Kool Kat of the Week: Chad Shivers, Guitar Slinger of the Surf-Rock Variety and Founder of Atlanta’s Infamous Southern Surf Stomp!, Catches a Wave and Dishes on the First Ever Southern Surf StompFest!

Posted on: Sep 15th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew11990633_10101892377367613_5371082659938104787_n
Managing Editor

Chad Shivers, purveyor of that infamous high-energy reverb and maniacal mayhem a.k.a. Surf Rock, will be reviving Atlanta this Saturday, September 19, retro-style with his Southern Surf StompFest! at Little Tree Art Studios (Avondale Estates), from noon until 8 pm! Catch a wave and raise a ruckus with a whole lotta vintage vendors (our swanky retro pals, 2the 9’s Retro and Jezebel Blue [see our Shop Around feature here]; Uncle Daddy’s Woodworks [see our Shop Around feature on Dirk Hays here], Beachcomber Cory’s Tiki Hut; THE SURF King Surfwear, and more!), tasty vittles and of course one helluva rockin’ line-up, featuring El Capitan & the Band with No Name, Ouroboro’s Boys, Kool Kat Caroline & the Ramblers, The Beech Benders, The Surge!, The Gold Dust Lounge, The Mystery Men?, Aqualads, and DJ Dusty Booze spinning surf, rockabilly and ‘50s/’60s rock between sets, and so much more! And why not round out your weekend with Southern SurfStomp’s surf-tastic bookend events; the official pre-show at Sunbrimmer Records (Avondale Estates) with Chad’s current project, MOONBASE, Genki Genki Panic and Vacations; and the official after-party rockin’ out at Kavarna (Decatur), featuring Kool Kat Jeffrey Butzer’s surf-rock outfit, The Compartmentalizationists (SUTURES CD release); Band, James Band; and Gemini XIII! So, come on down and rock out surf-style at the most rock ‘n’ roll weekend-long beach party around!

Chad is no newbie to Surf Rock, or rock ‘n’ roll in general. His musical journey began at age 14, when he jumped head first into his first band, The Squares, in 1995 (active until 2002), releasing two records and extensively touring the Southeast. After selling his soul to the rock ‘n’ roll devil, he built a revved up repertoire with Sorry No Ferrari (2005-2011); joined Kool Kat Jeffrey Butzer & the Bicycle Eaters (2010); joined The Mystery Men? (2012); founded the Southern SurfStomp! (2014); and currently fronts his own group, MOONBASE [George Asimakos on guitar; Eric Balint on bass; Sonny Harding on drums and Chad Shivers on guitar], debuting, CREATION MYTHS, in August 2014. And if that isn’t enough, Chad has also performed with Jeffrey Butzer’s, The Compartmentalizationists, Sleep Therapy, the Insect Surfers, The Madeira, and his own Surf Rock Christmas outfit, Chad Shivers & The Silent Knights, dishing out The Ventures’ and The Beach Boys’ Xmas albums every season for the past five years.

Photo by Jamie Galatas, Moonbase at Jacksonville Surf Fest, (L-R) George Asimakos, Chad Shivers, Eric Balint

Moonbase at Jacksonville Surf Fest, (L-R) George Asimakos, Chad Shivers, Eric Balint – Photo by Jamie Galatas

ATLRetro caught up with Chad Shivers for a quick interview about the Southern Surf StompFest!; Surf Rock’s history and resurgence; and his craft of spreading the infectious rock ‘n’ roll vibes of the Surf Rock subculture far and wide! And while you’re takin’ a peek at our little Q&A with Chad, get an earful of his current surf-rock outfit, MOONBASE’s “The Serpent” from their debut album CREATION MYTHS; and a sneak peek at The Compartmentalizationists’ “Blurry Eyes” from their new album SUTURES!

ATLRetro: Who doesn’t love surf rock?! And of course the Southern Surf StompFest! is right down ATLRetro’s alley! Can you fill our readers in on the history or your monthly Southern Surf Stomp! events? And how did you put together that righteous rockin’ line-up you’ve got waiting for our eager readers/listeners?

Chad Shivers: Southern Surf Stomp‘s inception was inspired by multiple factors including Greg Germani‘s incredible Ameripolitan shows; festivals such as Crispy BessInstro Summit held in North Carolina; and the desire to showcase the vast amount of talent within the Southeastern surf music community. Our first show was in April of 2014, and has been going strong ever since, featuring some truly great artists such as Eddie Angel (Los Straitjackets), Ivan Pongracic (The Madeira), Daikaiju, Kill, Baby…Kill!, Aqualads, and even a The Penetrators tribute. For the festival, I wanted to include Atlanta staples (El Capitan and the Band With No Name, The Surge!, The Mystery Men?), groups that have previously performed at our monthly event (Aqualads), and some fresh new faces (Ouroboros Boys, The Beech Benders, Gold Dust Lounge). I’m particularly excited to see Gold Dust Lounge from Miami, as I’ve been practically begging them to come up for the past year or so.

