Kool Kat of the Week: Welcome to the Dirty, Dirty! Dave Weil and The Blacktop Rockets Deliver a New Album and a Night of Revved Up Tunes and Low Down Shenanigans at The Star Bar

Posted on: Apr 5th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Photo by Sloan Carroll Rainwater (Top to Bottom: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

Top to Bottom: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone. Photo by Sloan Carroll Rainwater.

Atlanta’s own Dave Weil, head honcho and lead vocals/guitar, along with his partners in crime, The Blacktop Rockets [Johnny McGowan (guitar/vocals); Dave Watkins (drums); and Steve Stone (Bass)] will be raisin’ a ruckus, Sun Records-style, at The Star Bar this Friday, April 8 at 9 p.m.! They’ll be peddlin’ their new full-length CD, “GO!” with fellow rockin’ revivalists, Rodeo Twister in tow! It’ll be a hootenanny you won’t want to miss!

Dave, raised on jazz and crooners like “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, got rebellious ‘n’ hell-bent falling head over heels for some good old rock ‘n’ roll. So in 1993, he began dishin’ out tunes and slingin’ guitar with The Blacktop Rockets, and they’ve been revvin’ it up ever since! They’ve stormed the stage with The Blasters, the late Ronnie Dawson, Southern Culture on the Skids, Reverend Horton Heat, Wanda Jackson and so many more influential hell raisers and foot stompers! BTR’s first full-length album, MAKE MINE A DOUBLE,” was released in 1999, preceded by the single “What Ya’ll Have,” in 1996. In other words, it’s high time for a new BTR release.

ATLRetro caught up with Dave Weil for a quick interview about BTR, his take on “American music,” and reviving that old-school R&B and hillbilly twang! While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Dave, get an earful of The Blacktop Rockets live at The Star Bar (Nov. 7, 2015) with “Please Don’t Touch” (Nov. 7, 2015).

ATLRetro: The Blacktop Rockets swooped in on Atlanta’s rock revival scene like a bat out of hell during the ‘90s rockabilly resurgence; a rockin’ renaissance of sorts. Can you tell our readers what it is about that genre of music that keeps you coming back for more?

Dec Fest - Photo by John Phillips (L-R: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

Dec Fest. L-R: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone. Photo by John Phillips.

Dave Weil: It’s the free-wheeling spirit of it all. The magical blending of black R&B with white hillbilly music that occurred beginning in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s, which led to what came to be called rockabilly and rock and roll. To me, it’s irresistible. When I hear it, I get a smile on my face and I just gotta move!

Any twisted tales on how you and The Blacktop Rockets get together and what’s kept you goin’ for so long?

Not really twisted, but it was a bit of a fluke. In 1993, I was doing this duo thing a la Flat Duo Jets called Sweatin’ Bullets and had a gig that the drummer couldn’t do. I had recently met David Watkins (drummer) at Frijoleros (old schoolers know) where we were both working, so I asked him to fill in and the rest is history as they say. Upright bass was added about a year later and then lead guitar. What’s kept us going is, well, all I can think is, we have to! Like Carl Perkins said, “The cat bug bit me and I’ll never be the same.”

Your sound has been described as being the “epitome of American music.” What does that mean to you? What exactly is “American music?”

“American music” is a lot of things and goes back much farther, but in terms of what I’m most familiar with and where BTR fits in, it goes back to what I said about the blending of black R&B with white hillbilly music. Twelve bar blues-based song structures with lyrics that include the tried and true themes of love and loss, regular folks telling stories, and just silly stuff like “Rock Around The Clock.” There were so many things changing in post-war America – culturally, economically, socially – and lots of those changes were reflected in the music being created then.4PAN1T

Even though the bulk of the retro rock ‘n’ roots revival pretty much died off in the late ‘90s, The Blacktop Rockets seem to have made a niche for themselves in Atlanta’s thriving sleaze-nitty-gritty redneck underground music scene. What draws you to the mischievous underbelly of Atlanta’s music scene?

That it’s the underbelly and we love underbelly. So juicy and sweet, mmm, can’t git enough of it.

Any interesting stories to tell our readers about your musical upbringing, or when you became interested in playing music?

My Dad was a musician – a damn good sax and clarinet player, but could find his way around any instrument. There was always music in the house. He was mostly a jazzer who listened to and played a lot of swing. He was also a big fan of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We didn’t exactly see eye to eye back when I got into rock and roll, but he rolled his eyes and tried to tolerate it. I got into guitar like lots of my peers, from listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and other Brit bands. Through buying those bands’ records and reading the writing credits, I learned about the great American bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James. Later on in the late ‘70s I did a similar thing when I heard the Robert Gordon/Link Wray records. I started digging deep into Rockabilly music and found Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and, of course, the legendary Sun Records material.

