The King is Dead, Long Live the King—Rockin’ Retro Artist Derek Yaniger Reveals His Squirmy Past with Dead Elvis

Back in the day, a motley group of UGA art students had this crazy idea to start a band that combined their love of punk rock, beer and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. For about a decade, Dead Elvis was a—welcome to some, nightmare to others—fixture on the Atlanta music scene, drinking buckets of booze and spewing out hard-ass, high-energy hardcore with their signature sense of humor. All the local fame and phlegm, though, never went to their heads—shhh, don’t tell anyone but they’re really swell, sweet guys. But in the mid-1990s as punk began to fade into Green Day-fueled corporate respectability, the band parted ways.

That is, until an awesome set at the 688/Metroplex reunion concert at Masquerade in 2009. Since then Dead Elvis has been rising from the grave periodically to haunt the Atlanta scene. The next of those occasional gigs is this Saturday, February 26, at Star Bar. This time they are teaming up with the El Caminos, another Atlanta classic, and Sex Pistols tribute band Sid Vicious Experience, for a not-to-be-missed old-school punk revival to raise money to help good friend Ed Waller who was in a serious motorcycle accident last fall.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Squirmy Rooter, aka Derek Yaniger, for a sneak peak and to find out what the band has been up to. Since those decadent days, Derek also has forged a righteous reputation as one of America’s top retro pop culture artists. His self-described “chicken scratchins” have appeared in Marvel Comics and on the Cartoon Network, as well as in scads of vintage revival magazines such as Atomic, Barracuda and Car Kulture Deluxe. He’s also designed posters for some of the nation’s premiere retro gatherings like Tiki Oasis, Hukilau and the Wild Weekend. And soon you’ll be seeing his artwork right here as ATLRetro revs up its engines to supersonic this spring.

1. For all the young ‘uns, what’s the quick history of Dead Elvis’s origins and how you got involved? As I recall, the band was founded in 1984 and it had something to do with beer?

I’m a little fuzzy on when she all began, but 1984 sounds about right. The bass player Ernie Danzig, lead singer (Tranny Danny) and myself (Squirmy Rooter) met in the halls of the Art Department at UGA. We were surrounded by heaps of other bands in Athens, but no one was makin’ with the punk rock bit. It wasn’t until we graduated and moved to Atlanta and met up with our lead guitarist Jet [Terror], that Dead Elvis finally rose from the crypt. And yes—it had a LITTLE somethin’ to do with beer!

2.  Do you miss those inebriated days and do you have a favorite gig?

Now that I’m a decrepit old geezer, I don’t really miss the drunken debauchery. These days, if I tried to relive them olden days I’d end up in jail, naked with a broken hip! It’s amazing how much crap we got away with back then. The night we opened for The Ramones was a stone cold groove, baby!!

3. What’s the craziest thing that ever happened at a Dead Elvis show?

Where do I begin? There was the show where we dressed up like the Village People….the one where we all dropped our slacks for a couple of songs…and let’s not forget the show where we ripped apart five stuffed animals and filled the dump with styrofoam pellets, makin’ snow angels while wearin’ the decapitated animal heads. Oh yeah, and the White Dot benefit show where we smashed fistfuls of stink bombs during the Follow For Now set, clearing out the entire place. Ahhhhh, the sweet, sweet memories.

4. How many recordings did Dead Elvis do and are any of these still available? Or will you do a new one now?

We recorded a few times, and in them days all we could really afford to mass-produce were cassettes—remember those? Near the end of our run, we did release a five-song EP—remember those? Some of those might still be out there somewhere. No talk yet about releasin’ anything new.

5. An English band tried to pinch the name “Dead Elvis” in 1993, and according to Wikipedia, the Elvis estate found out and gave them hell for it. Were you guys ever contacted by the Elvis estate with any objections?

Them limely bastards!! Brits don’t know Elvis!! Ya’ gotta’ have pork rinds and corn syrup runnin’ thru your veins to truly understand the King, man! We never heard squat nor diddly from the Elvis Estate cats. They probably dug what we was doin’!

6. Dead Elvis’s recent gigs have been rare treats, especially the 688/Metroplex reunion show which incorporated everyone who played with the band. I’ve heard you’re planning to play more often. Is that true?

We been havin’ a blast gettin’ together to practice. Relivin’ them beer-soaked, puke-stained glory days has been a helluva lot more fun than I imagined. If them other cats are up for more gigs, I’m groovy with it as well.

7. I understand this show is special to you because it’s a fundraiser for a good friend who had a serious motorcycle accident and now has serious medical expenses. Why should everybody come and what can they expect?

Firstly, they should come by to help out our friend, Ed. This cat was messed up pretty bad and could sure use our help. So don’t be a tight-fisted, greedy sombitch. Drop in on the gig and toss a few clams in the kitty, man! Secondly, at least once before ya’ kick the bucket, ya’ gotta’ see Dead Elvis live and up-close-like—but not too close or you may end up with a faceful of beer and a mouthful of teeth! It’s like this: Chaos meets Ruckus. Ruckus makes some rude-ass comment about Chaos’ girlfriend. Chaos spews beer in Ruckus’ face and then out of nowhere Mayhem joins the melee by kicking Bedlam right square in the nut-sack! Bring the kids!! Fun for the whole family!!

8. Lately you’ve been making quite a name in the retro culture art world. What attracted you to let’s say, a less than contemporary art style?

I just really dig anything with a retro vibe!! Love all them scribbles from back when I was a wide-eyed crumb-snatcher. Tryin’ to capture the look and feel of all that art from the ‘50s and ‘60s really flips my switches!!

9. Was it fun to apply your style to a Dead Elvis poster? And was it you who did that original logo and poster art with the skull face and pompadour?

You betcha. I think the very first logo—the simple design of the Elvis profile with an X for an eye—was designed by our bassist Kevin Rej. I scribbled out the more illustrative stuff over the years, and we both shared the job of creatin’ flyers.

10. You’ve doing prints and traveling around to shows like Tiki Oasis, Hukilau, Wild Weekend and DragonCon. What’s your personal favorite pick for a vintage vacation and why?

Would have to be Palm Springs. I’ve been there for a few tiki events and gallery gigs. If you dig mid-century modern, Palm Springs will drive you batty-O, Daddy-O!!

11. What’s up next for you as an artist? Did I read on your Website that your work is going to be in a big show in Rome, Italy?

Yes, just shipped a painting and some framed serigraphs last week for a show at the MondoPOP Gallery in Rome that opens next month. Ciao, Bella!! Another gig I got comin’ up in April is a show at the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas with the fabulous Tim Biskup. Vegas, Baby!!

Admission to the Star Bar show on Saturday Feb. 26 is a $10 donation. To see more of and  purchase some of Derek’s art for yourself, visit his Website here.

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