You’ve been devoted to the genre for quite some time, beginning in 1995 with your first band, The Squares, at the ripe old age of fourteen. Can you tell our readers how you became 11986326_10101879470463153_9095156251446565570_naware of surf-guitar and what drew you to the genre?

As a freshman in high school, I attended a house party where a cover band played a number by The Ventures and was completely enamored. Upon seeing my excitement, my friend Jeff, with whom I attended said party, later introduced me to Dick Dale (see ATLRetro’s feature on Dick here) and Man or Astro-man? and that was it. We started The Squares very shortly thereafter. Surf for me just has the energy of punk, the technical prowess of heavy metal, and the melodicism of pop music but (mostly) without lyrics; allowing the listener to create their own narrative.

You’ve been a member and have performed with surf rock and semi-surf rock outfits galore over the years [The Squares; Jeffrey Butzer & the Bicycle Eaters; The Mystery Men?; Sleep Therapy; The Insect Surfers; The Madeira; Chad Shivers & the Silent Knights, etc.]! What exactly is it about surf rock that keeps you coming back for more, even when you’ve stepped away for a bit?

I think it’s just that it’s so much fun to play and there’s an unbelievable amount of variation within the genre from lo-fi garage to highly technical, almost progressive rock and everything in between.  Not to mention, the people involved within the surf scene are among the friendliest, supportive, talented and interesting people you could ever meet.

Although the genre and its subculture hails from Southern California and has even been dubbed “SoCal folk music,” who or what would you say brought that particular sound to the Southeastern US?

Chad Shivers performing with the Penetrators T.R.I.B.U.T.E. - Photo by Jamie Galatas

Chad Shivers performing with the Penetrators T.R.I.B.U.T.E. – Photo by Jamie Galatas

Surf music in the South actually dates back to the ‘60s, and of course there was a later resurgence in the ‘90s with bands like Man or Astro-man? But any ‘scene’, I believe, can be attributed to The Penetrators. They were the jumping-off point for many including myself, aligned themselves with like-minded groups, and were absolutely instrumental – pun intended –in the development of the global surf rock community. What a bunch of incredible songwriters, instrumentalists, and just downright fun guys to be around. Their influence can still be seen, heard and felt greatly even today, and one cannot attend a surf music festival in the US without at the very least a mention of them.

Who would you say are your top three musical influences and why?

That’s quite a difficult question, as the answer will most likely change day to day.  But as of right now, in the most general sense: While not necessarily the greatest influence on me as a musician, hearing Social Distortion for the first time was really a game changer. They brought guitar music to the forefront of my mind and introduced me to punk rock, with which I still greatly identify and has led me down so many wonderful new avenues. Man or Astro-man? was the band that made me want to play surf. Yes, and more specifically, Steve Howe‘s playing has been a huge influence on me in more recent years.  They’re all just such masterful players, yet lyrical and serve the song.

Are there any noticeable differences between current surf rock and the sounds that were spilling out of the ‘50s and ‘60s?

Most definitely! I mean, there are guys out there still trying to recreate the sounds of the ‘60s, but I think for most of us it’s quite difficult to ignore the music of the past 50 years and avoid its influence.

How cool is it that your band, MOONBASE, shared a stage with the granddaddy of surf-guitar, Dick Dale, as well as Man or Astro-Man? at the Surf Guitar 101 Convention in California. Can you tell our readers a little bit about that experience?

We opened for Man or Astro-man? last year and Dick Dale earlier this year, both at The Earl. It’s a bit hard to believe and feels like everything has come full circle; from idolizing

(L-R) Stick Stechkin (of The Penetrators), Chad Shivers, Richard Whig (The Fringe Factory), Eddie Angel (of Los Stratjackets), Richard Hawes (of The Mystery Men?), Trace Luger (of The Penetrators), and Bob Walk (of The Surf King Surfwear) – Photo by Jamie Galatas

(L-R) Stick Stechkin (of The Penetrators), Chad Shivers, Richard Whig (The Fringe Factory), Eddie Angel (of Los Stratjackets), Richard Hawes (of The Mystery Men?), Trace Luger (of The Penetrators), and Bob Walk (of The Surf King Surfwear) – Photo by Jamie Galatas

those guys as a kid to sharing the stage with them, it’s quite the dream come true. When we were approached about performing at the Surf Guitar 101 Convention this year, I was absolutely shocked!  I had no idea we were even on anyone’s radar out there and with our being more on the progressive side, wasn’t even sure how we’d fit in. The response was overwhelmingly positive however, and the opportunity to play with the likes of Davie Allan and The Arrows at the convention for their 50th anniversary and then the following day at the Huntington Beach Pier while people surfed behind us just miles from where it all began was truly a magical experience, never to be forgotten.

