All Hail Bubba! Why You Should Swing Down to the Star Bar for the Best Rockabilly/Roots Family Reunion on the Planet Every Memorial Day Weekend

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Spike Fullerton plays an early Bubbapalooza. Clipping courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

By Eve Wynne-Warren
Contributing Writer

Bubbapolooza is a celebration of American roots music held every Memorial Day weekend at the Star Community Bar in Little 5 Points. This year marks the 22nd year that friends, fans and family have gathered together to hear some of the best rockabilly, country and rock music around, and the line-up is mighty exciting. On Friday May 24 starting at 8 p.m., hear The Belmont Playboys, Hi-Test, Ghost Riders Car Club, Blacktop Rockets, AM Gold and Slim Chance & the Convicts. Then on Saturday May 25 with doors at 4 p.m. (music at 5), the roster includes an even bigger herd of ATLRetro Kool Kats such as Caroline & the Ramblers, Cletis & His City Cousins, and Grim Rooster, plus Nashville’s The Billygoats, with Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Scorchers), Ohio’s The Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition up from Missississippi, El Capitan & The Band With No Name (surf meets Ennio Morricone!) and McPherson Struts. And that’s not to mention a triad of surf bands – Kill, Baby, Kill, The Intoxicators and The Mystery Men? – downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge.

There used to be a bumper sticker adorning the rear of many an Atlanta vehicle that read, “The Star Bar, where things go Twang in the night.” The gracious booking agents who have worked the offices there over the years have, as any live venue does, varied the types of bands and shows offered since the doors opened on Halloween, 1991. However, few other Atlanta venues have been so inclined to offer as much Roots Americana as the Star. It’s not what you’d think of a swank place to “be seen”; it’s a Honky Tonk. People come there for the music. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you didn’t have to be a certain age, race or one of the “beautiful people” to feel at home there…just love the music. That is the essence of Bubbapolooza, which was founded by Cabbagetown songwriter/guitarist Gregory Dean Smalley. Since Greg passed away from AIDS in the mid-1990s, every Bubba has been dedicated to him and the Boones Farm toast to his legacy is always an emotional moment. This year’s event also pays tribute to the memory of Earl Maddox, another Bubba godfather who passed away from cancer last year. Earl drummed for a slew of bands such as the Diggers, the Convicts and Gregory Dean and the Bubbamatics, and lately had been a character actor in movies. [Ed. note: read a companion story about Earl here and check out our 20th anniversary retrospective for some more history.].

This year ATLRetro decided to catch up with some Star Bar regular suspects, musicians and fans to give those “Bubba virgins” an idea of what it’s all about.

“My goal for this year’s booking of Bubbapalooza was to have a few more regional and national acts to go along with our great regulars and keep the spirit of the event alive,” says Bryan Malone, who does the booking for the Star Bar. “We have more touring acts this year than in the past few years. With Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jason Ringenberg and Jimbo Mathus, I feel we’ve done that.

One of the things that makes this event special is that it is a chance for some of the older fans to come out,” he adds. “Bubbapalooza is almost like a Star Bar family reunion. It’s the one time of year that we see faces and groups from the days of the club’s inception having a great time and enjoying great music.  It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “Happy Bubba” throughout the course of the weekend. This year as always, we donate a portion of the proceeds to the family of Gregory Dean Smalley who created Bubbapalooza. But this past year we lost an old friend when Earl Maddox passed, so we will also be doing something special in honor of him and his family. The whole thing is a family reunion with great friends and great music. There ain’t much else like it anywhere. Happy Bubba!”

Richard “Spike” Fullerton currently plays with Ghost Riders Car Club, on the Friday Bubba playlist, and in the first few Bubbas, with the HotPoint Rangers and later Kingsized, or so he thinks. “My memories are pretty dim,” Spike admits. “The first one, as I barely recall, was very much about humor and the feeling that Atlanta had a pretty good crop of young players in a genre that was on the way back. In the few years I’d been here the rockabilly/country scene had been evolving out of second rate clubs and into better venues. It felt like a sort of coming-out party that our music was vibrant enough to have a club to call our own. The Star Bar really became something vaguely akin to The Ace or Dingwalls in London, where our group just would naturally go there first and check who’s on the marquee later. I really feel fortunate to have had that moment in my musical career. One of my very first gigs back after work had kept me away was with the Ghost Riders Car Club at Bubbapalooza. It’s a very gratifying experience to come back to old friends in a familiar place, and find you’ve still got something to say to each other, musically and spiritually. I thoroughly enjoy the festival and what it has come to mean, to me anyway. I hope to play many more.”

I then asked drummer Mike Hammer to relate what might be his favorite year of playing the event. He said he had not been to every Bubba, but to most of them. “I became good friends with Greg Smalley back in those days,” Mike recalls. “My memory of a great gig was ‘94 or ’95, I think. [Ed. note: Mike was playing with Caroline and the Ramblers then]. The Lost Continentals were the next to last band, and the headliner was to be Scott Miller and his band, the Viceroys. At the last minute, we were told they could not make it for some reason, so we had the stage for the rest of the night. I think we even had Ben Friedman from Cigar Store [Indians] up with Amy Pike singing something. It turned into a wild show and the place was packed. I think it really pushed the Lost Continentals’ rep over the top here in town.”

The Billygoats play Bubbapalooza 20. Photo credit: Al Laipple.

I remember that. Those Bubba pickin’ party/encore sets are definitely some of my favorite memories. Mike will be at the drums with Cletis and the City Cousins on this year’s line-up. I asked Clete, who just may have been at every Bubbapolooza (even some only known to fans in an alternate universe), the same question. Alas there was a Braves game on and I got no reply. I will be sure to ask him in the middle of his set at the show.

Faylynn Owen, bartender at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, booked the bands for the Star Bar in the early years, and damned, if she didn’t do great job of it, too. I asked her what year stood out in her mind. Drive by Truckers is probably the most now famous band to play Bubba,” Faye Lynn says. “I don’t really have a favorite memory of Bubba. I loved them all.”

This year’s Bubbapolooza is headlined by the one and only Jason of Americana Roots Rock royalty Jason and the Scorchers, backed by The Billygoats, one of my all-time favorite Star Bar bands, also from Nashville. I asked them how many Bubbapoloozas they’d played. “I can only say that, even though I know that we played Bubba may more times than this, we only remember the last three – ’cause we were sober.”

There you have it. Come early; there’s real good Bar-B-Q on the patio courtesy of Slope’s BBQ. And try to plan on coming both nights; choosing which night to be there is too hard. Bryan Malone booked the line-up this year and I gotta give him extra credit for doing a fine job and setting the ticket price so it’s easy to come both nights ($10 Friday/ $15 Saturday). Wear something comfortable and think about cabbing there and home if you like to have a drink with your “Twang.” If you’ve been before, find me and give me a hug. If it’s new to you, come join the friends and family, and we’ll raise a toast together to Greg Smalley, Earl Maddox and George Jones. I bet you’ll come back next year.

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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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Kool Kat of the Week/Retro Review: Sex, Blood and Rock n Roll: Jesus Christ Superstar meets Grand Guignol in Not-To-Be-Missed Dracula The Rock Opera

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2012 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

In this Week’s Kool Kat, we break the rules and give it to more than one person – those crazy kids in the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra.  Don’t miss DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA before it closes this Sunday, October 14 at 7 Stages. 

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel. Not to be missed, this DRACULA brings the rock opera genre into the 21st century with the energy, musical, acting and staging quality of an off-Broadway find. Seeing it is like discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973. But hey, wait a second, this is Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre, not New York, not London, not even LA or Chicago. And it’s not Rob Zombie, but Rob Thompson. How the HELL did that happen?

