Charlie Brantley and his Original Honey Dippers
If ever there was a legendary band to put Tampa on the map, the title has to go to Charlie Brantley and his Original Honey Dippers. Brantley, one of 5 children, was born and raised in West Tampa during the turn of the 20th century. At the age of 13, Brantley got his first job as a broom-maker. In his spare time, he turned to music, learning through a correspondence course. His career as a musician would start in 1935, as a member of the Florida Collegians, a group of various Tampa musicians. In 1944, at the ripe age of 40, he created his own R & B group, billed as Charlie Brantley and his Original Honey Dippers.
Brantley got the name from Joe Liggins group, Joe Liggins and the Honey Drippers. Brantley just changed Drippers to Dippers. He just simply removed the “r”, though various posters and flyers would often include the “r” in the spelling, often leading to confusion about the name an history of this band. So who did old Charlie look to musically? Louis Jordan. In fact, it is rumored that Brantley could sing and perform so well in Jordan’s style that he could of filled in for him, and no one would have known the difference. Therefore, it is no surprise that in 1940 in Tampa there were very few musicians who could measure up to Brantley as a fellow musician and a band leader. The effect him and his band had on young musicians in the area is simply unmeasurable. Brantley was talented, yes, but he was also kind. He liked to give young musicians the opportunity to break into the scene through his band. Often he and his wife Beulah would let musicians stay at there home on 1901 Cherry Street. One of these musicians was a young blind boy named Ray Charles, who came to Tampa from Orlando in the fall of 1946. Throughout the latter half of the 40's, Charlie Brantley and the Honey Dippers were the most sought after R & B group in the state, and throughout the south. No matter the obstacles before them, the band never failed to show up at a scheduled gig. Even then, Brantley found time to start the Negro Musical Association. However, fate had a different plan for old Charlie. In June of 1949, due to a severe heart and nerve condition, Brantley had to lay his Saxophone down and quit playing with the popular band he founded. However, he still traveled with them and handled all the booking. Brantley was not only a master of the sax, but also of every other major instrument of his day. He was literally that good. Then, in the mid 1950's, it all came to an end, as the big band/R & B days fell victim to Rock and Roll. Some members of the Honey Dippers went on to form the Tampa Skyliners, but that is a tale for another time. Jimmy “Whiskey” Sheffield and Bill Peoples went on to join Ray Charles band. Lawrence Burdine and Barney Louis joined BB King’s band. Brantley never returned to music, and instead turned to Gd, becoming a deacon in the Mt. Calvary Seventh Day Adventist Church. On Christmas Day in 1964, Brantley slipped away. His wife actually remained at the 1901 Cherry Street house until 1998. Some of the alumni that played with Brantley include Hank Marr, Nolbe “Thinman” Watts, Guitar Shorty, Ray Charles, and more. So who were these guys? Well, here is a list of the “main ingredients” to the band: Jimmy “Whiskey” Sheffield – Vocalist/Bass Viloinist Frank Shellman – Trumpet Barney Hubert – Alto Saxophone John Burdine – Tenor Saxophone Lawrence Burdine Hank Marr – Piano Nathaniel Butler – Vocals/Drums Johnny Marshall – Drums (replaced Butler) Other Confirmed Members: Noble Watts – Tenor Saxophone Art Harris Lamont Pepper Bobby Felder – Trombone Michael Rodriques Joe Elder – Tenor Saxophone Barney Louis – Alto Saxophone Andy Martin – Tenor/Arranger Freddy Thompson – Horns Sam “Ice Cream” Jones – Trumpet Bill Peoples – Drums He is often forgotten amongst the great scholars, but his impact cannot be ignored. Of course, there are many other artists who helped shape Tampa as a cultural center. For instance, Ray Charles, Sarasota Slim, Guitar Shorty, and many many others. However, the three above were more than an influence – they were icons who put Tampa on the map for its music and culture.