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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Kool Kat of the Week: Still Swanky After All These Years: Amy Pike Jazzes It Up With the Bonaventure Quartet at Oakland Cemetery, Fernbank and Across the Street from the Clermont Lounge

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2013 By:

 

Amy Pike and the Bonaventure Quartet Find Some Swell Songs in the Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge. Photo Credit: David Murray

The Bonaventure Quartet will be jazzing up both the annual Tunes from the Tombs festival at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery on Sat. June 8 and Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX the night before on Fri. June 7. So it just seemed like a natural to spotlight vocalist Amy Pike as Kool Kat of the Week.

Amy is quite simply the Cat’s Pajamas. She was one of the pioneers of the Retro/Swing Revival in Atlanta as lead singer and principal songwriter for The Lost Continentals in the 1990s. Songs from their album MOONSHINE AND MARTINIS, like “Swanky Bars and Fine Cigars,” got national radio airplay, and the band won 14 Best of Atlanta Swing awards, including Best Wig. Amy also always seemed to have a knack for finding the best and most swanky vintage dresses which she wore like nobody could. She’s sung for Ford commercials, and also fronted honky-tonk group, Amy Pike and the Last Cold Beer, which won Creative Loafing’s Best of Atlanta in the country music category in 2001.

Amy Pike was a sharp dresser with The Lost Continentals. Photo courtesy of Amy Pike.

With the Bonaventure Quartet, Amy’s a little more Boheme in that the eight-member jazz ensemble (yes, we said eight), particularly owes its origins to a mutual love of Django Reinhardt, the great French gypsy guitarist. She also runs Kitsch Fabric and Craft, a groovy vintage and vintage-inspired materials shop in Asheville, NC. ATLRetro caught up with her recently to find out more about her early musical roots, swinging youth, life with the Bonaventure Quartet, their new CD funded by a Kickstarter campaign, SONGS FROM THE LOST AND FOUND AT THE CLERMONT LOUNGE, and more. We’re happy to report that though Amy may have lost her Continentals, but she hasn’t loss her sass and swank. We don’t know if she ever smokes a fine cigar any more, but she’s still our favorite candidate for the musical equivalent of Dorothy Parker.

ATLRetro: Let’s start with Tunes from the Tombs. Some folks might think it creepy to come hear live music in a cemetery. Tell us why they’re wrong.

Amy Pike-Taylor: Well, frankly, it is a little creepy. I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I will handle the zombie apocalypse. So if you find yourself getting nervous at the show, come on over to our stage, we will be fully prepared for any problems that may arise.

Do you have any special plans for the Bonaventure Quartet’s performance this Saturday?

We will be doing a set of all original jazz tunes. That is a pretty rare thing these days. We are so lucky to have Charles Williams as our band leader! He is an amazing writer as well as guitarist. He can also spit a watermelon seed pretty darn far.

What music did you listen to growing up? Can you name a few of the performers who meant the most to you back then and who introduced you to them?

When I was about 7 years old, our house was robbed and the crooks took all the records except for Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Simon and Garfunkel and a compilation of belly dancing music. That was it for music in my household as a kid. If you need more explanation of my strange musical tastes or why I like to listen to the same records over and over, I may have to refer you to my therapist.

The Lost Continentals was a groundbreaking force in getting the Retro/swing/lounge revival started in Atlanta. Can you talk a little bit about that side of the music scene back then. Did you think you were being a bit daring by performing hits, old and new, that harkened back to a previous era?

Well, I am not sure I thought about it that deeply at the time. I just wanted to see people dress up and dance together, maybe even touching each other, for a change. I had been in the punk scene for so long I was ready for some romance. And I admit I got a perverse satisfaction out of seeing skin heads dancing to “Up a Lazy River,” which I grew up hearing on THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.

The Bonaventure Quartet's first CD, THE SECRET SEDUCTION OF THE GRAND POMPADOUR.

You always had the best vintage dresses back then. Where did you find them?

As with all good collectibles, they came to me in various ways. I used to make the guys go to thrift shops when we were on the road. I always had the best luck in Florida and Ohio. They seemed to enjoy it, too, sort of broke up the monotony of the road.

