Soft rock cover band Yachtley Crew sail into Tempe's Marquee Theatre | Phoenix New Times

The smooth sounds of yacht rock cover band Yachtley Crew dock in Tempe

Grab a pina colada and a captain's hat — popular cover band Yachtley Crew are returning to the Valley.
Yachtley Crew, from left, is Baba Buoy, Sailor Hawkins, Stoney Shores, Philly Ocean, Matthew McDonald, Pauley Shores, and Tommy Buoy.
Yachtley Crew, from left, is Baba Buoy, Sailor Hawkins, Stoney Shores, Philly Ocean, Matthew McDonald, Pauley Shores, and Tommy Buoy. Courtesy of Yachtley Crew
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Yacht rock wasn't always called yacht rock.

Back in its heyday in the late 1970s and '80s, it was known as soft rock, or adult-oriented rock, or the West Coast Sound and "featured elements of smooth soul, smooth jazz, R&B, funk, rock and disco." Think the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Toto and Supertramp.

The term "yacht rock" wasn't coined until 2005, when content creator J. D. Ryznar wrote and directed a web series by that name, but now, fans of mellow, light rock sounds have the perfect name for the genre.

The popularity of yacht rock led to the creation of Yachtley Crew, the sharply dressed, nautical-themed cover band setting sail for Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Saturday.

The band consists of lead vocalist Phillip Daniel (Philly Ocean), drummer Rob Jones (Sailor Hawkins), bassist Chaz Ruiz (Baba Buoy), guitarist Thomas Gardner Jr. (Tommy Buoy), backing vocalist Curt Clendenin (Stoney Shores), saxophone/flutist Paul Pate (Pauly Shores) and keyboardist Matt Grossman (Matthew McDonald).

Yachtley Crew came together in 2017 when drummer Sailor Hawkins got the idea and assembled members by way of the internet, Ocean says.

“We’re from all over: Chicago, Rhode Island, Orange County Burbank, Northern California, Denver," he says. Ocean was born in New York state but moved to Scottsdale when he was 10. The band is currently based in Los Angeles.

The band caught the late singer Jimmy Buffett’s eye, and he subsequently signed them to his own label, Mailboat Records. They got a career boost when a Vegas entertainment scout saw one of their concerts during the pandemic at a drive-in social distancing concert.

"She was like, oh my God, I'm bringing these guys to The Palms as soon as we reopen," Ocean says, and their first Vegas show turned into many.

“Las Vegas is a town of people from everywhere else for the most part. And so we're constantly being exposed to people from all around the country who have never heard of us before,” he says.

Even though the cover band formula was working for them, guitarist Tommy Buoy also wanted to do an original piece. He approached Ocean with the idea and he was intrigued. The only problem was how to create something unique but still remain true to the spirit of their retro setlist.

Drawing from their experience as songwriters, the band came up with a novel approach: Sing about classic concoctions. Called “Sex on the Beach,” an ode to cocktails, the song began to take shape.

“We didn't want to do obscure cocktails that people never heard of because you want to be able to remember it and sing along. And so, we put all these drink names down and then I was like, now we have to find a way to rhyme them or make them fit rhythmically together.”

Both Ocean and Buoy worked on it before approaching the band. “Baba Buoy wrote a bass part and Taylor Hawkins came up with a drum part and Paul, he's riffing on the saxophone and, you know, keyboard players are chiming in different little parts and it came together so effortlessly and was so much fun.”

The song became an audience favorite. When Ocean noticed people joining in on the third chorus he knew they had written something special. “So, we put that out and we were able to get our good friend Mario Lopez to be in the music video and it was just awesome.” The tune can be found on their 2023 debut EP, “Seas the Day."

“It's just been honestly kind of one of the most humbling and awesome experiences to be able to work with somebody of his talent,” says Ocean. “We were just in the studio last week and we're gonna be in there again a couple days working on a whole new album — actually two new albums. It's so fun to be able to put out music.”

“Sex on the Beach” got some traction thanks to music apps, but that's not where the money is, Ocean says. Most of their income is made from playing live shows. He labels the band blue-collar musicians who appreciate the support they receive in downloads because it gets their name out there, but working the live crowd is where the real magic happens, “This is our job, this is what we do and we love it.”

Yachtley Crew is quickly becoming a big part of pop culture. They've appeared with Andy Cohen on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live!” and taken part in many morning television and radio shows around America. They were also the first band to perform live on SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock Radio “Yacht Rock 311” show. But despite all the fame and exposure, Ocean still loves connecting with his audience personally.

“We love meeting people at our shows,” Ocean says. “Just come out, get a captain's hat, sip a pina colada and have the best time of your life.”

Yachtley Crew. With Raynes. Doors open at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m., Saturday, March 4. Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Ave., Tempe. Tickets are $41.95 to $69.78.
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