Kool Kat of the Week: It Ain’t Rockabilly If You Don’t Have the Right Pair of Shoes; Talking Smart, Sassy and Southern with Miss Mason of Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge

Posted on: Feb 6th, 2013 By:

Every other month for more than five years – that’s half a decade – Atlanta’s Retro hostess with the mostest Mon Cherie gathers her friends and throws a Rockabilly Lounge at The Masquerade. And we’re tickled pink that her Valentine’s Lounge this Saturday Feb. 9 features a bunch of Kool Kat alums. First off, Mon Cherie is one. Then shake rattlin and rollin’ will be one of our favorite Atlanta bands The Stumblers, featuring Kool Kat Keith Martin. The Sweetheart Burlesque Show includes performances by Stormy Knight and the magic of Chad Sanborn, not to mention Scarlett PageHada Pixie, and debuting for the first time anywhere: Sunshine Divine. Wear your jitterbug’ shoes because The Right Reverend Andy will be spinning swing, rockabilly and psychobilly favorites. And that’s not to mention the Ragin’ Raffle and vendors aplenty to help you find that perfect gift for your Retro-lovin’ Valentine. Doors are at 9 p.m. but it’s no exaggeration to say the fun always runs well past midnight, making it just about the best way to get a bang out of 10 bucks.

In the midst of all this Koolness, we realized there’s one kool kitty we hadn’t gotten to profile yet, the Rockabilly Lounge’s gorgeous, charming and dangerously clever emcee, Miss Mason. Not wanting to get stung by Cupid’s arrow in our rear, we decided we’d better remedy that situation right quick.

ATLRetro: Why Miss Mason? 

Miss Mason: It’s my maiden name. Incidentally it’s also the name I was often referred to when I was at trouble at school. Went like this: THEM: “Do you think you’re being funny, Miss Mason?” ME: “I KNOW I’m bein’ funny.”

Miss Mason and the Right Reverend Andy Hawley. Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie.

How did you get the nickname “The Mouth of the South”?

Ha, that one is courtesy of my parents, as I had – have! – the proclivity for talking when I shouldn’t, talking back, talking loud. Seemed a perfect fit for a tag line for a big-mouthed shit-talker!

To us, emceeing seems like an absolute art. How much of what you do is pre-scripted and how much is improvised?

I don’t fancy myself much of an artist. I’m just not afraid of crowds, not afraid to talk in front of one. As for scripting, information about the artists is something I collect so they can get a proper introduction. The artists work very hard at building their brand, and the last thing I want to do is mess that up. Sometimes they have developed intros to use for each performance, but there are plenty of artists who trust me to come up with something silly and fun. As time goes by and we all get to know each other better, the introductions get more and more clever. I rather enjoy it, and I hope it endears the artists to me.  So a little is scripted, but for the most part I just get up there and roll with the punches.

What do you love most about emceeing?

That’s easy: I love to make people laugh.

How did you get your start performing?

A little over five years ago I attended a birthday party for my friend’s son and Mon Cherie was there. She was just about to give birth to Rockabilly Lounge and asked if I’d like to be one of her Burlesque Beauties and give out Jell-O shots. Not long after our first Rockabilly Lounge, Mon Cherie asked if I’d introduce the band. I mentioned that I was surprised she wasn’t doing it on account of her history of being on stage and performing at The Chamber, and she said, “Believe it or not, I’m kinda shy!” – which cracks me up that THE Kitten With A Whip of Atlanta was too shy to say a few words on the mic! She tickles me like that. Anyhow, I did get up and intro the band, and she liked it, so the next time there were band intros, burlesque intros and much more. It was a happy accident. The rest is history.

How did you meet Mon Cherie and how long have you been collaborating with her?

I was introduced to Mon Cherie by Phil Solomon (AntiHeroes, Impotent Sea Snakes) for the first time at The Chamber in the early 90s. She had just come off stage. She was thrilling to watch. And I mean RAWR! We met again maybe a year or so later when she and Philip were touring with Impotent Sea Snakes in Miami. But it wasn’t until six years ago that we became reacquainted at a kid’s birthday party. There we were, grown up. HAHAHAHAHA! I’m kidding. We’re never growing up.

What’s so special about Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge and especially about this month’s Valentine-themed event?

Well, first off, there is something special about a promoter who puts her heart and soul in her work, and that is bound to translate into a great show. And this month’s edition features The Stumblers! Aaaaaand we have fresh meat debuting in the burlesque set! Aaaaaand I’m wearing my favorite red heels! I’m excited. Can we go there now?

What’s the best pair of shoes you’ve bought lately, where did you buy them, and why did you just have to have them?

Oh,man, I’ve been a good girl lately with the shoe shopping, but the last pair I bought are a fierce pair of black leather ankle booties with an architectural heel and a zipper up the back. Once I found them, it was love, and when it’s love I don’t care about the price. They’re absolutely more fetish/rock than they are anything, but I am that girl, too. Sigh, I love shoes. I have a closet full.

Miss Mason shows off her favorite pair of rocket red Betsey Johnson Mary Janes. Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie.

What’s your favorite cocktail and who in Atlanta makes it the best?

Oooooh, my favorite cocktail? That’s like asking which pair of shoes is my favorite pair!!!!  I love so many. Damn. Honestly my favorite cocktail, The Pink Lady, is made by meeeeeeee. It’s Smooth Ambler Spirits Gin and Cherry Limeade. But then I have vodka moods, SoCo moods, and I’m always in the mood for a frosty PBR.

What do you do when you aren’t being the fabulous hostess of Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge? 

When I’m not on stage, I’m a wife to The Mister and a mom to The Boy – who’s got a big old case of The Show Biz bug! – and puppet to Lily and Ginger, better known as Puggy Goodness, LLC . We love entertaining at Chateau Mason! I love to make a wicked cocktail, bake anything under the sun, make weird ice creams, and especially enjoy creating things with bacon, cayenne, Nutella, and/or bourbon. Ask around.  My skills are that of local legend! I’m a fledgling cyclist. I’ve committed to riding two centuries (that’s 100 miles! eek!) this year. Oh! And sometimes I hoop! I love to hoop!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Hooting, Hollyfesterin’ and Cockle-Doodle-Doom with Phil Stair of Grim Rooster

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

Phil Stair, lead vocalist/guitarist of Grim Rooster. Photo courtesy of Phil Stair.

Every year around the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley gathers some of Atlanta’s best rockabilly and neo-honkytonk talent at the Star Bar for a righteous revival called Hollyfest! This year the fifth annual tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper is on Sat. Feb. 2, so mark your calendars for  a Groundhog Day you’ll want to relive with a 14-band line-up conjuring up rock n roll deja vu that includes many groups whose members have been previous Kool Kats from Cletis Reid to Andrew & The DisapyramidsThe Stumblers to Rod Hamdallah.

Also on the playlist is Grim Rooster. While the group has only been around for a couple of years, its members include Phil Stair (lead vocals, guitar), Dylan Ross (bass) and Nate Elliscu (mandolin) and Tigerbeat Tony (drums) who have been active in the scene here for many a corn season. Boasting a diverse barnyard of influences that range from Johnny Cash to Rancid, they’ve already got more than 30 original songs under their belt and the fireball audacity to promise this about their musical menu on Facebook: “just try not to drip any tobacco juice on the floor the first time you feast your ears on this blue-plate dee-light of mother-cluckin’ foot-stompin’ fun and your jaw drops wide open!”

ATLRetro caught up with Phil to find out how Grim Rooster got hatched, what Hollyfest is all about and just what the hell is honky punk anyway?

So how and when did Grim Rooster get hatched?

Grim Rooster came about in the spring of 2011. My band Rocket 350 was on its last legs, and I was fairly bummed about it. My bass player had moved to Nashville so I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. Also our crowd had finally faded, and it  just wasn’t worth the effort of getting everyone together. At that point, my buddy Dylan asked if I had any interest in starting some sort of side project. I knew that I wanted to start either a straight punk band or do something very stripped down and roosty. Dylan wanted to play stand-up bass so it was settled. We asked one of neighbors to come play drums, and then I wrote about 20 songs for the project. I really got wrapped up in the music and was very excited to be doing something new. It had been about 15 years since I started a new band.

What’s in the name?

Grim Rooster came from a goofy brainstorming session. We wanted to use something with the word “rooster” in it, and that’s when we started coming up with ridiculous names. Obviously it’s a play on Grim Reaper, and it was meant to be funny at first, but it had a pretty good ring to it. We started coming up with crazy logos and realized we had a winner.

What the hell is honky punk?

We play honky tonk and bluegrass. We have an acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass and drums. The ferocity that we play our honk tonk is where the punk comes in. Although we have a real roosty sound, the punk rock still seems to slip in there. This is great when we play places like the Star Bar, but when we play to the bluegrass crowd, a lot of times they get a bit lost. We used to do a cover of Operation Ivy‘s song “Knowledge,” but it never seemed to go over too well even though we really honky-tonked it up.

What’s so great about three dead Retro rockers and was it really the day the music died? In other words, what do Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper mean to you personally?

The day the music died will always remind me of the terrible Ritchie Valens movie that they did in the 80s. “Not my Ritchie!!” But seriously I think out of the three, Buddy Holly was the biggest loss. He was a great songwriter, and he did a lot to help shape rock ‘n’ roll at its very beginning. I will have to say though, that I’m very happy Waylon Jennings did not get on that plane. I can only imagine how terrible this event was when it happened and what a blow to rock ‘n’ roll it was. It seems like we always lose the great ones, yet guys like Justin Bieber seem to stick around forever. As far as what they mean to me personally, I’m more of an Elvis man myself, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Grim Roosters at Twain's. Photo courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Have you played past Hollyfests? For the uninitiated, what happens at Hollyfest and makes it special? With all the Star Bar regular bands and Andy organizing, it sounds like it’s a big rockabilly/honkytonk homecoming. 

I have played many Hollyfests. One with Grim Rooster and a couple with Rocket 350. It is like a big homecoming, or more like the Atlanta rockabilly scene’s annual meeting. It’s always a great time, and its always great to see friends that I’ve hung out with for the past 20 years. It’s funny. I was sneaking into that place when I was 18, and here I am seeing the exact same folks. Something like that is rare, and I’m glad Andy and the Star bar are keeping it alive.

What will Grim Rooster be playing at Hollyfest – Holly classics or your own songs or both? Any special plans?

We are stripping down for Hollyfest because our drummer won’t be able to make it. We will be going string-band style. We are going to bluegrass up “Midnight Shift” and “True Love Ways.” Next we are going to do a slow-dance version of “Rave On.” Then, last but not least, we are going to do a Roosterized version of Weezer’s tune “Buddy Holly.”

How did you start playing guitar, and were your first rock influences the classics or were you more of a punk rock boy or a metal-head?

I started playing guitar in 7th grade but quit when I got a Nintendo for my birthday. I stupidly put it down, but hell, I was 12. I picked it back up when I was 19 because I wanted to be in a band and I realized that no one wanted just a singer. I started by trying to play along to punk rock records. It took a few years to start getting the rockabilly licks down.  When I finally did, I started Rocket 350.

I would say punk rock boy and metal head, or maybe just a lot of classic rock. I love Guns n Roses and the Ramones, what can I say?! I knew about the classics, but I didn’t start seeking out different genres till high school. I originally got into roots music through ska. That scene used to be huge in Atlanta, and there were a ton of shows. That pushed me to seek out rockabilly, and then I was hooked on that for many years. Through all of it though, I would have to say punk rock is by far my favorite music. That is probably my biggest influence. Then there’s a lot of old school country and just plain rock ‘n’ roll thrown in there.

What other bands have you played with?

Rocket 350 has been my main band; that lasted from 1997 to 2011. We went on four US tours and played hundreds of regional shows. We recorded five albums. I have yet to release our last record. Also I did fill in for my buddy’s metal band Grayson Manor once. That was fun as hell, but not exactly a good fit.

Other than Hollyfest, what’s your most memorable, fun, crazy or satisfying Grim Rooster gig? 