How did the Bonaventure Quartet get started, why the name, and how long have you been playing together?

I met Charles when he filled in as a guitarist for The Lost Continentals. We have been performing together for around 13 years. At that time, Charles lived on Bonaventure Avenue right across the street from the parking lot to the Clermont Lounge. I can’t tell you how many times we sat on his porch in the wee hours after a gig, playing music and watching the show from that parking lot.

How did a quartet end up with eight members?

Fission.

Tell us about the latest CD, SONGS FROM THE LOST AND FOUND AT THE CLERMONT LOUNGE. We can guess why the Clermont, but what did it mean to the band personally and what do you think the Clermont means to Atlanta?

Well, it was born on that screened porch across from the lounge. We always had the best ideas on that porch at around 2 a.m. We could often be heard by passersby saying, “This is the best idea we’ve ever had!” There may have been some adult beverages were involved.

Wasn’t it originally announced for last year? Did it just take longer to get it right?

It just kept growing! At first, it was the one song, then it was a full blown musical! Charles and his lovely wife Lynne Dale have been working on it together for a while now. The album is sort of Bonaventure’s version of songs from the musical “Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge.”

The musical is about a young woman who comes to the city with dreams of being an artist, a painter actually. Surprisingly, that is not as easy as you think and she ends up at the Clermont.

Anything else you’d like to share about the CD?

Amy Pike before she lost it with the Continentals. Photo courtesy of Amy Pike.

I think you guys will be amazed to hear how lush this recording is. There are so great musicians involved in this project. And as I said earlier, how many original Atlanta jazz bands are there?

Where is the Bonaventure Quartet playing next and do you have any other future musical plans you’d like to share with ATLRetro readers?

Looks like we will be playing Steve’s Live Music in Roswell on July 20. That show will be our CD release party and will involve most of the musicians on the album.

Finally, before we go, you’ve also got a store in Asheville called Kitsch Fabric and Craft which sounds like a perfect fit for our readers. Briefly how did you get started doing that, and do you sell vintage fabrics or reproductions or both?

You know it’s funny; it all started because of those vintage dresses I used to wear. I got frustrated because the old fabrics wouldn’t hold up very well, so I decided to learn to sew so that I could make vintage styles with new fabrics. That little idea turned into a raging obsession with fabrics and making things. Now I have a whole store full of amazing fabric and teach others how to sew daily on vintage sewing machines. Check it out at www.kitschfabrics.com

The Bonaventure Quartet at the Clermont Lounge. Photo Credit: David Murray.

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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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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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‘Tis the Season To Be Merry: Hark the Honkytonk Devils Sing! Whiskey Gentry Throws a Merry Y’All Tide Celebration at Variety Playhouse.

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2011 By:

When a band named The Whiskey Gentry throws a Merry Y’All Tide Celebration for the holidays, you might be expecting the same old twangy country renditions of favorite carols. But this spirited band loves to defy expectations, and their seasonal shindig at the Variety Playhouse this Friday Dec. 2  is no exception to that raucous rule. It’s not that The Whiskey Gentry aren’t influenced by the kind of ballads that came down from the hills of Appalachia, but like a certain rebellious red-nosed reindeer, they’re bound and determined to be musical misfits with a diverse list of influences that spans from Patsy Cline to Bela Fleck to Social Distortion. Yeah, that Social Distortion. The accent is on the Whiskey in this Gentry who speed things up with some fiery, high-energy licks that suggest punk and old-time rock ‘n’ roll and even a touch of vaudeville in their stage shows.

The Whiskey Gentry’s 3rd annual Merry Y’All Tide also features The Packway Handle BandShovels and Rope and My Three Keanes, an act made up of veteran producer John Keane, who has produced CDs for R.E.M., the Indigo Girls and The Whiskey Gentry’s 2011 CD, PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, and his two daughters. All proceeds from the $15 in-advance/$17.50–at-the-door benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and fans are encouraged to bring at least three cans for donation. As an extra incentive, the band will be giving our a specially designed poster to everyone who participates.

