Born in the shadow of the Bavarian Alps, he loves palm trees, sandy beaches and tropical sun. He doesn't know an E flat from an A minor, but he's composed about 2,000 songs and recorded 500. Although he grew up in German schools and paid little attention as a teenager in U.S. English classes, he's written two books in English.
He's to the Caribbean what Jimmy Buffet is to Key West, but everyone knows him only as "Barefoot." Barefoot is the biggest "B" to hit the island since Blackbeard. No visit to the island is complete without taking in George Nowak and his band (The Barefoot Man and Band).
Mr. Nowak has worked his rhythmic wonders on the island since he sank his toes in the sand here in 1971. He arrived with his guitar and a bag full of belongings after wandering in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and Hawaii. "Anywhere there's a coconut tree and sunshine, that's where you'll find me," he says.
Caribbean islanders gave me the name Barefoot Man. They love to dress up, and shoes are important. Lack of shoes is a form of poverty.
But it was natural for me. Why wear shoes? In my early performances in odd bars I played barefoot. So they called me Barefoot Man, No Shoes Man, Barefoot Boy, and I ended up Barefoot or just 'Foot.
"The name has great commercial value. Can you imagine anyone on the island saying, 'Let's go see George Nowak?'"
When islanders and visitors come, they hear Barefoot's music. "It's like an island drink concoction: a mixture of calypso with a bit of reggae and soca, garnished with a little country and plenty of humor...put it in a blender and you dance to the beat."
When many leave the island, some of Barefoot's CDs are stowed away with the suntan lotion. Those who saw the film "The Firm" saw Barefoot. Paramount Pictures asked the composer to write a song for a scene. Director Sidney Pollack set it up: swaying palms, diamond stars, rum punches and tourists moving to the calypso beat.
"It was easy," Barefoot says. "The mood was the same setting we've played nightly for 20 years."
Barefoot read John Grisham's novel, which mentions him on several pages, and the song poured out effortlessly.
"I like your smile, I like your style,
I like your walk, I like your talk: The way you look at me.
But your best feature of all,
Is your rich daddy.
So if you want to spend my time,
Let's spend his currency.
Money, Money, Money, Money
Listen to me honey,
That's what I want,
Much dinero, yen or lira, money
Listen to me honey,
That's all I want."
The song, called appropriately, "Money," is often requested since the film. When it was filmed, "Tom Cruise was only 10 feet away doing his lines and Gene Hackman a mere 5 feet away dancing to our song," Barefoot says.
It added a new dimension to his performance and his wallet and can be heard on his CD, "Hot Hot Hot Collection – Best of the Best Volume II."
"I have a prosperous record business," he says. "I am the record company, and my wife is the accountant." He's also a writer and photographer.
In his book "Which Way to the Islands?" he writes, "Mountains have never done much to whet my appetite for adventure. For me it's been dreams of deserted tropical islands with swaying palms and blue seas hugging sandy shores."
In high school, while classmates were at football games, Barefoot was in the library, thumbing atlases and National Geographics.
He'd spread out maps of the South Pacific and "my fingers would cruise like an imaginary sloop, and when I'd find an island with a strange name like Manihiki, Suwarrow or Rarotonga, I would go to the index file and see if there were any books about my new discovery."
His father left his mother to join the merchant marine when Barefoot was a lad in Munich. His mother remarried an American Air Force mechanic, and Barefoot ended up in Wilmington, N.C., after some base-hopping.
When he was a teenager, his guitar was his companion. His dream was to cut a record in Nashville, hit it big and set out for the tropics.
He ended up sweeping studio floors as the dream faded. But he saved enough for a bus ticket to Miami and flew to St. Thomas. "Once I spotted the first white sandy beach and dove into the clean, clear water, I was hooked," he says.
He became an islomaniac, with a guitar and a smile as his passport and a willingness to sleep "on a lounge chair in St. Croix, a hammock in Bora- Bora or a mat made of coconut fronds in the Cook Islands."
He adopted the same casual manner in the book that describes his many adventures. "I'm not going to apologize for the strange way I make a point or my irregular dots. I'm no James Michener. Heck, it's fun breaking the rules sometimes. Had I followed the rules, my life would have been very boring," he says.
His albums of diving songs, "Scuba Do" and "Scuba Do II," brought him to the attention of Paul Tzimoulis, publisher of Skin Diver Magazine. Mr. Tzimoulis says, "His songs are remarkable, for they catch the spirit and excitement of diving as well as a deep appreciation of the creatures who inhabit tropical seas...."
Barefoot calls himself a beach bum, but I don't believe it. He is perhaps one of the most industrious people I have ever met -- on or off an island. He is a fountain of creativity, constantly seeking new forms of expression.
Some might describe him as a modern-day Magellan who yearns to circumnavigate the globe in search of new island treasures. He seeks the undiscovered -- those islands unknown and untouched by commercial development. His pleasure is to sample island cultures before they are diluted or destroyed.
As one of his songs says, he's a "tropical beachcomber, Caribbean roamer, Chasin' dreams and fulfilling fantasies."