We enjoy playing an outdoor venue in Alpharetta called Matilda’s. Everyone calls it the poor man’s Chastain. They have roots music outside every Saturday during the summer. You play on the porch of an old house, and everyone brings their own food and beer. It’s all ages, so all of our families can make it out to the show. Those so far have been my favorite gigs, and they always draw a huge crowd. Just a really great vibe when we play there and a lot of interaction from the crowd. At the end of the day, we do this for fun so when you can get people out and involved, it makes it worth it.

The Grim Roosters shake up Matilda's. Photo Courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Do you have a day-job?

I do, but I don’t want to ruin the illusion. Ha, yes in real life, I have a wife and two kids and live in the burbs. I work as a financial advisor, so me playing music has become a way for me to release a ton of stress. If it wasn’t for the release of playing music, I would probably be in the looney bin. I was very lucky to have been able to play music for a living and go nuts. In my late 20s, the writing was on the wall. I realized I wanted other things.

What’s next for Grim Rooster?

Just trying to find more gigs. If you know of any, let me know. We do have a big one on Feb. 6 at Smith’s Olde Bar. We are opening up for Corb Lund, and we are super excited about it. We will be playing our usual set of originals with a couple covers thrown in. Should be a great night of honky tonk.

Also, Grim Rooster is on Facebook if anyone wants to check us out. We have a three-song demo up there for everyone to listen to and download.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Sexual Side Effects Are on a Mission to Rock Your World: Amber Taylor on Growing Beyond Glam and Throwing a Franken-Party to Remember Friday Jan. 25!

Posted on: Jan 24th, 2013 By:

Photo courtesy of The Sexual Side Effects.

Andy Warhol would have approved of the Sexual Side EffectsFranken-Party  this Friday Jan. 25 at the Drunken Unicorn. A rock ‘n’ roll fantasy collides with an art show. The crowd is scantily but fabulously dressed, clothes replaced by body paint. Go-go dancers twist and shake in Nancy Sinatra boots as multi-colored lights sweep across the dance floor. The epic extravaganza launches SSE’s Franken-Tour across the Southeast and Texas and also boasts Sarasota, Florida’s MeteorEYES, who are on their Winter Migration Tour, and self-proclaimed Atlanta nerd-rock band Go! Robo! Go!

The Sexual Side Effects have only been playing Atlanta for a couple of years, but to say they have taken the city and the Southeast by storm is like underestimating a thunderstorm before it starts firing up a tornado. In fact, it’s hard to imagine with all the high-voltage energy lead vocalist/guitarist Amber Taylor is channeling into the band, it won’t be long until they have the attention of the nation and the entire world, maybe even the galaxy if ETs are tuning in.

Over time, we figured some Kats would be so Kool that they had to be Kool Kat of the Week more than once, and Amber certainly qualifies in spades. Last time we chatted with her in July 2011, she was plotting a neo-glam revolution with her Gilded Trash events in Atlanta and New York. SSE still sports its glam roots in some of their sound, their audacious stage shows and encouragement to people to wear outrageous, sexy costumes to their performances, but the band has revealed itself to be much more. On the Retro side, one can see in-your-face post-punk, new wave and even psychedelic influences, and yet their approach feels right in tune to the 21st century. With a successful EP,an award-winning video, scoring “Best Local Rock Act” and “Best Band Name” in Creative Loafing‘s 2012 Best of Atlanta, sell-out shows from DC to Florida and a Franken-Tour on the horizon, we felt it was high time to catch up again with Amber to find out more about why their kick-off party in Atlanta this Friday is not to be missed and what’s up in a future so bright we imagine they’ll have to wear shades.

ATLRetro: Without giving it all away, what do you want folks to know in advance about Franken-Party?!

Amber Taylor: Franken-Party! is our new party. It started by making a silly flyer with Frankenstein partying with a couple of cold ones, and it inspired a eureka moment. We (The Sexual Side Effects) realized that one of the funnest and most successful shows we produced over the years was at My Sister’s Room in October 2011. The concept was simple – Art + Music. We played, had a couple of guest stars and bands from around town joined us on stage, had an art show, body painting, burlesque queens and tons of other fun eclectic art.

This whole experience can be summed up by the name “Franken-Party!” Pull all kinds of art into a blender – music, visual art, performance art, film, burlesque, drag, costumery, you name it. If it’s art, it has a home. I know I wasn’t supposed to give it all away, but, oh well, I guess we just slept on the first date. Don’t worry I like to make breakfast in the morning.

If Franken-Party is a rock concert, why so much art and half-nakedness? Do I have to be at least half-naked to attend?

It’s only part concert. It’s really an art-party that’s all about the people. People have to enter covering up their “naughty bits,” but if things get a little out of control, so be it! It’s not a party till someone get’s nekid!

You’ve expressed on Facebook a lot lately that you feel this is a big year for you and the Sexual Side Effects. Why now, what’s up and how does this relate to Franken-Tour?

Well, we have been working our tails off night and day over the last couple of years, and have reached a point where we have a team built to help us get more accomplished. In 2013, we have established an agent, publicist, radio promoter and are flirting with a couple of managers as well. This will enable us to put more time and energy into our art.

We hear Ryan McDougall is leaving the band. Who is replacing him and will Franken-Party being his last gig with SSE give the night a bittersweet tint?

RyGuy – which Mike the bassist affectionately coined him – is leaving the band. This will be his farewell show, and a farewell to one part of our journey as a band. It’s a positive thing though! The SSE has always had its core three members – myself, Mike Sidner [bass] and Clay McClure [drums]. We have evolved into a group that incorporates different people into it from time to time or project to project. We still have the same sound, same direction and personality, but now we just get to share the experience with more people and make it a bigger family. We may continue as a trio, or may get another guitarist. We have a couple of people we have auditioned, but either way the train will never stop until our dying days. Art is my mission in life, and it will never stop.

Photo courtesy of The Sexual Side Effects.

Looks like SSE is playing all over the South in the next two months on Franken-Tour. You’ve also played a lot of Florida dates lately. Any plans to go north of the Maxon-Dixon line?

We are going to work on the Southeast, Florida and Texas for a while. Too many bands want to go national overnight, and this is the biggest mistake they can make. The Wall of China was not built overnight; it was built brick by brick on a solid foundation. The U.S. is a big place, and every time we play a city we have to go back within two to three months. We are going to do about five rounds on tour in the Southeast and then figure out what’s next once SSE mania has spread far and wide. In other words, this shit is on!

It seems like your five-song EP HIGH MAINTENANCE and the video for “All She’ll Ever Hurt,” directed by David Joseph and the Comcast/Xfinity Video Award winner at the 2012 Georgia Music Awards, really amped things up for the band. Do you consider that a key turning point?

Well, it has helped a lot, but nothing happens over night. Art is hard work, and there is a long road to travel to get to the point where we want to be in our hearts. The video and the album are the introduction for the band to the world and they still get discovered everyday by people. Surprisingly the UK has really embraced us! As some point soon we will start touring there.

What’s been your favorite gig on this crazy trip so far?

Phasefest in Washington, DC, with Hunter Valentine, Vanity Theft and Glitterlust was one of the most magical shows I have personally felt yet. The club sold out at 300 people, and they had to turn away 200 people at the door AND it was $25 to get in! It was off the chain! I’m surprised the fire marshall didn’t shut it down. Well, at least my amp stayed cool. What an insane night; on top of that, we played the night before in Atlanta at a convention, got in the van after the show and drove straight to DC overnight. I remember being exhausted before we hit the stage, but when we plugged in, it was like a firecracker went off – for the next hour. Thank God for Red Bull! The last song we played the whole crowd was singing along – and they didn’t even know the words!

OK, since we’re ATLRetro, we always like to talk about the past as much as the future. Let’s go back to your roots. How old were you when you discovered glam music? Who was the performer, what happened and why did it appeal to you then?

Well, in all honesty about the glam thing, we have moved away from glam as a definitive title for us. Because of who and what I am, my relationship to Glitterdome  [at The Chamber] in the past, our parallel to the band Placebo, and of course, our Glam night we did called Gilded Trash, we kind of got that label in the begining. This isn’t totally fair to the listener though. We have a much different sound which is more rooted in Post-Punk, Psychedelic Space Rock, New Wave, Brit-Pop, Indie Rock and Indie Pop. Of course, there are elements of ’70s glam in what we do and our sound as well, but that is only a small part of the mixture. Of course, there is also the Joan Jett element of how I look, as well as the T-Rex-ness that gives that aura.

David Bowie, of course, was my all-time favorite. Pat Briggs from the Glitterdome was a big part of my fondness with David and glam in general. After I got to know and perform with him, I had a huge glam fetish. When the movie VELVET GOLDMINE came out, it seemed to boost that whole scene and the nostalgia of it all as well. Some people love that movie and some people hate it, but to me it is an important part of glitter fantasy that every child should have!

When we talked last year, you were talking about the Sexual Side Effects in the context of instigating a neo-glam movement. Do you still feel that’s the best term overall to classify the band is or has it progressed into something different? How do you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

Well, we did set off down that path, but being true to the song and what has come out as an artist we found other elements and music we have drawn inspiration from. We are all about the fantasy of music, rock ‘n’ roll, and the show, but that manifests itself in new ways and new descriptions. It’s an art movement, creating musical art with no boundaries or constraints to what it is. We have come up with a new fusion of sounds that could be described as Progressive Psych Pop. The fun, charisma, and audience participation that glam has still manifests itself in who we are, but our sound is a little outside the box to perfectly fit in the neo-glam classification. We have grown a bit as artists as well which has made it morph into something new. Art in the context of the Flaming Lips is a better parallel for sight, sound, experience, inspiration for the show and audience participation.

OK, back to the future, are you recording anything else, perhaps a full CD, soon? What about more videos?

We have been writing and have a good number of songs laid out to be recorded. We plan to go back into the studio soon and record. We are hoping to have something proper released around Summer 2013.

Photo courtesy of The Sexual Side Effects.

You’ve said that “Really the next step for the band is to take our music and who we are and help change society beyond us.” That’s heavy stuff but all one has to do is look in your eyes to know you mean it. Do you have a master plan, and how can the Sexual Side Effects’ music change the world?

One person at a time. It takes a long time, but we have a whole lifetime. When a teacher has a positive life-changing effect on a student or a social worker or whoever, it’s that moment when they have a purpose greater than themselves. Music is our purpose in life. To help others, and to share it with others makes it even more amazing. It’s a universal language that connects us all, regardless of barriers.

Finally, you’re just having a helluva lot of fun, aren’t you?

Why yes! It’s been a mountain load of hard work though. I worked my fingers to the bone the last couple of years and realized I need to stop and smell the roses. So this year I have dedicated to having more fun in everything we do. I think part of having Franken-Party! is my need to throw down at an epic party, too!

If you miss Franken-Party in Atlanta, here are the preliminary dates for the Franken-Tour:

1/25 – Atlanta, GA – The Drunken Unicorn
2/7   – Knoxville, TN – Preservation Pub
2/8   – Birmingham, AL – The Nick
2/9   – New Orleans – TBA
2/10 – Houston, TX – Cactus Music In-Store
2/11 – San Antonio, TX – The Thirsty Camel
2/12 – Fort Worth, TX – Wherehouse
2/13 – Austin, TX – Parish Underground
2/14 – Houston, TX – Mango’s
2/15 – Baton Rouge – The Library (ex. North gate tav)
2/16 – Mobile, AL – Alabama Music Box
2/28 – Nashville, TN – 12th + Porter
3/1   – Cookeville, TN – Miracle Mountain Farms
3/7   – Carrollton, GA – The Alley Cat
3/23 – Asheville, NC – Boiler Room
3/24 – Charlotte, NC – The Saloon

More Dates TBA. Check the Sexual Side Effects’ Website  and like their Facebook page for updates.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Sexual Healing: Kitty Love Celebrates the Goddess in Every Woman at Monthly Burlesque Sultry Sundays at Red Light Cafe

Posted on: Jan 9th, 2013 By:
Step right up to Kitty Love’s Sultry Sunday at Red Light Cafe. Atlanta finally has a monthly burlesque event again, which means that January is suddenly a lot warmer and less boring. This lovely Kitty is rustling up some mighty fine national and local performers for her next show this Sunday January 13 at 7 p.m. Headlining will be Russell Bruner, the Reigning King of Burlesque from the Burlesque Hall of Fame, plus the exotic Mistress Kali of New Orleans performing fire dance, Ursula Undress, Talloolah Love, recent Kool Kat Stormy Knight, bellydancer Haideh of Jahara Phoenix Dance Company, Madame X and Kitty Love herself. Syrens of the South‘s Katherine Lashe will be emcee, and also on the bill are song stylings from Lah Lah Luscious and magic from Chad Sanborn.

