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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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.I try to keep the dose of Ativan, which I order at ativanshop.com the same as it was prescribed.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Drinking In The Graveyard: Lauren Staley Morrow of Whiskey Gentry Talks About Playing Tunes From the Tombs

Posted on: May 17th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

For the last couple of years Cabbagetown’s Whiskey Gentry has been blazing a trail across the Deep South, gathering a massive number of rabid fans wherever they play. Their cranked up “Pogues go to old time Nashville” style is addicting and infectious, and their live shows are memorable parties. With one excellent album under their belts, the band is currently planning a three-night stint at Smith’s Olde Bar on July 12, 13 and 14 to record a live album. But before that we get the chance to hear them a few blocks from home at the second annual Tunes From The Tombs festival this weekend. The two-day event (Sat. May 19 and Sun. May 20) is a benefit for the Oakland Cemetery and features a ton of great local, regional and national acts on several stages throughout the amazing and historic cemetery. The music starts around 11 a.m. and lasts until dusk. Tickets are $10 each day, or $15 for both days.

With the Whiskey Gentry closing out the event Sunday night at 6 p.m., ATLRetro.com decided that  lovely and talented lead singer Lauren Staley Morrow would be  a mighty swell Kool Kat Of The Week! Following a busy weekend on the road, Miss Lauren was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in music, and when did you ultimately consider yourself a professional singer?

Music was always a big deal in my household as a child. None of my immediate family are musicians, but they are all avid fans. I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 14 and started officially writing songs then. Unfortunately, I spent the next six years trying to hide the fact that I could sing from everyone. I was always so nervous that I would only play my music to a very select group of friends in my bedroom closet so my parents wouldn’t hear. I moved to England to study abroad when I was 20 years old and played my first open mic there. After that, I was hooked to performing live. I don’t do drugs or jump out of planes or anything like that, so I get my adrenaline rush from performing in front of people. Despite all that, I don’t know if I consider myself a professional singer just yet! I’ve always thought that once I was able to make a full-time living from music, then I would consider myself a professional. I’m not there just yet – but soon!

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

Who are some of your most important musical influences, and why do you consider them so essential?

Gosh, my musical influences are all over the place and keep evolving through the years. U2 is my favorite band of all time, and I loved Britpop when I was in high school. When I moved to England, I was so homesick for the South that I started listening to a lot of alt-country, Americana, and old country. I also started reading a lot of Southern folk literature and listening to Child Ballads (written tunes that influenced old-time and Appalachian music). That was really when I felt my Southern roots started working their way into my songwriting.

What do you think brought about the vast difference between the type of country music you play, and what is heard on commercial radio?

Currently, I think there is a great divide between those of us who want to honor a more traditional type of country music versus the amount of that which is played on commercial radio. Thankfully, I feel like people are ready to embrace country acts that aren’t so commercial but have the ability to cross over into the mainstream without losing their integrity. I was very encouraged to see acts like The Civil Wars, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons rise to success this past year. Even the Zac Brown Band, who is very successful in commercial country markets, stay true their sound without writing about “honky-tonk badonkadonks” and “red solo cups.” I think that’s an encouraging sign for those of us who want to honor the country genre that’s inspired us without looking like a bunch of hacks trying to make a dollar on CMT.

Please tell us a bit about the members of the Whiskey Gentry, and how you found them. Why do you think this lineup “clicks” so well?

The Whiskey Gentry really began when I met my husband, Jason. We knew we both wanted to play music together, and we assembled the rest of the players in the group. Jason was in punk bands with Price Cannon (drums) and Sammy Griffin (bass), and we found Chesley Lowe (banjo) through a good friend. The five of us were the core band for a long time aside from a few hired guns along the way. Last year, we were introduced to Michael Smith who plays mandolin, and we finally met a fiddle player, Rurik Nunan. We also met Waylon Elsberry who plays harmonica and lap steel and can write one hell of a tune. Having spent the last few months on the road every weekend, I feel like we’ve finally found the band line-up we want forever – all of these guys are like my extended family. Like any family, we have our issues and disagreements. But at the end of the day, we all understand, respect and love each other immensely.