While The Whiskey Gentry prefer not to nail down their sound into any one genre, ATLRetro managed to corral lead singer Lauren Staley and guitarist Jason Morrow—a couple both musically and in real life—into a sneak preview of Merry Y’All Tide. While sitting an spell, they also opened up more than a bit about the band’s origins, why they love the holidays and their favorite whiskey. And when you’re done reading, check out this this nifty little video they made about this Friday’s show.

ATLRetro: How did Whiskey Gentry get started?
Lauren: Jason and I met around Christmas 2007, and we were both in separate bands at the time. Once we started dating, we decided to join forces and begin writing tunes together. We both came from different musical backgrounds, but we immediately found a niche together with this style of music.

For those who haven’t heard the band before, how do you describe your sound, how did it come about and how does it relate to what’s come before musically?
Jason: Describing our sound is probably the hardest thing we have to do in this band. We’re not country. We’re not bluegrass. We’re not punk or rock or old-timey. Yet we ARE all of these things at the same time. I think we take the formula of an old country tune, turn it up to 11, give it some punch, add pretty vocals, and top it off with a few of the best pickers in the southeast. This came about from all of our shared love for country and bluegrass, but we wanted to really dig in and add the fire behind it.

The Whiskey Gentry. Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

Many contemporary bands couldn’t rush further away from the sentimentality of Christmas, but you’ve become known for an annual live holiday show, which is even bigger this year. What’s the origin story behind the Merry Y’All Tide Celebration?
Jason: We love everything about the holiday season – anything from cinnamon broomsticks to watching our nephews and nieces open gifts. It’s a festive time of year, and we’re a festive type of band. We love this season whether it’s “cool” or not.
Lauren: I think people love to get in the holiday spirit in general. People go bananas over it. Did you see the Black Friday riots? I mean, come on.

At Merry Y’All Tide, will you be playing your own takes on traditional carols or original songs? Is it all Christmas music or will you be playing non-holiday fare, too?
Lauren: Back in the day, any artist who was somebody cut a Christmas record. Those tunes are classics, and we like to do our own takes on those as well as newer Christmas tunes. The majority of our set will be non-holiday fare, but we’ve got some awesome holiday songs picked out to cover. But we can’t tell you which ones they are – it’s a surprise. 🙂

What other shenangans are planned? Is Santa gonna be there, tapping his feet, clapping his hands and swigging a PBR?
Jason: We hired the crappyist Santa we could fine, and he’s going to be there chugging whiskey and PBR and trying to get pretty girls to sit on his lap.

Much merriment was had at last year's Merry Y'All. Photo Courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

Why We Three Keanes, Packway Handle Band and Shovels and Rope?
Jason: Shovels and Rope because they are our new favorite band, also a husband and wife duo. Packway Handle Band because Josh and the boys are some of our good friends and were part of our Christmas show last year. We Three Keanes because John Keane helped us make the best record of our career thus far, and he and his twin daughters will be doing a 20-minute, all-holiday song set promoting their Christmas record. He will also be sitting in on pedal steel with us.

Why did you want to partner with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Georgia Conservancy?
Lauren: We think the holidays are about giving, and we wanted to do our part to help out.

Why does your CD, PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, make the perfect Christmas present, and will there ever be a MERRY Y’ALL TIDE CD?
Lauren: Because it fits easily into a stocking and is also super easy to wrap—if you suck at wrapping like I do. And who knows—maybe we will have a Merry Y’all Tide CD for next year’s show!

What’s next for the Whiskey Gentry? You’re about to embark on a Southeast tour, right?
Jason: We are basically on tour every weekend, Thursday to Sunday. We already have 36 dates booked in 2012, so yes, we will be busy.

Finally, got to ask, what’s the band’s favorite whiskey, why and how do you drink it­- straight up or with ice?
Lauren: Ironically, I hate whiskey, so I’m a terrible person to answer this question.
Jason: If I had to speak for everyone, probably Jameson. In shots!