 

But what really jazzes us about Sultry Sundays and her other creative burlesque outlet, Cheeky Belles, is Kitty Love ‘s spiritual side. She reads Tarot cards and has been teaching sacred rituals and goddess mysteries since 2000. Given that she believes that “the healing of the world depends on the celebrating the goddess in every woman,” it kind of sounds like a church in celebration of the female body and spirit! Which makes her sound like the purr-fect Kool Kat of the Week!

 

ATLRetro: What’s Kitty Love’s Sultry Sunday? How did you get the idea, how does it differ from other local burlesque shows and how often is it going to happen?

Kitty Love’s Sultry Sunday is a monthly burlesque show on Second Sundays. I met the owner of the Red Light Cafe who invited me to produce burlesque shows on Sunday nights. Sultry Sunday is different in that it is in a cafe and intended to replace dinner and a movie. We are also an early show and hoping to appeal to people that can’t necessarily go out late night or on Friday and Saturday.

How did you personally get into burlesque, and what appeals to you about the art form?

I started as an exotic dancer in 1991. I have always loved to dance. I was not allowed to dance or have any dance training as a child, and stripping was the only dance career that was open to me.

My favorite part of a show is seeing excited women in the audience. I love burlesque because it is so empowering for women and not just the performers. I believe that a woman owning her sexual power in public is a revolutionary act! In 2007, I met Katherine Lashe and Talloolah Love at a burlesque meet-up and soon after attended every burlesque show that  I could find. I admired that Syrens of the South was so inclusive and fun, so I joined their first burlesque classes.  I made my debut with Syrens of the South in August 2008 as my comedic character Rosie Palms.

Can you name a favorite classic and a favorite contemporary performer who inspires you, and why?

My favorite classic performer is Gypsy Rose Lee because of her wit and sophistication. My favorite contemporary performer is The Lady Miss Vagina Jenkins.  She exudes sensuality and power.  She makes the audience feel the heat all the way to the back row.

What’s the story behind the stage name of Kitty Love?

“Kitty Love” is a metaphor for female pleasure.  I am a passionate advocate for female self pleasure. I have coached women as an “orgasm coach,” and my first advice is to practice!

This week’s performance features Reigning King of Burlesque Russell Bruner, Mistress Kali and an all-star cast of local performers. How do you decide who’s on the roster and can you share anything about what they’ll be doing?

I do not travel much, so this will be first time seeing Russell live and I am really looking forward to it!  It only took one video to convince me that he would create an amazing experience for our audience. Soon after I changed the date to January 13, Mistress Kali contacted me about performing in the show because she would be traveling this way with Russell. That’s why I am calling it my “Lucky 13” show.  Mistress Kali will be giving up the fire show.

I choose acts according to how they fit together to make a well-balanced show. But it’s not easy for me to decide; I’m a Pisces! In this show I am showcasing a lot my local friends that I met through Syrens of the South. For Cheeky Belles shows, which will be back in February, I like to showcase new performers from my classes and independent performers who really bring the heat!

Will you be performing yourself? If yes, without giving too much away, can you give us a tease of what your act will be like?

I will be performing.  I hope that my act inspires a lot of female pleasure!

What’s your favorite performance to date and why? 

My favorite performance to date was at the first Sultry Sunday. I did an improv with Paul Mercer and Regeana Campbell [The Changelings] performing live music. I love performing with Paul Mercer because it is always magical. I made my burlesque stage debut with Paul at an event in 2008.

At the last show, I had a very memorable moment! I love my mind and stepped onto a table and started dancing up there! Then I realized that I didn’t have a plan on how to get down. Fortunately, I picked a table full of friends and a gentlemen stood up to help me.

You also have been teaching sacred rituals and goddess mysteries since 2000 and believe that the healing of the world depends on celebrating the goddess in every woman. Have you always been drawn to this way of thinking or was there a specific incident or aha moment?

I have always been unconventional. In 1997, I read a book called APHRODITE’S DAUGHTERS about temple dancers in ancient India. Shortly after that, I dedicated my life to service of the sacred feminine.

How does this spiritual side dovetail with your burlesque?

I feel the most spiritually connected when I am dancing. Dance has been used in worship for thousands of years. I hope that I represent that Goddess energy when I am performing. I try to bring out the inner Goddess of my students so that they can learn to access that energy when they want.

Kitty Love. Photo credit: Kellyn Willey, PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

I teach my students to use the elemental energy in their bodies to enjoy their dancing. There are no choreographed routines or required dance moves. I call it sensual dance because it is about feeling good, not just looking good. My next classes start on January 13 at the Red Light Cafe. To register, contact me at misskittylove@gmail.com.

You also read Tarot cards. What’s your philosophy of approaching the cards, and how can someone get a reading from you?

I look at the cards as postcards from God. Everyone is here to learn on their journey, and the cards are like a map of what lessons are coming next and how to best approach them. I do readings at The Shelter for the monthly Ritual parties [the next, themed Gangster Speakeasy, is this Fri. Jan. 11] and at the Georgia Renaissance Festival in the spring. I am also available for private readings by appointment and at special events.

What’s next for Kitty Love?

I am developing Cheeky Belles into a community of like-minded performers that use dance as a spiritual expression.

Admission to Kitty Love’s Sultry Sunday is $20 at the door or $15 in advance (available on the Red Light Cafe website. And in case you wondered, the Red Light Cafe just got their liquor license!

Editor’s Note: The first photo also should be credited to Kellyn Willey, PinUp Girl Cosmetics. All artwork is courtesy of Kitty Love.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Destroy All Wrestlers: The Epic Adventures of Johnny Danger, Rising Star of Platinum and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling

Posted on: Jan 3rd, 2013 By:

Steve Johnson, aka Johnny Danger of the PCW.

Presented by the unholy alliance of WrestlingwithPopCulture.com and the Silver Scream Spookshow, Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW) takes over the Asylum East Atlanta on Friday Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. featuring such scary stars as Dragula, Papa Marko, Cru Jones and Stryknyn, as well as live music by Bigfoot. Then on Saturday Jan, 5 at 6 p.m., the entire slate of Platinum Championship Wrestling (PCW) fighters will spar for the Platinum Royal, while Shane Marx battles Supernatural, the Undead Luchador for their league title in their new HQ at 2001 Main Street in Porterdale, GA. PCW now has bouts on every first and third Saturday of the month there.

Everyone has a dream, but Steve Johnson, aka Johnny Danger, has scored the rare opportunity to live it, combining his twin passions for classic monsters and wrestling. In just a little over a year, Johnny has gone from a horror movie-loving geek and Silver Scream Spookshow/Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse performer with a special love for Godzilla to a regular with both Platinum Championship Wrestling and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling. Back in November, we caught up with regular MCW/PCW announcer and fellow monster fan Chuck Porterfield, but since both leagues have major bouts this weekend, we thought it would be the perfect time to revisit the growing world of Atlanta wrestling and get to know another of its most colorful characters as Kool Kat of the Week.

ATLRetro: You’re relatively new to wrestling. When/why did you decide to throw yourself into the ring?

Johnny Danger: It was something I always wanted to do ever since I was a kid, which I’ll talk more about later. I made the mistake of pretty much “phoning it in” during my high school years, getting pretty lackluster grades. I paid no attention to career counseling, had no hopes of going to college. I only wanted one thing in life. – the answer was always the same: “I’m gonna be a wrestler.” Well, when I graduated high school at 6’0 and 155 pounds, it was pretty obvious that my genetics did not agree with my plans, so, I put my dream aside and went to work.

Fast forward to 2011, and I’m planning to marry the woman I’d been with for the better part of the past 10 years. The traditional “bachelor party” held no appeal to me; women had been teasing me and taking my money ever since high school, so I’m not a fan of strip clubs! So I got the crazy idea to get trained to wrestle and have ONE professional match as my “last hurrah” before I settled down and became a responsible married man. Over a year later, I’m still knockin’ heads in the ring and loving it, baby!

Professor Morte officiates at the wedding of Johnny and Divine Danger, with bride and groom in wardrobe inspired by Mothra and wrestling superstar Randy Savage respectively.

I reached out to my various friends and contacts in the local entertainment industry, I think it was actually Sadie Hawkins, a burlesque performer [in Blast-Off Burlesque], who mentioned the name Stephen Platinum, the owner of a wrestling promotion in Georgia called Platinum Championship Wrestling. At the time, Steve was running shows every week at the Academy Theater in Avondale Estates. We contacted him, and he invited me out to see a show and to speak with him after the card. I was impressed by the wide range of talent and characters that wrestled that night, and even more so by Platinum himself; he was not at all the shady, bitter type you hear about running wrestling shows. He was into what I was trying to do and agreed to train me. When my plans changed from “wrestling one show with my friends” to “becoming a full-time wrestler,” he agreed to take a chance on an out of shape, out-of-practice nearly 30-year-old nobody, and try to make him into a star.

As for getting accepted, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. From the first time I hit that ring in my first training class with Steve, I knew I was in for the fight of my LIFE. Just from a couple hours, my first class, I couldn’t walk normally for two weeks. I started at over 220 pounds, fat and slow. I couldn’t get through a single class without running to the restroom to vomit. I’d just roll to the floor and lay there, embarrassed, unable to finish a drill. Little by little, though, things started to click, and I got just a little bit better. Steve started to see improvement in my wrestling abilities, but I think what really impressed him was my talking ability. You have a lot of people in wrestling who are great, natural athletes, amazingly put together, but they can’t connect with the crowd emotionally; they can’t captivate them on the microphone. I’m not the most physically impressive guy, but I can grab ahold of you and make you believe.

As for being accepted in the ring with the other wrestlers, I had to prove myself, something I’m still doing. I changed my entire life for this. I’m in the gym most of the week, and the evenings I’m not there, I’m at PCW’s new home base in Porterdale, working in the ring with WCW veteran Fred Avery, who’s battled everybody in this industry from Sting to Cactus Jack to the British Bulldog. I’ve changed my diet, I’m down to about 170 pounds today. It’s all about holding up your end in the ring and proving you can go, to the fans and to the other wrestlers. To show that I have respect for the business, and for the people who got me into it – Mr. Platinum, the other wrestlers and the fans – I’m just always trying to get better.

Why Johnny Danger?

Why not? It’s a name I used for myself when I wrestled with my friends in high school and when I created myself in various wrestling video games. At his heart, Johnny Danger is a kid with a dream. He wants to be a superstar, a rock star, [and] more than that, a superhero. He wants to beat up the bad guy, get the girl, and fly off into the sunset, only to do it all again next week. I thrive on danger, the challenge that forces me onward. I can literally say Danger is my last name! That’s evident every time I step into the ring. I gained a reputation as a guy who’d charge into battle no matter the odds. There were literally nights I would fight three other guys, all of ’em bigger than me, all of ’em hating me, at the same time. And, as you’d expect, I got pretty beat up. But I never made it easy for ’em. Being the embodiment of danger means never backing down, using your entire body as a living weapon. I may destroy myself in the process, but if I have anything to say about it I’m taking you with me!!

Costumes can be a big part of wrestling. Can you talk a little bit about your look.

Sure. When I first started, I had a pair of shiny vinyl pants made, black with blue flames – which is kind of my signature look, inspired by Godzilla‘s blue atomic breath ray – with Godzilla’s face on one leg and “DANGER” down the other. I’d pair that with a T-shirt representing my various interests, everything from the Silver Scream Spookshow to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles accompanied me into battle. It was a cool, grungy look fit for a brawler, but I didn’t quite look like a pro wrestler.

