"Flip flops, shorts, and silk shirt — that’s all I need to go to work …"
That’s pretty much how Blues singer Bubba Mac lived the last two decades of his life, singing with his band at the now-defunct Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point, N.J., a music festival, or the House of Blues in New Orleans.
Every show opened with “Flip Flops,” written by Herb “Bubba Mac” Birch, said guitarist Lew London, who performed with the band.
Mr. Birch, 73, of Ocean City, N.J., died early Tuesday, May 16, at home with his family. Although he had been having escalating health problems, he performed this month with the band and was making plans for summer gigs, London said.
“He was a joyful musician,” London said in recalling a recent lunch with Mr. Birch.
London is also the artistic director for CharterTech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point, where Mr. Birch’s wife, Kerry Treasure, was among the school's founders. London’s wife, Phyllis, handles public relations for the school and is a friend of the Birch family.
“Every day he found the joy in life. I never saw him in a foul mood,” Phyllis London said. “He performed right up until the end.”
When Mr. Birch was younger, he lived a much different life. He and his wife, with another partner, owned a health-care management business, which they sold for $75 million when Mr. Birch was in his mid-50s.
“I was a three-piece-suit consultant, but really I wanted to get up on a stage and sing," Mr. Birch said in a 2007 interview with the Daily News. "I had always played the blues and wanted just to call myself Bubba.”
Although his band played the blues, Mr. Birch, who wrote numerous songs, considered the music upbeat.
"I fell in love with the blues in Louisiana, when I had some projects there for my health-care business," Mr. Birch told the Daily News. "I've been playing music all my life, and the blues, whatever you say, is joyous music, casual and fun. We play blues on the Boardwalk every Thursday night in the summer, and you can't walk past the crowd. It's young and old, and they are all smiling."
Videos posted on YouTube show fans singing and dancing, inside and outdoors, smiling and laughing. Mr. Birch played guitar and sang, a blues version of Jimmy Buffett (or a cross between Buffett and Kenny Rogers) with a mane of white hair, bushy beard, and mustache.
Mr. Birch had become well known in South Jersey’s music scene. A few years after starting the band, he purchased a bar he called the Bubba Mac Shack.
London recalled that Mr. Birch put a lot of money into the business and that “people would flock there.”
“Those years were just magic,” London said. “He was just living his dream. Some of us have that opportunity, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
Mr. Birch booked well-known bands and performers as well, including the Radiators, Mavis Staples, Levon Helm, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Often he did not charge a cover.
Although Mr. Birch enjoyed the business, he closed the restaurant to focus on the music and performances elsewhere.
Mr. Birch and his wife had also hosted open-mic events for their friends at their Ocean City home. And he supported the charter school, hiring students to work as sound technicians. In 2007, Mr. Birch was behind the launch of Bubba Mac’s Mid-Atlantic Blues and Music Festival in Atlantic City.
Kara Cernanski worked for Mr. Birch at his restaurant before and after earning her college degree. She described him as a mentor who was "a great man who had a giving heart. All he wanted to do was make people happy, play music, and live a carefree life."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Birch is survived by children Mac, Melanie, Charlie, and Jake.
A celebration of Mr. Birch's life is to be announced.