If you’ve ventured out to any local venues along 30A that support live music, chances are you may have encountered one of the area’s most talented and popular people, Duke Bardwell.

If you have caught him, there’s an even better chance you still remember it.

You see, Duke is not only an Emerald Coast resident and local musician, he’s one of the most talented musicians you’ll encounter here (maybe anywhere else, for that matter). Certainly, in our neck of the woods, he’s by far the most popular name that comes up anytime someone asks, “Is there good live music around here?”

Duke’s popularity is well-earned and deserved.

It’s the kind of name you get when you spend big parts of your career as Elvis Presley’s bass player and recording and writing for the likes of Emylou Harris, Jose Feliciano, Loggins and Messina, Tom Rush and North Mississippi All Stars.

It all adds up to a career that’s unmatched by anyone else in the area. Which, for me, makes it even more surprising that you can catch Duke for free playing live most every week playing with one or more his local ensembles at one of the many live music-friendly watering holes around the area.

We sat down recently with Duke to talk about our area, what brought him here and why he loves this emerald-green stretch of paradise so much.

BHBH: Where were you born?

Duke: I was born in Baton Rouge, LA.

BHBH: Tell us a bit about your career; where it started, highlights and such?

Duke: Well, to be honest, my interest in playing music goes back to discovering the reaction of women to guitar players when I was probably around age 6. I have since played in countless local bands around Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a couple with regional hit records, then hit the road as a bass playing/guitar playing/singer-songwriter. The highlights were touring and recording across the country with Tom Rush, Loggins and Messina, Jose Feliciano, Elvis Presley and recorded with Emmylou Harris and various other artist. Then, coming home back to the South and a recording deal with a band called “Cold Grits and the Black Eyed Peas.” Of course, I cut my own CD, “Angel’s Wings” in 2000 to moderate commercial success, but I’m very proud of the album.

BHBH: As for your music, where do you play now and with whom?

Duke: Franko “Washboard” Jackson and I started a local band, “Hubba Hubba”, back in 1990 and are still playing in the area. I also was blessed to play with my godsons in Dread Clampitt for a few years, and Kyle and Kenny O from Dread and I play in an all acoustic trio called “Old Bull-Young Bull”. We home base out of Stinky’s Fish Camp and play as often as we can, playing most Thursday nights.

BHBH: How did you find your way to the Emerald Coast and how long have you lived here?

Duke: My wife and I moved here to join Skip and Lutie Kirkland along with Johnny Earles, at the popular restaurant named “Paradise Café.” We were the first restaurant on the entire length of 30A. Really. We moved here in 1985. The Café started in ’83. I think there were five houses in Seaside. Things have changed, of course, but it’s still such a special place.

BHBH: What’s special about the area to you?

Duke: Obviously, it has changed a great deal since we moved here. It now has way more paved roads than it did then, for sure! It’s a tremendous challenge to maintain the infrastructure of what it takes now to live here. So many people have “discovered” this area that at times, it actually appears to be crowded, but it really isn’t. If you try, pick a time, early or late, go out on the beach in the right conditions and be still. You can hush your busy mind. As the waves calm down and the Gulf flattens when the wind goes offshore, you realize that even though a lot of folks have found this 30 mile stretch of scenic 30A from Fort Walton to Panama City Beach this part of that distance is more unique than both directions. You’ll notice the sand is whiter, the water more clear, it really is mystical beyond the visual. Thirty years we have been here.

BHBH: What are your hobbies?

Duke: As I age, those things change. Now, I’d have to say my Grandbabies that live here now….and my love of being a point and shoot photographer. I love to cook. I kinda like that ’94 HD Softail Custom as well. Since I don’t play music for a living anymore, I guess you could say it is a hobbie. To me it’s not that at all. I do music because I have to and thrive on it. After all this time, what else would I do.

BHBH: How about food? Favorite cuisine? What are your favorite local spots?

Duke: Being from Louisiana with a large family full of good cooks and working chefs, I got a great upbringing into what taste good and why. There are some local places that I think excel in the art of taste and presentation. Stinky’s Fish Camp is my all time favorite for variety and flavor. Stinky’s has a new place named “Trebeache’.” The menu is stunning. New place in the area from long-time business owners is Grayton Seafood Company. Kenny Griner and his family do a great job. Of course, The Red Bar is one of the most popular in the area, now in their 23 year. There’s a reason for their popularity.

BHBH: When are your regular show dates and when is your next one?

Duke: This time of year we are at Stinky’s Fish Camp on Thursdays. It’s our home base. We do play other venues like Local Catch but it varies.

If you can, head out and catch Duke playing. Go on up and talk to him after the show or between sets and you’ll find out first hand why this guy is such a local favorite and all-around great guy. There are fewer and fewer “genuine articles” these days, so catch ’em while you can.