Well, the pants got pretty beat up during my wars, and as I started shedding the pounds I decided to drop the T-shirt to become quicker and harder to hang on to in the ring. I went to fellow wrestler Rick Michaels, who’s made gear for several huge names in the game; he actually once worked with the WWE making ring attire for their top stars. I pretty much just told him: “Make me something that’s black, with blue flames and kinda looks like an Elvis jumpsuit,” and he came up with my current look. I think he knocked it out of the park. I’ve got a lot of positive feedback on it, and I love it. I’ve also been wearing facepaint recently to show solidarity with my current biggest ally, the pound-for-pound Toughest Woman in Wrestling, Pandora, who always wears the war paint into battle herself. But perhaps what I’m most known for is my signature long black hair. It can be a liability in the ring, but Johnny Danger can’t rock out with a buzzcut, ya know?!

OK, there’s a lot of showmanship, but it’s got to hurt, right? Have you had any major injuries and do you ever question your sanity for getting into this crazy sport?

Constantly. Like I said before, the training process alone was a nightmare. My elbows and knees are constantly skinned up, lumpy and bruised from the rigors of the ring. My back, which was bad to begin with, hurts constantly. As I approach my one-year anniversary as an active competitor, my list of injuries reads something like this: bruised/cracked ribs; various cuts, scrapes and bruises; broken fingers; broken nose (twice); bruised throat; jaw knocked out of place; a concussion; and worst of all, in a battle royal on September 29 at our big show Sacred Ground Chapter III, I was thrown clear out of the ring to the floor – and keep in mind we don’t use mats at ringside, so I splattered on the damn floor – breaking a finger on impact and far worse, wrecked my back. It gave me two bulging discs and caused leakage of spinal fluid; the injury put me out of action for over two months.

I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to wrestle again. The first month was pure screaming agony. As for my sanity, honestly, I think you have to be a little bit nuts to be in this business. In football, you load up on protective gear and if you don’t want to take the hit, you can take a knee or run out of bounds. Boxers wear gloves. Now, all the respect in the world for those who partake in those forms of competition, but in pro wrestling, you have no choice but to take the hit, to get slammed down on that ring – and for those wondering, a pro wrestling ring is nothing but steel, wood, and just enough padding to keep you from being broken the first time you fall down – and then get up and do it again about 30 more times a night. You tell me what normal person thinks that sounds like a good idea?! Who looks at these guys beating the HELL out of each other and goes “That’s for me”?! But when I’m out there doing what I do, and I hear the people chanting my name or cursing it depending on what the situation is, it’s all worth it. It’s the greatest, most natural “high” in the world, and I don’t feel that pain until hours later when I finally come down.

What’s your most memorable bout so far and why?

I’ve had surprisingly many in my short time in the sport. I’ve battled Supernatural, the Undead Luchador, all over the state. We pretty much beat the crap out of each other till we became friends. We still do it from time to time for old time’s sake. I was part of the first steel cage match in Porterdale, GA, in 30 years. I was in a 12-man Revolutionary War Games match on July 4th that had hundreds of fans in attendance and took two rings and two cages to contain us all. I’ve had wars with my former allies, Marko Polo, Quasi Mandisco and Nina Monet. I was a half second away from winning the EMPIRE Title from Shane Marx in only my FOURTH pro match.

But I’ve got to go with a match I came up with, an I Quit Singapore Cane Match where I took on Dynomite Soul Eric Walker. Just to set the stage, I had been on a seven-month losing streak in PCW. Think about that. Every Friday for seven months, I ended up with my back on the mat, counting the lights. I started to doubt myself, if I should even get into the ring. Then it finally happened. Along with my partner in a team called The Surrealists, De La Vega, we joined up with the Washington Bullets to take on four members of The EMPIRE, the evil group that was attempting to take over PCW – attempting, hell, they DID take over and basically called the shots from November 2011 until they were finally defeated at Sacred Ground Chapter III. During the final moments of that match, Vega and myself hit a double team maneuver on Eric Walker, and I dove on top for the pin. I got that win I’d been chasing since January. Then the following week, Walker challenged me one on one, and I beat him again, all by myself.

Something inside Walker and the EMPIRE snapped. A bunch of EMPIRE members, including their 300+ pound monster bodyguard Antioch, charged the ring and beat the hell out of me for several minutes. Antioch injured my ribs with repeated big splashes. Walker bruised my back with repeated strikes from his singapore cane. They tried to put me out of wrestling, plain and simple. But the one thing Johnny Danger doesn’t do is quit. You may beat me, you may break me, but I will come back, I will get up. I didn’t take kindly to the attempt to put me out of the sport I love. So I came back with my own cane, and I challenged Walker to one last war to settle the score. Both our canes would be legal; hell, EVERYTHING would be legal, and the only way to win the match would be to get your opponent to say two words I’ve never said: “I Quit.” We beat the HELL out of each other that night. I hit that bastard with everything I could get my hands on – the ring bell, a fan’s soda can, a steel chain and, of course, my cane. Walker did the same to me. He assaulted my body. He knew where I was hurt, and he zeroed in like a rabid dog.

But I wouldn’t quit. Walker’s manager, Marty Freeman, produced a pair of handcuffs, and I was handcuffed to the top turnbuckle. Dynomite went NUTS with the singapore cane, he split my forehead wide open. You can see the scars to this day. He plastered me across the back of the head. I had a fist-sized lump at the base of my skull for over a week, but I would not quit. My wife and mother were in attendance for this match, and they couldn’t stand seeing me assaulted any longer. They KNEW I wouldn’t quit. My wife stood up and screamed for Dynomite to stop, and he set his sights on her. My vision was blurred from the head trauma I suffered and the blood in my eyes, but I saw him slide to the floor and grab my wife by the hair. I heard her scream. I grabbed the microphone from the referee, and I finally said the words he couldn’t beat out of me. I quit the match to save the woman I love. Classic, right? I wonder why Clubber Lang didn’t think of that?  Just beat Adrian retarded, maybe then Rocky would’ve quit? Hate to say it, but he outsmarted me. And after I’d received medical attention and calmed down a LONG time later, despite the mutual hate we have for each other, Walker and myself both admitted it was the best match of our respective careers.

Who will you be up against at the PCW match on Jan. 5, and what can you tell us in general about that night?

I’m up against the entire locker room! Seriously! It’s the return of the match that put me out of the sport with a back injury – the Platinum Royal. Every PCW wrestler is invited to participate. It starts out as a normal battle royal where you throw wrestlers to the floor to eliminate them. The last wrestler left standing at the end then faces the wrestler who threw out the most people to determine the ultimate winner, who is then guaranteed a title shot against the current champion, Shane Marx. Now, I won the battle royal portion of this match back on March 30,  2012, but came up short in the final battle. I’m tougher, I’m smarter, and I’m hungrier than ever now. And I’m putting the entire locker room on notice.

Now Pandora’s been watching my back since I came back, and I’m going to watch hers too. In a perfect world, it’ll come down to the two of us, and then one of us WILL get that shot against Shane Marx. But ANYBODY else who crosses my path in that match, friend or foe, I’m not going to risk injury again – and I’m not going to miss out on this championship opportunity – you’re likely to find yourself Danger-kicked out to the floor. This is the time to come out and see a Platinum Championship Wrestling event if you’ve been putting it off. You’ll see every top star in the company in the ring at the same time, except two.

The champion, Shane Marx, is putting his belt on the line against Supernatural. I’ll be very interested in that match as well, because if I win that Platinum Royal, I’ll be the first to challenge whoever the champion is after January 5. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve got history with both men. Shane Marx is big, strong and possibly the very best wrestler in the locker room. Supernatural is lightning fast and hits harder pound for pound than anyone else I’ve been in the ring with. Either one of them makes a tremendous champion, but I think PCW could use a leader who’s a little more DANGERous, if ya catch my meaning.

Johnny Danger as Santa checks out the glamorous Ghouls of Silver Scream Spookshow to see who's been naughty and nice.

You’re also heavily into monster movies, especially Godzilla and kaiju eiga, and perform in the Silver Scream Spookshow. Thinking back to growing up, what were your first experiences with both, and do you see a connection between your love of monsters and your love of wrestling?

Oh, no doubt. Thanks to television growing up in Atlanta, watching Godzilla movies with Grampa Munster on Super Scary Saturday on TBS, and watching pro wrestling, are two of my earliest, most treasured memories. Ever since I could talk, I’d stand in front of my bathroom mirror, pose, and imitate the interview stylings of Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage. I used to push the couches together in the living room, load them up with all my stuffed animals and have battle royals, throwing them out one by one. It always came down to me as Hulk Hogan facing off with an enormous teddy bear stand-in for Andre the Giant. And yeah I always won. Come on, I was Hogan!

There’s definitely a connection. Some of the best Godzilla movies are pro wrestling storylines at heart. Take GHIDOROAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964). This new, evil, terribly powerful space monster, Ghidorah, attacks the Earth. In the previous film, MOTHRA VS GODZILLA (1964), another monster, Mothra, is the only thing that could stop Godzilla’s rampage. Godzilla actually kills the adult Mothra only to be driven away by her larval offspring. So when Ghidorah attacks, the people are powerless, and Mothra has to appeal to Godzilla and Rodan to team up with her to save the Earth. Godzilla and Rodan don’t care, humanity has always despised them, so Mothra goes to fight Ghidorah alone. Godzilla and Rodan are impressed by her bravery and run in to save her, turning “good” and driving off the evil space monster. That’s classic pro wrestling! I was a despised villain in Porterdale till I’d seen enough of my former team mates, The Priority Males, assaulting Pandora, and I stormed the ring to save her. Like I mentioned earlier, I had Godzilla’s face on my old wrestling pants, a Godzilla roar plays at the beginning of my entrance music, and I’ve dubbed my finishing move “Godzilla’s Revenge. You mentioned the Spookshow, that’s the perfect environment for me as well! I’ve played everything from giant monsters to Santa Claus in the show, and look forward to working with them again soon once renovations at the Plaza Theatre are complete and Professor Morte rises from his crypt once more!

Why Godzilla and how big a Big G collection do you have? Any tips on Godzilla collecting today?

Why not? What little kid wouldn’t love Godzilla growing up? NOBODY could tell him what to do; he didn’t have a room to clean, he’d wreck Tokyo, beat up another giant monster or two, and leave the poor saps of Japan to clean up the mess! And seeing as how I never stopped being a kid, it’s a love from my childhood I’ll never grow out of. The emotion of the monsters, the heart of the hand-made effects, you don’t get that in movies today. As for my collection, the only one I know that can compete with it is Professor Morte‘s alter-ego Shane Morton. I’ve got hundreds of toys, movie posters dating back to 1965, two Godzilla-related tattoos and plans for many more.

As for today’s collectors, the market is way different than it was in the ’90s when I started my collection. I have toys I paid $200 for that I struggle to sell for $80 today. You’ve got to realize, eBay wasn’t a thing back then. You had to find specialized dealers to get these things from. My only tip is to only pay what you personally feel something is worth. The “value” of these things fluctuates so much; just be smart and patient. There’s a few groups on Facebook devoted to Godzilla collectors, just look around!

Given that, I’m guessing Monstrosity Championship Wrestling represents the best of both worlds to you. Can you talk a little bit about what makes a MCW match different from a traditional one and what’s your favorite experience with MCW so far?

MCW is wild. We’ve got flamboyant vampires and intolerant redneck misanthrope lycanthropes. It lets a lot of us to expose our dark sides. The Zombie King, Papa Marko has managed to temporarily “zombify” PCW stars like the Washington Bullets and Worse Case Scenerio. He’s even allegedly resurrected deceased wrestling stars like members of the Von Erich family! Casey Kincaid, one of the toughest wrestlers in PCW history, lets his well-documented darkness consume him to become The Phantom once more, an alter-ego we thought he put behind him. We thought it was safe; we were wrong. Then you’ve got guys like Supernatural who fit right in with MCW as is! Not only that, word of mouth is spreading, and we’ve got even more of the top stars in Georgia coming out to be a part of the carnage at MCW’s next show on January 4. Me, I’ve actually struggled to find my place in MCW, which is kind of surprising. I spent a brief period of time as a Frankenstein Monster. I think my fondest memory was wrestling in front of a HUGE crowd at this past Rock ‘N Roll MonsterBash at the Starlight Drive-In. It was blazingly hot, as usual, but all the freaks and misfits and punks and everyone else that came out for the movies, music and mayhem surrounded the ring to see me as part of a team known as The Greasy Bastards take on Supernatural and some ridiculous Leprechaun he found lurking in the bowels of the drive-in.

