Kool Kat of the Week: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But Ray Dafrico Likes It

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2015 By:

raydafricoDon’t expect any S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T choruses at the Ray City Rollers‘ gig on July 24 at Steve’s Live Music. Not only is it Friday but Ray Dafrico‘s latest band owes more to The Kinks, The Who and The Stones, although despite his many years toughed out in a black leather jacket, he does admit an affection for the bubblegum rock of the ’60s and ’70s.

Ray is no stranger to Atlanta’s music scene. The last time we talked to the singer/songwriter/guitarist, he’d finished up a documentary,THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS, about the early 1980s legendary Atlanta punk-alternative band which he cofounded. Born in New York City, Ray’s family moved around a lot, finally ending up in Roswell. Suburban boredom nurtured a restless among high school friends/musicians which spawned The Nightporters. They moved intown to Pershing Point, a now-demolished decrepit apartment building where Atlanta’s punk rock scene lodged and practiced, got their start at the notorious Blue Rat Gallery and became regulars at 688. They then proceeded to tour widely, including many New York gigs and opening for myriad alt-rock headliners from The Replacements, who became friends and slept on Ray’s floor, to The Clash‘s riotous concert at The Fox Theatre. This Friday’s show will reunite Dafrico with Nightporters drummer Paul Lenz, who has joined the Rollers and also has drummed for Drivin’ N Cryin’. Ray also played in Kathleen Turner Overdrive.

In other words, Ray’s one Kool Kat of the Week that’s way, way overdue. Because that was then and this is now, we concentrated on his current band, but we couldn’t resist the urge to ask him about what’s spinning on his turntable. Yeah, turntable.

ATLRetro: Your new band is the Ray City Rollers. What’s your secret origin story?

Ray Dafrico: Well, my solo bands have kind of been like the same band with different people. I have this pet peeve that you have to change the band name if someone leaves unlike most people who fight to keep using a name even though it’s not really the same band like So and So starring but only one of the original members. In my mind, I’m a purist not a tourist, so my bands, Shades of Shame, Kickstand, Soulfinger, etc., are really one band with different names. The Ray City Rollers were named so because I was going to just call it Ray Dafrico like a solo act with a band. But nobody can pronounce my last name right, so in the tradition of Kathleen Turner Overdrive – another band name I thought up – I just created some goofy name that I thought was hilarious. The only problem is people think it’s some kind of tribute band! I’ve actually had people say to me,”oh yeah, I remember you guys,”  and I have to say, no, it’s not the BAY City Rollers! Sometimes I don’t say anything to make them think I’m some rock star or something.

Ray Cirty Rollers copy 2So how important were the Bay City Rollers to your life?

I actually saw The Rollers in 1976. I thought they were great. I think I was the only guy there not wearing tartan and screaming. (laughs) Everybody says S-a-t-u-r, which I loved but “Money Honey” and “Rock and Roll Love Letter” were right up there. Woody had a punky shag and played a Telecaster, so what’s not to like? Not sure if a lot of people know The Ramones were also influenced by them and were trying to sound like them.

OK, really, you’re known for punk rock but you talk a lot about The Kinks, The Who, The Stones. Why the staying power for those bands for you? Was it a moment in time or are there any bands out there today who come close?

Well, after The Partridge Family and Bay City Rollers, those were the bands that I really go into. They took it up a level, quite a few levels actually. The combination of songs, image and raw energy by those ’60s English bands kinda defines Rock ‘n’ Roll to me. I was always an Anglophile even as a little kid. I used to watch THE THUNDERBIRDS, CAPTAIN SCARLET and THE DOUBLE DECKERS, so the bands were an extension of that, I think. Then I saw QUADROPHENIA and became a Mod when I was 17. Once you’re a Mod, you’re a Mod for life. I was into punk rock but always hated hardcore and all that Oi/Mohawk crap. Punk to me was ’70s style which was more like a Powerpop/Chuck Berry kinda thing.

Ray Double zero011As far as new bands, I try not to be a crotchety old man and say “all new music is crap” – which I do say from time to time (laughs) – but it is difficult to find music that really moves me. Fountains of Wayne are one of those bands. I like The Wonder StuffSpiritualized, Beth Orton, The Strypes, JET, The Mooney Suzuki, April March, Black Joe Lewis, etc. I’m pretty open-minded so I like all kinds of styles of music, but at the same time I know what I like when I hear it and instantly know when I don’t like it. Occasionally something will grow on me over time like any new Stones record. I won’t like it when it comes out, and then five years later it’s one of my faves!

How does the Ray City Rollers differ from your previous bands like The Nightporters and Kathleen Turner Overdrive? Do you have a musical manifesto?

Well, I was co-writer in the Porters and wrote half the songs in KTO. But with The Rollers and my other bands, it’s more focused and closer to how I hear the music in my head and I have more say as to how  to make it happen. My musical manifesto is a quote from Mike Campbell: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”!

Ray City Rollers’ first album BABYLON BLUES (released in 2014) got a warm critical reception. Are you working on any new songs? A new album?

