I’m sad to say that before July 28, I did not know the force that was Hector Rivera.
I’d seen the poster for a man with big eyes, forehead and tuft of hair that looked like it was powered by Teco posted out front of Smokin’ J’s, but never found the time to stop by and listen. Looks like I missed out on something special.
Born in Puerto Rico, lived in upper New York, settled in Gulfport. That’s the most direct path if you want to know Hector’s story. But, everyone knows a life isn’t a direct path – it’s got side roads, valleys and bumps along the way.
Hector Rivera’s was no different. He had been playing music since the 60s, and, according to his website, hadn’t cut his famous hair since 1972. He released two albums of original music: “Waiting to Go On” in 1979 and “Deep Hair” in 1982.
But his musical output didn’t end in the 80s. Hector would play “between 45 and 50 songs per night, drawing on a 400-plus song repertoire that ranges from originals to songs by James Taylor and Patsy Cline,” reads an article on his website, where Hector also noted that one of his original songs was still his favorite.
It was “a song I wrote for my son when he was 6 months old and I had to be on the road,” he said. “I would sing it to him in his crib.”
At some point in the 70s, when Hector Rivera moved to St. Petersburg, he replaced Jimmy Buffet’s bass player, Harry Dailey, in the Mad Beach Band. When Hector joined, the band had a wild following.
“Hector, gave the band a whole new dimension,” said fellow band member T.C. Carr. “Insanity and fun was abundant. I can’t tell you how much fun we had.”
Hector played with the band for eight months before he went on to a solo career.
“He had a big personality – he was a lovable entertainer, a great singer with a great thick voice,” said Carr, “He was so talented he could cover a lot of material.”
In early July, Hector went into the hospital for open heart surgery. Unfortunately, there were complications. Hector never woke up, and passed away on July 28.
“I haven’t posted here in a long time,” his son wrote on Hector’s website, “but I wanted to be able to say this. My dad passed away this morning (7-28). I don’t know what to say, or how to say, or anything like that. I just know that I miss him and so do a lot of others. My dad found joy most in music and playing for others and this song is from one of his last virtual performances and is the one I keep thinking about when I think of him. I hope you all enjoy it, especially the smile at the end.”
Due to COVID-19, friends and family are still looking for a way to respond to the loss. In good conscience, it’s hard for to ask loved ones to risk their health to attend a celebration of life during a pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped people from planning.
“A lot of people need closure on this,” said Angie Anderson, a 35-year friend of Hector’s.
Until family gets into town, there is no celebration of life yet for Hector. Whether it be an in-person or virtual celebration, family and friends say it’s important for people to know that Hector’s passing will be honored.
Post condolences and find updates on Hector’s website.