Event organizer Jonathan Williams, of WrestlingwithPopCulture.com, told me that you’re going to reveal a big surprise at this Friday’s bout. Without giving away any secrets, can you tell us a bit about the overall festivities?

I’ll say this, when I was out injured earlier this year, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I had to find something to get my mind off wrestling. I didn’t know if I could EVER compete again. I thought I’d wasted the last year of my life and permanently crippled myself. I did some research into my family tree of all things. I honestly couldn’t believe what I’d found – didn’t think there was ANY way it could be true. I’ve got extensive knowledge of monster fiction I knew what I’d found, but didn’t think it could be real. But as we all know, truth can be stranger than fiction. It turns out a branch of my family once had a different name than the one we carry today. It also turns out I’m the last one from that family line – a heritage that I will reveal upon MCW’s return on January 4th at the Asylum. A pedigree that spells doom for each and every one of MCW’s nightmarish combatants – a bloodline I cannot deny.

You even got married in the costume of your favorite wrestler and your lovely wife Samantha wore a wicked awesome Mothra wedding gown at the Plaza Theatre. Can you say a few words about it for folks who weren’t there and how you had the dream wedding of all time?

Oh man, it was wild, and I have so many people to thank for being a part of it: Professor Morte for allowing us to be married by a monster; Gayle and Jonny Rej, who allowed us into the Plaza Theatre under their run as owners. If I was going to get married, it was going to have to be an event. I don’t do the whole church thing. I wanted to break tradition and do something memorable. Well, the Plaza has become our church. All the joy in my life over the past five years, the Spookshow, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, even becoming a PCW wrestler, all possible through people I’ve met at the Plaza. I had someone make me a replica of the outfit Randy Savage wore for his pay-per-view wedding to Miss Elizabeth from SummerSlam 1991, and entered to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the tune that signaled Macho’s arrival for his matches. My four best men came down the aisle to the entrance theme of The Four Horsemen. We exited the ceremony to AC/DC‘s “Highway to Hell.” Instead of a boring reception with dancing and embarrassing speeches, those who stayed after the ceremonies were treated to a big screen viewing of KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962). Instead of a fancy catered lunch, we ate the best popcorn in the world from the Plaza’s snack bar.

What’s next for Johnny Danger?

Heh, even I don’t know. I’ve accomplished so much in my first year of wrestling. I’ve fought the best in the locker room. I’ve bled, sweat and cried in that ring. I’ve wrestled in a steel cage in front of 500 people, and I wrestled a match at 1:30 in the morning in front of five or six people. Tag team matches, street fights, battle royals, I’ve done ’em all. Even spent some time behind the announce table doing color commentary during my recovery. The only thing I haven’t done is win championship gold. Anybody who ever gets in the ring, they dream of one day holding a belt [and] I’m no different. 2013 is the year I show I’m for real. Yeah, at heart, I’m still a kid with a dream. But I want to show I have the ability to back up that dream. I’ll never be the toughest, the biggest, the fastest or the strongest.

I’m not the best technical wrestler in the locker room. But I’ve got the biggest heart, I’ve proved that time and time again. There is no better “feel-good story.” If I can win that title to sit atop the mountain, even just for ONE NIGHT, it’s a victory for everyone in the crowd that’s ever believed. There’s nowhere else on the planet where any fan that buys a ticket can be so intimately connected to an experience. And that’s something I’d love to share with all my fans. Wherever I go, PCW will always be my home, where it all started. I love that company and our fans; they are a second family to me. We give you our all, twice a month, the first and third Saturday in Porterdale, Georgia. Please come out and see us!

Note: All photographs are courtesy and copyright of Johnny Danger.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Dante Stephensen Takes Us Down the Hatch to Discover the Stories Behind the Iconic Atlanta Restaurant’s Interior Treasures

Posted on: Dec 19th, 2012 By:

A broad view of the interior of Dante's Down the Hatch. Photo courtesy of Dante's.

All good things must come to an end, the old saying goes, so it was with a heavy heart that we learned that Dante’s Down the Hatch will be closing its doors at the end of July 2013. One can understand why owner Dante Stephensen would decide to finally sell the property–he’s had a 42-year run living his dream and surely it’s time to allow him a comfortable retirement. In fact, it seems amazing that located on such prime real estate, Dante’s lasted as long as it did; it even survived a fire. What we can be thankful for is that at least, unlike so many Atlanta iconic restaurants from The Mansion (also designed by Dante; building now owned by SCAD) to Dailey’s, we have a chance to say good-bye.

I can remember the first time my dad took me to Dante’s as a child. How cool it was to step inside a coffin and descend even deeper into Underground Atlanta, the restaurant’s original location. Remember, that in the 1970s, Underground wasn’t an Epcotlike tiled shopping center. It was dark, lit only by gaslight, and one really felt transported into a bygone era of turn-of-the-century arcade machines, an old soda counter which even served Moxie, general shops full of those marvelous striped hard stick candies in every flavor you could imagine, a wax museum and a giant “Mighty Mortier” organ at the very end of the street. Its crown jewel was Dante’s, decorated to appear like a old sailing ship with a live jazz band performing and live crocodiles in the moat (you can see the graves of the original Throckmortons as you approach the current restaurant). Even the menu–fondue and cocktails in hurricane glasses–was all about sharing a true drinking and dining experience. It was the epitome of a ’70s theme restaurant, yes, but owner Dante, who was sure to stop by your table (he still does!), ensured it was never tacky or kitschy like so many of today’s attractions.

Photo courtesy of Dante's Down the Hatch.

In 1981, when crime forced the old Underground to close, Dante moved the Hatch north to Buckhead, which was quickly taking over the mantle of Atlanta’s fine restaurant hub from a pre-Olympics increasingly daytime-only downtown. The relocation offered him the opportunity to redesign the restaurant in a larger space and make it even more magical, including outdoor space for his antique car collection. While he did reopen the original Dante’s from 1989-99 when Underground underwent its more mall-like rebirth, the Buckhead restaurant became the flagship and a chance for Dante to be a perfectionist in creating a truly special dining experience.

A while back, Dante gave ATLRetro a private tour of some of the many artifacts that decorate the Hatch, including stories about why they appealed to him and, how he found them–many come from antique auctions in Commerce, California, in the early ’80s. Sometimes the items trigger memories of his colorful life or observations on his passion for animals or the study of the world’s religions. I read a quote recently from author Theodora Goss that some people have adventures and other people are adventures. Dante surely is the latter. We hope you’ll enjoy this candid journey with Dante Stephenson to nine special places around the Hatch and also visit and support this Atlanta landmark treasure as many times as you can before it closes.

A stained glass window made of pieces from different eras. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com

1) The Art of Stained Glass Windows and Feng Shui. “With all the bombing [in Europe in WWII], somebody was going around digging up scraps of glass. Take this piece that I just happened to buy. The person who picked up the pieces must have been an art historian because the eight pieces of glass that were placed into it come from different periods by different artists over about a 400-year period. I just thought it was interesting and had a very unique story. It would have been built overseas, probably in Britain because I picked it up at an auction in California in 1979 or ‘80 when I was buying the antiques for this place. I had drawn the plans, and I had a very talented builder. Very few builders could build something like this, so he was able to take the antiques and the structure and blend them together artistically. I mean, this place is feng shui all over the place, although at the time I didn’t know what the word meant.”

Dante's interior incorporates many elements from Church fixtures to vintage signs and stained glass. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

2. Faith and Fondue. “There are two areas that I could cover in general. One is religion, and one is animals. I am a Biblical archaeologist. That’s a hobby of mine. My degrees are in archaeology, and I have grown to have a great interest in theology. In 2010, I was in Japan to satisfy another two hobbies—one is steam locomotives and I also visited some Shinto sites, which is one of the seven major religions of the world. The year before it was the Hindus and Sikhs in India, and before that the Buddhists in Tibet. In my quest to understand theology, I’m philosophically looking at all theologies. In the Hatch, I have artifacts from a number of different churches, primarily the Christian churches. I have a Lutheran pulpit behind me. I have a Presbyterian pulpit underneath one of the sails on the ship. I have Baptist pews, the red benches sitting over there. I have a Methodist communion rail up here. Those iron railings and banisters are all Church of England, which is our Episcopal church. On the lower deck, I have a Catholic confessional, and at the uppermost spot in the restaurant I have a Jewish Torah [guard-]rail.”

Owner Dante Stephensen and his broom of two personalities. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

3. Sailing the Seas of History. “The sails on my ship came from the 1800s ship called the Barba Negra, in Savannah. It was a Norwegian capital ship that was brought over here by a Danish-German skipper at the request of Mills Lane, who founded the C&S Bank, to be parked in the harbor at historic Savannah. It’s not there any more because it sank, but the only tall ship captain that we had in the state of Georgia was Gerhard Schwisow. He not only provided us with the sails. He did all the rigging and all the rope-tying here.

4. A Grin-worthy Garage Sale Find. Talk about interesting artifacts which I found in someone’s garage sale, I have a broom over there. It’s for people with split personalities. The restaurant is full of ways in which you can laugh at yourself.

5. Yes, Virginia, the Crocodile is Real. Pinocchio the Crocodile got his name because of the length of his nose. I could talk a lot about the crocodiles. It could be a whole article. In the late ‘60s, our Atlanta zoo lost its accreditation. I was one of those that organized to save it. I was not a major donor—I had no money back then—but I was a major volunteer. We had to work at the zoo while they were hiring new people, and because one of my degrees is in geology, I got placed into the reptile department. It was the only rescue house of its kind, as far as I know, in the nation for confiscated Crocodilia. That’s crocodiles and caimans, not alligators.

I was seeing parents show up at the zoo with their three-foot semi-tame crocodile that they innocently bought at a pet store thinking it was a lizard for their child when it was about 8 inches long. Because of my degree in zoology which makes me almost a ranger, I decided to apply for a permit for my downtown club to receive the confiscated animals, because up until that time when they were brought to the zoo, they were ultimately put to sleep by Fish and Game. You can’t take an animal that’s been hand-raised like that and let it loose in the swamps. These came from South and Central America. These were not alligators, so the cost to send them down there and let them loose was ridiculous, too.

Pinocchio and friend. Photo courtesy of Dante's Down the Hatch.

This one [Pinocchio] almost did harm to me, because we had to give him a shot and you wouldn’t think that an animal like that would have a sense of pain nerves as we do. But the three of us—a vet, my manager and I—we snuck up on him while he was sleeping. I wear a rubber suit because it’s waist-deep water. All of a sudden all three of us grabbed him at the same time because crocodiles are very strong. One holds the head, the other holds the body, and the other holds the tail. Then we put a towel over the head so that it’s dark to him, and then he calms down for the complete physical. Well, the vet had to give some intravenous fluids to this particular animal, and that was fine. But then he wanted to give him an injection of an antibiotic, and I’ve got to tell you when that needle went into[Pinocchio], he jolted to the point that all three of us were almost thrown. He’s only seven feet long. We held him, but he held his anger so that at the end of the event, the vet pulled away first, and then my manager pulled away. I’m holding him alone with the towel at one end and the tail at the other. As I removed the towel and stepped back, he went for me, and his head hit the pole because he was angry because I was part of this event that caused him to get pricked. That’s the only time in 40 years I’ve had a really close call. God’s on my side. She’s always been on my side.

Since Aunt Agatha is photo-shy, here's a different angle into the main bar area. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

6. The Witch in the Ladies Room. So let’s go to the bathroom. All my older four sisters said to me when I was much younger and thinking about building a unique place for people to relax that I had to protect the woman’s right to dine alone. So we do that here. If you come in alone or with a girlfriend that you hadn’t seen in years, you would particularly care if strangers came up and started to put the make on you because you’re talking to an old friend from way back. This is not a pick-up bar. So what happens is I’ll walk over to the table and just stand next to the guy. Nothing makes a guy madder than some other guy listening to his line, which he thinks is very unique but it isn’t. So finally the guy says “who are you?” “Oh, I’m Dante; I own the place. I see you’ve found my niece Louise.” He goes back to his table, and the ladies thank me.