Can you tell our readers a little about your collaboration with our Kool Kat Jeffrey Butzer and his new surf-rock project, The Compartmentalizationists?

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Bützer and his music. He has always been so supportive and highly influential on me. He had performed with his trio The Compartmentalizationalists several years back, so of course I had asked him about resurrecting the project to perform at a Stomp. Other members being unavailable, I offered to back him and enlisted fellow Bicycle Eater (as well as Silent Knight, Small Reactions, and Gold Bears member) Sean Zearfoss on drums. After that initial show in June, we all had such a great time we decided to keep going which has led to Jeffrey to finally The Compartmentalizationalists ‘ debut album SUTURES, which we’ll be celebrating at the Southern Surf StompFest! after-party at Kavarna along with Gemini 13 and Band, James Band.

If you could put together a dream line-up of musicians to play with [still around or not], who would it be and why?

I stepped away from surf music for about 10 years in the early 2000s and regret missing many of the great shows that happened during that time. The biggest regret of them all is never getting to meet Eddie Bertrand (of Eddie & the Showmen and The Bel-Airs) or to see him perform.  Although Dick Dale holds the title of “King of the Surf Guitar,” Eddie is my favorite from that first wave in the 1960s. So I would have to say backing him either with his band, The Showmen, or quite possibly with Ivan Pongracic (The Madeira) also on guitar, Dane Carter (The Madeira) on drums, and Carol Kaye on bass.

pre stomp flyerWhat can ATLReaders expect to experience when they catch a wave and rock out at the Southern Surf StompFest? this Saturday? Anything special planned?

They can quite certainly expect to hear some of the finest surf music in the country and possibly even the world, performed by astounding musicians.  While there, grab some tasty food, enjoy your favorite beverage from The Beer Growler, and shop with our fine vendors. Of course, this is a free event, so please bring some cash to donate toward raffle tickets. We have some amazing prizes and contributions go toward helping us to pay the bands.

What’s next for Chad Shivers?

Hopefully after the festival I’ll be able to spend some much needed time with my family. The Spooky Surf Stomp! with Fiend Without A Face, The KBK and Bad Friend will be October 10. I’ll be doing my annual performance of The Beach Boys and The Ventures Christmas albums with my group the Silent Knights at Kavarna on December 12. I know it may be a tall order, but in 2016 I’d like to see the reach of the Southern Surf Stomp! expand beyond Atlanta, to include other cities in the Southeast and the monthly podcast to become a weekly affair, with revolving hosts. Also next year, be on the lookout for new releases from The Mystery Men? and Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters!

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about yourself, surf rock, etc.?

Nothing other than to ask them to please come out to the Southern Surf StompFest! or one of our monthly shows and bring plenty of friends and family! If you’d like to learn more about what’s happening in this wonderful community please visit our Southern Surf Stomp! website, ‘like’ us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@SouthSurfStomp)!

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

I’m not sure the question exactly, but it would most definitely involve a wealthy benefactor!

All photographs are courtesy of Chad Shivers and used with permission.

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The Kool Kats’ Meow: Our ATLRetro Preview of the Third Annual Rockabilly Luau!

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2013 By:

Hawaiiana Tiki Culture and Rockabilly music are two of our favorite things here at ATLRetro, so you can bet we’re looking forward to the 3rd Annual Rockabilly Luau this weekend at Atlanta-Northlake Holiday Inn.  This year, it’s expanded to two days of feativities with a kick-off night on Friday Aug. 2 starting at 6 p.m. and then a full day of fun on Sat. Aug. 3 kicking off at noon hosted by Jim Stacy and mermaid Medusirena the Fire-Eating Mermaid, with bands, vendors, tropical cocktails, a classic car show, a pin-up swimsuit contest, Hawaiian fire performers and even a mermaid! The killer line-up includes a treasure chest of ATLRetro Kool Kats of weeks past, so we thought it would be fun to reprint some highlights from their interviews to give you a taste of the fun to come.

Rockabilly Luau Founder Chris Mattox

Chris told us that he grew up on rockabilly and surf music and that the Rockabilly Luau is a labor of love. “One of my fondest childhood memories was my dad taking me to see Dick Dale at the Variety Playhouse,” he says. “A love for Polynesian culture was inevitable.” At every turn, he reminded us of his passion for fair treatment of animals and that all proceeds from the Rockabilly Luau benefit dog rescue efforts. This year the designated nonprofit is Friends To The Forlorn Pitbull Rescue. Read Chris’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Hot Rod Walt of The Psychio-Devilles (Saturday 7 p.m.)

Hot Rod Walt, aka Walt Richards, may have roots in Jersey and Florida, but since parking in Atlanta in 2006, he’s quickly become one of Atlanta’s hardest working rockabilly/psychobilly singer/guitarists. He has 200 original songs, and his main band, the Psycho-Devilles, which also features Buford T. Ogletree on bass and Steve “Burnout” Barnett on drums, have generated multiple CDs, toured the US and Europe and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the Retro Revival, not to mention lighting a bass on fire at the first Rockabilly Luau in 2011.

