Kool Kat of the Week: Julea Thomerson on ‘Diesel Smoke & Dangerous Curves,’ Her Fellas, the Dear Johns and Honky-Tonkin’ it Up at the Star Bar

Posted on: Mar 10th, 2014 By:

Photo by JoLynn Still

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Julea Thomerson, guitar totin’, classic country-western music lovin’ high-energy southern gal and her Dear Johns will be causin’ a ruckus with a night of boot stompin’ rockabilly and country-western revival at The Star Bar this Friday, March 14! It’ll be a hootenanny and a half with her big rig honky-tonk ramblin’ pals, Cletis & His City Cousins [June 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Cletis Reid, here] releasing a rockin’ new CD, also featuring The Blacktop Rocketsslingin’ some revved up rockabilly to boot!

Julea is no newbie to Atlanta’s ‘roots’ music underground.  She’s been delivering her catchy vintage vocals and guitar pickin’ with a handful of Atlanta’s favorites, from Danny ‘Mudcat’Dudeck to Bill Sheffield to Nathon Nelson.  She was also a member of the all-girl, traditional country band, The Bareknuckle Betties, from 2010-2012.  After the Betties disbanded, she brought together a group of rockin’ fellas and created her current line-up of, Julea & Her Dear Johns.  The ‘Dear Johns’ are Spike Fullerton of the Ghost Riders Car Club [Feb. 2011: see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Spike, here] on guitar, Chad Vaillancourt lightin’ a fire on the upright bass and Gabe Pline on drums.  They’ve been gettin’ around town and revvin’ up Atlanta old-fashioned country and rockabilly-style at venues and events such as The Star Bar, The Earl, the Rockabilly Luau [Aug. 2013; see ATLRetro’s feature on the Rockabilly Luau here], the East Atlanta Strut and the Little Five Point Halloween Festival.  With her unique twangy vocals and boot-stompin’ kick assery, the sky’s the limit for Julea!

ATLRetro caught up with Julea for a quick interview about her love of traditional old-fashioned retro music made by trailblazin’ ladies who didn’t give a damn; her fellas, the Dear Johns; and her new weekly radio show, Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Julea, take a listen to Julea & Her Dear Johns rockin’ out at The Star Bar with their revved up tune, “Rocket Dog” in December 2013 here.

How did you find your fellas, the ‘Dear Johns’ and become a band?

We started playing together about two years ago. I was playing shows with a few different folks after my previous band broke up and this was the configuration that stuck. I’ve known Chad (upright bass) for years. He’s my best friend and he’s taught me a lot about music.  I met Spike (guitar) at shows around town and always really enjoyed talking country music with him. I met Gabe (drums) the same way, but I also enjoyed talking with him because he’s a school teacher like me.

How did you get involved in the Atlanta ‘roots’ music scene? Was it easy or did you have to ‘pay your dues’?

I got involved in the roots music scene when I started singing with Mudcat and Bill Sheffield at the Northside Tavern back in 2007. I suppose I “paid my dues” in a sense – I went to a lot of open mics, and I would go to shows and wait around until the bars were closing down and most of the patrons were gone, because it was at that point that some of the performers I would go see would let me get up on stage with them and sing a song or two.  Things happened pretty quickly when I started writing songs however.  I put a band together and recorded an album that I never released, and then there was The BareKnuckle Betties, an all female traditional country band I played with for a few years. I think folks who have gotten to know me see that I really love country western music, and that my passion for acquiring and sharing what musical knowledge I have is genuine. The roots music community in Atlanta is full of wonderful, good people who support each other, and many of them have been very encouraging to me.

If you could build a dream band to play with, who would you pick to be in it and why?

I’ve never thought about it all that much.  I’m pretty happy with the way things are these days. I suppose it wouldn’t be terrible to have Grady Martin in my band though, since he’s the greatest country western & rockabilly guitarist of all time. I don’t think I would mind playing music with him at all.  As far as folks who are alive today, I’d say Chris Scruggs, Kenny Vaughan, and Deke Dickerson are doing a fine job carrying on the tradition of country western guitar greatness.

Can you tell our readers a little about your weekly radio show?