Yeah, it did. We didn’t press that many, although we’ve just made more. The feedback it received was great. It got a lot of online airplay, not sure about who else was playing it on the radio. I think it’s the best recording I’ve done so far, and I’m my worst critic so that’s saying something! I have a backlog of about three CDs worth of material, so I am always writing, but it’s difficult because you have to show the songs to the people who are playing with you. So they are new songs to them, but for me they feel ancient. When I play with new people, it’s great because I am reminded of how good they are, and they change depending on who I am playing them with.

raycity1You have been doing some covers also, at least at past gigs. What criteria do you have for the covers you play?

 I like to do obscure covers to test to see if people know its a cover or not. (laughs) I just do ones that I think are cool and are fairly easy to learn. We were doing stuff like “Come on Down to My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son and “Things Get Better” by Eddie Floyd. I really love Stax/Volt soul stuff and bubblegum pop

You’ve been touring a bit–California last year and you were recently in NC. Good to see you back in Atlanta. Any special plans for your gig the Steve’s Live Music?

Yeah, Steve’s will be Paul’s first Atlanta show with us and his birthday! We will also have Dave Biemiller on keyboards. I’ve been looking forever for a good keyboard player and I think I’ve found him. My songs are written with keys in mind, and the sound I’ve been trying to get for The Rollers is original with textures a la The Small Faces, The Attractions and The Band. The funny thing is Dave is my daughter’s boyfriend’s Dad. It’s small world after all. Maybe we should cover that.

nightportersThe Nightporters reunited for a benefit concert for Kat Peters last winter at The Star Bar. What’s it like playing with Paul again and any plans for another reunion show?

Playing with Paul is great. It’s like riding a bike with us. Telepathic in fact because the Nightporters played so much back then. We were also Michelle Malone‘s rhyhm section in the first Drag The River. Paul’s style and and energy has added a lot to the band. The other thing is we understand each others’ jokes and sense of humor and that is important. The door is always open for Porters shows, we had a good time and sounded great at the benefit, so if something comes up and schedules permit, we could do more shows.

Are you up to anything else? Solo projects? Any more film work to follow-up on your Nightporters documentary?

I always have multiple creative things going on but try to focus on one thing at a time. I need to revisit The Porters movie and do an edit and distribution at some point. I’m always doing photography, film/video stuff  and always thinking about doing solo acoustic shows, but I prefer with a band so I tend to talk more about that than actually doing it! Another thing I’ve been considering is DJing or doing a radio or podcast show.

rayd-laundryWhat are you listening to right now?

Well, Julie London on youtube; she’s a sultry dish! I have an addiction to thrift stores and try my best not to go to them, but wind up going in and buying a stack of LPs. Currently on my turntable: Soundtracks to THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), LADY IN CEMENT (1968) and THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. TV series, The Osmonds’ PHASE IIITHE COUNTRY SIDE OF JIM REEVES, Mott the Hoople‘s first, Richard Pryor, BAD LUCK STREAK IN DANCING SCHOOL by Warren Zevon and GERRI MULLIGAN MEETS STAN GETZ. 

Facebook Event Page for Friday July 24 show here

All photographs are courtesy of Ray Dafrico and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Seventeen Years of Stompin’ and Stammerin’: How Jeff Clark Sold His Soul to Rock and Roll Journalism

Posted on: Nov 19th, 2013 By:

Jeff Clark, Editor/Publisher of Stomp and Stammer, costumed as Alice Cooper for the 2012 L5P Halloween Parade.

Happy Birthday, Stomp and Stammer! There’s no way we’re missing your badass two-day party this weekend at The Earl including Prince Rama headlining on Friday Nov. 22 and legendary soul man Swamp Dogg at the helm on Saturday Nov. 23. Here’s why:

Maybe ATLRetro ought to think of Stomp and Stammer as the competition–and yeah, we’ve been known to sneak more than a peek at their calendar when putting together This Week in Retro Atlanta. But I’d much rather call Atlanta’s independent rock music tabloid an inspiration and Publisher/Editor Jeff Clark a good friend and a kickass music journalist with a no-holds-barred attitude for telling it as he hears it. Sometimes that pisses off folks, sure, but with Jeff’s encyclopedic knowledge of rock from its roots to the present, we think he’s earned the right to call out some pretenders. I’ve joked a few times that I gave Jeff his first big break when I was editing Tuesday Magazine, what the features and entertainment section of Georgia State University‘s student newspaper The Signal was called way back in the 1980s. But I think it was actually my predecessor Brad Hundt. In any case, while I was lucky to have many fine writers back in the day, I stand by the assertion that Jeff was and still is the best.

In any case, Atlanta is damned lucky to have a great free music print tabloid like Stomp and Stammer, especially in this online era. While Jeff has assembled a mighty swell staff over the years, it takes the right pilot and a hefty dose of passion to keep something this awesome going for so many years. If that doesn’t make Jeff a Kool Kat, we don’t know what does, and we’re mighty excited to have the chance to ask him about his own musical roots, how he got into writing, the origin story of Stomp and Stammer, the killer line-up he has booked for The Earl this weekend, and when he plans to throw another of his famous yard sales.

ATLRetro: With your musical knowledge, we wonder if you were listening to a stereo in the womb. Seriously where do your musical roots start? What age and what did you listen to?