The short answer is years of hard work by the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra, a motley crew of badass tattoo-covered Atlanta musicians, stage professionals and grassroots performance artists whom you haven’t heard of most likely unless you live here. If you don’t live in Atlanta, you probably won’t believe this gang of music misfits, most with ultra-light theater experience, has produced a libretto, lyrics, acting and staging that set DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA tooth and claw above community theater.Maybe you’ll be more convinced when I point out that they did have the benefit of Del Hamilton, a seasoned internationally acclaimed director, to guide them. DRACULA will be the last of 80 shows which he has directed before he steps down as artistic director of 7 Stages, building with Faye Allen, a reputation for this company as one of Atlanta’s most edgy. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s vision that he was willing to take on a venture in the pop culture/horror arena as his swan song (though he will continue to stay active in 7 Stages). Clearly Hamilton drove the cast and production crew to their highest potential, ably assisted by longtime Atlanta actor Justin Wellborn, who returned from Los Angeles to work on DRACULA.

Harker (Chris Love) receives a dire warning from a gypsy woman (Naomi Lavender).

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and so likewise is the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction as Rob Thompson emerges on stage, dressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and tight black leather pants. At first he is bending his fingers and arching his back, creating a shadow image creepily reminiscent of Max Schreck in the iconic silent NOSFERATU (1922). But soon recharged by the promise of a new feeding ground in England, he is re-uniformed in a blood-red cape, red and black boot chaps and a sword. With his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy as Thompson emotes on the power of blood to a heavy beat right out of Black Sabbath.  This Count is no romantic sparkly vampire, but a black metal superstar of evil whose immortality is dependent on the death of humanity.

When ATLRetro reviewed the first act, then titled HAUS VON DRACUL, during a trial run last year, we called that review “Dracula Superstar but Love is the Answer.” That tagline still holds true in that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is unique among Dracula dramatizations for having a strong/non-wimpy rendition of Jonathan Harker in the transcendent voice and passionate mannerisms of African-American actor/musician Chris Love. With a lion’s mane of long black hair, Love is already a daring visual choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. Now Thompson has caught up with Love, but Love, as Harker, continues to embody the everyman (us by proxy) as he arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man”  and later a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form with characters expressing their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters, and this rock opera masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book and making the audience a confidante. In Love’s hands, Harker’s predicament gets progressively lonelier, reminds us that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the first act towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape.

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston, center) and Lucy's three suitors, Quincey (Shane Morton), Seward (Chaz Pofahl) and Arthur (Jed Drummond) make a "vein" attempt to save Lucy's (Jessika Cutts) life with blood transfusions.

Beyond Dracula’s tight leather pants, the “sex” side of rock n roll comes center stage early in Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three wives, played to a perfect sirenic pitch by Muleskinner MacQueen Trio chanteuse Naomi Lavender (who also plays a gypsy woman and Mina), Madeline Brumby (known in the neo-exploitation movie world for her breakout role in also-Atlanta-produced DEAR GOD! NO!) and Jessika Cutts (who also plays Lucy). Their breasts show through white diaphanous robes, a clear homage to the sexy female vampires of Universal, Hammer and the lesbian vampire B-movie genre, and this production ups their otherworldly quality by adding exotic Eastern European headpieces and dance moves reminiscent of a Kali ritual. The actresses achieve a chemistry in their ethereal voices and interplay that only heightens the erotic tension and also their profound loneliness, trapped in the castle with the Count.

The first act showcases how to effectively use minimalist sets, lighting and an ensemble cast. No coach is needed with just Harker sitting vulnerably on steps while a mad driver thrashes a long whip, a small herd of humans outfitted in haphazard fur pelts furiously keeping pace to a metal beat. Less is more is also well-executed in the similarly soundtracked (the beat always gets heavy when Dracula is at his most bloodthirsty) ship scene conveying the hopelessness of the captain (Rick Atkinson) trying in vain (vein?) to keep his ship afloat in a stormy sea while the Count devours his crew in one of the play’s bloodiest scenes (watch out, front row!).

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston), Vampire Slayer!

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA has to introduce a lot of new characters rapidly in the second act, and this task is mostly achieved well, including characters who appear in the book but often excluded from screen and stage. In a poppy update of Cole Porter’s “Tom, Dick and Harry” from KISS ME KATE, Lucy (Jessika Cutts) enthusiastically emotes to her best friend Mina (Naomi Lavendar) about her three suitors, earnest, bowler-hat-wearing Arthur (musician Jed Drummond in his stage debut); Dr. Seward (Charlotte, NC-based actor Chaz Pofahl), who runs the asylum (how romantic!); and Quincey, an American cowboy played with appropriate “home-on-the-range” swagger and just the right nod of humor by Atlanta horror Renaissance man-about-town Shane Morton (Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, DEAR GOD! NO!, Gargantua, etc.) against type – in other words, more country than rock (Note: because of Shane also being the mastermind of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Arnie Lowder is now playing this role Thurs-Sat for the last few weeks of the run).

We already have a sense of Mina from Harker’s songs about her. Like in so many Dracula dramatizations, she could be just a romantic foil and vampire victim but fortunately Lavender’s unique voice – Kate Bush meets Janis Joplin, with a twist of Jane Wiedlin?! – and sheer dynamic energy forestall that possibility, ultimately ensuring she will be an equal to the otherwise male vampire-hunting team. Renfield’s crazed obsessiveness with Dracula is portrayed with a manic frenzy and an appropriately metalhead of frizzy curly hair in a breakout performance by Rick Atkinson, who has been with the L5P Rockstar Orchestra since its first production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in the mid 2000s.

Meanwhile, Dracula in London is more of an omnipresent villain, now re-energized by a city full of fresh blood into full throttle rock star and re-attired in a black leather jacket (think actual suit jacket – Steve Tyler, not Sid Vicious). Fortunately Thompson and company recognize that he needs a similarly rocked-out foil not a dawdling elderly professor. Not your mama’s Van Helsing, this vampire hunter in purple is Doctor Strange meets Freddie Mercury. Jeff Langston, of hard-rocking Atlanta-based bands Ledfoot Messiah and AM Gold,  is just the hard-edged leader to unite Lucy’s triad of suitors to try and save first her life (no, they don’t succeed despite a steampunky transfusion gizmo) and then Mina’s as the Count makes them his inevitable victims. Ultimately, the intrepid group must travel all the way back to Transylvania to finish the battle, and as for the end, if you’ve read the book, well, you know it. And if you haven’t, you may well be surprised.

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler.

Ultimately that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is bound and determined to be tightly faithful to Stoker’s novel is both its strength and an occasional weakness, however, because occasionally that fealty causes some dramatic challenges. For example, after act one, it seems impossible when Mina receives a letter from Jonathan Harker that he has somehow escaped Castle Dracula. (Maybe a side performance showing Harker escape in pantomime might clarify?). Another scene that felt like it needed a little more work was a city scene in which Harker spies the Count for the first time in London stalking female victims. But these really are only small complaints in what overall is a fantastic production. Let’s hope for an encore soon and more runs well beyond Atlanta.

All photos courtesy of 7 Stages and DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA and used with permission.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Joel Burkhart Plans on Doing Something With It; AM Gold Throws a CD Release Party at the Star Bar

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2012 By:

AM Gold at Oakland Cemetary. Photo credit: David Batterman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

My radio was my best friend from grade school all through college. I knew every word to every song and spent my teen years trying to stretch my tiny hands across the frets to eke out “Smoke on the Water” like the rest of my artsy friends. An Atlanta band has emerged called AM Gold that speaks to the growed-up heart looking for that “me and my radio” feeling. They will celebrate the release of their first CD, PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT, this Friday September 28 at the Star Bar with Higher Choir and My Rebel Episode.  A dream-team of an outfit, they’re fronted by this week’s Kool Kat guitarist Joel Burkhart, who was good enough to give ATLRetro the back-story on growing up in the glory days of AM radio, his past bands and Star Bar shenanigans.

