For an island that was noted for its fishing and trade industries, Key West is now defined by its art — and music is the muse of the eclectic community. In a one-mile stretch, there are more than 50 live music venues that showcase legendary talent up and down Duval Street. Whether it’s the southern winds or the mystic bond between sea and the human soul, Key West is a destination for the primal call of individuality within each of us. And for Daryl Brooke, owner of the Grateful Guitar, the call to the Southernmost City has placed him at the helm of the blossoming island of music.
Daryl Brook arrived in Key West in July of 2012 after a departure from the bustling lifestyle of New York City, where he enjoyed the success and comfort of high-tech sales. While Brooke retains fond memories of his corporate days, he admits there was perpetual tug against his being, calling him to exploit his passion for music and guitar, which finally stirred him to action.
“In New York, I was doing some gigs and I had a recording studio in my home,” said Brooke. “After taking an early retirement, my wife and I began to look for a better quality of life, rather than the financial gain we were chasing in the city. I had been visiting Key West since the early ’70s and for 40 years I knew this is where I wanted to call home.”
Once Daryl and his wife, Suzanne, reached Key West, he began searching for a professional level guitar shop, but nothing he found met the expectations he had for an island rich in music and guitar culture. This, coupled by the dilemma of a lack of space for his guitars in his new home, inspired him to open a guitar shop that could adequately serve the needs of local musicians, visiting acts and venues.
The classics: Daryl Brooke stands with a recently sold 1957 Fender Telecaster, while a1937 National Trovador, a 1955 Gretsch Roundup and a 1957 Chet Atkins Gretsch hang in his office.
“Looking back, there was a lot of luck involved and a ton of support from the community when we first opened Grateful Guitar,” said Brooke. “I knew I would be selling guitars, but I needed to be able to offer high-end service and support capability. It was always my objective to be able to service and to be a portal for the community as well, allowing us to work with venues and media and have the ability to give back.”
Today, Grateful Guitar is recognized as the premier leader in Monroe County for guitars, accessories, guitar lessons and even offers a recording studio for artists and media productions. Most impressive is how quickly Grateful Guitar established relationships with the live music venues in Key West, who consistently lean on Brooke’s services 24 hours a day, most noticeably during events such as the Songwriter’s Festival and other live productions that need immediate services.
“When artists visit Key West, I immediately give them my cell phone number and tell them I’m open 24/7,” said Brooke. “In fact, almost every musician that performs on cruise ships utilizes our services when they port in Key West. We have been very fortunate and I credit my talented staff for the clientele we have built.”
Along with locals seeking accessories and instruments, there is rarely a moment that a tourist isn’t sampling a guitar, ukulele, mandolin or banjo in Daryl’s shop. Brooke attributes this to the ever-growing popularity of the guitar, which he claims is just as much a part of American culture as the phone or television.
“These days it seems everyone has some type of guitar,” said Brooke. “When people travel, they Google search local guitar shops. There is a huge tourist demand for the product and services we provide.”
Grateful Guitar has been accepted by venues such as the Green Parrot, Smokin’ Tuna and Little Jazz Room. In addition, Brooke has assembled a team of renowned guitarists on his staff, including the likes of Larry Baeder (who Daryl says he and the staff learn from every day), Nick Norman, Topher James and Andrew Gunning; all who provide lessons.
Some of Brooke’s fondest memories date back to his adolescence, when a few of his pals worked at New York’s famed Fillmore East, where he witnessed live music acts such as Zeppelin, Hendrix, the Allman Brothers and Joplin. It is those very memories that still provide Brooke with his greatest thrill, which is when he is able to serve as an ambassador for music, prompting him to recently join the board at Bahama Village Music Program.
“The type of instrument is less important,” said Brooke. “The idea of opening a door for a young person and making music a part of their life is the objective. It’s a side of life that everyone should have in some way.”