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Stevie Stiletto R.I.P.

Alberto Rivera was kind enough to send this obituary for the late Florida punk legend Stevie Stiletto.

Ray McKelvey, a.k.a. Stevie Stiletto (photo by Julie Beasley)
Ray McKelvey, a.k.a. Stevie Stiletto (photo by Julie Beasley)

Stevie Stiletto, the better known and public face of Ray McKelvey, passed away at home, on March 24, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida. He had been sick with cancer.

On the surface of it, Stevie’s story is a rock and roll cliché of bad habits, bad luck, and poor timing conspiring against him, but the greater truth is this: Ray and/or Stevie, never quit.

Widely acknowledged as Jacksonville, Florida’s first punk rock band, Ray formed Stevie Stiletto and the Switchblades out of frustration. Tired of listening to records from New York or the UK and reading about his favorite bands performing elsewhere, Ray went DIY before it even had a name, and started his own movement out of the stubborn swamp grass better known as North Florida.

With various incarnations of bands he toured the US And Europe, playing with pretty much everyone. The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys, Iggy Pop, Black Flag — the list goes on and on.

In the mid 1990’s he was scooped up in the frenzy created by punk breakout acts Green Day and The Offspring. But Green Day and The Offspring were anomalies; the only ones from that time to have any notable mainstream commercial success. And Stiletto, along with all the other acts eagerly signed a year or two before, were unceremoniously dumped.

It was at this time that I personally met and played with Ray. About a dozen shows in all. Warm, funny and engaging, his stories seemed almost mythical. Yeah, I slept on East Bay Ray’s couch for a week or two, I think it was in ’84…” or “Dee Dee (Ramone) an’ me were looking for someplace that was open to get a new tattoo…”

In 2009, a documentary called My Life is Great: The Stevie Ray Stilletto Story was released. Filmed by former Jacksonville area resident and longtime fan Kevin Dunn. Dunn is presently working as a college professor in upstate New York. Dunn presents an honest and unflinching look at Ray’s immense talent and oftentimes his deeply flawed shortcomings.

Bands would fall apart, and he would start another one immediately. One band bailed on him, and with shows scheduled, he picked another exisiting band and they backed him so he wouldn’t have to cancel.

Ray was an unflappable and headstrong entertainer. And in the punk community, one of those guys that everyone has seen at some point. Somewhere, Ray’s laughing as he smashes cans of shaving cream with his celestial hammer.

-RIP-