Torchy/ATLRetro: Tell me about AM Gold.

Joel Burkhart: AM Gold started as a dream. Several nights in a row I had this dream of a band playing on the top of a hill. There was sunlight behind them so all I could see were the long shadows of the band cascading down the hill. The golden rays of the sun eclipsing any details other then the shadows of the people playing. The sound was a chorus of voices, not heavenly like a choir but more earthly and gritty. I heard them singing these lines:

“These are the songs we like to sing
Makes us forget most everything
This is the way that I want to feel
Soft as love and strong as steel.”

After the third or fourth night of this dream, I picked up the guitar and wrote that song. Then I started putting together the band. I knew it would possibly be the last band I ever put together so it had to be amazing. It had to have great players but this time it also had to have great singers. This was going to be all about the words and the melodies. If I wanted them to shine I had to get the right people to be in the chorus.

I have played with Jim [Stacy], Eric [Young] and Jeff [Langston] for years and knew what they were capable of. Jim Stacy has been a lead singer/frontman for many years with Greasepaint, LaBrea Stompers and Little Women and sings with me in The Downers. He was first on the list, but I asked him last because I didn’t think he’d want to be in another band with me. Jeff plays with me in Bully but has also fronted his own bands (Ledfoot Messiah, Ritual, Flathead Fuel) for years. He is quite possibly the best male vocalist in Atlanta that no one knows about. Eric has been my drummer through Mulberry Street, Bully, The Downer Brothers and now AM Gold. Along the way he started singing back-ups and is one of the best singing drummers around. He also makes playing drums look as easy as breathing. Musically I have never played with a better drummer. I have a hard time imagining my songs with anyone else playing drums on them.

When it came time to complete the rhythm section, there has always been a combination that I wanted to hear together. I had Eric and now I was lucky enough to get Blake [Parris] to say yes also. Blake is this town’s hidden treasure. Someday someone who can pay him properly for his services is going to come and take him on the road and we won’t ever see him again. Blake is an amazing bass player and singer – probably one of the best -but he can play almost anything: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead, rhythm, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, keys… I really bet that you could give him a trombone, and in 15 minutes he would have a proper part written for a song. There is nothing that I can play or sing that won’t be made significantly better with Blake. He could just sit onstage with anyone and make then sound better. Seriously.

The final piece to the puzzel was a keyboard player. The only person that even crossed my mind was Jett [Bryant]. While he is not one given to the art of practice, he is one of the best damn singers in the game of rock and roll. He knocked’em dead in the Rock City Dropouts and kills it every night with Bigfoot. With AM Gold, he is pitch perfect and brings the pretty. I am sure that this is the most professional band I have ever played with. Practices and rehearsals are exciting and fun. We always have fun playing shows and hell, on top of all of that, we like each other. We all genuinely like being in the same room and shooting the shit. When the 6 of us are playing and singing together it is magic. There is no other word for it.

Joel, where are you from? Did you grow up listening to AM radio?

Joel: I am originally from Detroit. Lived there until the age of 5. Lived in farm country – Tecumseh,MI – for a few years before moving to Brighton, Michigan. I spent the 1980s as a mall rat in the suburbs. I moved to Atlanta when I turned 19 [in 1989].

Totally grew up listening to AM radio early on in Detroit – WJBK, WXYZ and CKLW. Later listened to commercial FM Radio – WRIF, WLLZ – and the college stations from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Joel Burkhart. Photo Credit: John McNicholas.

Do you write much aside from lyrics and when did you first start writing songs?

You know, I used to write all the time. I have notebooks and notebooks of stuff. Poems, short stories, essays, laundry lists – actual and metaphysical – good, bad, everything,  As I have gotten older, I write less but the quality seems to be higher. I think that comes with being married and having kids, but also realizing who I am and what I want to say. When I do put pen to paper these days, there is probably a song there.

I started writing songs pretty late, I think. I was in my mid-teens when I first learned enough chords to have two different parts to a song. Unfortunately the first one sounds a lot like “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church and the second one sounds a lot like “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to think I was writing my own songs that sounded like me. I think that’s part of the process: writing and writing and writing until you find your own voice.

Who were your earliest musical influences that stuck with you?

I think like most kids you listen to what is around you at the time, and my earliest influences were from my relatives. Whether it was my cousins listening to Elvis, Chicago, Kiss or Steve Miller; my grandfather listening to hits from the ’40s and ’50s; my grandmother playing WWII ballads on her Wurlitzer; or my uncle’s Rare Earth, Kansas and Yes records, it all influenced me. Some of the best memories I have are driving around singing “Afternoon Delight” [Starland Vocal Band] or “What’s Going On” [Marvin Gaye] along with my mother. Detroit radio was some of the best in the country in the ’70s, and my mother, in particular, was pretty influential in my early years. She loved music and loved singing; whether it was rock, soul or country, she listened to it all. Our record collection had Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees. Another big record that stuck with me was Tom T. Hall record SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW – For Children of All Ages. My grandmother gave that to me. I wore that thing out.

Who’d you listen to that makes you ask, “What was I thinking?  and how’d you ‘take their sad song ‘n make it betta’? Even the questionable influences of childhood can positively shape budding creativity, right?

When I was a young child, we had one of those small Imperial portable record players and I would go from room to room when my parents had parties putting on my “show.” I would carry my record player, my yardstick – which doubled as microphone and guitar – and my favorite record, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” b\w “Delta Dawn.” I would sing through side one, take my break and then sing through side two. Man, I could rock that shit.

While there was some questionable hair metal that I listened to in the ’80s – TnT, Krokus, Helix anyone? – I can’t really disavow it in good conscience. They are all colors in my crayon box so to speak. Some people are great at painting with one color; I’m not. All of the music that I have listened to tends to find its place in the songs that I write for my different bands.

Before the Star Bar sound booth days, what was your worst day job, and did I hear the residue of that angst in your band Bully?

I did death scene clean up for almost two years. It was miserable work, didn’t pay very well, boss was a dick. That was very influential in the Bully songwriting process. “Quitter,” “Spit,” “I Don’t Feel Well,” “2nd Drawer Down.” All from that period of time. I’d come home pissed off and beat, fire up the bong, hit the Jaeger and let it all out. Thankfully my work life is less stressful now, but I think that was what life is supposed to be like in your 20s, living hard and carefree.

What was it like working sound at the Star Bar? Favor us with a story of your days in the booth.

So much to tell – Jim Stacy and I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a G string on Hasil Adkins’ guitar while a nearly sold-out house waited impatiently. He had a box of old guitar strings he carried with him, every one of them old and rusty. Just looking at the box gave me tetanus. For some reason, none of them were the right one.

Once we had a kid who was trying to promote some shows – this particular one with Har Mar Superstar – have a breakdown on stage. He started calling out the booker of the club, the owners, the bartenders and finally me. He told the room filled with people I had stolen his guitar and amplifier – which I believe he had left in a friend’s car or sold for meth – and that he wasn’t a “fat, jaded motherfucker” like me. I, for sure, took the brunt of it, I guess because he was on stage staring right at me. I think most everyone thought I was going to kill his mic (or him), but I just let him keep going until he tuckered himself out. He ended up going to a mental hospital a week or so later. Pretty weird.

But I also had some great, amazing memories there. The Ex-Husbands blowing everyone away with an out of left field, dead-on cover of “War Pigs” [Black Sabbath], followed by “Beating around the Bush” by AC\DC.

I remember that!