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

How did the Whiskey Gentry develop such a rabid and large fan base? What do you think is the most interesting aspect of your audience?

Initially, I think it helped that we all played in relatively successful local bands before forming The Whiskey Gentry, and we all had large social networks who, through word of mouth, told friends about our band. Over the years, I think we have made a name for ourselves through our live shows. I’ll meet people who will say, “I saw you guys last month and now I’ve brought 10 friends!” It’s a loyalty that has carried us from show to show and town to town. I think the most interesting aspect of our audience is how diverse it is – I don’t feel like there is any certain group that responds better to us than others. We have fun when we play, and I think people like to see that energy, regardless of background and musical tastes.

What do you see as the greatest attribute of the Atlanta music scene? What do you think is the greatest need in the local music scene?

I think one of the best things about the Atlanta music scene is that we have a lot of really great venues run by really great people who are willing to help up-and-coming acts get gigs in the city. We would have never been able to get a start in this town if it weren’t for a few concert promoters and venue booking agents who took a chance on us, and now, we have great relationships with those people and they continue to help us to this day. As for a need, I’ve been really excited to see Music Midtown making its comeback the past two years. Other cities around us have huge music festivals that not only draw in loads of revenue for their respective cities, but the festivals also help people pay attention to that town for music. Atlanta has a lot to offer musically that’s not just hip-hop or rap, and I just hope the city continues to show that.

The Whiskey Gentry put out a great debut album, so why record a live album at this point, instead of a second studio album?

I’m very proud of PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, and I think it does a great job of capturing our live sound. Having said that, however, I do feel like there is something undeniable about coming to one of our shows. It’s a party. People are screaming and dancing and singing the words, and we want to display that through a live recording. Also, as musicians, I think the live shows really showcase the musical abilities of the people in the band. We feed off of the energy from the crowds, and it just makes everyone play so well. Also, the live record will not take the place of a second album – we plan on releasing our second record next year, and the live album will be sold in coordination with that.

Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming Tunes From the Tombs show that you are willing to share with us? We know y’all love to whip out the odd cover tunes…

Ha! Who knows what we’ll come up with – we learned “Sabotage” in the van home from Virginia two days after MCA died and played it at show that evening. We love a good cover tune.

If you could book a “dream gig” who would you have on the bill with the Whiskey Gentry, and why?

This is tough. We all come from so many different musicial influences that I would want to honor all of them at our dream gig. Here’s the line-up: U2, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch all signing three-part harmony to every song, Social Distortion, Flatt & Scruggs (you said dream gig!), Gram Parsons (dreaming…again), Weird Al Yankovic, a comedy hour with Louis CK, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Bad Religion and OutKast.

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Down At The Well Of Wishes: Slim Chance Celebrates Jon Byrd’s Return to Atlanta With a New Album and Hopefully a Dream Come True

Posted on: Dec 6th, 2011 By:

By Slim Chance (James Kelly)
Contributing Blogger

Jon Byrd celebrates the release of DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES at Kavarna in Oakhurst on Saturday Dec. 10. Slim Chance & the Convicts play at 8PM. $6. Facebook Event Link.

Chasing your dreams can be a long, arduous, and often frustrating journey, which usually ends in regret and disillusionment. But perseverance, and commitment, and dedication can often fuel that desire into fruition. Last month, as I sat in Nashville’s hallowed Station Inn, surrounded by a few old acquaintances and a room full of strangers, I watched my dear friend Jon Byrd take the stage to a rousing reception as he celebrated the release of his second solo album DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES. It was a project two years in the making, and the payoff was evident in the maturity of the songs, the catch of the hooks, and the look of sheer pleasure on the faces of all in attendance. But truthfully, this dream was hatched many years ago, and I got to see it take shape.  From his early days playing guitar in local Southern “alternative” bands like the Primitons and the Windbreakers, Jon searched far and wide for his musical footprint, and he ultimately found it in country music.