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Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20

Posted on: May 26th, 2011 By:

Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend may be a lot bigger and more famous, but down home here in Atlanta, the heartland of the Redneck Underground, we have our own mighty fine shindig called Bubbapalooza. Like all good and crazy ideas, it started with a man with a dream. Gregory Dean Smalley was a prolific guitarist and songwriter who settled in Cabbagetown and used to play in one band or another practically every night in Atlanta and Athens bars and clubs until he succumbed to AIDS in the mid-‘90s.

While Greg’s physical presence may have passed away, his no-holds-barred musical soul still burns brightly every Memorial Day weekend at the Star Bar. It’s hard to believe that Bubbapalooza is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and yet to anyone who’s been in the Atlanta scene for any amount of time, it seems impossible to imagine that there ever

Ghost Riders Car Club

was a time when it didn’t happened. On Friday May 27 (doors at 7 PM) and Saturday May 28 (doors at 3 PM), feast on BBQ, knock down a PBR, see some of the city’s most lovingly restored pre-‘70s hot-rods and rock and ramble to 20 rockabilly, Redneck Underground, cowpunk, surf and county-inspired bands, as well as have a chance to win prizes from Little 5 Points retailers in a raffle and have your 20th anniversary picture taken at the PBR Photo Booth.

ATLRetro caught up with Star Bar Booking Agent Bryan Malone (The Forty-Fives) and Ted Weldon (Truckadelic, Ghost Riders Car Club) for a sneak preview.

Bubbapalooza 20 is dedicated to Gregory Dean Smalley who founded the first Bubbapalooza and raffle proceeds go to his family. For those who haven’t been in Atlanta that long, can you briefly recap who he was and how Bubbapalooza got started and got its name?

Blacktop Rockets

Greg Smalley came down from Cedartown GA. in the ‘80s and was a founding member of The Grease Guns, The Diggers and The Bubbamatics and played with The Chant, Blacktop Rockets, Slim Chance & the Convicts & who else?

He played with Amy Pike, Kelly Hogan and several more. God, everyone from those days. But, yeah, Bubbapalooza was his bastard love child from the early days of 1991. It started as a festival to showcase the Redneck Underground which was a bunch of bands from the Atlanta/Athens area and even North Carolina. Plus it was to celebrate the early Star Bar’s trailer trash extravaganza of bad ideas & all things southern. It was a great excuse to have a show where all your friends play a bunch of rowdy songs & drink all night.

There’s more bands than we could even mention that have played Bubba, but here are a few: Southern Culture on the Skids, Deacon Lunchbox, Drive-By Truckers (they have a song about Greg Smalley called “The Living Bubba”), Kevn Kinney, Dex Romweber, BR-549, The Delta Angels, Kingsized, Truckadelic, Charlie Pickett, Redneck Greece Delux, Slim Chance & the Convicts, The Belmont Playboys, Greasepaint, Rocket 350. This list could go on and on.

Every year seems like a big family reunion for Atlanta’s rockabilly/Redneck Underground/old Star Bar scene crowd. Having hit a milestone 20th year this year, do you think it’ll be even more so?

 

A ton of the bands that are playing this year were actually onstage during the first Bubbapalooza, so yeah it is most definitely a homecoming. There will be a lot of friends and family all weekend and the kind of familiar faces that you only see at certain shows or in some cases just this one time of year. Even Mama Smalley will be here also to oversee the proceedings.

Are you doing anything special for the 20th year?

Hahahaha. The big thing is we’re still doing it 20 years later. That’s pretty crazy. It’s unbelievable having a get-together like this that’s lasted that long. It kind of says something about the crowd that was here at the very beginning, as well as all those who’ve joined in over the years. You can count on three things these days: Death, taxes & Bubbapalooza. Hahaha.

But, yeah, we have 20 bands this year, enough bands for a three-day festival. It’s gonna be a great mix of the regulars like the Blacktop Rockets, Caroline & the Ramblers, The Billygoats, plus a whole bunch of newcomers this year like Bareknuckle Betties & Uncle Daddy & the Kissin Cousins, Midway Charmers & some crazy surf from the Disasternauts, too. There’s so much music we’re even having bands downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge and tons of stuff on the back patio as well.