“I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was around 12 years old,” Walt recalled. “I will never forget being so stoked about it and I can still smell the smell of the wood and glue and paint it was made of. I didn’t come from a musical family so having an instrument seemed very exotic as a kid. I also remember my little brother and I fighting that day and my father threatening to smash my new prized possession !! He would have done it too.”

As for his fantastic rockabilly wardrobe: “I make all my show clothes myself,” Walt said. “I have some vintage stuff that I find randomly. But I usually find a halfways cool suit at Goodwill and then customize it to a Western style or ’50s style coat. Since I am an upholstery guy, I have industrial sewing equipment and just make whatever I want. I have quite a huge collection of suits. I always want to make a new one for every show!”

Read Hot Rod Walt’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Caroline Hull-Engel of Caroline and the Ramblers (Friday 7:15 p.m.)

As interviewer James Kelly noted, “Red Hot Mama” [the title of the Ramblers’ CD] Caroline Hull Engel is well known to the folks who frequent the Redneck Underground and rockabilly shows in town as one of the best singers around. She was even selected as Creative Loafing’s “Best Female Vocalist” in 2009. Keeping the spirit of the classic ’50s and early ’60s alive is her goal, and with an amazing mix of terrific original tunes and classy covers, Caroline & the Ramblers never disappoint.”

Caroline herself said The Ramblers, her current band, is “geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and [is] heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda JacksonJanis Martin and Gene Vincent with some torchy stuff mixed in. I had gone through a tumultuous relationship and breakup which gave me a lot of inspiration to write some songs that are finally ending up on my new record. Probably the best example of this time in my life is the song “Wasn’t Ready for the Heartache,” which is on the new record. Of course, a little time passing and meeting the love of my life – my husband Robert – helped a lot, too! In 1999 at the first Drive Invasion, I changed the name of the band to Caroline & the Ramblers. We’ve been playing as C&R ever since. There have been some lineup changes over the past 15 years, but I have been very fortunate to play with some of the best players in Atlanta.”

Read Caroline’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Julea Thomerson at The Star Bar's Bubbapalooza.

Julea Thomerson of Julea and Her Dear Johns (Saturday 1 p.m.)

When we caught up with lovely Julea, she was singing and strumming (she plays banjo, acoustic guitar and rubboard) with some of the best male blues and roots musicians in the city, including Bill SheffieldCharlie WootonNathan Nelson and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeckand her main gig was with the Bareknuckle Betties. Now she’s got her own band, Julea and Her Dear Johns.

When asked why she plays country and honky tonk in the 21st century, Julea retorted, “Why not? Every form of music we listen to today is, to some extent, derivative of some sort of sound that is not from the 21st century. There is not one song you can listen to that is completely unique, not one style or genre of music that hasn’t already been reinvented hundreds of times. And that’s true for every genre, not just honky tonk. So if you’re looking at music from that angle, why play anything at all? As for me personally, I play what I play because those are the kind of songs that I write. I write those kind of songs because that’s what I listen to. And I listen to what I listen to because it’s what I connect with and enjoy. I guess you could say that country western honky tonk music is not a 21st century sound. But in my opinion, I think it’s silly to try to assign a time period to something that is timeless.”

Read Julea’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Rev. Andy Hawley. Photo courtesy of Andy Hawley.

The Right Reverend Andy of Garage 71 (Friday Kick-Off Party, 10:30 p.m.)

For almost a decade, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley has been at the pulpit of Atlanta’s rockabilly revival as the DJ of Psychobilly Freakout (now airing Mondays from 8-10 p.m. on Garage 71 Internet radio and live at area events) and also for the many ‘billy events he has organized. Andy said he became the Right Reverend a bit by accident. “It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon,” he added.  “I came in to do my show at Album 88 (88.5FM) and told the DJ before my show went on I had become ordained through the Universal Life Church. Without prompting her, she ended her shift by saying, “Coming up next is Psychobilly Freakout with Reverend Andy!” Years later, Sully from daveFM would add the “Right” part to add some flourish. Now, I’m active outside the studio with my role as the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll getting folks deep fried and sanctified with the help of roots music!”

As for the origins of “Psychobilly Freakout,” he told us “This name (and song) encapsulated the theme for what I wanted my show to become. Honestly, it came down to naming it this or “Rockabilly Rebel,” after a Hillbilly Hellcats song. The program director for Album 88 wanted to differentiate my show from the country show, so I went with the Freakout. The first time I interviewed Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), I told him I had named my show after one of his songs. He told me, “You better make it live up to the name,” and I think I have, eight years going.”

Read Rev. Andy’s full Kool Kat interview here.