Now let’s take that into the bathroom. I’m out at an antique auction in Commerce, California. I’d already drawn the plans and we’d already started the building. I’d gone to a restaurant with a group of guys who have chain restaurants, the Chart House, the Steak and Ale and so forth. I’m in the bathroom washing my hands after attending to business and looking in the mirror, as males like to do, wondering why they aren’t getting more dates. All of a sudden the lights go up over my head and a light comes on behind the mirror I’m looking into, and there sits a naked, elderly woman, topless with a crystal ball, winking at me. Well, I’ve had just enough wine that I believed it, so I’m hitting myself in the head as the light goes off and wondering if am I hallucinating. I go out of the door, come back in and the same thing happens again. I say, wow, what a neat idea. So I quickly run to the phone, wake up my builder and say “I know you’re on the lower bathroom level. Where are you in the structure?” “Well, I just finished closing in the mens room and the ladies room will be done tomorrow,” he says. I say, “don’t close in the last wall. I’ve got an idea.”

Mark Twain is one of several famous wax figures you may encounter at Dante's. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

Have you been to the bathroom? Have you met Aunt Agatha? Well, she is a Madame Tussaud wax figure, ugly as sin. I had an actress do the first set of voiceovers, and then when [Agatha] got wet in our fire, I had it redone by one of my staff. There are seven speeches that she gives where she makes fun of the women. That has really become the most popular singular thing in the restaurant. People remember Aunt Agatha more than anything else. I have to be careful with children, though. Different personalities react differently to the witch, and if the child screams and is really scared, we let them use the handicapped bathroom obviously. That’s the only problem that comes up.

7. Some Famous Regulars. There used to be a [Josephine] Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Underground Atlanta in the 1970s. Then David Hawthorne, who had it, moved it to Helen, Georgia. He sold off some of his figures, and I bought some for here. I’ve got Einstein. I’ve got Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, General Hood who burned Atlanta, John Wilkes Booth and a pirate – who originally was the detective holding Oswald when Ruby shot him. People ask me why do I have so many wax figures. I say at every full moon, they wake up and clean.

Dante relaxes in the downstairs Barbershop lounge. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com

8. The Basement Barbershop.  The barbershop is interesting, too. It dates back to 1880-something from England. We had this room that’s the butt-end of the moat of the crocodile, and the bathroom is below us—an ideal place for a lounge. Well, I decided, well, wait a minute, I bought this barbershop—why don’t I use it for the reason why I bought it. I bought it with the thought of being part of a lounge. I remember haircuts when they were 17 cents. I’m that old.

9. Magnificent Murals. One of the beauties of this place is you can totally think you are taking off. You look at this wall here and you don’t see much, but if you sit on the steps there, it’s three-dimensional, and you’re looking down a street. If you stand at the top of the stairs looking over there, you’re looking at a building, but if you get up next to it, it’s a flat surface. So I have a muralist who is a bit of a magician who can draw things in three dimensions which at the right angle will take you to one place.

A seascape mural adds to the nautical ambiance. Photo courtesy of Dante's.

Let’s walk up there right quick. The diorama of the ship was built by a handicapped worker whose hobby and passion was to build ships from scratch without kits. My hobby is trains and I did the train-setting which is much less interesting but nevertheless a part of it. It was built from the plans I drew.

Located at 3380 Peachtree Street just south of Lenox Square, Dante’s Down the Hatch  features live jazz six days a week (Tues-Sun) with acoustic guitar and vocalist on Mondays. But get there quick as the restaurant closes its doors forever on March 31, 2013. Reservations are recommended. Call 404-266-1600.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: From Batman to Burlesque: Stormy Knight Plays Nice and Naughty at Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge

Posted on: Dec 13th, 2012 By:

Stormy Knight. Photo credit: Jeffrey Ling.

Holy smokin’! One of Retro Atlanta’s coolest ongoing events, Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge, will be shakin’, rattle and rolling its fifth anniversary this Sat. Dec. 15 at The Masquerade. Doors open at 9 p.m., The Sideburners (formerly Junior Dolan & Cash) are headlining, Reverend Andy will be spinning, free jello shots will fly, vendors such as East Atlanta’s Grease Monkeys and jeweler extraordinaire Jezebel Blue will help you with your retro revival holiday shopping, the usual Ragin’ Raffle will be drawn and the entire shindig will be topped off with a bright red maraschino cherry: a Christmas-themed burlesque show at midnight. The latter, as usual is emceed by Miss Mason, and performers include Stormy Knight, Hada Pixie, Scarlett Page and Miss Kitty Love. All for a bargain cover price of 10 bucks!

Seeing that the holidays are a time for unwrapping and staying warm by a hot fire, ATLRetro thought this would be the perfect time of year to make our Kool Kat of the Week that red-hot performer named Miss Stormy Knight. We caught up with her recently to find out more about what drives her to dance, her soft spot for sci-fi and to get a tease about this holiday-inspired Rockabilly Lounge

What about you as a little girl would have predicted your future as a burlesque performer?

I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember and the burlesque, belly dance, and other performance arts that I do grew out of that love of creating something unique and beautiful. The fact that I get to share this lifetime love with others is an added bonus!

How did you decide upon the stage name of Stormy Knight and how does it reflect your unique style?

I’ve always loved listening to storms and the fact that they can be so many things — anything from thunderous and intense to relatively soft and light. There is great diversity in what storms are and they cannot be caged or contained. As a performer, I love the energy and diversity in my acts and love to explore different performance styles.

Nighttime is my favorite time of the day; it seems that my muse wakes up as soon as the sun goes down! Also—and here is where my geek comes out to play—my favorite comic book character has always been Batman. Since he is also known as the Dark Knight, I incorporated that spelling into my name as a little inside joke to myself.

Stormy Knight. Photo credit: Van Brown/Soul of View Photography.

When did you first perform burlesque onstage, and is there any story about how you got that first gig?

I have been on various stages since late teens and started belly dancing and doing various fetish and martial arts performances under the name Starphoenix 15 years ago. I originally joined Big City Burlesque many years ago as a bellydancer and performance artist, but soon fell in love with the burlesque art form so much that I added it to my repertoire.

Can you name one classic and one contemporary burlesque performer who is an inspiration to you and why?

Why choose just one? Sally Rand, Mae West and Satan’s Angel have been big influences on me. All three pushed boundaries, and when faced with opposition in something they wanted to achieve, they simply went about it in a new way. None of them compromised on their performances and were very forward for their times. Between the three of them, there was plenty of glamour, innovation, intelligence and ballsy wit. I have had the honor of meeting Satan’s Angel and learned quite a bit in a short time with this bluntly honest Legend.

As for contemporary performers? To narrow it down, I’ve got to ponder that one for a minute. There are so many. Catherine D’Lish is a big influence on my level of costuming. She pours her heart into her creations, and they look amazing. One day I hope to be able to create on the scale that she does. One of my inspirations is a fairly new performer who has an immense amount of raw talent and dedication. Every time I watch her perform, I am re-inspired by the creativity and imagination that she brings to her acts. I met her while working with Big Mamma D’s House of Burlesque [Charlotte, NC], of which she is a member, and am privileged to call her friend: Silver Kitsune.

You’ve recently been very instrumental in organizing burlesque shows at science fiction cons such as DragonCon and Anime Weekend Atlanta. What does sci-fi mean to you, and how have those shows gone over with fandom?

I am a huge geek. Yes, in fact I proclaim it loudly! And I have been involved with both conventions, as well as a few others for *ahem* quite a while. In fact I often got into trouble in school for reading my books in class, then breezing through the exams. Sci-fi, comic books, and later anime and manga, were ways for me to escape. Even now I revel in breaking open and pouring through a new book and follow many different series from different genres.

In mid 2007, I had the idea that a burlesque show might go over well at a con. I mean, who doesn’t like boobs? They’re pretty awesome, but hey, maybe I’m a bit biased here. But I didn’t just want to throw a show together; I wanted to give the fans an amazing show. I produced the first show at DragonCon to a standing-room only crowd. It did so well that I got the opportunity to do one at AWA, with the same results. Every year I produced both shows, the rooms were completely packed to the point that after the second year at each convention the show was moved to one of the main rooms to accommodate the crowd. To give the fans a little something different each year, I changed up the themes and pulled performers from across the country and abroad. For various reasons, I did not produce the 2012 DragonCon burlesque show though I  continue to produce the AWA Cabaret. Keep your eyes peeled though, as there just might be a development for this year’s DragonCon. (*wink*)

You recently returned from Great Southern Exposure 2012, didn’t you? Can you share a little about what that was like and maybe your favorite memory?

I did and I had a fabulous time meeting so many new people! There was a little nervousness because it was a competition, but for the most part I was so excited to see so many new performers and acts that I forgot to be nervous! My favorite memory had to be taking Perle Noire‘s movement class. That woman is such a talented dancer and I learned a LOT from her.

Without giving away too much, can you tease us a little about what you have planned for this Saturday’s Rockabilly Lounge?

Now that would be telling! All right, I’ll give you a wee hint: I will be doing something completely new. *wink* But you have to come out to the Rockabilly Lounge on Saturday night to see it!

You’ve been somewhat of a regular at the Rockabilly Lounge and other Mon Cherie Presents events. Why do you enjoy working with Mon Cherie and what do you think has made her Rockabilly Lounge such a long-time success?

I love working with Mon Cherie and, as a performer and fellow producer, can appreciate that she’s an honest person who is full of ideas, class and gumption. She’s true to her word and takes care of her people. Those qualities are rare in today’s world and are in great part why she has been a long-time success.

Besides, who else would let me play with fire?

Stormy Knight. Photo credit: R.J. Newton Photography.

Beyond the Rockabilly Lounge, what’s next for Stormy Knight?

Lots of sewing and crafting. I have a big act that has been pounding away in my head for little over a month now and a few others that, while less insistent, are still quite loudly proclaiming their will to live and be seen!

Finally, you have some beautiful artwork on your body and especially on your back. Can you talk a little bit about how you arrived at the particular designs, and do you consider your body as a canvas now to be complete or will there be more to come?

Thank you! My body is a canvas, and yes, there shall be more tattoos eventually, though they have to be *just right*. I am so very picky about what goes on my body, where it is placed and who does the work that I am content to go slowly. I do know what my next tattoo will be, but have not yet decided on the placement.

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Kool Kats of the Week: A Romance by Design: Artists Caryn Grossman and Chris Buxbaum Collaborate in Life and at MODA

Posted on: Dec 7th, 2012 By:

Chris Buxbaum and Caryn Grossman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

Have you ever known two people from utterly separate times and places in your life, and then one day you learn that your worlds collided and they have become a couple, and it’s one of those rare “aha” moments? It happened right before my eyes. Caryn Grossman and Chris Buxbaum are two wonderfully creative and fascinating people. Then suddenly BANG! They are collaborating on an installation as part of “The South’s Next Wave: Design Challenge” at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). The special exhibit  began November 11, 2012 and runs though March 31, 2013

The sum of Caryn’s and Chris’ creative energy is formidable, making them the perfect candidates for Kool Kats of the Week. So I took the opportunity to chat with them about their dynamic cross-pollination

Torchy Taboo/ATLRetro: Chris, when I first met you, you were a DJ with an amazing record collection and a lifelong David Bowie fan. Is there a fave Bowie period? How have his styles influenced you creatively?

Chris: If pushed, I would say my favorite period was the “Berlin Era” (Low/Heroes/The Idiot/Lust for Life) – all that angst and faded glamor. Other than the “lost decade” (most of the ’80s), I love all Bowie’s work. The fact that it varies wildly in sound and vision is what attracts me to it. And never sticking to one look or genre – borrowing like a magpie from a wild variety of sources, both high and low art, is the most important thing I took away from it.

I see Glam-rock influences in the MODA installation….

