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Beloved Rocketman is gone but his music will remain

During a daylong music festival at the Marathon Community Park on Sept. 8, 2012, Rocketman performs his signature 'It Beats 40 Below' with many of his musician friends backing him up.
During a daylong music festival at the Marathon Community Park on Sept. 8, 2012, Rocketman performs his signature 'It Beats 40 Below' with many of his musician friends backing him up.

His name may have implied space exploration but Robert "Rocketman" Hudson will be remembered as a music-playing pirate who charmed friends in and visitors to the Middle Keys.

Outside of playing frequent sets at Porky's Bayside Restaurant and Marina and jamming Sundays with the Florida Straits Band at Dockside, Rocketman was known for his pirate museum that he ran out of a camper.

"He would sell 'pirate treasure' out of there. He would go and find old swords, knives and railroad spikes, package them up and sell them," said Johnny Maddox, co-owner of Porky's and Captain Pip's Marina and Hideaway from 1998 to 2014. "He was the kindest, most friendly fellow you'd ever want to meet. The only reason you wouldn't have liked Rocketman is because you haven't met him yet."

The beloved musician, 76, died Friday. According to longtime friend and Florida Straits Band mate Thomas "Tommy Tunes" Stroup, Hudson had health issues before his passing.

Born Nov. 3, 1939, in Memphis, Tenn., Hudson played music in the late 1970s to early 1980s in Las Vegas before coming to the Florida Keys in 1984. Taking up the moniker Rocketman the Pirate, he was known for drumming, singing and playing with virtually every musician in the Middle Keys.

His signature song was one he wrote, "It Beats 40 Below."

"Everyone in town played with him at one point," said John Bartus, a musician and Marathon city councilman. "He was a big fan of music in general, everything from Sinatra to Jimmy Buffett. He always had a tenor guitar and his harmonica for his solo shows."

Hudson lived in few different areas near or around Marathon in his 30 years in the Keys, from aboard a boat at Captain Pip's to the Jolly Roger Travel Park at mile marker 59.

On June 4, 2008, Hudson lost his 1130 Calle Ensenada home in the Sombrero area to a house fire. He, his wife Vickie and daughter Roxanne were not injured but lost all of their possessions.

Then-Marathon Fire Chief Dale Beaver said then that two crews attacked the fire with 1,750 gallons of water upon arrival, but the water ran out and crews were unable to find another source.

The fire prompted the installation of more fire hydrants in Marathon.

"We had a fundraiser for him at Porky's after. I think 90 percent of the city showed up," Maddox said. "Everybody in this town loved Rocketman. He was the best, the No. 1 entertainer in town."

Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent owned Porky's before selling it to Maddox in 1998. Rocketman was Neugent's "in-house band." And he remembers the Dockside jam sessions would draw huge crowds.

"In season, they'd get really big. A lot of people who come down here are musicians," Neugent said. "They would have different vocalists and instrument players. You couldn't even find a parking space over there."

A celebration of life is planned. The location, date and time have not been finalized.

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