Walton County Legend Duke Bardwell

Dec 15, 2023 | Businesses, Communities, Events, Music Scene, Walton & Beyond

Picture of Duke Bardwell singing at Stinky's Bait Shack.

By Kerri Parker

Main photo courtesy of Lynn Crow Photography

Sometimes the cycle of life can be brutal. But you get back up and you keep going, “Otherwise they will catch you,” says Duke Bardwell, a lifelong professional musician and Walton County legend.


Duke or “Unca Duke” has graced stages with over 80,000 attendees to “just a few coon-asses” in the audience. The size of the audience does not matter. It’s the magic of what happens on the stage that makes him feel alive and whole; Something that happens few and far between these days.

“It’s fueling that creative drive that I have and the excitement of playing live that I love,” says Duke. “It was always loose and good – but it was family. Besides playing with Elvis, the most fun I had playing music was playing with my boys – my son TK, and my godsons, Kyle Ogle, Balder Saunders and Mark Gillespie.”

Crowd at Stinky's Bait Shack

He and his wife, Rebecca, are moving to be closer to their grown children. “We need looking after.” Needing to be looked after doesn’t have the same context as his earlier days — when needing to be looked after might include a fist fight or a questionable motorcycle venture in southern Louisiana.

For nearly four decades, Duke has built his life here in Walton County. Leaving is tremendously difficult. “I feel more at home here than where I was born. These are my people,” says Duke.

Earlier this fall “his people” gathered to celebrate Duke’s 80th Birthday at Stinky’s Bait Shack. The overstuffed scene spilled outside with amplified music from the inside stage where he played with his boys. “It’s like a cauldron. When you have the right people together, stirring it up — it makes something so sweet,” says Duke.

Friends gathering and hugging Duke Bardwell.

Duke leaving our coastal community is deeply affecting the people who know and love him. Though it may be the end of an era, the “sweet” he has stirred up will continue to connect with audiences. With over 26 artists recording his song Bayou Country, his legacy reaches beyond the famed honky tonk in Walton County — expanding as far as London, England where his song once held #2 on the charts.

“Duke is the catalyst for so many great musicians in our community and so many look up to him with that Godfather likeness. This is not a goodbye. It is a see you next time,” says Jim Richard, owner of Stinky’s.

Kyle Ogle, Jim Richard and Duke Bardwell at Stinky's Bait Shack 2023.

Kyle Ogle, Jim Richard and Duke Bardwell

You can learn more about Stinky’s Bait Shack on their website at https://stinkysbaitshop.com/

COMING SOON ON HWY 331 PODCAST, An Interview with Duke Bardwell


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