Jeff Clark: Hard to remember any specific moment or time, truthfully. I do recall having a little red transistor radio when I was a kid. It was pretty small, about the size of a juice box, and I think it only played AM stations. Back then there was a lot more music on AM than there is today, and I was significantly enthralled by the sounds that were coming out of that thing. I used to carry it around with me all sorts of places, and I think at some point I somehow attached it to my bicycle, probably with tape or rubber bands, so that I would have a radio to listen to while I was zippin’ through the neighborhood doing wheelies.

I used to crudely record songs from the radio onto cassette tapes, and make my own mix tapes that way. Keep in mind that this was early/mid ’70s AM radio, WQXI and stuff, so a good deal of the songs were from cheesy one-hit wonders and such, but to me it was the epitome of cool. I also remember listening to that little radio late one night, in bed, with the volume very low so my parents wouldn’t know I had it on, and you know how on the AM band, especially at night, storms, even at a great distance away, cause interference with muffled crackles and electric frizzle? So “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac came on, and with all the soft crackly static bursts punctuating the verses intermittently, in the dead of night, alone in my room, it was probably the spookiest song I’d ever heard. “Thunder only happens when it’s raining…” To this day, it’s one of my favorite songs.

A few years later, my older brother was going to Georgia Tech and ended up doing some work at WREK, the college station there. So I started listening to WREK simply because he worked there, even though he wasn’t one of the DJs. That was a major revelation, because that station’s always been so adventurously programmed. I heard all sorts of weird, wonderful music, some of which stuck with me and piqued my interest in the underground scene. I specifically remember hearing the Velvet Underground for the first time on WREK and loving it, although I’ve long forgotten which song it was.

Eye Candy, featuring Shonna Tucker (Drive-By Truckers).

Other memories stick out, like seeing bands on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in its early years, when they actually had cool, interesting musical guests. Watching the local TV coverage of the Sex Pistols‘ US debut at the Great Southeast Music Hall. Being introduced to the Ramones by a really cool girl I had a crush on in high school, I have no idea whatever happened to her. Laughing at CREEM magazine. Seeing PiL on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, still one of the weirdest, most anarchic TV appearances by a band I’ve ever seen. The first really big concert I went to was The Who at The Omni. That was 1980, I think. After that it was The Kinks, Dylan, Zappa, all at the Fox, I think. Got a job at Turtle’s Records not too long after high school, and that provided another great avenue to discover new music, and meet fellow fans. By that point I was going to shows at 688, the Agora, the Moonshadow Saloon, etc, all the time, and there ya go.

Did you ever consider being in a band yourself? If yes, what instrument did you play or would you have played?

When I was a kid, like a lot of kids I would fantasize about how cool it would be to be a big rock star in a band that toured the world playing to millions of fans. I had an electric guitar for a while, but never really learned to play it very well at all. I know I should’ve kept at it, but after a certain point I realized I was better suited to channel my deep interest in music in other ways. Besides, I’m pretty certain I would write terrible songs and I’d have to give myself a scathing review, and then I’d let a bitter grudge against myself fester for months upon months until I physically attacked myself in a drunken rage in public one evening. And that would just be embarrassing.

When did you do your band interview, who was the band and when/where was it published? How did it go?

My first band interview was probably not for a publication, but an on-air interview for WRAS when I was attending Georgia State University, late ’80s. But I did lots of interviews for them, and I can’t remember which was the first. My first published interview was for for The Signal, the GSU student newspaper. I started writing for it after I was temporarily canned from 88.5 at some juncture. So my first published interview for The Signal was either Dinosaur Jr (Lou Barlow) or Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (not Edie but their guitar player, can’t remember his name). I hope it was Dinosaur Jr, because that’s at least cool, but then the first band I ever saw play was Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show (a terrible, hokey ’70s act) at Six Flags, so I’ve never really had the cool factor in my favor. As an aside, I started both writing and doing radio while at GSU, and I’ve pretty much consistently done both ever since.

Legendary soul man Swamp Dogg headlines Stomp and Stammer 17th Birthday Weekend, Night Two.

Ha, I think the first rock band I ever saw live was Paul Revere and the Raiders at Carowinds. You’ve watched the Atlanta music scene for over two decades now. What local band are you saddest to say had the most potential but never made it out of here?

There have been lots of them! For a long time, no one paid much attention to Atlanta bands. Like, on a national scale. In the ’80s Atlanta was overlooked because there was so much attention paid to Athens, and in the 1990s, the rap/urban thing started getting huge with So So Def and LaFace and all their acts, so that sort of became known as “the Atlanta sound.” You had exceptions, for sure, like the Georgia Satellites and Indigo Girls and whatnot, but I tended to prefer the more offbeat ensembles. Things like Opal Foxx Quartet, Smoke, Dirt, Magic Bone, King-Kill/33, these were all amazing bands in their own way, but I wouldn’t say that any of them were really destined for mainstream acceptance. Interestingly, in some circles Benjamin (Smoke, OFQ) has posthumously become a small scale celebrity. I mean, there was a multimedia dance performance in New York recently based loosely on his life, featuring Smoke songs. That, to me, is rather bizarre.

