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Barefoot Man

H. George Nowak, aka "Barefoot Man," is hardly your ordinary Calypsonian. The blond-haired German-born, self-described "Nashville musical reject" moved from Munich to North Carolina after his mother remarried an Air Force officer. But "the inveterate map lover" dreamed of island life.

He started his island-hopping career in the U.S. Virgin Islands, then Hawaii, then the Bahamas ("the smaller, less populated, the better"), finally settling in the Cayman Islands in 1971. "'But there's nothing there,' people said. I replied, 'That's the point!'" Needless to say, Barefoot prefers the casual lifestyle.

He quickly realized that the audience "didn't want 'Folsom Prison Blues,' they wanted 'Banana Boat Song.'" He was dubbed Barefoot Boy ("since the nicest pair of footwear I owned were my Voit diving flippers") in 1971. While he'll still throw in a country or blues tune, Barefoot came to love the calypso tradition, especially its double entendres and political commentary. His witty ditties say it all: "Thong Gone Wrong," "Ship Faced," "The Gay Cruise Ship Song," and "Save the Lap Dance for Me."

One of the most passionate, outspoken, articulate expats on the subject of sustainable tourism, he wittily rants in song and print (including his own self-published Fun News, the überglossy coffee-table Grand Cayman magazine, and hilarious tomes like Which Way to the Islands?). "I've seen the island go from three taxi drivers to, I think, 380 in the taxi association…saw how the first high-rise, the former Holiday Inn, changed Cayman irrevocably in the '70s…. I compare tourism to aspirin—a couple are okay, but take the whole bottle, you die," he jokes (mostly).

He'll regale you between sets or over beers with colorful (expletive deleted) anecdotes of island life, recounting adventures from a bogus murder charge in the Bahamas to the necessity of scheduling spliff breaks when recording in Jamaica to being mistaken for a DEA agent.

Barefoot sums up his philosophy simply and eloquently in one of his most popular lyrics (add gentle reggae-ish lilt), "I wish I were a captain, Sailin' on the sea. I'd sail out to an island, Take you there with me. I'd throw away the compass, Oh what a dirty scheme…. Someday I might wake up, realize where I am, dreamin' like some 10-year-old, out in Disneyland, There is no tomorrow when you're living in a dream."

Updated: 2013-12-16

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