Photo by Jeff Shipman (L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone. Photo by Jeff Shipman.

We see that you’ve shared the stage with The Blasters, the late Ronnie Dawson; opened for Southern Culture on the Skids and Reverend Horton Heat; and backed the “First Lady of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson and so many more! Can you tell our readers what it’s like getting to fire it up with all those movers and shakers?

Those opening spots have been some really fun shows. I feel like BTR truly deserves to be on those stages and we can bring it as well as anyone. As far as being the backing band for the legends, it’s a tremendous honor and kind of like living a dream! It’s definitely a set where you really, really want to be on your “A” game and not make any clams! Sure don’t want to get a dirty look from Wanda, ha!

You released your first album (full-length) MAKE MINE A DOUBLE in 1999, making that one long 17-year itch! Why did it take so long to get to GO, and how can our readers get their grubby little hands on a copy?!

We actually put out “What’ll Ya’ll Have” in 1996, so this is our third album. We also did a Christmas 45rpm and recorded songs here and there for compilations, but 17 years between actual full length releases is a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? I’m not sure what took so long other than I suppose the time was finally right.  You can buy one at the show on Friday, of course, plus it’s on CD Baby, iTunes and perhaps other online places. The commerce section of our website <here> is under construction now, although it might be running by show time.

If you had to choose your top three musical influences, who would they be and why?

The Star Bar: Photo Credit by Sloan Carroll Rainwater (L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

The Star Bar: Photo Credit by Sloan Carroll Rainwater (L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

I think it’s really hard to pinpoint influences per se, but I can tell you who I am always happy to hear on my stereo or anyone else’s. No particular order and I’m leaving plenty of others off – Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Ronnie Dawson, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry…you get the picture.

What can ATLRetro readers expect to experience at your honkytonkin’ hootenanny and CD Release Party, April 8, at The Star Bar?

The Blacktop Rockets still pack a punch in our live show like very few acts you will see. We have a great time doing what we do and it shows. The current BTR line up is sounding better than ever. Drummer David Watkins and I are into our third decade playing together so it’s a pretty special connection there. Anyone who has heard him play knows he’s one of the top drummers in Atlanta and beyond. He can bash ’em or lay back, but he always knows exactly the right part to play for our songs.

Many of your readers know lead guitarist Johnny McGowan from not just this band, but several other cool projects he’s involved with. Johnny plays with so much fire and creativity, plus amazing technical ability that he’s constantly blowing minds and making jaws drop, including mine! Johnny joined BTR around 1996, then left for a bit around 2000, but has been the guy now since around 2009. On stage, there is no one I’ve had this much fun with. It’s just a hoot because we have little musical inside jokes and he’ll play something goofy or weird and then shoot me a quick look like, “Did ya hear that one?” and then crack up laughing.

The new guy is Steve Stone on bass. He’s another very accomplished multi-instrument player who has been a lot of fun getting to know and assimilated into the band. I love playing music with these guys and I consider myself fortunate to share the stage with such outstanding players! Plus our pals, the excellent band Rodeo Twister are opening the show!

6What’s next for The Blacktop Rockets?

A lot more gigs this year than we’ve done the past several and probably another album or at least EP in the fall.

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about you or the band?

I think you will really dig the new record! We’re still doing some straight-up rockabilly, but there’s more to it in terms of the songwriting. This was the first time Johnny and I collaborated and we figured out we can write really well together. We simply let the songs be what they were going to be and didn’t try to put them in a specific box like rockabilly or swing or country. If I had to say what that sounds like, I guess I’d have to nod towards The Blasters or Rockpile. We’ve added electric bass on stuff where we used to use upright only, and that gives it a feel that I think reflects well on the newer songs especially. In addition to playing guitars all over the recording, Johnny produced the album and did a knock-out job. One of the things he did that I’m most happy with was to bring in friends to play some different instruments on a few songs. There’s piano, sax, trumpet and steel guitar that are added here and there that are really nice touches.

And last, but not least, what question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

For here or to go? The answer is always GO! 

Photos provided by Dave Weil/The Blacktop Rockets and used with permission.

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Shop Around: Silver Disks: CD Warehouse Delivers the Ghosts of Multimedia Past for a Season to Remember

Posted on: Dec 19th, 2015 By:

cdw5By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

For those of you with Christmas shopping left to do, CD Warehouse in Duluth has something for all but the Scroogiest Retro media fan on anyone’s list. And Scrooge himself didn’t even get any gifts until he lightened up. Besides, who doesn’t like either music, movies or video games? No one reading this, I’m sure. They also have tons of TV series box sets, new and old.