 

Mon Cherie. Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Mon Cherie (Hostess, Friday Night Kick-Off Party)

When we Kool Katted Atlanta’s hostess with the mostest Mon Cherie, she was resurrecting notorious nightclub The Chamber for one more dark and delightful night, but she’s also the divine visionary behind the Rockabilly Lounge, burlesque shows and an amazing array of other Retro-inspired activities here. We asked her what started her love of all things vintage and she told us: “When I was a little girl, my Aunt Peggy from the hills of Pennsylvania used to let me and my sisters listen to her 45 records on her portable record player. This is the beginning of my fondness for ElvisJohnny CashEddie Cochran,Hank Williams and Ritchie Valens et al. I have always loved the trends of the ’40s, ’50s & ’60s – Rockabilly Lounge was just my way of putting it all together.” As to her secret to success: “I have an ability to share a smile, so when I put one on your face, it puts two on mine.”

Read Mon Cherie’s Full Kool Kat interview here.

Chris Hamer. Photo courtesy of Chris Hamer.

 

Monsterific Comics Artist Chris Hamer (Vendors Row)

The Rockabilly Luau’s vendors’ alley is always full of fantastic finds from carved tikis to floral hair styling accessories to carved Cthulhu tiki mugs, but one of our favorites has to be the man who put a monster in your thrift store painting, Chris Hamer of Urbnpop Studio. When we caught up with him, he was about to do a Tom Waits-themed art show, and this is what he said about his approach to using found pieces in his works: “This show was a bit how I do my thrift store pieces, but I did the shopping at antique stores instead. I would travel around to different stores with a song in mind, walk around, do a lot of staring at stuff, and buy it [if I had] the feeling that I could make it work. When you listen to Tom Waits, or even see a photo of him, there is this nostalgic, romantic quality to him. I feel that with his music, he does not fit into this new polished sound that is on the radio or popular with a wide audience. It’s almost like his fans are antiques or vintage themselves. By no means am I calling them old, but you just do not hear people talking about him as much as you do a mainstream band or singer. I did not want to just simply make a wooden box or buy some canvas for the art, I wanted to take the vintage old soul approach with the art. So each piece has some sort of lost antique or discarded feel to it. One piece that will stand out the most in the show is for the song “Old 55.” I used an original pre-‘50s Ford truck door for my canvas to paint on. It’s all rusty and looks like time forgot all about it. I love it.”

Read Chris Hamer’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Medusirena. Photo courtesy of Medusirena.

Medusirena (Saturday, 8:15 p.m.)

And last but not least it’s true, there will be a mermaid and she knows how to play with fire! One of the last luau’s most alluring acts was aquatic dance by Medusirena, also known as Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaidfrom Fort Lauderdale, FL., and we’re happy to say she’s back. She wasn’t an official ATLRetro Kool Kat, but we did interview her for last year’s preview to find out a little more about this self-described “zany Uncanny Exoticat-Aquaticat,” whose passion is to recreate vintage aquatic dance for today’s audiences.

“Well, there was never a time I “became” a “mermaid,” to tell you the truth,” Marina told ATLRetro. “I can say that  I learned how to free dive at a very early age – 3 – in the West Indies and have always maintained a strong connection with aquatic movement art. That, together with training in Polynesian and Eastern dances, it was a natural fit.  I was inspired by marine animal movement and performers and showpeople ranging from Esther Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ricou Browning, Annette Kellerman, Iris Chacón and even Freddie Mercury, with a touch of Bruce Lee. My goal is to not only to return aquatic performances to people’s consciousness, but to help educate and encourage the art form for future generations. Retro-tainment if you will.”

Read our full interview with Medusirena here.

And that’s just our Kool Kats sos far. Everyone on the Rockabilly Luau playlist is a sure-fire contender for a future Kool Kat. Here’s the full performance schedule, but keep in mind, as we said, they’ll be a lot more going, especially on Saturday, including vendors, classic cars, cocktails and food.

Friday Night Line-up:

6:00-7:00 The Monterreys
7:00-7:15 Daisy Day
7:15-8:00 Caroline & The Ramblers
8:15-9:00 Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Pre-Qualifier
9:00-9:45 The Mystery Men?
9:45-10:30 Forged Creations Fire Performers
10:30 -? Hotel guests only kickoff party! Hosted by Mon Cherie, Garage 71 and Bachelor Pad Magazine!

Saturday Line-up:
12:00 Gates open!
1:00-2:00 Julea and her Dear Johns
2:00-3:00 Gemini 13
2:30-3:30 “Taste of the Islands” part 1
3:00-4:00 Davina & the Harlots
4:15:-5:15  The Intoxicators
5:30-6:00  Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders
6:00-6:45  Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Contest Finals “Taste of the Islands” part 2
7:00-8:00  Hot Rod Walt & The Psycho Devilles
8:15-8:45 Medusirena
9:00-9:30 Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders, Fire Knife dancer
9:30 Kat Chaffin & Woven Pines

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Kool Kat of the Week: Caroline Hull Engel Keeps on Ramblin’ with a New Album and CD Release Party Saturday at the Star Bar

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Full disclosure – Caroline recorded one of my songs on her new album, but I loved her music long before that happened)

It’s been a long time coming, but after almost 20 years, fans are FINALLY getting a full length album from the amazing Caroline & the Ramblers! They’ll be celebrating RED HOT MAMA with a record release party Sat. July 21 at the Star Bar, also featuring the Billygoats from Nashville, Whiskey Belt and Rockbridge Heights. Showtime is 9 p.m.