These days, with the major label system barely a factor as far as signing new talent, especially in the rock realm, most bands aspire to getting attention from Merge or Vice Records or In the Red or other established indies, if they have any label aspirations at all. Often a band can cultivate a solid following by releasing music themselves, putting it online, using social networking, blogs and word of mouth and touring with other likeminded bands that already have a dedicated fan base. It seems like the potential rewards are far less than they once were, but the ability to make a living playing music is actually more acheivable if a band is good, smart and works hard.

Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires will be be backing up Swamp Dogg on Saturday Night. Photo credit: Barry Breicheisen.

Anyway, back to your question. In the past couple of years, I thought both Knaves Grave and Ghost Bikini were amazing bands that certainly had the talent and potential to break out of Atlanta, at least on the indie label, fill-a-small-club scale if not greater. Both of them broke up a few years after forming. That sort of thing happens everywhere in every city’s scene. It’s disappointing, but what can you do? Bands are often volatile, it’s like a three or four or five-way marriage, and in many cases the personalities aren’t the most mature.

Before Stomp and Stammer, you were writing for multiple news venues, including national outlets like Details? Why did you decide to devote your energies to creating a damned fine local music zine instead?

I think it’s probably because it gives me the freedom to do what I want. I wrote pieces for a few national publications – Details, Raygun, Alternative Press, a few others. That was cool, but I really get more personal satisfaction doing the stupid stuff I do with S&S. That’s probably crazy, I suppose. Also, there aren’t that many national magazines covering good music anymore (meaning, music that interests me) in the print world, and at this point I’d probably make less money doing that anyway. Having S&S gives me an anchor that I know will be there month to month, and I don’t have to keep pitching stories as a freelancer to editors that don’t give a shit about Kid Congo or whoever I’m inspired to write about that day.

Also, for the most part, I hate writing. I do it because I can, and I’m not bad at it, and I’m writing about things that interest me. But most times I’d rather just be able to enjoy music without having to think about it. On the other hand, I have a lot of strong opinions (who knew?) and writing certainly allows an outlet for them. And that’s another thing – I don’t know of a national publication that would let me say some of the things I say. Everyone’s so fucking afraid of offending somebody.

Prince Rama headlines Friday night of Stomp and Stammer's 17th Birthday Weekend.

How did Stomp and Stammer get started? It must have been challenging paying print costs in the beginning, but then you already had a long rolodex of contacts in the music industry and local scene to hit up for advertising.

My friend Steve Pilon started it with me in 1996. Both of us were working at 99X at the time, and we were sort of in charge of putting together this little free monthly music magazine they did for a while to promote the station and the music they played. In retrospect, from 99X’s perspective it was a mistake to put me in charge of such a thing. They did it because I’d been writing for Creative Loafing for several years; therefore, in their minds, I knew how to put together a free magazine. I had no idea what I was doing. Shortly after 99Xpress started in early 1995 I got Steve the job of doing the layout for it. He and his wife had a record label at the time called Long Play Records, they put out Smoke, Opal Foxx Quartet, Big Fish Ensemble, a few other acts, and Steve did the design work for the CDs. Anyway, basically we used that year to experiment and put all sorts of silly things in the 99X magazine, some of which included mocking some of the acts they were playing, which was clearly a mistake and I’m sure ultimately contributed to my dismissal from the station. But we learned how to plan issues, and layouts, and deal with advertisers, and PR people, distribution locations, etc. We learned how to make a magazine.

So it was Steve’s idea to start Stomp and Stammer. He was the publisher, I was the editor. At first it was just an online zine. This was, I think, April 1996. I guess it was sort of ahead of its time, in that respect, so ahead of its time that we found it incredibly difficult to find anyone willing to pay for advertising in an online-only music magazine. So in November ’96, the first print edition came out. I think it was a mix of Steve’s and my contacts in the local scene as well as national labels that allowed us to have a pretty solid advertising base from the get-go. Steve left the fold a few years later to focus on other, more lucrative endeavors. Delusionally, I opted to stick it out. And while everyone tends to treat me as if I AM Stomp and Stammer, we have many talented writers, designers, photographers, distributors, advertisers, etc contributing to every issue, and they deserve a huge chunk of the credit for keeping the operation going.

White Woods is on Stomp and Stammer's Friday night line-up.

Why do you still distribute printed copies of Stomp and Stammer versus going online only? And it’s free, too. Is it challenging staying print in an online world?

As far as getting advertising and paying printing costs, that’s always a challenge. I’ve gone through some extremely lean patches at times. Why do we still distribute printed copies? I guess I’m old fashioned. And I think there’s still a significant part of the population that enjoys picking up such things at the record store, or reading while they eat their burrito, or while they’re at the bar, or taking a crap or whatever. There are certain qualities that printed matter can provide that online cannot. Everyone and their mother has a blog nowadays, and I just don’t know if I’d want S&S to just be another one cluttering up the internets. Instead, we’re killing trees and cluttering up the window ledge at Eats. I’ve found it extremely hard to make any significant advertising profit online, then again printing costs are crazy and keep rising. Is one way better or worse? I don’t know.

You have some pretty killer and also diverse line-ups for both nights of Stomp and Stammer birthday shows. Did you have any particular goals in the kind of music/musicians you wanted to include?