[Web-based radio station] Garage 71 is hosting a pre-1970 hot rod car show on Saturday. We’re expecting 20 or 30 entries for that. Oh, yeah, and there’ll be free Slope’s BBQ Saturday afternoon. Haha. It’s just gonna be a big old helping of Bubba hyjinks.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Redneck Cruise-In Hot Rod Show?

The car show will be hosted by Garage71. All the cars and motorcycles will be pre-1970. That will be Saturday afternoon starting at 5 PM. There’ll be some cool stuff down here for sure. There’s a trophy, too, I hear, so someone will drive out a winner of something to brag about. Not sure what the trophy looks like, but I’m sure it’ll come with something greasy like a bucket of chicken. Anything’s possible.

Uncle Daddy & the Kissin' Cousins

Expect a healthy dose of good country music, rockabilly, country-punk, southern rock, surf bands, hot rods, BBQ and a whole lot of good times and cold beer. You don’t necessarily have to drink PBR but it sure helps. Helps with most things really. Ha.

This is the kind of event that could really only happen at the Star Bar though, and it’ll be full of people who like good country and rockabilly music and are ready to let loose for Memorial Day weekend. Every year someone comes up and says “Happy Bubba” and makes a toast. It’s down-home stuff.

Sonoramic Commando

What’s the craziest, funnest thing that’s ever happened at a Bubbapalooza?

One of the funnest things that happens every year is when the stage is packed with about 40 people for a drunken rousing rendition of “She’s Breakin My Heart While I’m Drinkin’ Her Beer”—the old Diggers tune. It’s always brings down the house and is quite a moment.

What question did I not ask you that I should have and what’s the answer?

What’s a bad idea that became a tradition? Boone’s Farm Saturday.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Enjoying the Ride With Antsy McClain

Posted on: Apr 21st, 2011 By:

The zany font, the pompadour, the Jerry Lee Lewis moves and the video from Hawaii complete with ukulele crooning “It’s a way cool world that we’re living in.” Then something about “a fun-loving trailer park femme fatale.” ATLRetro barely took a glance at unhitched.com, the Website of Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, playing at Red Light Café on Saturday April 23, before we knew we’d found the unquestionable Kool Kat of this week.

From Route 66 to the Athens Highway, musicians have been eulogizing America’s obsession with being “on the road again” since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. But for Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, the meaning of life literally is as close as an silver metallic Airstream, fueled by a passion for making people happy and a keenly observant sense of humor. A modern minstrel mixing rockabilly, country, R&B and swing, McClain ousted an award-winning career as an illustrator and designer to follow his bliss about a decade ago, first trying the conventional route with a Nashville record deal and then taking the driver’s seat to produce, art design and merchandise his work on his own.

That decision to drive his own destiny was a risk that paid off for the self-employed father of five.  His quirky and original “Enjoy the Ride” music quickly attracted a legion of fans who call themselves Flamingoheads, after the quintessential American lawn ornament, and the attention of such music pros as Willie Nelson, David Wilcox, Tommy Emmanuel and Lindsey Buckingham. The latter two have even guested on some of Antsy’s albums. Oh and if you aren’t convinced yet, music critics have likened him to Doctors Hook and Demento, and his song titles include “Primer Gray Impala,” “Wreck of the Bookmobile” and “It Ain’t Home Til You Take the Wheels Off.” For more reasons, why you aren’t a real Retro American if you miss this Saturday’s show, here’s Antsy…

How did you come up with the idea of staging your live shows from a small, fictitious trailer park called Pine View Heights? You grew up in a mobile home, right?

It was the early ’90s, and Sammy Kershaw‘s “She’s the Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” was a big hit on country radio. That song—masterfully written by one of Nashville’s underdog songwriters and one of my favorites, Dennis Linde—was everywhere that summer. The lyric, “he’s the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench” just floored me, rhyming with park bench. The lyrics are funny, but they’re also good, tight poetry, and I admire that.

Well, I had written a few songs along the same lines and was just starting to try my hand at performing. I was also familiar with Garrison Keillor‘s fictitious Lake Wobegon and tried meshing all the influences together. Seeing that so many artists take themselves so seriously, I wanted to be the antidote to that in Nashville and beyond.

Read the rest of this entry »

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