This “Red Hot Mama” is well known to the folks who frequent the Redneck Underground and rockabilly shows in town as one of the best singers around. She was even selected as Creative Loafing’s “Best Female Vocalist” in 2009. Keeping the spirit of the classic ’50s and early ’60s alive is her goal, and with an amazing mix of terrific original tunes and classy covers, Caroline & the Ramblers never disappoint.

We will let this week’s “Kool Kat” tell her own story…

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in performing music? Please tell us about your former bands and how they developed over time.
Caroline Hull Engel: I have been singing and performing since I was little. I performed at many school and church functions from a very young age. And then later as an adult I would sing with different friends’ bands at house parties and such, but really hadn’t found “my tribe” yet. Not until one fateful night in the early ’90s at the Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highlands where my best friend and I stumbled across a band called the Diggers. That changed everything for me. Once I saw those guys, I knew I had found “my people.”

After seeing the Diggers that night we found out when they would be playing their next gig. Turned out they were playing at a new bar called the Star Community Bar. One visit to the Star Bar and we were hooked. My friends and I started going there regularly. Night after night there were amazing roots rock bands playing rockabilly, country, hillbilly, garage, surf! We could always count on hearing great live music there. We were like kids in a candy store! It was an amazing time.

After that I was getting to know some of the bands and other regulars at the Star Bar, and one night I got up and sang a Patsy Cline song at an open mike night. This guy came running out after me as I was leaving the bar and he introduced himself as James, aka Slim Chance of Slim Chance and the Convicts. He asked if I would be interested in singing at a Patsy Cline tribute show he was putting together. I knew it was time to start my own band. Trail of Tears was primarily a country band with a hint of rockabilly. We did a lot of Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee covers – and a great Pogues song called “Haunted.”

Then I formed a new band called the Ramblers. This new band was geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and was heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin and Gene Vincent with some torchy stuff mixed in. I had gone through a tumultuous relationship and breakup which gave me a lot of inspiration to write some songs that are finally ending up on my new record. Probably the best example of this time in my life is the song “Wasn’t Ready for the Heartache,” which is on the new record. Of course, a little time passing and meeting the love of my life – my husband Robert – helped a lot, too! In 1999 at the first Drive Invasion, I changed the name of the band to Caroline & the Ramblers. We’ve been playing as C&R ever since. There have been some lineup changes over the past 15 years, but I have been very fortunate to play with some of the best players in Atlanta.

Having lived in Atlanta all your life, what are your observations and impressions of the local roots music scene?
Like a lot of things in life, there are ebbs and flows, genres of music that are more popular at one time or another, and that is no exception for the local roots music scene. I think for Atlanta – the roots music scene was probably at its height from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s with a few of the original players maintaining a presence all the way through, but it definitely slacked off in the mid 2000s. Bands break up, people move, and some people aren’t with us anymore. There have always been bands and players who have consistently performed over the years, but there seems to be a resurgence as of late of some new roots rock bands. It is exciting to see this happening!

Who are some of your favorite local and national artists, and why?
JD McPherson’s SIGNS & SIGNIFIERS has not left my CD player since I got it a couple of months ago. Before that was The Bellfuries’ JUST PLAIN LONESOME. Both are truly fabulous records. My all-time favorite touring band is Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. I love how how pure they are and how they stick to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. “No fuss, no fanfare,” as my husband would say. They don’t try to conform to popular conventions; they just do their thing and they do it really well.

I’m very lucky to be in Atlanta where there are so many great local bands of varying styles – like Tiger, Tiger, Anna Kramer and the Lost Cause, Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Serenaders, Villain Family and Ghost Riders Car Club (GRCC), but everyone who knows me knows that my favorite local band is The Blacktop Rockets. BTR doesn’t play as frequently as they used to,  but it is always a thrill to hear them live. They are the best!

What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of making this new CD?
Time and money – but doesn’t that seems to be a challenge regarding a lot of things in life?

Since it was recorded, you have made some major changes in the band. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The original players on the CD THE RAMBLERSChad Proctor, Matt Spaugh and Rodney Bell and I – are not currently playing together. They are very busy with family commitments, other music opportunities and their own band. They are amazing musicians, and they did such a fabulous job on the record. It is unfortunate that we could not promote the CD together as a group, but the timing wasn’t right for it. Everyone is going in different directions and I wish them all the very best.

