Ghost Riders Car Club guitarist Spike Fullerton agrees that Pho Truc, a Vietnamese restaurant in Clarkston, may seem like an unlikely place to find live rockabilly and honkytonk, but don’t let appearance deceive you Thursday nights this month. With their characteristic sense of humor, the band, which features some of Atlanta’s top professional musicians, has dubbed these gigs “Tet 2011: A Guaranteed Nguyen,” a pun on the common Vietnamese surname which is pronounced “win.”
The unlikely venue became a regular stage for Ghost Riders Car Club after they got called in as a last-minute replacement for a friend’s tiki band. “The owners said after the show that we made everybody so happy, why don’t we come back?” Fullerton says, adding that as a foodie who loves Vietnamese cuisine above all, he couldn’t be more excited.
Indeed, bringing the spirit of 1940s, and even 1930s, country and swing music back to life for a live audience is what attracted Fullerton, a lifetime musician whose day job is in software sales, to join the Car Club. One of the founding members of Kingsized, his favorite early acts include country-Western pioneers Bob Wills and Roy Lanham, as well as African-American swing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, the Ghost Riders Car Club proudly proclaims it serves up “Authentic Country Music from the Redneck Underground,” and Fullerton enjoys playing rockabilly, a mainstay for many of his bandmates, too. The group also delivers far more than music, modeling itself after the GRAND OLE OPRY radio shows of the 1950s, featuring commercials and fan letters and hosted by Frank Jimenez, sound engineer of 688, and veteran of Washington Squares, Jason and the Scorchers, Drivin’ N Cryin’ and the Georgia Satellites. Other current members include Mighty Joe Hamm (Truckadelic, Kingsized) on drums; Page Waldrop (Vidalias, Miss Margie & The Tall Boys), pedal steel guitar; James St. James (Zenith Nadir, Right as Rain), bass; Ted Weldon (Truckadelic), vocals; country artist Ernie Dale (THE POINT CD), guitar and vocals; and Rick Price (Georgia Satellites) playing mandolin.
“To work with professional musicians who know what they are doing and really work on their craft is a real pleasure for me,” Fullerton says. “I’m just happy to be along for the ride.”
The Pho Truc shows are looser affairs, a grab bag of country standards, swing, Johnny Paycheck songs and whatever else comes to mind, he adds. “It’s so low key. We may have guests or invite people up. To me, it’s more fun than just going to see a show because you get to interact with us. If you ask us to play a song, we’ll either play it or make you sing it.”
Or for the full Ghost Riders Car Club experience, head to The Star Bar this Friday night (Feb. 5). That gig, which also features Ocha La Rocha and two other acts, will take on a special meaning, Fullerton says, as a de facto tribute show to Charlie Louvin, half of the legendary Louvin Brothers who influenced such alt-country artists as Elvis Costello and The Byrds and, up until his death due to pancreatic cancer on Jan. 26, the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry. Louvin had originally been booked to play the Star Bar on that date.
“That’s the kind of music I like,” Fullerton says. “Charlie and Ira Louvin were the first of the big city harmonizers that had a national appeal. Without them, we would never have gotten the Hank Williamses and the Elvises.”
As for what’s next up for the Car Club, Fullerton says the group will open for Kim Lenz and the Jaguars at the Star Bar on Feb. 23 and for Southern Culture on the Skids in late April. And of course, they’ll be playing at Pho Truc every Thursday in February from 8-10 p.m. Catch Fullerton on his own at the open mike night at The Glenwood on Sundays.
Fun Fact: Ghost Riders Car Club doesn’t get its name from the fiery skeletal motorcycling Marvel Comics antihero nor from the Doors song, but rather the iconic painting by David Mann of an outlaw biker shadowed by an old West outlaw on a horse riding side by side through a Western vista of cliffs and desert, Fullerton says. “It’s supposed to embody the spirit of freedom,” he adds. “The Ghost Riders Car Club is a fictional car club obviously, a car club being a group of like-minded soils interested in old iron.”
Playing Thurs. Feb. 4, 8-10 PM, at Pho Truc, 926 Montreal Road, Clarkston, GA 30021 & Fri. Feb. Feb. 5 at The Star Bar.