If Whitt Algar wasn't a musician, there's no telling what he'd be doing. The local keyboardist wouldn't last in the corporate family restaurant world, that's for damn sure.
"My last 'real job' was at Bubba Gump's downtown," Algar tells us. "I was like 21 or something, and I remember we had to do these five-minute meetings at the beginning of every day. I remember we had to all put our hands in, and everybody would do a cheer, like, 'Hushpuppies today!' or whatever. This one day, they were like, 'All right. You almost broke the record for 30 grand in one day.' And they said, 'How 'bout we cheer for 30 grand?'
"And I walked out," he laughs. "I was like, 'I gotta find some gigs, man.' "
And find some gigs, he did. Now 33, Algar plays keys in both the Royal Tinfoil and Gaslight Street, plus he's the bassman for The Bushels. So yes, though Algar has racked up a CPMA for his skills on the keys, he can pretty much do everything. He's been learning various instruments since childhood. "I started out playing guitar, like every other white kid in Mt. Pleasant," Algar says. But he moved to piano later on at the urging of his brother, Jim.
Growing up in Charleston with two older brothers, Algar idolized his siblings and the music they were into. "My brother would bring home these instruments from college, because he couldn't keep them in his dorm and stuff," Algar says. "So I had like a Hammond organ in my house when I was 14. I was like, 'Whatever' at the time, but now, looking back, I'm so appreciative that it was just there for me to play with all through high school."
Algar's first band wound up forming about 12 years ago — with both his brothers. A funk/soul/rock 'n' roll band, they named it Red Hitt after their grandfather. Since then, Algar has been a part of lots of local musical ventures, but now a solo project is in the works. That's right — he's got singin' chops, too. "It's funny," Algar says. "I've been mostly a sideman, but I grew up singing in choirs and things like that. I always did that."
Algar hopes to release an album next year. As for the style, he's returned to the soulful vibe similar to what he played in his early days. And Algar will also be summoning assistance from a few friends. "The hard part is getting musicians into the studio, because everybody's so busy," he says. "But it's coming together. It's about halfway finished."
When it comes to getting a gig covered, a song finished, or an album started, Algar couldn't ask for a better music community than Charleston's. "Basically, I've just like gotten all the best musicians I know in this town, and everyone's so cool and supportive," he says. "I can just go to whoever and go, 'Hey, man, would you like to play on my songs?' And they come in for three hours, and it's amazing."
These are the people, who, after all, helped Algar gets some gigs, man, all those years ago. After the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. walkout, Algar resorted to busking with yet another instrument. "I played saxophone on the street, and I am not a saxophone player.
"I played on the street for six months," Algar continues. "I barely had enough money to buy tuna. But eventually, with Charleston being such an amazing music town, it didn't take too long to start finding gigs — so I could do a little more than just get by."
He did more than get by. A dozen years later, and Algar's dream of being a full-time musician is going strong. After all, where else would he go but back to the food and beverage industry? "I figure I have to stick to [music], because I don't know what else I'm going to do," Algar says. "I guess I could go back to delivering pizzas. That's the only other thing I was good at."