For these Tampa Bay performers, the music never stops

They all have or had day jobs, and they’re hovering near 60 or well beyond, but the music never left them.

“Just playing for myself, it’s therapeutic,’’ says guitarist Robin Sibucao. “When I do that I’m in a different world. I’m just there. I enjoy every bit about learning, stretching, trying to see if I can do something that I couldn’t do maybe last year.’’

He finds performing gratifying. “Making that tag. When you make eye contact with people and you can tell if they’re into what you’re doing, it’s special,’’ he says.

Lifelong journeys with music

Sibucao is a Tampa native who started playing guitar at age 6, formed his first band at age 11, and played professionally in California for a few years. His day job was as a director for Bose Corporation, then later as chief operating officer for PlayNetwork, in charge of the installation of sound systems for such customers as Staples Arena in Los Angeles, Caesars Superdome in New Orleans and Starbucks stores. He retired in 2004. In 2007, he and friends formed the popular regional band, Coocoocachew, performing until 2020. He still plays an occasional professional gig and serves as a substitute guitarist for the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

From the mid-1980s till the late 1990s, Tampa Bay area club-goers danced to Paul and the Pop Tarts, a soul and R&B band which featured two female singers and Paul Wilborn on piano. Wilborn, a former reporter for the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), is now executive director of St. Petersburg College’s Palladium Theater.

Paul Wilborn“I honestly think five or six people playing together is the sharing connection that humans crave,’’ he says. “With music, you’re actually speaking to one another without language, in a way, and this thing is moving through you. I find it very addictive and I think that’s why a lot of people keep playing music even when the world tells them to quit. It’s just a wonderful drug in a way, it just gives you that wonderful feeling.”

They started young. Wilborn took piano lessons in elementary school and played in bands growing up. 

“I played at coffee houses and crazy things,” he says. “In high school, we had a band called Joe, Paul and Cherie. We would light candles by the stage and do, like, meaningful, folky kinds of rock songs. It was that era.’’

Sibucao, a friend of Wilborn’s since high school, got the guitar craze by watching Ricky Nelson perform on TV’s Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the late 1950s and 1960s. He took some guitar lessons, he says, but he’s mainly self-taught. He started his first band, The Paragons, when he was 11. In junior high and high school, he formed the Jesters IV and Southern Comfort.

“I played at recreation centers, high school, junior high dances,’’ he says.

Vincent “Bbopp” Sims, of Tampa, was 15 when he was recruited by a professional band to play guitar. He joined Ervin Little and the Chosen Few. 

“They taught me on stage,’’ he recalls.

The band played the “Chitlin’ circuit,’’ Sims says – Black nightclubs in towns around Florida. He was traveling to jobs all over the state when he was in high school. From 1979 to 1981, he studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“That was the first time I met, like, young people who were into jazz,’’ he says. “Some of my classmates were Branford Marsalis, he was there, and Kevin Eubanks. Matter of fact, half the guys in (Jay Leno’s) Tonight Show band were my classmates.’’

He was playing clubs in New York City when renowned blues guitarist Lucky Peterson invited him to go on the road with him.

“I went out on the road with him. He had a substance abuse problem. He would buy his drugs before he paid us. He would tell you, ‘I’m going to owe you for this one,’’’ he says. “That means you weren’t going to get it.’’ (Peterson died in 2020.)

Playing on the side while pursuing a career

Sims left the band after seven months and enrolled in a computer management systems program at the University of South Florida. He earned a bachelor’s degree and worked as a computer programmer for Raymond James and other firms. He always played guitar on the side and still plays.

“I have a love of music and I try to share my love of music with the audience,’’ Sims says.

He appears with Elly and Company the first Saturday of every month at Chill Restaurant & Bar and one Sunday a month at The Toasted Monkey, both venues on St. Pete Beach.

After decades of playing bass guitar in bay area rock bands – Monday Mornings and My Little Trotsky among them – Karen Collins has taken up the viola, the instrument she first learned as a child. She started playing it in 2008 and says she essentially had to learn it all over again. Now retired from a career as an information technology specialist, she’s studying the viola at the University of South Florida. She earned a mechanical engineering degree and spent her career as an internet technology specialist, while still performing on the side when she had the time.

“I went to school not to do anything with the degree. I just wanted to do the work to get the degree,’’ she says. “I wanted to take theory, I wanted to get a higher level of teaching, more than I could get just taking a lesson from a teacher once a week.’’

She performs with the all-volunteer Tampa Bay Symphony.

“I play chamber music whenever I get the chance,” Collins says. “I actually work at summer camp up in New Hampshire and play chamber music up there.’’

And she still plays bass guitar. She performs with a band called The Henry’s. She says the drummer added the apostrophe by mistake, but they decided to keep it. 

“We found there’s two other bands called the Henrys, and so with the apostrophe, I guess we can kind of wriggle out of any problems,’’ she says with a laugh.
She loves the pitch and range and the sound of the viola, she says, “but also the role it tends to play in classical music – it’s called an inner voice, but it’s harmony and I love harmony.’’

The bass guitar does the same thing in a way, she says. 

“I like bass players who played in small groups and played a more active role between the guitar and the drums, and I viewed it as almost a bridge between the guitar and drums,’’ Collins says. “It does a lot more melodically and harmonically than how bass is traditionally played in rock bands."

Returning to musical roots

Philip Booth has also branched out – or branched back. Booth regularly plays bass fiddle in the band Acme Jazz Garage, and he also played bass guitar in bands over the years. But he’s picked up the French horn after a 40-plus year break from it. He plays the French horn with the Fanfare Concert Winds, a 65-plus-piece concert band of professional and amateur musicians and music students. Every winter season it offers free performances at Mainstage Theatre in the Performing Arts Building at the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College.Philip Booth

Booth first played French horn as a seventh-grade band student at Southwest Junior High School in Lakeland.

“At that point, the band director was Frank Howes, a really important influence on many kids in Lakeland,’’ Booth says. “He basically told us what instrument to play, which is kind of funny.’’

He assigned Booth the French horn. The next year, when the teacher formed a stage band, he assigned Booth the bass guitar.

“When I was in 11th grade I made the All-State Jazz Band, I always joked that it felt like such a big accomplishment that it should go on my gravestone eventually: ‘All-State Jazz Band,’” Booth says.

Over his daytime career, he was the music critic for the Tampa Tribune, worked in media relations for Bright House Networks and the University of South Florida, then as a writer for PricewaterhouseCoopers and now with Gardner Research Company. He also freelances, having written for DownBeat, Jazziz, Billboard, Variety and national newspapers.

And always, the music.

“It’s a creative outlet that basically just gives me a lot of pleasure. It makes me feel good,’’ Booth says. “When you play in bands, it’s so much more fun and kind of creatively inspiring because you’re working with other people. And there’s really nothing like, well, in the case of my band, feeling like you have written some original music...and arranged it. In our case, we have gone to the studio for a couple of albums and come up with something you’re excited to play and record.”

This story is produced through an underwriting agreement between AARP Tampa Bay and 83 Degrees Media to showcase how people over 50 live, work and play in the Tampa Bay area. 

For a related story, please go to From COVID, a front porch concert series is born in Hyde Park.
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Read more articles by Philip Morgan.

Philip Morgan is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He is an award-winning reporter who has covered news in the Tampa Bay area for more than 50 years. Phil grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. He joined the Lakeland Ledger, where he covered police and city government. He spent 36 years as a reporter for the former Tampa Tribune. During his time at the Tribune, he covered welfare and courts and did investigative reporting before spending 30 years as a feature writer. He worked as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for 12 years. He loves writing stories about interesting people, places and issues.