My weekly radio hour, “Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves,” will air on AM1690 on Wednesday evenings from 7-8 pm starting April 2.  I’m so excited to be contributing to this wonderful station.  My hour will probably have a hillbilly, classic country western and rockabilly focus, just because that’s what I love the most in my heart and what I have the most of in my record collection.  But I’m also planning to cover the genres of pre-war piedmont blues, ’40s and ’50s rhythm and blues, “popcorn” and northern soul, a smidge of garage and really just everything that is good and should be played on the radio.

I’ll be playing music from both male and female performers, but I do hope to focus a spotlight on many female artists who never got the spotlight they deserved. I’m also planning to interview some trailblazing women who were making great music back when folks were telling them there was “no place for women in country music.” I have a lot of records made by folks who were just as good as Loretta Lynn or Etta James but never got the recognition they deserved. My show will focus on those women and men.

Do you have any plans for an album with your ‘Dear Johns’?

Oh, yes.  I’m studio shopping at the moment. Looking for a good engineer with a good live room and access to a tape machine who’s not afraid to do everything live.  If you are that man or woman, please get in touch with me!

Did you start playing guitar and banjo as a little girl or learn later? Any story about how you got started?

I learned guitar when I was a teenager and I’m so glad I did. My mom really wanted me to try it, but I didn’t want to at first. I almost didn’t learn to play at all because I didn’t want to cut my long nails off.  I couldn’t imagine how different my life would be if I didn’t play guitar.  I’m so glad I didn’t let my stupid nails get in the way!

I learned banjo a few years ago when I bought one.  I’m not a “real banjo player,” but I enjoy messing around on it and I love how it’s changed the way I write music at many times.  It’s a wonderful instrument. I think everyone should have a banjo!

Who are some of your favorite vintage performers and influences?

SO many! Too many to name them all, but I’ll share a few.  I love Charline Arthur because she was so talented and she didn’t take any crap from anyone.  I love Ma Rainey because she used to start her performances inside a giant box done-up to look like a Victrola only to emerge from the box in the middle of the first song covered in gold necklaces and flashing her gold teeth.  I also love her because she could perform with a big ol’ band at minstrel shows and opera houses without a microphone.  I love Lottie Kimbrough because her voice sounds like butter and makes me teary-eyed.  I love Lorrie Collins because she is the greatest rockabilly singer of all time, and because she sang about what she wanted to no matter what kind of reputation it would give her.  I love Mimi Roman because she is a New York Jewish sharp-shooting cowgirl country western singer who toured with Ronnie Self and Goldie Hill, and also because she’s a very nice lady who has been kind enough to talk with me and has been very encouraging to me about my music. You’ll hear from all these gals and more on my radio program, “Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves.”

Any special plans for Friday’s show at The Star Bar?

I’ll be playing some new tunes with the fellas, and I’ve also worked up a fun duet with Dave Weil from The Blacktop Rockets.  Also, my pals Cletis Reid and Johnny McGowan have put together a new CD that they’ll be releasing that night. If you like truck-driving country, you’ll want to come on out and pick one up!

What’s next for Julea and Her Dear Johns?

Definitely hoping to get into the studio and record an album soon.  Hopefully we’ll keep playing cool shows and I’ll keep writing new songs.

We all know that the life of a musician can get hectic.  What do you do on a regular day when you’re just being Julea?

I teach first grade at an arts-integrated elementary school in the Atlanta area.  It can be a challenging job, but I love it so much.  I’ve taught second, third and fourth grade in the past as well.  If I’m not teaching, or playing music, or writing music, then you can probably find me at the record store.

Who are some of your favorite female local artists?

There are so many cool women in Atlanta playing really good music. Buffi Aguero (Tiger! Tiger! & The Subsonics) inspires me, as does Aileen Loy (Till Someone Loses An Eye) [March 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Aileen, here], Katy Graves and Jennifer Leavey (from Catfight!) [May 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Katy, here], Suzanne Gibboney (Tiger!Tiger!, LUST and Catfight!), Adron, Cameron Federal (Little Country Giants) Caroline Engel (Caroline & The Ramblers) [July 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Caroline, here], Lindsay Rakers, and so many more!  My friend Andy Deaver-Edmonstone (from The BareKnuckle Betties) has a great new band called the Burnt Mountain Benders that I can’t wait to hear. I’ve also gotten really into Kira Annalise‘s music here recently.  She writes amazing songs.