Alejandro Escovedo bringing over 200 people to complete silence with the breathtaking-ness of his songs; The Drive-By Truckers playing an Atlantis Music Conference and just weeping over the song “Heathens,” knowing things would never be the same for them after that night. That stage is magic.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

As I was on the road last year, I heard a lot of BS about how listening to Johnny Cash was a hipster trait and therefore passe. What would you say to that labeling?

One of the bonuses of being older is that I don’t know if it’s hipster or not. I’ve been listening [to Cash] since the ’70s when I was a kid and never stopped. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

With The Downer Bros, you and Jim Stacy pay homage to some of Johnny Cash’s most, for the lack of a better word,  “fierce” recordings. You recently rattled the walls at the 12th Annual Cash Bash at the Star Bar [Sept. 22]. How’d the idea for the Downer Bros come about?

Like most of our great ideas, it started off with drinking. During the rockabilly\country revival in the 1990s, there were a lot of bands that would throw in a Johnny Cash or George Jones [song] and do it in whatever style they played. There was no one really doing the slower, lost love, murder ballad stuff, and definitely no one doing it stripped down and acoustic. Jim and I loved that kind of stuff. So when we were waiting for bands to show up or when the night was over, we would play songs, just me and him. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and our two voices, harmonizing and trading songs. It was magic. The name came from trying to describe the music to our good friend Andy McDaniel. He asked what kind of music we were doing and we said “country music, but you know, the ‘downer’ stuff.” It stuck.

I’ve been paying attention and coming to see your bands for a bit now. Do I detect a progression of a happier and more fulfilled man through your musical timeline, having made so many people weep openly, inviting us to be healed and happy – or am I waxing fanciful?

I think there is a definite evolution. Mulberry Street was me getting my feet wet playing and performing but quickly became a little darker then I thought it would become. With Bully, I totally embraced that darkness and anger. When you are more or less penniless, living from day to day, broken-hearted and feeling alone, it is hard to find the light. The Downer Brothers are similar to Bully in that there is some frustration and  loneliness, but instead of being loud and in your face and angry, it was quiet and more thought-out and reserved.

AM Gold it is next logical extension of the realization that there is goodness all around you. Goodness in the things you do, the places you go and the people you meet. The trick, I think, is being open to it, being willing to let it chase away the darkness that has comforted you for so long. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a meanness out there, thriving and consuming, but you have the choice. You can live in fear with the darkness or live in the happiness of the light. Mostly now I choose the light. Some days it is really hard work to find it, but I think it is worth the struggle.

As a performer, what show stands out in your memory?

Probably one of the highlights for me personally was playing in Greasepaint and opening for Tenacious D. It was a sold-out crowd at The Tabernacle here in Atlanta. For AM Gold, it has to be playing The Dogwood Festival earlier this year. A few thousand people on a beautiful day in Piedmont Park. Nobody knew who we were or our songs, but they seemed to really appreciated them and we had a great response.

Honestly though every show is great in its own way. Any time I get to get on stage with my friends and we get to play our original songs, the ones we have practiced a hundred times, the ones we put our time and effort into writing and arranging and performing. That’s a good day.

Worst gig ever has to be the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain last year.  It was the first time in over 20 years I set foot on stage for the sole purpose of making money by playing covers. While we had fun playing our Steve Miller Greatest Hits set at the Star Bar a couple months earlier, when it came to doing those songs again, there was no love for them. While I admire people that can get on stage and play three or four sets of somebody else’s material and are able to support a family doing it, I am not cut from that same cloth. I suppose that’s why I am not able to support a family doing that.

I’ve been the annoying fan begging for CDs forever. What was the AM Gold studio experience, was it documented on film and when will PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT be available? Joshin’, but seriously does being recorded affect your perspective? And by the way, thanks and eager to hear both the Bully and AM Gold disks!

The recording process was really fantastic. We recorded with a great guy named Jimmy Ether at his studio called Headphone Treats. For this recording we were all in the same room, playing together. We set up in the morning, recorded seven songs, and were pretty much done that night. We came back a couple times and overdubbed a few guitar parts, percussion and some vocals, but for the most part, what you hear is what we did that first day. It is a really great way to record. All of the recordings I have ever done previously were all with the drummer in his own room and the guitar amps in their own rooms and the rest of the band usually in the control room listening back through small, tiny speakers. It has always been frustrating for me. I like being able to feel the kick drum and bass, feeling the air move in the room with the music, the rise and fall of the conversation we are all having with one another through our instruments. There is no replacing it.

As for the Bully stuff, we’ve got over 40 songs that had very limited – me handing a homemade CDR to someone – release. I’m hoping to change that later this year. I think we are going to put out three EPs, each having five to seven studio cuts and two to three live recordings. I’m not really sure. We also started re-recording some Bully stuff a couple of years ago that has yet to see the light of day. When your bass player is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, it gets hard to get everyone together in the same room and on the same page, but hopefully while Troy [Sanders] is home for a little bit between records, we can get some Bully time out of him.

What aspirations does the band muse about for the foreseeable future? Just sheerly hypothetically speaking, what’s next for you creatively?

The thing about us being in our 40s and doing this is that we don’t have the free time and lack of obligations that being 20 something has. Jett [Bryant, keyboards] has Bigfoot and a budding movie career [he was the star of DEAR GOD! NO! and is going to be in the follow up], Blake [Parrish, bass] and Eric [Young, percussion] are both in several bands and are in high demand as players, Jeff [Langston, guitars] has Ledfoot Messiah (they are doing the Kiss Kruise later this year) and he is in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA (ED note: Watch out for a Retro Review soon) at 7 Stages and Jim [Stacy, harmonica] has the Starlight Six Drive-In and Palookaville to run, as well as a successful TV show and the possibility of a opening a restaurant fairly soon.

And me, I’m not getting any younger. The thought of getting in a van and blowing with the wind down the road trying to find my rock and roll fortunes has long passed me by. The music I write and play isn’t fashionable. I have no hipster cred; my waist size has expanded. I’m not much to look at;  my head is shaped funny. At the end of the day I’m a 43-year-old IT nerd scraping by at a job I don’t care about, working for people who don’t care about me so I can earn money which is spent before I get it so I can keep a roof over my family’s heads and food and clothes in and on our bodies. I have a beautiful wife and family and a life like most people: spectacularly wonderful and exceedingly average. It just depends on what day of the week and how close we are to the next paycheck. Sometimes we have a little more than others, sometimes a little less. In my mind I’m doing all of this for them, hoping for the big pay-off someday. Rational Joel knows that is probably never going to happen.

But still, I have this need to make this music. I tell these stories and dream these dreams. That’s all good music really is. Stories and dreams. I’m going to keep writing and playing every chance I get for whoever will listen. When I have new stories, I write new songs. When I have new dreams, I write new songs.

It’s what I do, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Look for me up front and center.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

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In Search of Bigfoot at Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 and the DEAR GOD! NO! DVD Release Party!

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2012 By:

We can’t say where you’ll find a Sasquatch in the actual woods, but we’re damned sure that you can spot BIGFOOT, one of Atlanta’s most badass and hard-edged rock bands, twice in the next few days right here. First they’ll be grinding their guitars at Sunday June 3 at the 10th annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 at the Starlight Drive-In (gates open at 10 a.m.). Then Tuesday June 5, BIGFOOT headlines the DVD release party for DEAR GOD NO!, the home-grown grindhouse film that’s been turning heads and stomaches all across the nation and stars BIGFOOT front-man Jett Bryant.

