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Remembering Bacchus, Tampa Bay’s original power trio

Bill DeYoung



Heaviness personified: Souza, left, Turner and Peterson. All images provided.

The dawn of the 1970s brought substantial change to America, not just in politics and the status quo but to the arts – music, in particular. The ‘60s were over, and nothing would ever be the same again.

In the bay area, there would be no more “teen” bands, dressing alike and smiling like idiots as they rehashed Beatles, Stones and Beach Boys hits for the dance floor kids.

Since 1965, the top quintet in town had been the Tropics, and the band had survived – and thrived – by writing (and recording) original material, interspersing it with cover tunes. Being good counted for a lot in those days. The Tropics made it out of Florida, but by and large remained the biggest rock ‘n’ roll fish in the small pond that was Tampa/St. Pete.

By ’69, though, the band was falling apart. They’d added horns and turned themselves into a powerful “show band,” ditching the matching suits along the way, but even so the bookings waned and the musicians were itching to move on.

Guitarist Eric Turner and bass player Charlie Souza were the first to bolt.

“We’d gone up to New York and played at Steve Paul’s club The Scene,” recalls Souza, a St. Petersburg resident, “and that’s where we heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time, on the jukebox upstairs.

“So Eric started playing all that stuff and man, I went along with him. Because we were tired of doing steps and copying Paul Revere & the Raiders.”

Local drummer Bill Peterson was recruited, and the new power trio was dubbed Bacchus, after the Greek and Roman god of wine and revelry.

Bacchus, Souza says, “was Eric’s baby. He was playing the heck out of his guitar, so we started playing that music, Hendrix and Cream. And Eric was a really good writer.”

Rock ‘n’ roll was now rock.

Charlie Souza, 1972.

“That’s when we started staying up all night and jamming,” he adds. “I’d rented a five-acre ranch out on Tampa Road, and we used to stay up all night and rehearse in the barn. The Bacchus Barn!”

Although Bacchus lasted for just three years, the trio – sometimes augmented by a keyboard player – was always a popular draw at local clubs. Marge Sexton, the Tropics’ manager and booking agent, got them a steady stream of gigs around the state.

The band’s four independently-released singles have been collected on an album, called Celebration after one of the tunes. Remastered from the original singles and pressed on translucent lavender vinyl, it’s been released by Europe’s Outsider Records.

From the opening blues boogie “Carry My Load” to “The Coo” and “Ya Ya Ya,” Bacchus’ songs recall Ten Years After, Foghat, ZZ Top and other early ‘70s practitioners of “heavy” guitar-based rock.

There are parallels with Grand Funk Railroad, America’s bestselling band at the time (and, like Bacchus, a trio that traded in blues and psychedelia).

Bacchus opened a few shows for Grand Funk, as well as fellow heavy travelers Free and Cactus. They opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent and even B.B. King.

One of Souza’s favorite memories is of a stage the band shared with fusion guitarist John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra.

At the same time, fellow Tropics refugees Buddy Pendergrass and Bobby Shea found some measure of success with a group they called White Witch. The band cut two albums for red-hot Capricorn Records out of Macon, Georgia.

For the second, 1974’s A Spiritual Greeting, both Souza and Peterson joined White Witch, once Bacchus had broken up for good.

Souza toured as a member of Cactus, and with Gregg Allman, and after relocating to Los Angeles in the mid ‘70s was tapped by Tom Petty to play on several pre-Heartbreakers tracks (check the Playback box set – Souza’s on “Lost in Your Eyes” and the Mudcrutch version of “Don’t Do Me Like That”).

Once Turner moved west, he and Souza started a band called Fortress, playing the hard pop/rock of the period (think Foreigner or Journey). Their Atlantic Records album (Hands in the Till) was not a success.

After three decades out west, Souza returned to Tampa Bay. He is the keeper of the flame. Prior to the Celebration reissue, he oversaw a Tropics anthology (As Time’s Gone), and a red vinyl 45 pressing of the Tropics’ second single, the stinging “You Better Move,” through Sundazed Records.

Peterson also lives in the area, although Turner is in Costa Mesa, California. The last Bacchus reunion, Souza reports, was in 2003.

Could there be another, to celebrate Celebration? “Bill and I are talking about it. And Eric would love to do it … we might have to rehearse a day or two.”


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