In the late ‘80s, I lived right behind Jon and his girlfriend (at the time) in Little Five Points, and there is no doubt the sounds of Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard blasting from my stereo made their way up to their windows. Compound that with the rowdy, scattered and musically schizophrenic practice sessions of my own band, Slim Chance & the Convicts, it was inevitable that curiosity took over, and we became friends and collaborators. Jon eventually joined the Convicts full time, and through our shared fascination and mutual exploration of the roots of country music he developed a unique and crafty lead guitar style, steeped in traditional twang, but with a twist here and there.

Jon Byrd plays at Red Beet Records in East Nashville. Photo Credit: Stacy Huckeba

Jon always listened to the nuances, and picked up a few tricks while creating his own. And the man can sing. His run with the Convicts resulted in three well-received albums, more incredible shows than we can remember, and a stellar reputation. Stints with other Atlanta acts like Greta Lee and The Ratchet Set proved that Jon was a consummate picker, and his newfound love of real country music was his foundation for all these years. But in Atlanta, it’s really easy to be a big fish in the little pond of the Redneck Underground, and Jon had other plans. He relocated to Nashville, where all of a sudden he found himself on the fringes of a very polarized world, quite different from what he was used to in Atlanta.

The musical pilgrimage to Nashville is a well-worn tale; some make it, most don’t. Those shooting for “the big time” often go home empty-handed, but those who hold their ground often find their niche. Jon struggled for several years in the talent overloaded town, playing pick-up gigs when he could get them, sitting in when he had the chance, and ingratiating himself into the very tight and somewhat insular social scene on “other side of Nashville.” Making friends and connections, he worked hard, and in the 10 years he has been in Music City, he gradually nurtured and shaped a deeply respected place within the alt. country music scene, mostly centered in East Nashville.

Jon released his first solo album BYRD’S AUTO PARTS in 2007, and immediately people who were not already familiar with his work took notice. Joined by a crew of musicians pretty much in the same place he was professionally, the record was done on a shoestring budget, and with a lot of help from his friends. It was good enough and respected enough to motivate a second release, which again became a pure labor of love. Juggling a full-time job, frequent gigs and basic survival, Jon somehow pulled his support group together one more time, and with a fancier studio, the production expertise of the popular R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Webb Wilder, Allison Moorer, etc.), and a lot of favors from his talented friends, DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES has finally arrived.

Jon Byrd. Photo Credit: Michael Pittman.

Is this country music? Well, yes and no. It’s not what radio programmers call “country music” today, but it is the kind of country music you hear when you listen to a Dan Penn record, or a Willie Nelson album. It is music from the heart and soul, full of songs about real things that matter to everyone. The dark imagery of the opener, “In A Chest Of Skin And Bone,” co-written with Jon’s Nashville drinking buddy Butch Primm (an amazing songwriter as well), sets the tone for a journey through emotional valleys and caverns. The poignant and beautiful melody and harmonies on “When It Starts To Rain” enhance the rich metaphorical lyrics, and drive the message of solitary pain over missed opportunities straight into the listener’s mind. Each of the nine tracks is a defining moment, whether a reflection on Jon’s roots in “Alabama Asphalt,” or a sweet eulogy for for a favorite watering hole in “A Fond Farewell”.

Recorded at Ocean Way Studio, Jon’s friends are all over the place. Former Los Straitjackets drummer Jimmy Lester handles most of the percussion, the keyboards are courtesy of Georgia native Adam Wright, whose lovely and incredibly talented wife Shannon Wright also adds harmony vocals. The pedal steel is shared by Newnan boy Alex McCollough (who also mastered the record) and the incredible Pat Severs, who works with Bill Anderson and the Everly Brothers. Ed Atkins of the Derailers adds some bass, along with Duane Blevins. And when Jon isn’t playing lead guitar, that is handled well by Milan Miller.