I always want to put on a great show and showcase bands that we’re really digging, especially new local bands. If possible, I also like doing things that are a bit out of the ordinary, like people that have never played Atlanta or if they have, then not in a long time. So that usually entails bringing in acts from out of town. Some years I’ll just stick with local bands to keep costs lower, but this year I decided to go for broke and fly in a few headliners that wouldn’t have played here otherwise, and that I think really need to be seen and experienced. I also don’t like repeating myself, so every year I try to get bands that have never played our birthday shows before. And I like to mix up genres a little bit, not just do the same sort of thing.

Zoners play Friday night. Photo Credit: Bobb Lovett.

Can you tell our readers a bit about the different acts and what makes them special? Anything else you’d like to make sure they know in advance?

Well, as far as the first night (Friday, Nov. 22), Prince Rama are just one of the most creative, fun, strange, fascinating bands I’ve heard or seen in the past few years. They are two sisters in their 20s who grew up in rural Texas and in Florida in a Hare Krishna community, and now they are based in New York. They have really interesting, inventive ideas about music, art, film and fashion, and they combine all of it together with Prince Rama. Their current music is sort of an amalgmation of dance music, psychedelia, pop and various ethnic sounds from cultures the world over. And they are just really cool people.

Zoners are a fairly new Atlanta band on the scene that look like a bunch of misfits tossed together but have a really tight, punchy pop-punk sound. Catchy original songs, and they cover the Dickies and 999, and that works for me! White Woods is Julia Kugel of the Coathangers. She’s put out two White Woods singles on Suicide Squeeze but has never played a White Woods show ’til now. She’s put together a band including Matt from Zoners. I don’t know exactly what it will be like, but I’m certain it will be wonderful.

Sodajerk opens Saturday night of Stomp and Stammer's 17th Birthday Weekend.

The next night, Saturday, Nov. 23, we have Swamp Dogg playing what he says is his first show in Atlanta, even though he recorded and produced at studios in Macon, Muscle Shoals and elsewhere in the South throughout the ’70s. He’s a really great soul singer, but his material is a bit more off-the-wall than most of his peers. He’s a funny, wacky character who says “motherfucker” a lot, has tons of stories to tell about his life, and is enjoying a significant comeback this year with the re-release of much of his back catalog via Alive Naturalsound Records. His backing band will basically be Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, a gritty, raw, powerful, working class outfit based mainly in Birmingham although Lee himself lives in Atlanta. The Glory Fires also recorded for Alive, but I found out Lee was a big Swamp Dogg fan after he and the Glory Fires recorded a version of “Total Destruction to Your Mind,” probably Swamp’s best known song. So a few issues back, I had Lee interview Swamp for S&S, and that turned out so well I thought it’d be cool to take it one step further and have his band and Swamp Dogg collaborate on some shows. They’re also playing together in Athens at the 40 Watt the night before our show.

Speaking of Athens, the Drive-By Truckers are certainly one of Athens’ more popular bands of the past decade-plus, and that’s where Shonna Tucker cut her chops for many years. Now she’s doing her own thing with her band Eye Candy, featuring fellow ex-DBTer John Neff and other longtime Athens players. They have a debut album just out called A TELL ALL, which to my ears combines the sound of prime Muscle Shoals, classic Nashville country and ’70s AM radio playlists. I’m very pleased to have them on our bill this night. Opening the show will be Sodajerk, an Atlanta four-piece who haven’t been playing much lately so I was happy to find out they could do the show. They specialize in loud, crunchy, concise redneck rock ‘n’ roll, perfect for fist-pumping and PBR-pounding.

Jeff Clark (center) channels SCARY MONSTERS era Bowie for the 2013 L5P Halloween Parade.

I honestly think these are really strong lineups, and even though they may not be household names, I stand behind every one of these bands and I guarantee these shows are gonna be a blast. I hope you and your readers come out and make party with us!

Finally, we’ve gotta ask, when is your next yard sale?

Next spring. April. Hopefully on one of the first beautiful Atlanta springtime Saturdays of the season.

Creative Loafing just ran a nice little piece on Jeff, too. Check it out here

All photos are courtesy of Stomp and Stammer and for promotional use only.

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

Tell It Like It Is: Ray Dafrico Remembers a Special Time in the Atlanta Music Scene and a Band Named the Nightporters

Posted on: Jun 11th, 2013 By:

In late April, when THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS premiered at The Plaza Theatre, it wasn’t your typical movie screening but a reunion. The crowd was mostly in their 40s and 50s. Many of these folks had families and didn’t stay out late any more. But that didn’t mean they never did and some still had the leather jackets to show for it. When they come out in Atlanta, you know you’re in for a special evening.

