California Toe Jam

By Don Norton

My wife and I were in downtown Lake Placid last month when she saw a farmers’ market and of course, we had to stop. She loves flowers, plants, and growing things. I love to fish.
As we walked around the different booths offering every type of vegetable you can imagine, I heard my favorite singer, Harry Chapin singing Taxi. I couldn’t see where the sound was coming from, but I figured it had to be a CD since he passed away years ago. But I was sure it was Harry Chapin.
As I rounded a corner booth, to my amazement, a guy was standing there with a mike, singing, but it certainly wasn’t Harry Chapin. I was shocked! For those of you who don’t know who Harry Chapin is, I highly recommend that you look him up on the internet. I’m sure some folks may not remember his name, but they would likely recognize some of his songs. Taxi and Cats in the Cradle were huge hits for him back in the 70s, and they are still pretty popular today.
When the singer finished the song, I walked up, put a tip in the jar, and told him how good I thought he was. I told him I knew every song Chapin ever sang. He was my all-time favorite singer. I couldn’t believe how much he sounded like Harry Chapin.
I shook his hand and asked if he had a business card.
As I started to walk away, he started singing another song, I read his name on the business card, and I looked back in disbelief. I couldn’t believe it. Harry Havery!
I had met him before, and his son Harrison did the accounting for my business. I walked back and apologized for not recognizing him.
After meeting Harry and realizing he was part of The California Toe Jam band, one of, if not the best vocal group in Florida, I wanted to learn more about him and the band members, so I invited them to lunch at Galati’s Family Restaurant in Sebring.
Of course, my first question was, “Where did you get that name? Well, according to Harry, back when he was a senior at Sebring High School, the guidance counselor asked him to put together a band for their upcoming Homecoming rally, THUNDER. At the time, they had no desire to name the band, but the cheerleading sponsor insisted on having a band name on the posters. The guys in the band – Havery, Hollinger, plus students Richie Shepard, Jay Grubb, and Mike McElfresh and band director Roger Nubern couldn’t come up with anything good, no matter how hard they tried. Having given up on a name, they started into what would become a ritual teasing Roger about his Flip-Flop-clad feet and his toe jam. Someone yelled, That’s it! TOE JAM! Since the name for the homecoming that year was Back to the Beach, they stuck California in front of the name, and it just stuck.
So, while we enjoyed the biggest and best pizza I’ve ever seen or eaten at Galati’s, I learned more about the band’s history and each member.
One of the band members, TJ Kinyon is not only a member of the band, but he’s also a fisherman. And I met him many years ago when I lived in Avon Park.
TJ grew up on a canal on Lake Bonnet, fishing almost every day and every weekend. He loves to fish and play the guitar. At 15 he was invited to join a band if he could play the bass guitar. So, he bought one and took lessons from an old jazz guitar player in Sebring.
He’s played in different bands over the years joining the California Toe Jam Band over thirty years ago. His first date with his wife Julie was originally to go to a movie, but at the last minute, his band got a booking, so they ended up going to the show where he was playing. The next day he took her fishing and today, almost 50 years later, they continue to enjoy both endeavors.
Jordan Terrell plays the keyboard, and guitar and sings in the band. He grew up in Sebring and was introduced to the band through his church (CTG made up the majority of the worship team there). Jordan was mentored in music and ministry by Harry Havery and when he was old enough to drive, Harry asked him to join the band. He played with CTJ for 3 years and then moved to Virginia for college at Liberty University. After getting married, having two kids, and moving to Texas, he moved back to Sebring to take the worship pastor job at the same church, Bible Fellowship Church on Hammock Road in Sebring. Harry called before they had even moved to ask him if he’d be willing to join back up with the band. He was quick to say yes. Jordan and his wife, Josie, have since added two more children to make them a family of six.
The youngest member of the group is Sawyer Humphrey, a 13-year-old who is in the seventh grade at Heartland Christian Academy. From the first time he ever heard the band, he wanted to be a member. As a drummer, he started playing on a kids set when he was 3 or 4 years old, but he was quick to bang on anything that made noise. He too took lessons with Harry when he was 7 or 8, followed by lessons from Jordan when he was around nine. His first appearance with CTJ was on stage for a song when he was nine, and again when he was eleven. He played with the youth band at Bible Fellowship Church, and he also plays in a jazz trio with Jordan and Harrison Havery.
And finally, the last member of the band, Harry Havery. Although I’ve only met Harry a couple of times, he’s a very humble, self-effacing gentleman, requesting that I spend more time with the other members of the group than with him.
But from what I can see, he is California Toe Jam!
Harry was born at Walker Memorial Hospital in Avon Park and raised in Sebring, Florida. He is the only Florida Cracker from a family of Yankees – when his family moved from Pleasantville, New York to Sebring in 1966. He began performing in public at the age of three, leading the Lord’s Prayer and singing songs at his father’s AA meetings. He started playing the guitar at the age of seven and by the age of eight, he was playing and singing at many local community functions and events.
It was 1985, almost 40 years ago when Harry co-founded the band with guidance counselor Rodney Hollinger. They never dreamed that they would be playing music together for 39 years. Hollinger passed away in November 2023, just months shy of the band’s 40th anniversary.
Havery has called Sebring home his entire life. He married Dawn McFall of Holland, MI in 1989. The pair met when he worked as her teacher’s aide at The Achievement Center – a school for severely emotionally disturbed children. Together, they raised three children – Katie, Rodney, and Harrison.
Dawn is a veteran teacher at the Highlands County School System. She taught for thirty-one years before retiring, and then going back into the classroom. She is retiring again in June.
Harry has spent the past several summers performing in Watkins Glen, NY, and the surrounding area. He enjoys spending time with Dawn, and their kids – as their schedules allow. He plays softball and basketball and enjoys Italian food. One of his greatest joys was taking his kids fishing when they were little – a magical time, gone too fast.
In addition to playing with CALIFORNIA TOE JAM, Havery does solo acoustic shows in the area.
Harrison Havery and Patrick Fox take care of sound and lights.
The group’s 40th-anniversary tour begins in October 2024.
So that’s the group! And what a group they are. So, the next time you hear about a local band playing somewhere, check it out! If it’s The California Toe Jam, go see them. You’ll be glad you did.