Can you tell us something you’d like folks to know about you that they don’t know already?

I very much prefer mono recording over stereo.  In fact, I detest the whole concept of stereo recording. I think it’s ruined many great songs.

All photographs are courtesy of Julea Thomerson and used with permission.

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Weekend Update, July 22-24, 2011

Posted on: Jul 22nd, 2011 By:

Friday, July 22

Dig out the glitter bodysuit and platform heels and get yourself down to The Masquerade for Gilded Trash, a glam rock theme party to be remembered featuring live music from The Sexual Side EffectsThe Unsatisfied and Starbolt 9; classic hits from T. RexBowie to IggyEno; burlesque by The Chameleon Queen; the scandalous banter of Dax Exclamationpoint!; foot-pounding grooves by Glitterdome‘s DJ Tiny Tears; body-painting; gilded go-go dancers, glam-inspired art by Chris Buxbaum; glam-orous vendors; and much more. Get a sneak preview from Kool Kat of the Week Amber Taylor, show mastermind and vocalist/guitarist for The Sexual Side Effects here.

The Stumblers make it a rockabilly/Southern roots night in The Basement at Graveyard Tavern in East Atlanta. Read ATLRetro’s Extra Kool Kat of the Week interview with lead singer/rhythm guitarist Keith Martin here. Eighties multi-platinum heavy metal band Dokken rocks Wild Bill’s in Duluth. Country chanteuse Emmylou Harris plays Concerts in the Garden at the Atlanta Botanical GardenRod Hamdallah is at Fat Matt’sCallanwolde‘s popular Tango Night is back including introductory lessons in the sexy Argentine version from Tango Rio‘s expert instructors at 8 p.m., followed by an open tango dance party at 9:15 p.m. Catch an IMAX movie and dance to soulful jazz standards performed by The Kayla Taylor Quartet at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX. And last but not least, the wacky cast of Cineprov! bait and tackle Humanoids of the Deep, a sensationally schlocky 1980 horror flick about half-man/half-fish mutations starring then-hottie Doug McClure, at 8 p.m. at Relapse Theatre. Free admission if you wear a bathing suit!

Last but not least, a high school ritual gets an undead makeover in a ‘50s setting in ZOMBIE PROM, this weekend only at Fabrefaction Theatre. The girl-loves-ghoul rock ‘n’ roll off-Broadway musical is fun for the entire family and performed by actual high school students as the culmination of a two-week theatre education program. The opening night show is at 8 p.m., and additional performances are at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sat. and 3 p.m. on Sun.

 

Saturday July 23

What’s that, Artie? A steampunk theme night with a Wild West twist? That’s the wild, wild premise behind The Artifice Club‘s Weird West Saloon, at The Solarium in Oakhurst. The frontier-inspired festivities begin at 5 p.m. with a Trading Post Market, with doors opening officially at 7 p.m. and entertainment lasting to midnight culiminating in an after-party at McGowan’s Oakhurst Pub. There will be gambling and a quick draw tournament to benefit the Dream Power Therapeutic Equestrian Center, and featured acts included Blair Crimmins and the Hookers (read an ATLRetro interview with Blair about this ’20s-ragtime-inspired band here), DJs Swivel and Doctor Q, emcee and sheriff comedienne Sabrina Pandora and a bevy of burlesque beauties…er sexy saloon dancing girls includingFonda Lingue, Ruby Redmayne, Tupelo Honey and Talloolah Love, who treats you lucky ATLRetro readers to an exclusive preview here.

Americana classic Dex Romweber and sister Sara throw a party mix of originals and obscure nuggets from rock n roll’s dusty closets at the Star Bar for the release of the Dex Romweber Duo‘s latest album, IS THAT YOU IN THE BLUE. It only gets better with local rockabilly faves The Blacktop Rockets, classic rock-inspired The Booze and Chattanooga-based garage rock band The Bohannons also on the bill.