In case you’re living under a rock and haven’t heard about the Rock n Roll Monster Bash. It’s an all-day, all-night horror festival featuring Dames, Bands, Ghouls, Food, Creeps, Hot Rods, Hearses, Flicks, Freaks, Vendors Werewolf Style Parking Lot Partying and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte. Other bands playing include X-Impossibles and one of them now rare but always unforgettable performances by Atlanta punk legends Dead Elvis, including ATLRetro logo artist Derek Yaniger. And damn you, dirty ape, but after dusk, lucky attendees get to see 35mm prints of the incomparable, original PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and zombie comedy RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), on the big Drive-In screen! If you haven’t already read Gene Kannenberg‘s awesome remembrance of growing up with the Apes and making ape masks with paper and crayons, check it out here.

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last fall, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. Indeed, the number is legion when it comes to talented folks from Atlanta’s alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror scenes who worked on the movie. Familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream SpookshowGargantuaAtlanta Zombie Apocalypse)Nik Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Billy Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (check out our Kool Kat on Madeline here), Jas. M. Stacy (Starlight Drive-InPalookaville, Get Delicious!AM Gold) and many more. Since then, Director Jimmy Bickert‘s “unapologetic homage to classic grindhouse cinema” (DailyGrindhouse.com) has taken the festival circuit by storm and hauling in reverent reviews from lovers of exploitation films. The Big World Pictures release will finally be available on DVD on Tues. June 5, with a ton of bonus features, and to celebrate, the public is invited to the FREE party and screening that night at The Masquerade (doors at 8 p.m.).

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers, led by Jett Bryant (yup, that’s his character’s name, too), on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of topless strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky/sexy daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder, and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all.

So it just seemed kinda natural (or should we say, supernatural?) to catch up with Jett, who also plays in AM Gold and has played Jesus on stage in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, for a down and dirty little talk about Bigfoot and why  hard rockers, drinkers and monster movie lovers alike need to get out of the house both Sunday and Tuesday! Dear God! Yes! That’s why we’re proud to say that we live in the city with America’s finest Retro horror scene!

First off, let’s talk BIGFOOT. How did the band get started and what’s your sound like for the uninitiated?

BIGFOOT was started by Jimmy Hall and Evil Jim Wright, two of the most badass guitarists you can imagine. Together with Micheal Faulkner (bass), Kevin Watford (drums) and myself, you get the rowdy and raunchy BIGFOOT—a very loud and heavy southern rock with high energy.

Do you have any special plans for your gig at Rock n Roll Monsterbash 2012?

My biggest plan is not to be too drunk when I get onstage.

What’s your favorite part of this year’s Monster Bash, other than BIGFOOT, of course?

I’m looking forward to seeing PLANET OF THE APES and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD on the big screen. I love me a zombie movie. I like the goofy punk rock situation in the graveyard, and Linnea Quigley gettg all naked and eaten by zombies is pretty cool, too. It’s always been a favorite movie of mine. And apes taking over the world, what’s not to love about that?! It’s always a pleasure to see a movie at the drive-in. That’s the best way to see a movie as far as I am concerned. You can bring your own beer. I love it.

How do you feel about all the positive buzz DEAR GOD! NO! has been getting on the festival circuit?

I’m excited about it. I think it’s great. I always wanted to be famous or infamous. However,  the f–k you look at it. Jimmy did a really great job with that movie. I wasn’t surprised that it was such a big hit just because I’ve known Jimmy Bickert forever and he put all his attention into it. I haven’t seen him do that in years. It’s about time.

Is it just coincidental that you’re in a band called BIGFOOT and a Bigfoot is the monster in DEAR GOD! NO!?

It’s total coincidence that the band is called BIGFOOT and the movie contains a raging sasquatch.The band name came about while we were tossing ideas back and forth and our buddy Ted got impatient waiting for us to figure it out because he needed to make a flyer. So he just dubbed us BIGFOOT

Did you ever feel like the movie was going too far in pushing the limits with the sex, violence, gore and general disgustingness? What do you say to people who are offended?

DEAR GOD NO! is a pretty brutal film, but it’s all in good fun. However, I will not let my mama see this picture

Your character in DEAR GOD! NO! bears your name. What’s the difference between you and him, and are you ever uncomfortable with that—given the crazy, sick things he does in the movie?

As far as playing the character Jett in DEAR GOD! NO! I really just played myself, took out all the good parts and replaced it with the DNA of a honey badger.

I can just imagine how much fun you had recording the commentary track for the DVD with Madelaine Brumby and Shane Morton. Can you talk a little about how you guys approached that and maybe share one favorite behind-the-scenes story? 

We all just sat around with microphones and watched the picture. They got wine-drunk and I got beer-drunk. Shane and I have been friends for a long time so it wasn’t even like work. It was just like hanging out with my buddy. As for a story, [shooting the film] was all pretty long days, but John Collins (Collins in DEAR GOD! NO!) was always making it pretty loose and funny. He made a habit of sending us pictures of his turds when taking a shit. It is not on the commentary track, but it is on blooper reel, a little Easter egg they have in there.

You die in DEAR GOD! NO! but everyone knows that never stopped a character from coming back in a sequel. Will we see Jett Bryant again in the sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, or can you tell us?

My character will return in the sequel, probably more pissed off considering he’s been woke from the dead.

Anything you want to add about Bigfoot’s performance at the DVD release party next Tuesday?

We’re excited about it, but it’s just going to be another badass BIGFOOT show, you know!

What about what you’re up to with AM Gold, any other acting plans and what’s next for BIGFOOT?

BIGFOOT’s going to keep stomping like they do, we’re going to keep make movies, and AM Gold’s going to keep playing festivals!

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Old Enough To Drink: Bubbapalooza Turns 21! Remembering Gregory Dean Smalley

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Note: all photos of Gregory Dean Smalley are courtesy of James Kelly)

In Atlanta’s Redneck Underground, Memorial Day weekend means one thing: BUBBAPALOOZA! For 21 years, the Star Bar has hosted a wild and wooly hootenanny of great Southern music and fun. This year’s event takes place on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26, with 21 bands representing a vast array of rootsy musical styles (for a complete schedule, scroll down to the end of this article!).

Some of us have been there since the very first event, but over time things have changed; bands have come and gone and familiar old faces faded away, pulled by grown up jobs, family obligations or the need to preserve their livers. But like any great music scene, new folks step in to fill the void, and this year promises to be as good as it gets. It seems that no matter what crappy genre of music is being adored by the mainstream, traditional country, rockabilly, surf and roots rock continue to maintain a high profile in L5P. A mix of the old, the new and the unknown makes each band’s set a celebration of the diverse musical legacy established so many years ago by the late Gregory Dean Smalley.

A will o’ the wisp of a man, Smalley had a vision that has continued on, and is now entering its third decade of existence. Smalley was a journeyman musician, with temporary stints in just about every band he booked at Bubbapalooza. He was as charming as he was infuriating, able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with just about anyone on just about any subject, and a mind full of the dirtiest jokes you ever heard. While so many of the newcomers weren’t even of drinking age when Smalley died in 1996 from AIDS-related illness, each year the long-term attendees make an effort to remind everyone of his contributions to our music scene, and to keep his memory alive for old and new fans alike. But sadly, many people never got to meet him, listen to his witty and usually offensive tirades, or hear his amazing guitar playing.

During the last year of his life, Greg spent a lot of time at my house, sitting in an easy chair and watching Nascar, picking guitars, shooting the breeze, or napping for a hour or so. As the AIDS virus ravaged him, he had a medical port for injecting his prescribed drugs, and often dosed while in that chair. About six months after he died, I was walking through the living room when I noticed something under the chair that had not been there before. It was an empty syringe that had just fallen from the chair that day, one of Greg’s medications he had injected while in my home. The day it fell was September 3, Greg’s birthday. His way of saying “Hey, remember me?” As if I needed a reminder. He was unforgettable, and is still around in spirit, and every Memorial Day weekend, he smiles upon his family and friends as we celebrate his legacy.