If you are old enough to have been part of the early ’80s nascent punk/new wave scene that revolved around the now-legendary 688 Club, you remember a handful of local bands that stood out. You never missed any of their shows, and they played all the time. Perhaps the coolest and most memorable of these bands was The Nightporters. That’s not to say they never had any crappy drunken gigs. They had plenty, but when they were at their best, they were as good as any band that topped the college alternative charts and many that made it big when real punk had faded into a careless memory.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Ray Dafrico started with some raw found footage of the Nightporters performing, mostly at the Blue Rat Gallery, a notorious art space in the now-demolished Pershing Point Apartments which was ground zero for housing starving punk rockers back in the day. To that, he added interviews with band members and other key members of the scene such as Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Rick Richards (Georgia Satellites). The end result is a time capsule not just of a band but of the clubs and people that made that period in Atlanta rock history so unique and a frozen moment in time when it seemed like music not just mattered but meant…well…everything.

With the movie now available on DVD, ATLRetro recently sat down with Ray to find out more about the genesis of this home-grown rockumentary, as well as what was so special, as the subtitle states, about “a time, a place and a band.”

ATLRetro: How did the idea of a Nightporters documentary get started?

Ray Dafrico: I got hold of some early footage a couple of years ago by a guy named James Farmer, who was one of the Blue Rat’s artists. There was footage of us that I had never seen. I thought it was really amazing and somebody should make a film and add some interviews. I didn’t know anyone else that would do it so I took it upon myself to start making it.

There really seemed to be a special quality about the early ‘80s music scene in Atlanta. What do you think made that time so special?

I just think it was creative and kind of more innocent in a way. Maybe it was because we were so young that it all seemed new and fresh. Punk rock was fairly new. I was into music, but it seemed inaccessible. With punk rock, you could prove you could do stuff yourself. Once we started doing that, we had a small circle of people that just started growing. Atlanta was really small at the time. There were maybe 10 bands and everyone knew each other. Everybody pulled for each other for the most part and would come to each other’s shows. There was some competition between bands that played in midtown and bands that mostly played like in Buckhead, but eventually we got friendly with most of the bands in town. Nowadays it seems so competitive. There are so many bands. It seems like everybody’s out for themselves.

The Nightporters definitely had that punk rock spirit, but you had other influences, too. 

We were influenced by punk rock, and we kind of sounded like punk rock, but the Sex Pistols just proved that you could go against the system and the corporate  music of the 1970s. But the thing that brought the Nightporters together was more the ‘60s punk bands. Originally the Rolling Stones, but we really liked the more obscure bands that had one-hit wonders like The Count Five. So you’re right, we weren’t directly the late ‘70s kind of punk rock. We were sort influenced by it, but it was an enabling thing than anything else. Our sound was sort of garage mod rock with elements of glam, folk, country, ska and reggae.

How important was 688?

Very important at the time. They just booked some amazing bands. At first, we were underage and we couldn’t get in. It was the same with the Agora Ballroom. It was like we would go down there every weekend and try to get in. There was this long-haired guy at the door. He would call us “weekend anarchists” and kick us out. We tried to see the Plasmatics and all these bands. Finally he let us in to see the Ramones. We had borrowed fake IDs from Marines that didn’t look anything like us. By coming down and trying to get in there for six months, we earned our way in. But yeah, there were [a few] other clubs to go to, like The Bistro, Moonshadow, Metroplex and Rumors, but 688 had the great bands, $1.50 beer  and a lot of cool diverse people would go there. We used to go to this place every Sunday called Margaritaville on Spring and 14th St. We were there so much we talked them into letting us play and turned it into our own club. It soon turned into its own little scene.

Part of it was the clubs, like 688, were more into promoting local music. They were as creative as the bands and at least more willing to experiment. I know [clubs] are about making money because they took a lot of ours, but it just seemed more laidback. They were having fun just like the bands were. It seemed that way anyway.

When did the Nightporters first get together and perform?

We were still in high school, I think, in 1981-82. I was going to say this in the movie, but it was a big deal for us to get from the suburbs to downtown Atlanta. We thought playing Tuesday nights at the Bistro was success. We had started at high school parties playing our punk rock/’60s songs. We would play to rednecks and jocks, and they were always trying to beat us up. Tim [Neilson] and Andy [Browne] and I were all transplanted Yankees, and there was still a lot of hostility towards outsiders in Atlanta especially in the suburbs.We got really tough because we were always having to mentally and physically fight with these people. We thought by the time we got to the cool new wave/punk clubs that we had made it. Anything beyond that was easy for us. I think that kind of shows because we were a really rough band. We earned that.

Can you talk a little about the Blue Rat?

Well, we all lived in the Pershing Point Apartments at 17th and Peachtree Street, that are all torn down now. Andy and I had an apartment there. We didn’t know anybody initially. It was across from the art school I was going to. I dropped out of art school like every good rock guitarist and pursue the Nightporters full time. We were so poor we lived off of hefty bags of popcorn because we knew someone that worked at a movie theatre. It was that and egg rolls from the Chinese grocery on the corner. We rehearsed in our kitchen which we didn’t dare eat in as there were giant cockroaches everywhere! It wasn’t a matter of time before we met two guys named Clark Brown and Chick Lockerman. They were the artists who set up the Blue Rat Gallery in their apartment. They asked us to play one of their openings. A huge crowd came out to see us of really crazy and eclectic people. Like Andy said in the movie, it was like Andy Warhol’s Factory. There were tons of drugs and everyone was just crazy and doing whatever they wanted.

So we became kind of the house band at the Blue Rat. We would rather play there than a club because it was more fun. We didn’t even charge any money.