Chris: Everything I did as a young fashionista in London (glam/early punk/ club kid/fetish pioneer) informs what I do now – an obsession with androgyny and fluid identity being the main thing that carried into this project. The photos in the installation, from a yearlong collaboration with supermodel David Richardson, are actually from another project that is nearing completion called “Schizophrenic Photogenic.” We are in talks with some galleries with a view to presenting these early next year.

You’ve both been shop keepers and lived the retail life. Thoughts on that?

Caryn: I think we both really miss it – I know I do. There’s something about the hunt for a fantastic mix of things, and then watching and interacting as people come through. We’re about to open a little retail space in Paris on Ponce, and I can easily see it growing into something more.

Chris: What I learned from being a shopkeeper is that while I am very good at creating a “look” and an atmosphere, I am no business man.

Chris and Caryn's installation "Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue" at MODA's South's Next Wave exhibition.

Chris, when did photography become part of your picture?

Chris: I have always carried a camera since i was a teen, but originally just to document what I was doing. It stemmed from having such a bad memory – just so I could remember where I had been. I only started getting “arty” about it when I had my Gallery “Boho Luxe.” The advent of digital really freed me up to experiment and learn -not so much for the ease of manipulation, but because you could now afford to make lots of mistakes and learn by trial and error, which is the only way for me. I don’t think I have ever read an instruction manual in my life. Meeting Caryn was the final ingredient. She pushes me to achieve and then is wonderful in helping me collate and publicize the work. She really is the magical final ingredient.

Caryn, tell us a little about how cross-pollinating your fantastic interior design skills with Chris’s photography. Talk to me about the mixing of your styles.

Caryn: On a job, there’s actually this wonderful synergistic flow; we both have an eye for color, shape and form, so the projects we do for our clients come together really easily – and beautifully. As far as a personal style, I love a sense of irony in design, a surprise tucked around a corner. It’s really evident in the MODA installation, and pretty much the same here at home.

My space is always a reflection of how I feel, and when I met Chris I was in a very melancholy, introspective kind of place. The loft I was living and working in really reflected that – lots of soft tones and heavy drapes to envelop me. Some things were overly lush, others were worn by time, but overall the space had a very soothing vibe, which was exactly what I needed it to be. I’d had a number of artists come through, so there was a lot of graffiti on the walls, so I think the sense of color and joy was there, it was just tucked away a bit more.

When Chris and I moved into our first loft together, the space was quite a bit smaller, and things had to condense. All of a sudden the graffiti wall was center-stage and Chris’ leopard bar was kind of integral to the mix. We still have a pretty soft surround, with the heavy drapes, but the space is much livelier, much more colorful, and much more in keeping with the boldness of Chris’ photos. I love it – it’s a happy space, really filled with a lot of laughter and love.

Caryn and David Richardson at MODA's opening night party.

I know that you are both versed in the organizing of unique events. It’s apparent that projects like this huge MODA event are second nature for you as a couple.

Chris: Before I discovered photography as an art form, I would say that putting together events, club nights, parties was my only talent – it’s like cooking – you have to have the right balance of ingredients and a pinch of magic. Caryn moved in very different circles from me, and she has a knack for publicity and finessing the right people. She can really write, and she has the education, technical skills and connections to make crazy ideas become reality. “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” was a true collaboration in every sense of the word. We worked shoulder to shoulder for five months to make that happen. Then we called in all our amazingly talented friends to make it real:  Milford Earl Thomas to make the film, Timo Evon and James Hoback for their artisan skills.

Caryn: I’ve always believed a collaborative process is the best, so even when I was working alone I always had other artists in and out of the space. Sometimes we shared the space and produced events together, sometimes it was just me inviting an artist in to show or play. It always brought me joy, and I loved seeing the creative process of others. It’s what makes my own work thrive, so producing events just came naturally. For a number of years I did it quarterly, opening my space up for all kinds of works, and all kinds of people, and I know my own creativity grew exponentially.

Happy Blue Family Chris Buxbaum, Caryn Grossman and Henry Jack Buxbaum!

What exactly is the MODA event?

Caryn: The exhibit, called “The South’s Next Wave,” is actually a design contest:  each design group chose or was assigned a color (ours was blue) and then assigned an object.  Ours was cake.  The only directive the curators gave was to design a monochromatic setting for the object. I envisioned ours as a room.

I thought it’d be great for Chris and I to do the space together. Chris had the idea to have a silent film made so that the “set” would remain animated after the opening. The film was shot on black and white 8 mm with a handheld camera and then tinted blue, frame by frame.

There were actually three openings: one for the press, one black-tie for wealthy patrons, and then the grand opening night.  The first two were so serious we decided to go all out on the third night and have David in the space as Marie Antoinette.  People loved it – they went nuts!  The event was sold out.

And how did you get involved?

Caryn: Sixteen designers from across the Southeast were chosen by the curators, Tim Hobby and David Goodrowe of a firm called Goodrowe/Hobby.  They had put out a call for entries for the object designers, so I approached Tim Hobby and asked him how the set designers were going to be chosen. I knew Tim from some design work we had done together years ago. He said the designers were going to be individually selected based on innovative style and merit – I presented him with some of my more recent work, and we were in.

David Bowie and a young Chris Buxbaum.

Give us more of the juicy details and logistics about the MODA installation.

Caryn: Creating the space for MODA was an amazing process. I had a vision of something over-the-top, kind of an ironic play on Marie Antoinette, and Chris’ photos were just a natural fit. Glam, punk, drag and my vision for design all came together almost seamlessly. Chris’ work and aesthetic was the perfect irony and surprise I was looking for, and the rest of the project kind of rolled on from there. I’ll let Chris tell most of this one, as once the vision came together, he really took it that step further by assembling this amazing team that ultimately included a filmmaker, drag performer, artistic finisher, Chris’ photos of course, and some pretty over-the-top furnishings and these unbelievable cakes by a company called Couture Cakes Inc. The museum crowd went nuts over it, especially the second opening night, which was the night we had our own Marie Antoinette – all seven-plus feet of him in platform heels, in the space.

I guess MODA is the perfect example of how our styles mix, and how we work together. I’m hoping it’s the start of a lot of great things.

Chris: “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” came together really organically. We went with blue because we were in the middle of a big project for CG CreativeInteriors [Caryn’s interior design firm]. When we have a project, we cover the walls of the loft in paint chips, fabric samples, inspiring pictures, etc, so we literally have to look at it all day. Since we were loving the colors we had chosen for this residential project, we decided to pull them over into the MODA one. We decided to use my pics of David Richardson to pull it out of being just decorative and give it an edge (and also to get them a wider audience). When we learned that our featured product was to be high-end designer cakes, the Marie Antoinette theme seemed the obvious way to go. Caryn worked tirelessly to find fantastic furniture and architectural products – the floor alone took almost a month to sort out [and] our first two ideas (mirrorball tiles/glitter wall paper) would not come together. In the end she sourced 40,000 silver rose petals. We drained six whole wedding stores of their supplies.

Tell me more about your crew selection and how they fit together.

Chris: The final thing that helped separate us from the pack was having David in the vignette live on opening night. It’s hard to ignore seven-and-a-half feet of drag queen with a Marie Antoinette wig and a birdcage on her head. And the cake maker, Lisa Humphreys, of Couture Cakes Inc.,  did an amazing job – even those shoes are cake.

We were also very honored to have Milford Earl Thomas (CLAIRE: A SILENT MOVIE) make a short film for us also featuring David. It turned out so beautifully and was designed to hold the viewers’ attention when David himself was not in the installation. I would love to work with him again in the future.

Caryn Grossman.

Share your vision of the future five or 10 years from now.

Chris: Vision for the future: an April wedding on the rooftop of the Telephone Factory, a solo gallery show for “Schizophrenic Photogenic” early 2013;  a group show with Rose Riot at Cherrylion and, last but not least, to grow CG Creative into a flourishing modern design firm.

Caryn: Wow. I have no idea, expect I know it will include the two of us, and some amazing intriguing happenings going on. I can easily see what we created at MODA taking on a life of its own. Whatever it is, and wherever we’ll be, I’m sure it will be fascinating – and happy.

Visitors to MODA get to vote on their favorite vignette and object. Chris and Caryn’s installation, “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” is #6. The voting ends February 15.  Each vignette is set up with the Skovr app, so that viewers can access facts and video about the designers while in the galleries or from home.  More info on the museum hours, etc., can be found at www.museumofdesign.org.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Like a Jagged Stone: Keef Richards Gets What He Needs Paying Tribute to a Guitar Legend and Rocks Around the Christmas Tree Sat. Dec. 1

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2012 By:

Barry Zion, aka "Keef Richards," of The Jagged Stones.

Forget the Elvis impersonators. The Rocking Around the Christmas Tree benefit on Sat. Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. treats you to a rarer form of superstar tribute and a delightfully different holiday party courtesy of Nine Inch Neils, who channel Neil Diamond in his ‘70s heyday, and Jagged Stones, whose name should give away the act they idolize that also came of age in the late ’60s/’70s. In addition to two rockin’ fun bands, a humble suggested donation of $10 (kids free) serves up pizza from Mellow Mushroom Decatur, two glasses of beer or wine, free sodas and a dessert bar. There’s also a silent auction including some cool items like a signed movie poster from the TWILIGHT series and an original POWERPUFF GIRLS animation cell from Cartoon Network. Proceeds support the House of the Rock (also the site of the party; 731 Peachtree St., NE, corner of 4th Street) and Lutheran Community Food Ministries, which do amazing work feeding Midtown’s homeless. So if you can, also bring some cans to benefit the food ministry. And parking is free, too.

Last year ATLRetro interviewing Cage, lead singer of Nine Inch Neils, to find out what made him and the band a believer in Neil Diamond. This year, we decided we wouldn’t get no seasonal satisfaction without catching up with Barry Zion, aka Keef Richards, of The Jagged Stones.

ATLRetro: When’s the first time you heard the Rolling Stones and was it love at first listen?

Keef: When I was 13 years old, my older brother turned me onto the GET YER YA-YA’S OUT live album. I had been taking some bass lessons, and the guitar work on that album immediately grabbed me. I can remember playing the Chuck Berry cover “Carol,” about 200 times a day until I developed the strength to do that Keith Richards rhythm. It’s quite a physically challenging thing when you are first learning as it takes all of your fingers, barre technique, pinky strength and solid rhythm with the right hand, plus the added handicap of playing on a $20 acoustic guitar with string height action that was measured in feet rather than millimeters. But thanks to that, it helped me develop some very strong muscles in my left hand. After that it allowed me to focus on the other songs and I wore out that album.

It wasn’t until I was older that I mastered Keith’s tunings and techniques and got closer to his sound, and Mick Taylor‘s fluid lead playing was something that took me years to even understand and is something I am still working on today. Mick Taylor is in my opinion, the most under-rated guitarist in rock, and his time in the Stones is clearly the era that grabbed me the most and that I try to emulate in my playing.

There’s got to be a great story about how you all came together to found a Rolling Stones tribute band?

I had recently relocated to Atlanta from NY/NJ/PA, and I had been frequenting the Atlanta jam scene and been known as “that Allman Brothers guy, that did some Stones too.” Duane Allman and Dickey Betts are other influences on my playing. I was not really interested in being in a band for the usual reasons – low pay, long hours, lots of competition, playing songs you don’t like, smoky bars, etc. One of my jam friends saw on Craigslist an ad for an open audition for a Rolling Stones tribute band, and he dragged me to the tryout. Well, of course, everybody want’s to be Keith, and when I got there, the audition coordinator asked me if I wanted to take the lead guitar spot for the audition. Since I planned on trying out for Mick Taylor’s spot, I quickly set up. I think the first song we played was “Wild Horses,” and I guess I nailed it pretty good and stayed close to the album. Then while another Keith was setting up, Skip [Stephen Skipper, aka Mick Jagger in the band] and I were sitting around, and I started playing “Love In Vain.” The two of us just clicked, and from then on Skip put the pressure on me to be in the band.