So who will hear this great record? With no big publicity machine behind it, that relies on word of mouth, website reviews and indie radio DJs to create a groundswell. Jon just returned from a successful solo European tour, and is a participant on a Grammy®-nominated album, I LOVE…TOM T. HALL’S SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW . Those are sure to increase his exposure. But regardless of the challenge of commercial success, Jon has accomplished many of the goals he set out to achieve when he left Atlanta, and we are all very proud of his amazing work. Sometimes wishes come true, and Jon Byrd deserves it.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Why Brant Slay Returned to the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and More Random Ramblings about Jason Statham, Lon Chaney and Lawrence Welk

Posted on: Jul 28th, 2011 By:

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, May 1, 2011, at Devil's Pond. Left to right: Alan "Lumpy" Cowart, Brant Slay, Ben Reynolds. Photo Credit: Jason Thrasher.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss a band until you hear they’re back together again. About a month ago we caught up with Guadalcanal Diary, who reunited for two shows at AthFest and Smith’s Olde Bar. But this year’s AthFest was also notable for the triumphant return of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, another Georgia band that skated national fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and won the hearts of many—including Michael Stipe, Willie Dixon and John Keane, who produced their two albums WHITE DIRT and 8-TRACK STOMP. That affection was earned by a truly unique sound—oft dubbed “swamp rock”—that had its roots in both alt-rock and country as Ben Reynolds’ fast-paced blues guitar riffs mixed with an arsenal of home-grown and found percussion instruments played by Brant Slay including the rockin’ chair, stomp board (their invention), washboard, harmonica, cowbells and tin cans. Like so many great bands, though, the Mudd Puppies slipped away quietly and way too soon.

The rumors started back last spring with the seemingly unlikely proposition that the Mudd Puppies were suddenly back in the studio recording a song for the Jason Statham action movie THE MECHANIC. Then they showed up at South by Southwest in Austin, expanded from a duo to a trio with Alan “Lumpy” Cowart on drums. Cowart had performed with The Beggar Weeds from Jacksonville, Fla., another legendary alt-rock band also with a Stipe-produced record. Soon the Mudd Puppies were playing hometown venues such as The Melting Point and ATHFest, and we knew we weren’t hallucinating in wistful thinking any more. Thankfully they’re finally getting around to playing in Atlanta in the Buckhead Music Festival this Saturday July 30 at the 1930 Buckhead Theatre.

Brant Slay at AthFest 2011. Photo credit: Daniel Pieken.

ATLRetro caught up with Brant recently and he was kind enough to fill us all in on the band’s back story (for those of you who missed the Mudd Puppies the first time around), what he and Ben were up to when they went away, what brought the duo back to playing together, how Lumpy got involved, and miscellaneous other tasty tidbits from Mudd Puppies mythology.

For the young’uns, how did you, Ben and Lumpy get together and start the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies?
Well, Ben and I met in Athens back in the mid-’80s. We were both in art school and looking to vent a little creative energy. We had parties at my house on Barber Street, and everyone invited had to either bring an instrument or play the pots and pans. It sounded horrible, but we had a great time. Ben was learning the guitar, and I was singing and stomping. The harmonicas, found percussion and actual stomp board came later. We simply clicked and usually were the last two at the party still playing. That’s pretty much the inception of The Chickasaw Mudd Puppies.

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies at South By Southwest.

We later met the greatest band to ever come out of Florida, The Beggar Weeds, and Alan “Lumpy” Cowart was their drummer. We toured with the Weeds quite a bit, and Alan was gracious enough to sit in and play with us for an occasional tour. We all hit it off, and the coolest thing that came from that meeting of the bands was that we made some incredible lifelong pals. Many years later, we crawled out of the ground like some 19-year cicada ready to make music again, and it was truly fate that Lumpy become the third member of the Mudd Pups. It’s evolution.

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Band on the Run: Burt & the Bandits Race Up to Marietta’s Earl Strand Theatre Sat. July 30 & Invade the Starlight Drive-In & Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Jul 27th, 2011 By:

Burt and the Bandits, 8 p.m. Sat. July 30; $12 advance; $15 at the door; Earl Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta.