The social media as we know it today never existed during Greg’s lifetime, and there is no telling what he would have thought of all the Twittering, Facebooking, blogging and what-not that goes on. ATLRetro tossed a request for a personal comment out into the web-o-net regarding our old pal Gregory Dean, and here’s a sample of the (printable) responses we got:

A natural-born entrepreneur, raconteur and spirited musician, Greg hustled and humped his way through life with unbridled exuberance, which carried anyone in the vicinity along for what often turned out to be a wildly memorable ride.Doug Deloach

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest, sweet, and bravest guys I ever knew, and he had a fantastic ear for music – playing it as well as putting together great shows! I miss him a lot. –  Katy Graves

Greg Smalley was a funny, wirey little dude that could play the shit out of the guitar!Annie Hamm

The first time I met Greg – in Columbia, SC – he tried to pick a fight with me, the ‘college-rock’ dude… a year or so later, he was an important part of the band.Walter Czachowski

Thoroughly Southern in manner and mind.Ian Shipp

Greg was quite strange (not a bad thing, I am also!), and he gave John Grant and me (Dos Hombres) a chance to play at Bubbapalooza, so how could I dislike the man!? – Elliott Michaels

One of the most rewarding guitar repair clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Seeing Greg on stage tearing it up on his Les Paul Special made me feel like his NASCAR crew. Being in a band with him was just as rewarding. I’m sure he’s up in heaven telling other deceased rock star guitar players how to play their trademark licks.Bryan Lilje

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.Wher he played with The Chant for the first time, he knew all the guitar parts, including the little riffs in the background to sweeten things up. He put everything into what ever he was doing. I miss him so much. He made my life a better place to be.Jim Johnson

Funny, unaffected, kind human being!Sean Bourne

Greg wouldn’t just wave or nod from across the bar. He’d always come over for a chat. Still deeply missed and finding his way into many conversations today. And there was the whole guitar giant thing.Thom Heckel

One determined person who really didn’t care what anyone else thought.Faylynn Owen

Greg was completely fearless about being himself all the time, extremely good and incredibly awful, and if you could recognize and accept that, you could be his friend, and that was a very rewarding experience.Tim Lathrop

Played “breaking my heart while I’m drinking her beer” before it was finished on his couch on Franklin Rd. Long cigarettes and intelligent music.Philip Buchanan

Not a lot of pretense with Greg. I recall he labeled effects pedals “SHIT” and “MORE SHIT.”Al Shelton

He was only ever nice to me. Good to me especially on stage, which is 90% of my interaction with him. Generous, encouraging, and a fearless gamer. I learned a lot about not caring what people think: a difficult and priceless lesson for this Southern mama’s boy.Jon Byrd

No matter what Greg went into everything with a smile on his face, and a joke at the end of his tongue. If you were offended then wait for the next one.  – John Thomason

Greg Smalley was everything I love about the south. – Steve Pilon

Bubbapalooza #21 Line-up:

FRIDAY MAY 25
DOORS 7PM/$8

12am: THE BAREKNUCKLE BETTIES
11pm: BLACKTOP ROCKETS
10pm: GHOST RIDERS CAR CLUB
9pm: UNCLE DADDY & THE KISSIN COUSINS
8pm: SLIM CHANCE & THE CONVICTS

in the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:30: SUICIDE DOORS
11:30: JUNIOR, DOLAN & CASH

SATURDAY MAY 26
DOORS 4PM/$10

12:30: THE MYSTERY MEN?
11:30: THE KENTUCKY BRIDGEBURNERS
10:45: AM GOLD
10:00: CLETIS & HIS CITY COUSINS
9:15: SONORAMIC COMMANDO
8:45: DUSTY BOOZE & THE BABY HATERS
7:45: THE MIDWAY CHARMERS
6:45: J.J. & THE HUSTLERS
5:45: THE SKYLARKS
4:45: CHICKENS & PIGS
4:15: THE SERENADERS

In the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:45: ATOMIC BOOGIE
9:45: THE WHEEL KNOCKERS
7:00: ALICK GERARD & THEDIXIE LIMITED

To find out more about the history of Bubbapalooza, check out last year’s interview with Bryan Malone and Ted Weldon, Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20.

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Bikers, Bigfoot & Buxom Babes in Nixon Masks With Machine Guns – DEAR GOD NO! Pushes the Limits of ’70s Exploitation at the Plaza Theatre All Week Long

Posted on: Oct 20th, 2011 By:

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last month, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. But while cast, crew and Kickstarter contributors filled many seats, the enthusiastic crowd also included plenty of curiosity-seekers, wondering if this homegrown homage to ’70s exploitation movies could deliver the over-the-top shocks it promised. From the enthusiastic audience response, it did and then some, making even this blogger, who has a high tolerance for cult flick violence, want to shout “DEAR GOD NO! they didn’t go there!” Now those who didn’t make it out will another chance to see it on the big screen when it starts a one-week run at the Plaza Theatre this Friday Oct. 21 through Thursday Oct. 27.

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all. Those who’ve been around the Atlanta alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror movie scene for a while will recognize plenty of familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse), Jett Bryant (Bigfoot), Nick Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Bill Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (if you missed last week’s Kool Kat on Madeline, which includes her DEAR GOD NO! experience, read it here), Jim Stacy (Starlight Drive-In, Palookaville, Get Delicious!, AM Gold) and many more.

For the uninitiated, B-movies date back to the beginnings of film-making, but the ’60s/’70s variety – also called “grindhouse” movies thanks to the seedy cinemas they often played (when they weren’t at the dying drive-ins) – pushed the limits of onscreen sex and violence in such an audacious way that they gained a cult following and a new generation of contemporary imitators from Quentin Tarantino, who, with Robert Rodriguez, even produced a double-feature called GRINDHOUSE, to the makers of last year’s HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. It may be tempting to dismiss DEAR GOD NO! as just the latest in that subgenre, but the level of affection, craftsmanship and fun (yes, strange words perhaps to be paired with an ultraviolent flick) elevate it – that is, if you have a strong stomach and buy into the filmmakers’ sense of humor. Yup, this movie is NOT for everyone.

Since last month’s opening, director/screenwriter/executive producer James “Jimmy” Bickert has taken DEAR GOD NO! out on the road to two festivals and it’s won at least one award.  We caught up with Jimmy recently to find out more about how DEAR GOD NO! is exploding Atlanta onto the underground film map, go behind-the-scenes during production and find out what’s next for the movie and its makers.

ATLRetro: Since the sold-out world premiere in Atlanta on Sept. 9, you’ve taken DEAR GOD NO! to two film festivals. What’s been the reaction there?

Insane. I knew a party would break out with the home team, but the reaction in Tucson & Las Vegas was equally outrageous. People were sneaking in cocktails, yelling, laughing, cheering, applauding and even giving me free beer and shots in appreciation. We picked up an award for Best Exploitation Film at the Arizona Underground Film Festival. I received so many handshakes and pats on the back in Vegas [Pollygrind 2011] it felt like we were running for office. Haven’t heard if we won anything there yet. I just got back. It’s starting to gain momentum as an ultimate party movie. Film festivals are rescheduling us at midnight, and that’s perfect for an exploitation film.

Let’s start in the beginning, what’s the story behind how you came up with the idea for DEAR GOD NO! and got it off the ground?

Shane Morton, Nick Morgan and I were tossing around some ideas and came up with the idea of a Bigfoot vs. Biker crossover exploitation film. Something you would see at the end of a genres cycle. Originally we were going to attempt to make a lost film from the ‘70s that had somehow resurfaced on DVD, but as I began writing it, the pacing was too fast for a ruse. It almost becomes an action film. I’ve always been a big fan of ‘70s exploitation trailers so I tried to create something that would incorporate the fun ballyhoo they delivered and sustain it for a feature-length running time. DEAR GOD NO! gives you bikers, horror, sexploitation, cool cars, blood, laughs, gross outs, explosions, boobs, Nazis, Bigfoot, lofty themes, crazy dialoguw and incestual lesbian rape! Never seen that one before? Well, we got it. According to the reviews, it all works. Whew!