Meanwhile over at the Plaza, Blast-Off Burlesque are throwing a BEACH PARTY tonight for their third Taboo La-La sin-sational film series. Much more than a rare chance to see the classic 1963 frolic with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in 35mm on the big-screen, there’s a zany and sexy preshow featuring special guests Grinder Nova and The Chameleon Queen as the float-tastic Alotta Wood, as well as a Twist-Off Contest, a Hula Hoop Contest, and Twister games and beach party-inspired cupcakes from Atlanta’s own The Sugar Dolls, who were kind enough to serve up a tasty sneak preview of the treats they’ll be bringing here.

Eighties hit makers Huey Lewis and the News try to take you Back in Time to when it was Hip to Be Square at Classic ChastainCapitol City Opera players sing Broadway standards in ON THE LIGHT SIDE, a themed night of lighter music that has become a 20-year tradition at the vintage Callanwolde mansion. The Reverb-O-Rockets deliver Chicago style-blues “straight, no chaser” at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. And of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Loungeinto a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

Sunday July 24

Alick Gerard & the Dixie LTD play blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. Learn Beginning Vintage Hair Styling from award winning pin-up girl D’lilah D’lite from 1 to 3 p.m. at SpinARella Pole/Dance/Fitness. The class is part of the Syrens of the South‘s ABCs & 123s of Burlesque Class SeriesGET DELICIOUS AGAIN at 8 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre as Jim Stacy (PalookavilleStarlight Drive-InAM Gold, Greasepaint, etc.)  samples Atlanta’s Asian eateries in the latest installment of his unconventional culinary series serving up Atlanta’s Hidden Restaurant Treasures. If you can’t make thisFREE screening with special foodie guests, tune in or set your DVR to PBA 30 also at 8 p.m. Nature is Dangerous and It will Hurt You: A Benefit for Jessica Miller features some a great line-up of local blues and rockabilly bands, beer specials, Fat Matt‘s BBQ, raffle prizes and more from 2:30 p.m. to late at Blind Willie’s, including Bill Sheffield, Rocksploitation, Nat King Coal Miners, Bob Page and Co., The Shadows, Rod Hamdallah, Joe McGuiness Trio, The Electromatics, and The Stooge BrothersBlair Crimmins and the Hookers headline Unplugged in the Park at the Park Tavern.

Ongoing

The latest revival of Tony Award-winning musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is at The Fabulous Fox through Sunday June 24.

VIDAL SASSOON: THE MOVIE not only chronicles the life of the rock star hairdresser/artist but also features lots of ’60s/’70s fashions and hair styles. Playing through Sun. July 31 at Cinefest.

At the High, RADCLIFFE BAILEY: MEMORY AS MEDICINE, the most comprehensive exhibition of the Atlanta artist’s works to date, opened last Sunday June 26 and runsthrough Sept. 11. Read more about the artist and this powerful exhibition that in last week’s Kool Kat. JOHN MARIN’S WATERCOLORS: A MEDIUM FOR MODERNISM, a companion exhibit also at the High this summer through Sept. 11, surveys the work of the man named America’s number one artist in a 1948 LOOK magazine survey. While his name is not a household one today, this exhibition reminds us of his important place in the modernist movement and why watercolors became such a powerful instrument for avante-garde art in the hands of him and other artists in the Stieglitz Circle,including Georgia O’Keefe.

MODERN BY DESIGN, the High‘s other Retro exhibition, celebrates three key moments in modern design and also the Museum of Modern Art, New York‘s (MOMA) collection history. The works on loan from MOMA cover “Machine Art” (1934), “Good Design” (1950-55) and “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” (1972), with the latter addressing modernism in the context of 1960s and ’70s counterculture.

The Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)‘s newest exhibit WaterDream: The Evolution of Bathroom Design, runs through Sept. 24 in the dynamic new Midtown space. Displays take visitors through a four-part journey into the bathroom from the birth of minimalist aesthetics in 20th century design to current concepts.

Get a rare chance to view original manuscript pages from the last four chapters of ATLANTA’S BOOK: THE LOST GONE WITH THE WIND MANUSCRIPTat the Atlanta History Center. The new exhibit, which opens today and runs through Sept. 5, is part of a series of activities celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of the international bestseller and also includes foreign and first edition copies, the desk Margaret Mitchell used while writing it and select images.

Tune back in on Friday for Weekend Update. If you know of a cool happening that we’ve missed, send suggestions to ATLRetro@gmail.com

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