When ATLRetro launched in January, we knew the first Kool Kat of the Month had to be Jon Waterhouse. In a city fortunate to have several strong contenders for its most Retro Renaissance Man (Or Woman), Waterhouse is an undisputed 20th Century Pop Culture King. And that’s not just because he hosts a radio show called THE POP CULTURE KING SHOW on AM 1690, though that show, along with a regular freelance gig with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows him to interview many 20th century icons.

No, what’s so cool about Jon is the quantity and diversity of Retro culture that he’s tapped into. He’s done promo work for Van Halen and fronted Van Heineken, a Van Halen tribute band. He hosts all of Blast-Off Burlesque’s shows, transforming seemingly effortlessly into a succession of creative characters from a sci-fi nerd to Rip Taylor. For four years and over 100 Silver Scream Spookshows at the Plaza Theatre, he played Retch, Professor Morte’s lovable sidekick. He’s collaborating on a book related to the 1939 classic movie THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And just when you wonder what he could possibly do next, Jon’s latest adventure is Burt and the Bandits, which pays homage to the 1977 Burt Reynolds hit SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. They’re playing the awesome art-deco Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta on Sat. July 30, and after getting the lowdown from Jon, we can’t think of a better reason to dust off the old Trans Am, get loaded up and truckin’, never mind them brakes, put that hammer down and give it hell all the way to OTP…

Burt & The Bandits. From left to right: Jon Waterhouse, Barb Hays, Benny Boynton, Tim Price and Doug Williams.

ATLRETRO: How did you get the idea of a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT tribute band?
JON WATERHOUSE: Well, as a child of the ’70s, I remember the days when Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star going. There really hasn’t been another film celebrity like him since. He kind of cornered the market with a perfect mix of machismo and silliness. I have a special spot in my heart for his films, especially his earlier exploitation flicks like WHITE LIGHTNING and its sequel GATOR. Of course the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT is at the top of the heap. Anyway, many of his films featured great, fun music. You’ve got the Jerry Reed tunes from SMOKEY, and even the Ray Stevens title track from CANNONBALL RUN.

So about six or seven years ago I had the idea of a band that would play songs from Burt Reynolds movies dressed as the SMOKEY characters. And the set would be supplemented with what I call “classic country comfort food” from the same era, back when country was at its coolest. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton. It would be a tongue-in-cheek, comedic presentation, while still showing respect for the music. Heck, they did it with HEE HAW. Even Jerry Reed, who was a Chet Atkins disciple and one of the greatest finger pickers of his day, laced his music with humor. So that was the basic idea.

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Extra Kool Kat of the Week: How a Few Too Many Drinks and a Holy Trinity of Johnnies Led to Keith Martin Stumbling Down into The Basement This Friday

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2011 By:

At Bubbapalooza at the Star Bar back in May, Torchy Taboo told me that she was really digging this new rockabilly band called The Stumblers. Now I know Torchy well enough to know she doesn’t mess around with her rockabilly, but when this quartet hit the stage in those ace cowboy shirts and started playing, let’s just say they weren’t stumblin’. Not that would expect anything klutzy coming from a line-up like vocalist/rhythm guitarist Keith Martin (Brandy, Car Thieves, Pickman’s Model), David Stuart (Hallows Eve) on lead guitar, veteran drummer Robbie Whelan and prolific English bassist Paul Diffin (recently The Psycho-DeVilles and Linda Gail Lewis, but also London acts The Big Six, Sugar Ray Ford and The Hotshots, and The Blue Cats).

While Keith and David have punk and metal band roots, sometimes your first love is your greatest one and for them, it was the southern roots music of the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Ask the boys what they play, and they’ll tell you that they are a four-piece traditional country band. Later that night I cornered Keith in the stairwell heading down to The Little Vinyl Lounge to ask when he’d be up for an interview, and he suggested a downstairs gig Friday July 22 with Vermont country-Goddamned-music band JP Harris & the Tough Choices at The Basement underneath Graveyard Tavern.

The Stumblers front man Keith Martin. Photo Credit: Scott Lowden.

