Hollywood Dave was loved till the end

Streams of beach buddies gather to remember a local celebrity who was more than just an entertainer to them.

Published July 27, 2005

He was special, extraordinary, superb. A good man and a friend to all, and an amazing entertainer. Those sentiments echoed throughout a crowded Ricky T's beach bar Saturday evening.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Treasure Island bar to mourn - and celebrate - local blues legend Hollywood Dave, who died July 16 in St. Petersburg at age 49.

Dave, whose given name was David Wright, had been plagued by diabetes, hypertension and complications from transverse myelitis, a neurological disease that deteriorates the spinal cord.

Musicians whom he played with or inspired over the years got together for an open mike jam that was part wake and part benefit concert.

A fan for years, Sterlene Drummond of St. Petersburg, said that word spread quickly about Dave's passing and that anyone who knew the musician felt compelled to come out and show support at the impromptu memorial.

"As soon as we heard, we all had to get together. Everybody here feels like they're a friend of Dave's. He made everybody feel that way," she said. Drummond made it clear that the gathering was as much a happy occasion as a sad one.

"We're trying not to grieve; we're trying to celebrate because he brought so much joy to the people around him," she said.

Longtime friend Joelle Jones of St. Petersburg said she showed up at Ricky T's the day after his death to find about 50 friends and fans already congregated to console one another. Informal plans for the open mike memorial got under way immediately.

Local businesses, including many of the beach bars where Dave played, donated gift certificates for raffles.

Phil Bruce, owner of T's Me Shirts in Largo, gave organizers a good deal on memorial T-shirts that were sold during the benefit.

About $3,000 was raised to help honor Dave's last wishes, Jones said. His cremated remains will be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico near the same spot where his parents' ashes were laid to rest.

Jones said people couldn't help but be drawn to Dave's kindness, generosity and his unwavering ability to look on the bright side.

"Everybody loved Dave. He had a lot of pain going on, but half the people here didn't ever know because he always had a smile on his face."

Stevie Grandmaison, who went to Seminole High School with Dave Wright and performed with him over the years, said Wright's illnesses recently had kept him off the music scene.

"Even though he had great aspirations, plans to do things in the future, he couldn't make it happen because he wasn't physically able to," Grandmaison said.

A comedian, dancer and accomplished musician, Hollywood Dave was an artistic genius, Grandmaison said.

Virginia Childers of Clearwater, another Seminole High classmate, agreed.

"He was one of the most creative and imaginative people I've ever known," she said.

To honor him, musicians from various bands took to the stage for jam sessions and to share memories of their beloved peer. One session included Tom Gribbin, former front man for the Saltwater Cowboys, on vocals, Colin "Raiford Starke" Kenny and Grandmaison on guitars, Jason "Jase the Ace" Jennings on bass, and his 16-year-old son, Tristan Jennings, on drums.

Other performers included the Impacts, Two Beers Left, the Raiford Starke Band, the Nite Dawgs, and Wendy Rich of Wendy and the Soul Shakers.

Many of these same acts performed at a 2003 benefit concert that raised $35,000 to help pay for Wright's medical treatment. Gribbin, of St. Pete Beach, said Wright was in great spirits that night despite the pain he was suffering.

"He couldn't stand, he was in a wheelchair, he was disabled, but he was laughing his way through the night," Gribbin said. It was a blessing that Dave got to experience the outpouring of support at the 2003 benefit, Gribbin said, and would be happy to see his many friends having a good time in his honor.

"He'd love this here. He'd love the love," he said.