Funny we clicked so well, that he asked me which of the Keiths I liked the best, and I told him, that I thought I could do a better Keith than any of the guys that had auditioned. Skip didn’t want to lose me as Mick Taylor, but I assured him that I could backfill a lead guitarist for my slot (Yeah, even back then I had Eddie Brodeur, our current guitarist in mind) and that it was more important to have a strong Keith guitarist in the band. Well, with some hesitation, Skip let me try it, and I guess I did pretty good during that audition and have been Keef ever since then.

Since then Skip and I have become “Soul Brothers,” and we share the same vision on where the band is going. All the guys in the band are the top musicians that I had met from the jam scene.  Dave Lang (keyboard/vocals/guitar/harmonica/kitchen sink) and I had met a few months before that at a Kennesaw jam. About a year before that, Eddie Brodeur (lead guitar/Ronnie Woods) and I had met  at a Southern Rock theme night jam where without a rehearsal we absolutely clicked. It’s a really rare thing to have two lead guitarists that can leave space for each other and have styles that are different enough yet similar enough for the magic to happen. Eddie is that guy for me. The bass player and drummer took a while to settle in, but Joel Edwards (bass) is one of the most sought after bass players in Atlanta, and he’s a scary good musician that can play just about any style, and also plays drums, keyboard and guitar very well. Frankly I was shocked that he wanted to play in The Jagged Stones. He has, in my opinion, solidified us and carried us over that hump of trying to establish a new band.   Martin Abbot was the drummer that same night I played with Eddie at the theme night, and I knew that day that he would be the rock steady drummer to anchor the rhythm section.

Keef Richards (Barry Zion) and Mick (Stephen Skipper) of The Jagged Stones.

How many Rolling Stones tribute bands are out there and where do The Jagged Stones fit in?

We definitely have some competition and that keeps us always trying to improve. I really love The Glimmer Twins from Philadelphia. I’ve seen them  on visits I make up north, and they are a vintage 70s Stones band. I think because we are a bit older, we are more of the recent Stones tribute, probably 90s/2000s. The GTs don’t travel much down here, and we don’t travel up there, so I like to think that we are mutually supportive of our respective bands, and territories. Their Mick (Keith Call) and Keith (Bernie Bollendorf) are masters at their craft, and they have a great supporting cast behind them and have been at it for quite some time and are successful at it.  I really respect Bernie and the attention he pays to the tunings and the version of the songs they play. I think what sets us apart from the other tributes, is that Skip nails the look and sound of Mick Jagger whereas most of the other tribute bands have a Mick Jagger lookalike, but they don’t sound much like him.

This is your second year doing the Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree show at the House of the Rock with the Nine Inch Neils, right? How did you get involved?

Cage (Neil Diamond from the Nine Inch Neils) was instrumental in getting Skip to go from a karaoke singer to a front man for The Jagged Stones. Last year’s event was really our first “real gig,” and thanks to Cage, we got that gig and met Jon Waterhouse and Pastor Matt. Jon has been a key to our success, and without his support and guidance we would probably not be together, so anything that we can do to help Jon out including playing his charity events we try to do. For me, once I saw what was going on at The HOTR last year, I was just really moved by the people that are involved with the church and the event. It was a real special event for me, and one that I will always remember. I think this year will be even better, as we are now more seasoned, and our current lineup is firing on all cylinders.  People have told me that they can see that we all have fun playing the music and that it carries over to the audience.

What can audiences expect from the Jagged Stones at Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree this Saturday? Holiday favorites? Greatest hits?

We always put a lot of thought into our setlist and tailor it to each show.  Dave Lang works hard on that and takes in all the parameters of the venue. You will definitely hear all the familiar Stones hits and a few deeper cuts for the Stones aficionado. They have such a vast catalog of hits, [so] it becomes challenging to try and cram them all into the time we have allotted.

Some people might think the event can’t be hip, because it’s at a church. But to us this just tells us the House of the Rock is mighty hip. Tell them why they’re wrong.

As I said above, the event was an incredibly moving experience for me last year. I was surprised that the Church has a state-of-the-art sound system, lighting and a nice size stage for Skip to strut his stuff on. The people who organize and staff the event are cool cats and chicks and are more of the hippie generation, and certainly not that image I had of little old church ladies pulling bingo balls. Pastor Matt is quite a musician himself and has a pretty good band that plays regularly at the HOTR. I live close by and it truly touched me how they are helping the hungry in downtown Atlanta. I have been shopping the whole week for canned food to bring with me and encouraging all our friends to go above the ‘suggested one can of food. Also it’s such a bargain at $10 for two excellent bands, let alone Mellow Mushroom Pizza and two drinks. You’d be hard pressed to find that anywhere around Atlanta.

What’s gives you the most satisfaction about being a Rolling Stone impersonator?

Well if you look up the definition of ‘Rock & Roll’ in a dictionary, there should only be a picture of Keith Richards there. He is Rock & Roll, and what better character could anybody want to portray then Keith?! Lots of people think Keith is not a very good guitar player, but he finished in the #10 spot in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time. I think it’s easy to take him for granted as he is not flashy or incredibly fast or a very innovative kead player. However he is the riff-master. There are only a handful of guitarists that you can identify by their tone, and Keith’s tone is one of those. It doesn’t take more than a few notes to identify a Rolling Stones song on the radio. I try really hard to reproduce the subtleties of his tone by using his tunings, instruments, attack and, of course, dressing up like him and moving around like him.

What’s next for you and the Jagged Stones in terms of gigs? Any recordings?

Recordings are not something I have given much thought to, but Skip has been in the studio recently recording some corporate stuff that needed some Jagger-like vocals. We love playing live and thrive at auditoriums and festivals. Skip has a knack of working a big stage and reaching a big crowd. In addition to the HOTR show, we are really looking forward to our New Years Eve show at The Strand.

What do you do when you are not a Jagged Stone?

Besides sleeping? For fun, I like to take long walks in dimly lit cemetaries. Seriously I enjoy the jam scene around Atlanta, and have a day job that keeps me pretty busy. The joke I have is that I am an “Antique Consultant,” which has its origin in women giving me the usual interrogation to assess my datability quotient:

Woman: What’s your name?
Me: Barry
Woman: What do you do?
Me (over loud music): IT Consulting,
Woman, yelling: Wow that’s so interesting. Have you ever been on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW???
Me: No, not antiques. IT like computers.
Woman:  Oh ok, cya.

So I learned to just go with the antiques and say I speacialize in Queen Anne chairs, and the interrogation proceeds a few more questions, before the woman leaves.

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Flaming Heart: A Tribute to Buster the Human Blowtorch, aka Todd Kelly, as The Chamber Holds a Second Reunion

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2012 By:

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

“Todd was a Fire God on stage blowing his Soul of Fire for the world to see.”– Bry-baby, Chamber regular

 Back by popular demand, Mon Cherie has put together Chamber Reunion II, another gathering of the misfits who frequented one of Atlanta’s most notorious nightclubs, on Sat. Nov. 24 in Hell at The Masquerade. [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Mon Cherie on her Chamber memories and the first reunion here] It just wouldn’t be The Chamber without the presence of its favorite fire-breathing clown. However, due to his previous dinner arrangements with P. T. Barnum, Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury, Mr. Todd Kelly will not be on the bill. I thought a tribute was in order.

Todd “Buster the Human Blow Torch” Kelly walked into my world in 2000. He strolled up to me in the Star Bar and introduced himself. His face was familiar; he had been in the front row of most of my Dames Aflame shows wearing a bright yellow motorcycle jacket. It caught my eye. My roommate had been hanging out with him in the witching hours after the “legal hours of operation” of a variety of Atlanta bars…the tales of mischievous behavior (to say the least) had been numerous at that point. Diminutive of stature, yet a flamboyant and verbose one-man cult of personality, not unlike myself, we became immediately lifelong comrades. He spent the evening regaling me with the amazing details of his fiercely colorful life.

Todd worked as fire performer and pyrotechnician for a myriad of bands including My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Glitterdome and Impotent Sea Snakes (iss) just to name a few. He traveled constantly and spent the better part of 2001 in California where he became engaged to another performer from iss. Alas love’s misfortune brought him back to Georgia by the beginning of 2002. We took up right where we left off. Neither of us the type to waste much time, within days of his return, we began dating. He set the tone for our story by showing up for our first date in a knee-length REAL snake-skin jacket. He took me to The Chamber and promptly changed into his stilts and 7-foot-long silver sequined pants, tailcoat and top hat.

When Todd was not on the road, he worked a regular gig at The Chamber, either on stilts or doing his fire act, which I assisted as “safety” waiting back-stage with his fire-box full of fire-extinguishing paraphernalia in case of mishap. He taught me how to blow fire, and since we were both known for our snake acts as well, we soon began performing together. He was the consummate showman, yet never minded if my skimpy costumes upstaged his signature leather pants. But that’s who he was with everyone.

“The first time I saw Todd perform was at The Chamber. When he strode onto stage to the anthemic, ‘Du Hast,’ the energy in the room elevated immediately and then hung, palpable and frozen, in mid air. The audience, knowingly or not, fed him their every expectation, desire, anxiety, and Todd took it all in and let it go in a wildly cathartic and decadent rush of fire – a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. His act, although straightforward, was a bold, arcane ritual, and Todd was the Magus, sans turban, clad only in tight, red leather pants. In that room, he was more than fire-breather. He harnessed the frenetic energy of the room and focused it outwards into blazing spectacle. He was the transformer.” – Aileen Loy, creative impresario.

“Long before joining up with the Impotent Sea Snakes and when I first moved to Atlanta, I met Todd Kelly. We were both fixtures at The Masquerade and part of the core family of friends that hung out and/or worked there. We enjoyed many times together. I adored him. I just did not realize how beloved he was (to others) until I signed up with the band. We traveled the U.S.A. and Canada – this close quarters living bonds people in ways that can never be broken. ” – Mon Cherie, Chamber performer and promoter, and organizer of The Chamber Reunions I and II

“I never had to give Todd much direction. I’d tell him the theme for the event, and he would deliver. He was a natural at sideshow.” – Howie Stepp, manager at The Chamber

“Todd was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I got to know him through working with him at The Star Bar and in the band Greasepaint. He had an incredible gift for being empathetic and understanding while still being objective and non-judgmental. In the few years I had the honor of knowing him, he left a lasting impression. There are not many days that pass that I don’t think of him and miss him. The world would be a far richer place if Todd Kelly was still in it.” – Joel Burkhart, musician and fellow member of Greasepaint, co-founder of the band AM Gold.

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

“Todd had the soul of a rock star and helped me become one, in my own mind at least. He could steal the show and be totally humble in the same breath, blow you out of the water and totally supportive at the same time. I’ll never forget or be able to repay his support of my photography and my singing. If I listed the people he introduced me to or the doors he opened for me, you would think I was name dropping or bragging… or you knew him too.”  – Keith Martin, photographer, musician and singer/guitar for The Stumblers.

“Todd Kelly was a jack of all trades who mastered every trade he tried. He was willing to do anything to help a friend and was so well liked you felt like the ugly girl whenever you were out with him. A rock star who gave up the stage to help a brother, we hosted Yer 15 Fuckin’ Minutes karaoke together three nights a week and worked even longer hours together after our regular schedule. A gentle soul, he even took time out to stilt walk and breathe fire for my son’s 8th birthday. Little known fact, I stole the name ‘Blue Rat’ for a headshop I opened on Cheshire Bridge, the “R-A-T” stands for “Rotknee, Alex and Todd.” I promised him we’d open something we could put our name on. Rest in peace, brother, I finished what we started. Loved that man, still do.” – Rodney Leete, wild-man on the mic, musician and emcee, Atlanta’s Best Amateur Comedy, Yer 15 minutes of Fame Karaoke. 

Torchy Taboo and Todd Kelly.

My favorite story Todd ever told me was about how he’d injured his hands very badly while trying to rescue his 15-foot-python, Junior, from a burning tour bus. When he found that his injuries made it impossible to hold his fire torches a few days later at his next booked show, he duct-taped them to his wrists and went on. Ever a man of his word, the show must go on.

Even after parting ways, we remained fiercely loyal to one another, sharing responsibility for our pets during each of our extensive tour schedules and even working together a few more times. Todd Kelly left us in 2004. He is remembered dearly by everyone who ever knew him.

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