Needless to say, it’s two months later and that show is now this week. Lucky for ATLRetro readers, Keith still was more than happy to take a break from honkytonkin’ to divulge the origin story of The Stumblers, give a crash lesson in the history of “hillbilly jump,” talk about their pronounced predilection for dive bars and share some shopping tips on finding cowboy shirts as cool as theirs.

How and when did you fine fellas get together?

Robbie and I have been friends for years but had never played together. We started back in 2007 to work on what would become The Stumblers. The first go at it was great, but soon life began to kickus in the teeth with a series of personnel issues. Our bassist took a job in Florida, our lead player had to quit for personal reasons, and to top it off, Robbie was called up and deployed to Iraq. The night he shipped out, I promised Robbie that I wasn’t giving up, and that by the time he came back I would have the players we needed to keep the band alive.

During this time my other old friend David Stuart decided to come out of semi-retirement and try his formidable hand at country music. I gave him a few reference songs and he took off like a bat out of hell. My friend Mike Bourne of Atlanta Boogie told me I should “Call Paul Diffin; he lives and breathes the stuff you’re doing.” After looking up Paul on the Internet, and realizing that he was the bassist for some of my favorite English bands, I immediately called him. Two minutes into our first get-together with this new line up, I knew we had a magical combination.

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Dick Dale: The Guitar Master is Rocking in the Moment and Having the Time of His Life at 74 Years Young

Posted on: Jun 10th, 2011 By:

The Earl, Friday June 11, 8:30 PM; with Laramie Dean opening; nonsmoking.

Photo courtesy of Dick Dale.

Dick Dale insists he’s not a master of any trade, but fans of the undisputed King of the Surf Guitar would disagree. After all, who else pioneered the Fender Stratocaster guitar and rocked the strings so hard that he blew up a battalion of amps before Leo Fender developed one that could withstand Dick Dale? The man, after all, has a career spanning more than five decades. At age 74, he hasn’t tuned down the noise and even a recent bout of cancer and extreme high blood sugar episodes from diabetes haven’t slowed down his touring. In fact, you get the impression that touring and playing is what keeps him alive in a way that most people would envy.

Dick’s current tour is a special treat, in that he’s hitting smaller clubs like The Earl in a 17-city circuit. Former-roadie-turned-protégé Laramie Dean (Agent Orange) is the one to thank for suggesting the idea, as well as Dick’s wanting to support his son Jimmy Dale, who plays with Dean and is blossoming into one hell of a drummer himself. I had a list of 10 or so questions prepared, but as soon as I dialed up Dick, relaxing in his hotel room before his Austin gig on Tuesday night, it was clear he had a few things on his chest that he wanted to talk about. So I just rode the wave he offered, enjoying surfing through Dale’s passion for supporting Jimmy, recent highlights from the road, his health challenges, the pleasures of clean living (he’s never drank alcohol nor taken drugs, and he quit smoking and red meat years ago) and his lifelong love affair with country music. I’ve edited the conversation down a little bit only for space and repetition and divided his comments by subject, but what follows is mostly unexpurgated, authentic Dick.

On how martial arts gave him his philosophy of life – the joy of living in the moment

To set a foundation for this conversation, I’ve been doing martial arts all my life, and I’ve been all over the world with different masters. I’ve been with the monks with their way of thinking, and that’s the way I can put up with the cancer and all the crap that’s happened with me and being on stage without taking drugs. I once asked my master, “why I can’t I be the best of something and just be unbeatable?” He said, “yes, you can, but you have to give up everything in your life. You must eat and sleep and breathe it.” So he said, “let me ask you something, “would you rather be a master of one or you would rather be a jack of all trades, master of none?” He said, “if you are master of one, you’d be awfully dull at a gathering, wouldn’t you?” It’d be like Einstein. He wouldn’t be able to talk to somebody who’s a contractor or flies an airplane or is shooting bows and arrows or surfing huge waves and surfing little waves. So I chose to learn about as many things as I could—everything from raising canaries to welding to building houses to whatever. I’d have libraries ceiling to floor on all these things, and I’d then ask people who are very successful and be humble in asking.

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