How well, or should we say “shitty,” were you paid back in those days?

Once we got better known, we started playing colleges. That’s where the money was. We actually had contracts, not that that means a whole lot. Sometimes people would stiff us even with a contract, but we could get $1000 to play a college frat or something. Even when we were fairly well known, there was one incident in south Georgia where the club owner pulled a gun on us and refused to pay us. I had driven straight back from California to play that show! It showed my dedication, but maybe my stupidity, too. We never made any significant money, partly because we never got a record deal.

But the Nightporters toured a lot, including a lot of gigs in New York.

Yeah, we toured a lot. We went to the northeast a lot and played New York all the time and Boston. We opened for all kinds of people, like Bo Diddley.

Do you have a favorite performer or band you opened for?

We had some good times with Cheetah Chrome and the Dead Boys. Jason and the Scorchers were always fun. We played with The Replacements a lot, but there was a lot of tension there because we were so similar that it was like a competition. They were fun to watch, but they had their good nights and their drunken nights similar to us. Opening for The Clash was fun, even if Mick [Jones], my favorite in the band, wasn’t in the band at the time.

Was that the time when the Clash played the Fox Theatre and there was a riot on Peachtree?

That was actually the time before that the Clash played Atlanta. But I was in the riot. We were in the front row. When we came out, there was literally a riot starting. Chris Wood of The Restraints was in the front with an American flag protesting their communist views or some crap. Somehow a fight started and police cars came from every direction. Everyone was so amped up from the Clash show that they were literally fighting with the cops. It was a blast. It was kind of scary, but it didn’t last long.

We played with them a year or two after that. I had gone to Nashville and met Joe Strummer and got us the show. I just gave them a demo tape because I knew they got local bands to open. We got the show a day or two later.

How close did the Nightporters come to cutting a full LP and getting a recording contract with a record label?

We did make a few records, but we never made a whole album. We did two singles on our own and an EP on Safety Net Records called OUTSIDE, LOOKING IN [1986]. We had a lot of material, but we didn’t have a vehicle to release stuff. Andy and I would go up to record company offices in Manhattan, and they would just look at our clothes like “you’re not Scritti Politti or Duran Duran or whatever was selling then.” They didn’t know what to make of us. We were just way too real for a big label to consider investing in us. That’s my theory anyway.

How hard was it to assemble everyone whom you interviewed in the movie?

The hardest person was our drummer, who I never did get in the movie. It was easier to get Peter Buck from R.E.M. than our drummer. Other than that, I just told people to come down to The Majestic [Diner]. I asked a series of five questions and listened to whatever anyone had to say. The idea for the movie was to try and make it a cross between a Jim Jarmusch-type film like CIGARETTES AND COFFEE or something and a little bit of Spinal Tap and The Rutles. I was trying to keep it real, but light-hearted and funny because that was the way the Nightporters were. On one hand, we really took things very seriously. On the other hand, we didn’t take it serious at all. It wasn’t too hard. The most difficult part for me was editing the four hours of footage.

Do you consider the cut you showed at The Plaza the final cut, or will you still be editing some more?

I wanted to tell the whole story. That’s why it’s two hours long, but some people said it could have been shorter. It’s hard for me because it’s so personal. I think I had to include certain parts, and I guess if I’m going to get it distributed, I am going to have to cut it to half the time. I’m kind of dreading that because by now I’ve seen it so many times.

Are there any outtakes or a blooper reel that could be extras for a commercial DVD?

Yes, there is enough for a blooper reel, which is way funnier than the movie.  I kept interrupting everyone during the interviews saying things like, “I remember that”! It took a long time to cut all that out of the film. So I learned to just keep my mouth shut. It’s my first movie, and I had a lot of fun just doing it. That’s the best part – trying to shoot things 10 times because you’re laughing so hard.

Do you have any regrets that the band didn’t go further on a national scale?

Yes, I definitely regret us not staying together longer. I think we could have been huge, seeing what happened with the Black Crowes after us. Our songs are a lot more original and catchier. They have a lot more hooks. Like I said, we were a real kind of band that fought a lot, and we had a lot of problems. It was extremely difficult to get through even the three or four years together that we were.

Any chance of another Nightporters reunion?

Oh, yeah. Maybe. Definitely maybe. But I don’t really know. That’s not up to me—one person out of the four—to say. Andy and I have talked about it. We both have our own lives now and live in different cities, which makes it all the more difficult. We had enough trouble agreeing on things when we lived in the same apartment. We’re working on it, but sometimes I think we have two different visions of what the band could be.

Plus we all have KIDS! Mine is 18 now so I have a bit of free time, but Andy has two little ones.

What else are you up to? 

I still write tons of songs. I don’t always do a lot with them, but I’m always writing them. I have been playing under my own name with different musicians—whoever is available. That’s the thing now. I’m 49. It’s not like I’m 20 anymore so it’s hard to pull people together for any reason, much less to do a show. All those years of rocking out have really done a number on us as well; we’re now paying the price. We survived but are not by any means very healthy!  I’ve been working on this movie for the past year. Actually I’d like to make more films. I like editing. It puts all the things I like such as art and photography—I do photography—all in one form. I’m trying to juggle all those things really and start playing out again soon.