For many months I have been working with new “Ramblers”: Danny Arana – guitar/vocals; Big Joel G – bass/vocals; and Mike Z – drums. The new line-up is awesome! We are having a great time, and they seem to really dig this new sound we are creating. Danny’s harmonies will absolutely blow you away! This new chapter of the Ramblers has turned out better than I could have hoped for.

How do you go about selecting songs to perform? What is it that pulls you to cover a tune?
I’ve been listening to “old school” country and rockabilly since I was a little kid. My Dad had an old jukebox, and I would play it for hours and hours. A lot of the 45s he had on the jukebox like Gene Vincent, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and the Beatles were influential in the kind of music I play today. I listen to a lot of compilations of stuff from the ’40s and ’50s, too, and I keep lists of potential covers. I am all about things that are vocally appealing to me and either move me emotionally or make me want to get up and dance. I just know a cover song that will work for us when I hear it.

How interested/involved in music and performance are your two lovely daughters, Ava Bonner and Ella?
We get performances on a daily basis at our house. My prediction is that I have one future Vocal Star and one future Rock Star! The joke is that in a few years they will form a band with some of our other musician friends’ children, and then we’ll be the ones in the audience!

What would be your “dream gig”?
Nationally I would have to say the real dream gig would be to play at the Ryman in Nashville. To perform on the stage where so many of my musical heroes have played would be amazing! Locally I think it would be really cool to play Chastain Park and open for someone like Chris Isaak, Loretta Lynn or Brian Setzer. Of course, it would be great to open for my hero Wanda Jackson again!

What are your plans for the band now that the album is completed and released?
We have several shows on the calendar to promote the CD and are working on more for the Fall. Currently we are playing our CD Release party at the Star Bar on Saturday July 21, a show at Twain’s in Decatur on Thursday August 2, a live in-store at Decatur CD on Friday August 10 and a show at Big Tex Cantina in Decatur on Friday August 24. We also plan to play a few out of town shows this fall and winter. You can find out more about our music and show dates on our ReverbNation page.

You do a benefit every year for people with Down’s syndrome. How did you get involved in that, and why? When is the next one, and who is the featured artist?
Yes, I have two different childhood friends whose children were born with Down syndrome, and I started this to honor these beautiful kids and to help each of them with their effort to raise money for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta’s yearly Buddy Walk. This all started in 2010 with a show called “A Tribute.” Each year I pick a musical legend to honor, and I ask local bands to do a few songs by that artist. The first year we did Patsy Cline, and last year to coincide with his 80th birthday we did an evening of George Jones’ music. This year we will do a tribute to Ray Price! This year’s show will be on Saturday October 13 at the Star Bar.

RED HOT MAMA can be purchased on www.cdbaby.com and locally at Decatur CD. All photographs are courtesy of Caroline and the Ramblers.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Living a Real Life Tom T. Hall Song with Cletis Reid

Posted on: Jun 14th, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Cletis Reid.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

When I first began frequenting the Star Community Bar in L5P in the early ’90s, like so many locals, I couldn’t get enough of the amazing selection of country and rockabilly bands that were being booked there. The excitement was consistent and palpable—we were starved for “it.” Late weekend nights, we clambered for more—even demanded more. Before long it came to my attention that a notable battle-cry had developed. “Alright God-damn-it!” would holler a couple of kids from up front. They clearly had a feel for the real thing ’cause if the show was good they were there and raisin’ a ruckus. “More!!!” Young Cletis Reid knew what he wanted to hear and had no compunctions about making it known.

Now Cletis has his own band, Cletis and his City Cousins, and since they just released a new CD, CITY COUSINS MOVIN’ IN, and are playing this Fri June 15, at The Earl, ATLRetro thought it was a great time to make him Kool Kat of the Week. Make sure you get out because the 9 p.m.-starting show is a mere $10 and they’re sharing the stage with three other ATLRetro favorites, Three Bad JacksHot Rod Walt and The Psycho-DeVilles and Whiskey Dick. 

TORCHY TABOO: I know you grew up in M’retta…how’d you end up at the Star Bar yelling for encores from Redneck Underground greats?

CLETIS REID: In 1992, I saw The Blacktop Rockets play with a band called Donkey at The Roxy in Buckhead, and I basically hauled ass down this path of riches and fame. I had been listening to country music my whole life but never saw people only a little older than me play it before.

I remember The Hepburns with you and your brother Ryan—you were just kids. What was it like being a “child prodigy”? 

The Hepburns is kind of a blur simply because it went from an idea on one of those crazy Stein Club Mondays to kaput within a year, yet we recorded an EP, had heavy airplay on Album 88, did Live at WREK, had an article in The Loaf and Stomp and Stammer, and played a sold-out Point opening for Kelly Hogan. It was like being hit by a truck since, yeah, it was my first “normal” band. I thought it would always go that fast. It went out with a keg on Morgan Road in Marietta.

Photo courtesy of Cletis Reid.

