It had been 20 years since USF alumnus Richard Norcross performed in the Tampa area, yet he returned to his alma mater Sunday to reminisce about life in the ’70s and breaking the rules.
Norcross and his band, Rick and the Ramblers, filled Unitarian Universalist Church on Morris Bridge Road with their distinct western-swing rhythms, joining other musicians in the church’s folk concert series.
Norcross, who lives and performs in Burlington, Vt., graduated from USF in 1973 with a degree in journalism. He said his main reason for returning to Tampa was to catch up with old friends and perform.
His most recent large-scale performance was at the Budweiser Super Bowl Party in 1984, but he still performs locally.
“It was really good to see everyone in the same room,” Norcross said.
More than 30 of his friends in the area, with careers ranging from surgeons to teachers, attended the show, he said.
Gloria Holloway, chairwoman of the Unitarian Universalist Dome concert series committee, said she helped organize the event. She liked the location because it is a reasonable size for the audience.
“It is a nice place for musicians to perform,” she said, “and I don’t know many places like this one.”
Norcross, a Vermont native, said he moved to Florida after deciding he was tired of blustery, northern winters. He spent the winter months of his junior and senior years of high school dreaming about the Sunshine State.
“I remember sitting in class drawing palm trees,” he said. “I just wanted to go see Florida.”
He attended Florida Southern College (FSC) in Lakeland after high school until he was expelled for not following the dress code.
“I was thrown out all because of my mustache and ponytail,” he said. “Things are different now. Everything changes.”
The news of his expulsion came after Norcross returned from a performance at Daytona Beach with several musicians, including jazz pianist and former USF English professor Knocky Parker.
It was Parker who convinced Norcross to become a Bull.
“I really enjoyed my time at USF, and it meant a great deal to me,” Norcross said. “At the time, USF was a new liberal arts hippie kind of school.”
After graduating from USF, Norcross said he had a successful career pursuing both journalism and music, though he never signed with a major record label because folk music was unpopular.
In his nearly 50 years of performing, Norcross said he even met Paul Simon.
“Paul Simon was mad that his record producer dubbed in music,” he said, “but that’s what was going mainstream at the time.”
Despite being on the road to folk music as it was dying out, Norcross said he wouldn’t sell himself out.
“I am what I am,” he said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to listen.”
Last year, he performed along the folk club circuit in Spain and has also traveled to England to perform at local folk clubs such as Bedford.
Despite his career in music, Norcross’ journalism degree didn’t go to waste. He said he has written for multiple newspapers, including the Tampa Tribune, and is putting together a Railroad Guide for Vermont, in addition to producing many visual arts ads for the railway.
Returning to campus brought surprises for Norcross, who said he was astonished by the development and expansion USF has undergone in the past few decades.
When Norcross was a student, he said, there were only five buildings.
“I can’t believe over at USF they have an ROTC building that’s over eight stories,” he said. “(That’s a) far cry from the old hippie school I went to.”
Norcross said his upcoming plans include releasing a 50th anniversary album in 2013, which will have about 13 new songs. It will be released at about the same time Steve Payne, an author, publishes his book about Norcross.
Payne said he started working with Norcross after spotting his tour bus, a 1957 lime green Flexline bus, on his way home to Vermont last summer.
“Rick’s story fascinated me … it became clear that I had to write a book,” Payne said. “Norcross’ music is the real deal, iconic American life with songs about real humor and real pain with universal appeal. Everyone can and does get something from (his) songs.
“Rick has literally been living the dream for almost half a century,” he said. “That’s truly a dream come true.”
For now, Norcross will head back to Vermont and continue his local performances, but he hopes to visit Tampa again.
“Music is different than sports,” he said. “In sports, there is a winner and a loser. In music, it is what moves you. I am very proud of USF and how it has grown. I am excited to see where the University goes in the future. I hope to be back again and play some new material.”