DVD Copies of THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS are available for purchase for $15, payable directly to Ray Dafrico’s PayPal account at Rockandrollray@yahoo.com and eventually also will be available through Ray’s ReverbNation store link.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 13: Smokin’ at The Plaza, A Flashback to The Plaza’s Racy Past from Torchy Taboo

Posted on: Jun 5th, 2012 By:
From the 1960s into the 1980s, the Plaza Theatre screened adult entertainment and hosted burlesque shows. The art-deco marquee proudly declared XXX. Torchy Taboo remembers…
I have a dozen or so stories I love to tell that are set at the Plaza Theatre. I think the one that follows is the earliest. And in some ways in my thinking, may very well be where it all began for Torchy Taboo…
        Growing up in DeKalb County  in the 70s, part of any trip to the Atlanta Zoo or Aunt Etheline’s house near the GMHI always included a soda fountain milk-shake from the Plaza Drug Store on the way home at night-fall…”We never close.”  The vintage Plaza sign blipped on my glittery little girl radar right between the fancy 1940s kitchen at my Aunt’s & Willie B.‘s  cage at the Zoo.  “Daddy, Daddy'” tugging on my father’s sleeve, “Can we go to the movies?!” I’d sing, gazing at the glowing word “theater” and envisioning the velvet chaise in the opulent ladies’ lounge at the Fox. “Not here” was the only answer I ever got…
         I was a sheltered child so when the early ’80s brought me the freedom of “adulthood,” I quickly moved as far as my saved-up mall-job dollars and my blossoming sense of adventure dared to go. The call of “We never close” rang from my memories, and I soon found myself in the Virginia-Highlands. Within a month’s time I’d seen the inside of the 688 club, The Cove after-hours leather bar, the Classy Cat strip club and the Plaza Theatre. My position as an Exotic Dancer afforded me a glamorous grown-up lifestyle: all the after-hours acid and cocktails I wanted. The childhood entertainments of Willie B and Aunt Etheline were replaced by a nightly string of uncaged animals at the Classy Cat; 5 a.m. counter-seat Majestic Diner specials took the place of the soda fountain milkshakes. And I could go to the movies when I dang well wanted…wherever I wanted.
        For all my daring proximity to the hell-bound and hedonists, truth was my roots grew in a garden of slow bloomers. I could have worn a white robe down the aisle to collect my high school diploma, and at the tender age of 19, I was still content to witness the visceral as a voyeur. Add my 23-year-old boyfriend’s tenuous grasp on heterosexuality…..shall we say, I was in the Colosseum, but I was sittin’ in the Plebeian seats. Lured by the promise of glory toward the center of the arena and the threat of Daddy’s foreboding words, “Not here,” the mystery of the Plaza Theatre whispered something this burgeoning gladiator needed to know.
        Sexually ambiguous sidekick boyfriend at my heel, we took our place in line for tickets. The marquis overhead read EMMANUELLE (1974) and EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976). The lobby card that caught my attention prominently featured a sensual ’70s  nude woman poised in front of several Siamese buildings – perhaps temples. Her bronzed skin & up-turned face suggestive of a sun worshiper, she sat cross-legged, flowers in hand strategically placed to render her publicly viewable. “Hmm…pretty,” this is what I knew of the film, other than the smirk that crossed the faces of the Classy Cat customers I’d asked about it. For me at the time, naked women and Siamese buildings conjured vague images of B-movies I’d seen with native island girls wildly dancing around a fire or Yul Brynner as the King of Siam…both favorites! Clearly I’d come to the right place.
        In hindsight, having no idea which of the two flicks on the marquis I actually saw seems almost beside the point. I remember very little about the plot, other than the fact that it left me feeling much the way I do when I find myself in a dance class three levels beyond my ability to follow. The only detail I can relate had something to do with a cigarette smoked by a woman on a stage….not with the lips of her face. As I pondered the particulars of her skill, my sexually ambiguous mate who was the pretentious sort that carried his smokes in a 1960s cigarette case and even used a stem holder from time to time, remarked, “I wonder if that’s a menthol or non-menthol?”

As I said at the start, I carry many stories of the Plaza Theatre with me. Yet in an attempt to effect the level of cynicism I learned that very night to be so necessary a part of my arsenal of worldly weapons, it was my lead story for years to come. I hope to top it with a new story, something much less cynical sometime soon. If I do, you’ll be the first to know, *wink!*

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

Posted on: Feb 25th, 2011 By:

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

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

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

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

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Shake, Rattle & Spring Roll – Spike Fullerton, Guitarist, Ghost Riders Car Club

Posted on: Feb 2nd, 2011 By:

Ghost Riders Car Club guitarist Spike Fullerton agrees that Pho Truc, a Vietnamese restaurant in Clarkston, may seem like an unlikely place to find live rockabilly and honkytonk, but don’t let appearance deceive you Thursday nights this month. With their characteristic sense of humor, the band, which features some of Atlanta’s top professional musicians, has dubbed these gigs “Tet 2011: A Guaranteed Nguyen,” a pun on the common Vietnamese surname which is pronounced “win.”

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