So seeing bands like Backtop Rockets and The Vidalias put the country music of the 1960s and ’70s and earlier into a current and personal context for you. Was it easy to find like-minded people to play with before the Redneck Underground?

Always easy. It was easy when I started out because none of us knew what the hell we were trying to do anyway. I didn’t really develop that direction until Redneck Underground was already a term.  I never identified myself with the Redneck Underground name, just kinda got identified with it through association. I never went through the official hazing ritual with the Witches of the Ozarks. By the time the RU came around, I was surrounded by like minded people all the time. Still am.

I know what Hank III thinks of current mainstream “country'” music. I know what I think of it. What do you think of it?

First of all, I would never call it country. When you say you love country music in my circles, people know what you mean. If I say that out in the real world, people think you mean something totally different and will ask you what you think of the new Taylor Swift record. “I haven’t heard the [___], sir.” But to answer your question I think it should be “mainstreamed” up Toby Keith‘s …..[the terminology gets musically “technical” here…we’ll spare the reader.]

Who was your first rockabilly band, and don’t I recall you on stand-up bass?

The first “rockabilly” band I played with was Flathead Mike and the Mercurys, which was kind of a rockabilly turned up to 11. I was just starting out on upright bass. Definitely hard to keep up with those monkeys at that time. Soon after started playing upright with Caroline and the Ramblers which was a new experience. Already established, total professionals, and more traditional in their sound. I played with them for eight years and learned a lot. Caroline has a new CD out, by the way. I’m her agent. Starting now.

Your band The Holy Smokes brought us the timeless and technical favorite “Hubble Space Telescope,” as I recall.

Hard to remember exact years, but around 2000, I started The Holy Smokes with my buddies Bill Quigley and Mark Griffiths, and a revolving door of drummers. I figured I was ready to front a band. We did a few originals and a number of covers of Sun Records-era rockabilly. That song was written for a Monday night songwriter thing at the Star Bar. I think we may have played it once with The Snakehandlers (another band I was in), but that’s about it. I didn’t have it written down and accidentally forgot it. I remember the relevant part. I guess I could always write some new crap around that.

Tell us about your current band, Cletis and his City Cousins?

After everybody moved away on me, after a couple of years I asked my buddy Johnny McGowan to help me out and it turned into Cletis and his City Cousins around 2002. It evolved into more of a ’60s or ’70s trucking vibe, which seemed like the natural order of things.

For the erudition of the general public, why truckin’ songs?

Truckers to me have always been the cool, loner guys. I would go on vacations with my grandparents as a young kid and we would roll into this truckstop diner around foggy sun-up, and I thought all these guys were living a real life Smokey and The Bandit or Tom T. Hall song, and in a way they were. Those old truck-driving songs have a way of painting a picture of that life that I could never do in sentences. Always felt I could relate to them in a sense. Plus, all my Trapper Keepers [Marietta-speak for school notebook] had some rigs with some sweet sleepers on them. Wanted to live in one.  I got a CB for Christmas one year. My handle was “Honkey See, Honkey Do.” I guess it still is if I ever get another one.  [if?!]

The Cousins frame the talents of Johnny McGowan, and the chemistry seems perfect.

Johnny and I were friends from his early days in the Blacktop Rockets when we raised a little hell at Sleazefest ’97. When I needed somebody to play with after the great Exodus of ’02, he was a no-brainer. Even then he had some of the craziest chops in town. We would set up for hours on end in his basement and record stuff until we were plain sick of each other, and eventually it became a natural working relationship. He and I actually plan on releasing some of those early basement recordings some day. He’s the best musical mind I know, and the only guy I know who can play a Jerry Reed-type run exactly the way we need it done. Turned out we wrote well together too. It hasn’t always been sunshine and teacups, but I’ve never had a second thought about calling him up. Throw in Blake and Hammer, and I can’t imagine a more perfect band for me.

It’s been predicted that “The Man Behind the Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel” will top the charts as a single. Say something about the new CD to entice the Fans.

First off, it’s very shiny. Secondly, it’s been in the works since the Vietnam era, and finally, $10 is a small price to pay for the most staggering achievement in the annals of human endeavor. CD is called CITY COUSINS MOVIN’ IN. [Buy it or they will. Ed’s note: Watch out for an ATLRetro review coming soon.]

To close, I asked Cletis the ubiquitous question, “where’d  the name ‘Cletis and the City Cousins’ come from?” But it was the top of the Ninth, and an answer nearly as dismissive as “Woman, get me a beer” told me my magic moment with the rising star was done. “I just came up with it off the top of my head as just something to call it and it ended up sticking,” he said. ” need to come up with a more exciting story for my next interview.”

Yes. Well, the truth is Cletis Reid sees himself as that guy all Southern people have in their family so the name is a straightforward description of sorts. That is, if they all had a notorious biting wit for remarks such as, “If there was any justice in this world, URBAN COWBOY would be thought of in the same way people think of CITIZEN KANE.”

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