Blame It on the Margaritas
HOWARD LIVINGSTON AND MILE MARKER 24 "Howard Livingston not only lives the island life, he writes and sings about the beautiful simplicity of island living. In essence, his music is the soundtrack to a lifestyle." -- Robert Reynolds (The Mavericks) "I used to wear a three piece suit and wing tip shoes I'd watch CNN and catch up on all the news I don't do that anymore, and my life is so complete I traded in those leather shows for these flip-flops on my feet." -- "Local On The Eights" (from Blame It On The Margaritas by Howard Livingston and Mile Marker 24) Howard Livingston may not have a monopoly on the American Dream but one thing's for sure - he does know how to live it. Comfortably ensconced on Summerland Key, Florida, a sun-soaked speck of land just 24 miles north of Key West, he's a tropical troubadour in the truest sense. Having successfully jettisoned the stress and strains of everyday existence, he and his aptly-dubbed eight piece band, Mile Marker 24, intertwine carefree odes to the beach, booze and nature's beauty with heartfelt hymns about the human spirit. Some of the songs have a familiar ring, occasionally recalling another Key West singer/songwriter with a preference for booze in a blender. Nevertheless, Livingston's music retains a universal appeal, an easy-going lilt and sway that places as much emphasis on pedal steel as on steel drums, all of it underscored with electric and acoustic guitars, brass, marimba and subtle strings. It's a cheerfully upbeat sound that evokes the gentle feel of a tropical breeze, the bliss of a shimmering sunset, and a free-spirited, laidback lifestyle that's bohemian and bucolic. It's rock 'n' roll, moving to the pulse of paradise. Livingston's self-released third album, Blame It On The Margaritas, provides the latest example of this carefree caress. Like his two earlier efforts, Livin' On Key West Time (2005) and Meet Me In The Keys (2006), much of it is autobiographical in nature, with Livingston cast as an Everyman who's opted to turn his fantasies into reality. Songs such as "Blame It On The Margaritas", "Local On The Eights", "Boondocks" and "Coconut Rum" espouse the joys of living life simply, but to the fullest. Yet, it tugs at deeper emotions as well, from sensitive ballads like "When I Think Of You" and "Love Is So Easy" to the spiritual affirmation of "Better Life" and "Sailin' To I Don't Know." It also includes Livingston's first outside cover, a spirited read of the Mavericks' " Dance The Night Away," featuring backing from two members of that Grammy-winning band - drummer Paul Deakin and bassist Robert Reynolds. Reynolds also co-produced the album, which was recorded in Nashville with a host of stellar support players, Wilco drummer Ken Coomer, legendary steel guitar player Al Perkins, and singer/songwriter Kevin Montgomery among them. Although Livingston lives in the tropics, he was raised in the heartland. Born in the coal-mining region of Kentucky and raised in Marion, Indiana, he first took up guitar at age six. He spent his teenage years playing in a band called The Juveniles and absorbing a variety of influences, from the Beatles and the Stones to Elvis, Hank Williams, Bob Marley, and Muddy Waters. However once he reached the age of 18 he put music on the back burner and turned his attention to earning a more reliable living. He relocated to Chicago, studying engineering by day and working as a machinist by night. Eventually he bought a business that manufactured parts for diesel engines, which subsequently occupied his energies for the next 22 years. Beginning in the early '90s, Livingston began making regular sojourns to the Florida Keys, becoming so enamored with the area that he found himself gravitating there at every opportunity. Eventually he gave in to his wanderlust and decided to permanently relocate to a new home he purchased in tiny Summerland Key. The change in lifestyle prompted him to revisit his love of music, and after assembling Mile Marker 24 -- consisting of keyboardist Bobby Green, guitarist Jason (North) Miller, drummer Daniel (Danimal) Hiles, bassist George Schneller, Hulber Gagliardini on trumpet, Les Dudley on sax and Harry Schroeder on trombone - Livingston and company became known as a Portable Party Machine in the tiki bars, hotspots and hang-outs that litter the Florida Keys. That led to bigger venues, where the band found themselves sharing bills with the likes of America, Little River Band, Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., Keith Urban, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Big and Rich. Having garnered an enthusiastic following, the accolades soon followed. Livingston and Mile Marker 24 currently rank as the Number One Tropical Artist for the State of Florida on MySpace in the Indie category. Last October, the group won the Train of Thought Music Award for their participation in the annual Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum Fantasy Fest Parade in Key West. "I'm writing about my life," Livingston muses. "I'm so grateful and I feel so fortunate that I'm able to live my dream. I get so much feedback from people saying that my music makes them feel good, that it brings them a smile even when they're stuck in traffic and the temperature's 20 degrees. And that makes me feel good."