The Barefoot Man:
Cayman Brac native Arlin Tatum, now 76 years old, was just 14 when he first sailed with the late legendary Captain Callan Rich to hunt turtle off the Pedro Banks.
They would stay gone for months at a time, selling a portion of their catch in Jamaica before returning home to the Brac. He recalls those times clearly just as he does sitting on Brito Grant’s porch listening to country music on Mr. Grant’s radio, which was one of the few on the island at the time.
It was the highlight of the week listening to the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride, broadcasting Jimmy Rogers and Gene Autry. And the real bonus was when someone would allow you to listen to a 78 RPM record on a Victrola. Most of the records were brought to the island by seamen after a long duty abroad.
The majority of those recordings were in the category of blues, country and folk, which at the time was considered the popular music, as Hip-hop and Rap are today. At the age of 18, while working for Bulk Ship Carriers, Mr. Tatum had saved enough money to buy his first guitar which he treasured.
The instrument traveled with him around the world for 14 years. He became a huge fan of Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins, and like so many other Brac crooners he spent all his time singing or listening to country music between his ship duties.
After Arlin’s long duty with National Bulk, he later advanced to Captain status, working for Captain Reid on several of his boats which were leased for charter or research. During this time he collected hundreds of 33 1/3 vinyl records, recorded by nearly every artist that ever stepped in front of a microphone.
Amazingly Arlin still has every one of these records in near mint condition. He may not even be aware of the small fortune some of these recordings could bring on ebay. Though he has no working record player to spin the old discs, it really doesn’t matter, for he does have eight guitars, a deep husky voice and a repertoire of endless Nashville hits. Any opportunity he has to perform in public, Mr. Tatum will be there. On the Brac, a guitar is just a district away.
I’ve had the honor of performing at gatherings with Arlin, Percy Whorms and the Martin brothers at the Alexandra Hotel. We were even paid ….in the form of free beer. Such blasé, laid back gatherings are hard to find on the big island. To me they are more memorable and entertaining than performing at a concert in America.
If you care for the same experience, pull up a bar stool at the Coral Isle Club or Edd’s Place and give Arlin a call. He’ll be there in a heartbeat.