As one of North Florida’s favorite beach culture pastimes for over 30 years The Pili Pili Band’s brand of Caribbean beats and calypso rhythms, combined with a blues and rock attitude continue to inspire mass celebration. “We are Florida’s oldest reggae band,” said Pili Pili’s lead vocalist and bassist Edward “King Eddie” Witt in a raspy North Florida brogue Irish accent, reminiscent to that of a 17th century pirate. “In 1981 all of the other reggae bands operating in Florida were from Jamaica through Miami. We were the only band based in Florida, and the only reggae band in North Florida. We played at the first reggae festival in Miami in 1983.”
The Pili Pili Band, which is Swahili for Pepper Pepper, formed in 1979 has seen a continual change in personnel within the 5 to 6 person format, but King Eddie has been the only constant member since 1981. The band also performs under an abbreviated three person conglomerate called King Eddie and the Dub Masters.
Draped with three foot long dreads nesting under a slouchy knit rasta hat, this local roots rock pioneer’s introspective remembrances reflect on the band’s journey from small clubs to opening for major acts such as Fred Durst. “One night this young musician asked me if he and his band could play for the crowd at this club in between our sets,” he recalled. “I said it was OK and they entertained while we took an extended break. A couple of years later when they signed with a major label and made it big we ended up as an opening act for them. That was Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit.”
In the backdrop of Amelia Island, a 17th and 18th century pirate’s haven, the Pili Pili Band of musical privateers kick the beat to “Drop It Like Its Hot” pace, pouring out a joyful noise on the crowd gathered around the poolside at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. When Jacksonville-native King Eddie takes the stage, a metamorphosis takes place and his pirate’s rasp turns into a melodic baritone. Strapped with his bass and a microphone headset, King Eddie, like a contemporary Rastafari buccaneer, holds court over his subjects as they sway and dance with hypnotic fervor.
While largely performing for corporate functions, the band retains a consistent presence on the North Florida party scene, particularly at the Beaches. You can catch them at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island, where they have been in residency as the “Island Band” for the past four years. They jam there on Fridays and Saturdays from noon until 5 p.m. They also play regularly at Sliders in Fernandina Beach and Pusser’s at Ponte Vedra Beach.