It’s 9:30 in the morning. I’m in the cabin of a once submerged, rather odd-looking houseboat. I’m listening to a pianist play one of his own compositions. Eyes closed, his head bobs slowly with the tempo.
Just another Monday morning in Cedar Key.
It began the night before. Captain Bobby tugged on my sleeve for the second time. “You’ve got to hear this young man play,” Bobby said. “He’s phenomenal.” I did and he was. For the next hour or more, Galen Huckins coaxes notes from the baby grand in the lobby of the Island Hotel. A bit of New Orleans jazz, mixed with just a touch of classical. Even a dash of salsa, combined with a ballad or two. He changes tempo, then changes key. He reaches into the piano and plucks a string. The music flows. One after another, each piece more captivating then the last. After the last song Galen Huckins grins, shares a bit of his story and I'm hooked. We make arrangements to meet in the morning……
Cedar Key looks to be about the halfway point in this maritime musical odyssey. Over 5,000 total miles, according to my math. It began in Portland, Oregon. That’s where Huckins put his floating home on a flatbed trailer. He headed across the Rockies. In late spring of 2015, his one of a kind houseboat was re-launched on the Minnesota River. Built in the late 1960's, theall aluminum Channel Princess is thirty feet in length. She carries a 12-foot beam and weighs 11,000 pounds. Her stern paddlewheels spin freely now. The drive system long gone. Perhaps victim of some time on the river bottom before rescue by Huckins. An outboard provides cruise power for the vessel. Electricity aboard comes from roof mounted solar panels. Behind the helm sits an electronic piano. Galen Huckins , both captain and composer, combines his passions. Life on the water and music.
Resting on the mud of low tide next to a clam boat, the captain is at ease. The soul of the Channel Princess is music. Huckins, the composer, takes special care to feed her soul. Setting out from Minneapolis over a year ago, the Channel Princess traveled the length of the Mississippi. Then across the panhandle and down the coast to Cedar Key. With each port of call Galen Huckins sought out local musicians. New music discovered. New friends made. Recordings captured. Recalling the Mississippi, he mentions the “culture” of the river. This musician and composer is moved by the experience. I see it in his eyes when he speaks. I hear it in the music that he plays. Huckins shares the adventure, the people, the music and the culture in audio and video. Witness the journey at www.riversignal.com
I ask the maritime musician where he heads from here. “Tampa,” he says decisively, “to pick up some friends. Then across Florida at Okeechobee and up the East Coast to New England.” Yes, there is a plan. No, wait. Galen Huckins hesitates, smiles and mentions a side trip. Something about a sailboat to Cuba. I expect more recordings. More friends. More feeding the soul of the Channel Princess.
With tomorrow’s rising tide the Princess and the Piano Player are gone. Quietly. Just as they came.
Huckins' website is www.galenhuckins.com.