What classic exploitation and horror films served as inspirations for DEAR GOD NO!?

It’s hard to pinpoint all of them because many are subconscious. The ones I’ve noticed the most coming through are DEATH WEEKEND (a.k.a. HOUSE BY THE LAKE) and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. But there are some moments from Something Weird Video collections of stag loops, SAVAGE SEVEN, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS and NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST. We even rip on SCHINDLER’S LIST. The film is packed with obscure exploitation references, but they only enhance the script. If you don’t catch a reference, it won’t hinder the experience. Visually there are many pop culture influences like E.C. Comics and Men’s Adventure pulp magazines.

With DEAR GOD NO!, you push the limits for onscreen violence, nudity and gore. What were your parameters for what was too extreme, does anything in the movie make you uncomfortable, and is there anything you filmed that went on the cutting room floor because it was too much even for you?

I don’t feel anything is off limits if it fits the story. DEAR GOD NO! has ‘60-‘70s style nudity and gore so it may push the boundaries for what some people expect from that time period, but it never enters the realm of what critics currently call the torture porn genre. We crossed over into that realm with one scene involving a pregnant character. I kept enough in to give the audience a good jolt but most of it hit the cutting room floor. There has to be a good balance to keep things fun for the crowd and it was starting to push into nausea. The genre is packed with that stuff now and it’s not what DEAR GOD NO! is about. We’re more John Waters than HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. It’s suds cinema for drunken friends and not porn for loners in raincoats.

OK, bikers and Nazis are classic ingredients for exploitation movies, but why Bigfoot?

Bigfoot is a staple of the Southern drive-in, and I wanted to cast him in a good movie for a change. He has been getting crappy roles since NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Atlanta has the ultimate Sasquatch/Yeti in Jim Stacy, so we had to exploit him.

What was your favorite scene in the movie to shoot and why?

The squibs were the most fun to shoot because the extras love it. There is such a look of shock when it goes off and everyone on set breaks into applause. I could shoot squibs all day. It doesn’t get old. My favorite scene in the film is when the inebriated biker gang runs across a hillbilly kid who has them completely perplexed. Even after seeing it 100 times, I cannot watch a festival screening without laughing out loud.

Why did you decide to shoot DEAR GOD NO! all in Super 16mm with equipment from the ‘70s? Were there any specific effects which you’re particularly proud to have accomplished in the traditional way, versus CGI?

I wanted it to be authentic as possible, and we really immersed ourselves in things from the era. There were props that didn’t make it on screen from the ‘70s, but it helped create the illusion that we were making a film in 1973. I want to go back as soon as possible. We were all pretty proud of our van explosion. That’s a classic practical effect that Hollywood has been getting away from by using computer overlays in After Effects. There’s a poorly [executed] CGI explosion in MACHETE when a car blows up but doesn’t move or fall apart. We couldn’t have that, and what good Southern film doesn’t have an explosion in it? Not much that I want to see.

The cast and crew boasts a who’s who of Atlanta grassroots indie scene of actors and artists including many of the same folks behind the Silver Scream Spookshow, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Splatter Cinema, Starlight Drive-In, etc. You’re the writer/director/exec producer, but are you proud to share the credit with a homegrown team, especially as DEAR GOD NO! gets screened across the country and around the globe?  

When we show up at a festival, people know we are from the ATL. We ran up such a large tab at the gay bar next door to PollyGrind 2011, the owner said he should change his theme by replacing the rainbow flag with an Atlanta Falcons banner. Shane Morton and I drank a torture porn crew from L.A. under the table in Tucson. We even had an 8-hour start on them. Yeah, they know where we are from and we’re proud of it.

There are a ton of talented people in this town. I’m still amazed we got them all together. One of the aspects of DEAR GOD NO! that I’m most asked about is the music by The Forty Fives and the score from Richard Davis of Gargantua. There is a whole cast of musicians like Johnny McGowan, The Biters, The Booze, Adam McIntyre and Kris Dale involved that essentially come from The Star Bar including our lead actor Jett Bryant from the band Bigfoot and actor Billy Ratliff from Truckadelic. Just about everyone from Dusty Booze and The Baby Haters was involved. You will see a ton of Atlanta musicians as extras and Gargantua’s Creepy Kenny even built us a flame wand now in use at The Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. There is a very big Star Bar connection with this film.

Seems like typical movie investors might get squeamish funding something this extreme, so it’s not surprising that to hear you used Kickstarter to raise some of the money and pulled some out of your own pocket. What was the budget and how was it funded?

You’re right. We had cast and crew drop out because they didn’t understand what we were attempting. Many people thought we were making porn or God knows what. It’s hard to convey that you are making a unique exploitation film when they don’t understand any of the references. Even worse if you’re asking someone to invest money.

It’s hard to really gauge the budget because so many talented people contributed time for free. Jonny Rej (Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse /The Plaza) gave us some free film and equipment, Slopes BBQ fed us, Fuji North America gave us ½ off on film stock for shooting a feature. It went on and on. It was a very quick shoot with a massive amount of preplanning between A.D. Michelle McCall, cinematographer Jonathan Hilton and I which helped keep cost, time and favors down. We didn’t wear out our welcome too bad. I do have a budget number, but I save that information for when someone buys me a beer.

After the Plaza limited engagement, what’s next for DEAR GOD NO! More festivals? Is there a distribution deal and when will it be commercially available on DVD/download? Is it true there’s going to be a sequel?

We currently have a quite a few distributors interested from all over the world. At the end of our festival run, we’ll sit down and start seriously negotiating which rights and territories we want to part with. We currently have festivals lined up in Raleigh, Erie, Mobile and Bogotá, Colombia. Theatrical screenings (mostly midnight) are booked in Portland, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Las Vegas and London. We’re adding screenings every week, and people can keep up to date by liking our Facebook page or checking the website at www.deargodnomovie.com. If you live in a town that shows midnight movies, ask for us or send me information about the theater.

It’s true there is a sequel in the works called FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS. It will have your jaw on the floor….again.

All art and photos courtesy of Big World Pictures.

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Weekend Update, Aug 5-7, 2011

Posted on: Aug 5th, 2011 By:

Friday, August 5

All-time great wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett will be at the Plaza Theatre to meet and greet, sign his recent book and introduce 7:30 p.m. screenings of MEMPHIS HEAT: THE TRUE STORY OF MEMPHIS WRASSLIN’ tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The new documentary tells the wild and wooly tale of mid-South wrestling, from the ‘50s carnival days of Sputnik Monroe and Billy Wicks to the raucous ‘70s and ‘80s with the rise of Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Hart and promoter Jarrett. Can’t make the 7:30 p.m. screening? It’s also on at 9:30 p.m. all three nights. Read an interview with Jarret by ATLRetro friend and Wrestling with Pop Culture blogger Jonathan Williams in this week’s Creative Loafing here.

Dracula's lovely brides take more than a few bites out of Jonathan Harker (Chris Love) in DRACULA:THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages.

