turning point in Patty’s life because the once camera shy teenager went on to have a career in film and television. She has worked for Good Morning America, ESPN, Fox Sports, and has produced videos for Kathy Lee Gifford and Autism Speaks. She serves as the Managing Director for Patty Wolfe Media Group.
There are some great backup vocals in “Key Largo,” as well. Those vocals were not credited on the album as far as I can tell… but I do know who sang them. None other than Charlie’s Angels TV star Cheryl Ladd. Who would have known?
Furthermore, while researching the song for this article, I also discovered that I knew the drummer who played on this song personally and have performed with him: Bill Marshall – one of the finest drummers in Memphis.
So there you have it – more info than you probably wanted to know about this One Hit Wonder.
9/11/2023 Update: It turns out that Cheryl Ladd’s inclusion as a vocalist on this recording is Urban Legend. The backup vocalist on this tune was Cheryl Wilson. That said, Cheryl Ladd did launch a music career. Her debut album came out in 1978 and her first single was released in 1974.