Last February Atlantans had the marvelous macabre opportunity to get a sneak peek at HAUS VON DRACUL, the first act of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, conceived by and starring Rob Thompson; performed by local talents such as Chris Love as Jonathan Harker and the Little Five Points Rockstar Orchestra; and featuring make-up and sets by Shane Morte of Silver Scream Spookshow fame. To refresh your memory, read ATLRetro’s feature on Love here and our review of the production at 7 Stages here. For just $15, you can support some of Atlanta’s top alternative talent in prepping this show for its world premiere next April, as well as scream to some one-of-a-kind performances tonight during Black Metal Burlesque: A Hell Raising Fundraiser at 7 Stages. A pre-party starts at 9 a.m., with show at 10 a.m. featuring performers from the show, the Little Five PointsRock Orchestra, The Chameleon Queen, body suspension by Loki Shane DeFrieceMacabre Puppets‘ Chris Brown (Scarlett’s Web) as Rotzo the Clown, and much more from body-painting to a raffle. For a scary sneak preview, check out our interview with Kool Kat of the Week actor/stuntman Justin Welborn here.

New York’s Felix and the Cats swing down to Fat Matt’s. Canadian rocker Bryan Adams takes audiences back to the ’80s in his Bare Bones Tour to Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater in Peachtree City. Rock further back to the ’70s with Revival: An Allman Brothers Experience with Lefty Williams and Benji Shanks at Vinyl at Center Stage. Catch an IMAX movie and listen to cool jazz and sexy soul by vocalist Sarah Belladae at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.

Saturday August 6

Catch an opening reception for August and Everything After: A URBNPOP art show, a solo art show featuring the wonderfully quirky pop culture-inspired works of artist Chris Hamer at Rev Coffee (1680-B Spring Road, Smyrna, 30080) from 8 to 10 p.m. Read ATLRetro’s Kool Kat profile of Chris here.

Travel back to the late ’70s/early ’80s at Deja vu Discotheque – The Dance Party of the Decade, a reunion party for The Limelight, Atlanta’s Studio 54, at Center Stage tonight. In addition to grooving to favorite dance music of the era by original Limelight DJs, attendees will be treated to a recreation of the club’s spectacular Moving Lightshow and many other over-the-top experiences reminiscent of the legendary venue. Read our sneak preview with memories of the original Limelight from Scott Cloud and KP Hendry here. Doors open for VIPs at 8 p.m, general admission at 9 p.m., and a silent auction benefits the Starlight Children’s Foundation of Georgia. Tickets are available here.

Billie Holliday sings the blues in STRANGE FRUIT.

Explore the dark side of the South via the soundtrack of the haunting Billie Holliday song in STRANGE FRUIT, a documentary directed by Joel Katz that weaves together jazz geneaology, biography, performance footage and the history of lynching, in the latest entry in the High Museum of Art‘s Radcliffe Bailey Film SeriesTheophis “Thee” Smith, associate professor of religion at Emory, will lead a discussion following the 8 p.m. screening at the Woodruff Arts Center.

Ghost Riders Car Club headlines a very special Retro honky tonk evening at Star Bar with Anna Kramer & the Lost CauseAndy Vaughn & the Driveline, and New Orleans’ Dirty Bourbon River Show. If you missed ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with GRCC’s Spike Fullerton, here’s a link. It’s a trilogy of rockin’ country ’70s-inspired fun when Gasoline BrosLo Country and AM Gold invade VinylSteely Dan is at Classic Chastain. Maretta’s Dry White Toast plays funk rock at Fat Matt’s Rib ShackFelix & the Cats swing over to Northside Tavern. And of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

Sunday August 7

Interstate plays blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. One of the best alternative bands with its roots in the ’80s, The Goo Goo Dolls, play with Michelle Branch at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. And ’70s rockets Steely Dan are at Classic Chastain. And don’t forget Jerry Jarrett and MEMPHIS HEAT at The Plaza! See Friday for details.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, Aug. 1-7, 2011

Posted on: Aug 2nd, 2011 By:

Monday August 1

From 3 PM on, savor tropical sounds and libations, as well as a Polynesian dinner during Mai Tai Monday at Smith’s Olde BarKingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier is Monday night’s celebrity bartender at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong ParlorNorthside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday August 2

Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Crosstown All Stars play Southern rock and blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tues. Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring video mixes of ’80s, ’90s and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday  August 3

Tennessee Tease Burlesque Invades the Cult Movie! combines two great Retro traditions on one stage at The Shelter. Doors are at 9, show at 10, and tickets are $10 to see this sexy troupe from Memphis which features titillating dancers, vocalists, comedians and fire performers.

The Beach BoysBrian Wilson sings solo at Classic Chastain tonight. Spend An Evening with Dolly Parton at Verizon Amphitheatre at Encore Park. MOTO, aka Masters of the Obvious, plays punk New Orleans style at Star Bar with Barreracudas and self-described “Cooter” rockers Tornado Town. It’s a soulful night when Ruby Velle Trio takes the stage at Eddie’s Attic. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. Frankie’s Blues Mission bring the blues to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck blues it down at Northside Tavern respectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven. 

Thursday  August 4

Whiskey Belt.

It’s another honky tonk night at Star Bar with Whiskey Belt. Dirty Bourbon River Show fuses roots, blues, jazz, zydeco and more into something they call New Orleans gypsy folk circus rock at Twain’s. Frankie’s Blues Mission is at The Five Spot. Go Retro-Polynesian to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum LoungeBreeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe features alt-bluegrass Judge Talford Band.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rockin’, Rollin’ and Raisin’ Japanese Monsters with Shane Morton at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2011 By:

What’s more Retro than watching a classic horror movie at the drive-in? Lucky Atlantans will get that rare opportunity this Sunday June 5 when the annual ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH invades the Starlight Six Drive-In, one of the country’s last remaining drive-in movie theaters. Even better, the eerie all-day extravaganza also features a frightening fantastic line-up of bands, a Miss Monster Bash contest, vendors of spooky merchandise, custom hearses and not just one but three Japanese horror classics, GODZILLA 2000 (1999), HOUSE (1977) and RINGU (1998). Gates open at 10 AM, live performances start at 2 PM, the movies roll from dusk into the wee hours of the morning, and for those who want to party all weekend, there’s even a Monster Bash Pre-Party on Saturday night (June 4) at the Star Bar with even more bands.

ATLRetro caught up with Shane Morton, the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Ghost Host with the Most Professor Morte, musician (Super X-13/Gargantua/etc.), painter, tattoo artist, SFX artist, actor, all-around horror Renaissance man, and one of the mad masterminds behind ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH for a scary sneak preview…

How did the ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH get started?

Billy Messina, Ben Armstrong and Tim Dolph of Netherworld fame were the original mad scientists that brought this thing to life.  Atlanta’s horror community deserves its own horror-themed DRIVE INVASION! they would always contact me for help in the rock ‘n’ roll dept. Billy and Ben are just too busy with netherworld—in my opinion, the greatest haunted house attraction in the world—so Tim, Jim Stacy [Starlight manager/ Palookaville mastermind/Greasepaint/AM Gold/etc.) and I took it over four years ago.

Professor Morte sings with the Silver Scream Spookshow band at Monster Bash 2009.

What’s the band line-up this year, and why should we be excited about it?

This is a great rockin’ line up this year with something for everybody! Spooky Partridge is a fun family band—[as in] Addams Family, ha!—that play a lot of punk covers along

LUST. Photo courtesy of Barb Hays.

with cute originals. The drummer is just a li’l kid, but he’s already one of the best in the city with all the stick spins and showmanship kicking already. It’s amazing to watch! Radio Cult is also a very visual band—almost like a fem-fronted ‘80s Van Halen! Big fun and way over the top! LUST needs no intro as they put on legendary and hilarious shows! [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with Barb Hays for more about LUST]. I love these gals like sisters, so it’s always a pleasure to have them on the bill. The Brimstones are New York City’s greatest spooky garage band. Trust me, when you see Justin’s Farfisa [organ] solos while in a headstand, you’ll know why they are so famous! Super X-13, ‘nuff said. This line-up of music is gonna tear your face off and rip up the pavement!

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