David Kirk and business partner Dennis Harrington opened the flagship store on April 24, 1994 (a location in Roswell and one in Kennesaw came later), when MP3s were still science fiction and vinyl records were relics.

And consider the state of popular music in April of 1994. THE DIVISION BELL by Pink Floyd was the bestselling album in the country the week CD Warehouse first opened. It was also the same month Kurt Cobain died and Frank Sinatra performed for the last time publicly. Jerry Garcia, Tupac Shakur and Selena were still alive. And future used-bin staples Hootie & the Blowfish, Korn and Bush had yet to release their debuts.

Dave took a few minutes recently to chat with AtlRetro about the store and how CD Warehouse has survived an unpredictable era in the music industry.

ATLRetro: Do you remember the first CD sold from the store?

Dave Kirk: Our first customers were three guys from Ohio.  They were driving to Atlanta for Freak-Nik and were in need of the Biz Markie CD.

cdw4How did you get into the retail music business in the first place? Is it something you always wanted to do?

Dennis and I were both working for large corporations and couldn’t see ourselves doing the same thing for another 30 years.  So, we cashed in our 401ks and opened the first store.  We both had a love of music and would spend our lunches hanging out in record stores.

Why Duluth?

The CD business was replacing the album and cassette as the main sales force. There were some used CD stores inside the perimeter but not many outside, so that is where we concentrated our efforts.

How close to reality is HIGH FIDELITY?

It’s probably the movie that gets closest to the actual happenings in a record store. The constant conversations of which album is the best. What group was the more influential? Top 10 lists. “Have you heard the song from this new group from England?” Those are the kind of things we hear all day. And then of course we head out to the local venues to check out the shows.

cdw2Most ATLRetro readers are no doubt familiar with secondhand music stores, but could you describe the process of buying and selling items at CD Warehouse? How has the business evolved in 20 years?

We started out as a used CD store that also sold posters.  As the technology has changed, we have adapted to buying and selling DVDs, Blu-Rays, games and vinyl.  Our selection of new releases is limited to the top sellers, but we will gladly make a special order if you cannot find what you need in the store.

cdw3While album sales in every other medium, including digital downloads, have fallen significantly over the past 15 years (seriously, check this out), vinyl sales continue to rise, with fans of all ages and tastes. Why is it so popular?

We are an independent store and have the privilege to participate in Record Store Day. The bands produce some very unique and collectable merchandise that creates a lot of buzz among our customers. The excitement for this event continues to grow every year.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Scott Walker Making Love to Joy Division: Jack Shaw of Atlanta’s The Head Talks About What It’s Like to Come Home to MILLIPEDES

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2015 By:

millipedesBy Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Atlanta trio The Head are wrapping up their 20-date tour and return from the road just in time for Thanksgiving. Come out and join them to celebrate the release of their new five-song EP MILLIPEDES at the Drunken Unicorn this Saturday, Nov. 28.  Sydney Eloise & The Palms and Chelsea Shag are also on the bill.

Jack Shaw (drums), Mike Shaw (lead vocals/bass) and Jacob Morrell (guitar) have been playing together since they were teenagers at Holy Spirit Preparatory School, and list among their influences The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen and R.E.M. This knowledge and appreciation of pop music’s past led Blurt magazine to call them “Atlanta’s youngest rock ‘n’ roll veterans.”

The youngsters have already worked with legendary R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter, Jody Stephens of Big Star and John Vanderslice, but decided to produce their latest batch of songs themselves, a first for the band. “I feel like we’re still learning, now more than ever,” said Mike Shaw. “And we’re enjoying every bit of what we’re learning.”

AtlRetro caught up with Kool Kat of the Week Jack Shaw to find out more about the new EP, the tour and what’s ahead for The Head.

ATLRetro: First of all, I’m sure you guys are sick to death of this question, so let’s get it out of the way: Why “The Head?”

Jack Shaw: We wanted something short, sweet and weird sounding. We thought “The Head” captured all of that. It’s simple enough and makes people scratch their chins.

According to your bio, the three of you are still in your early 20s. How did you come together?

Mike and I are twins, so we’ve been playing music together our whole lives. We met Jacob during our freshman year of high school. We decided to form a band with him once we found out he played guitar and listened to the same bands as us.

The Head [L-R]: Jack Shaw, Mike Shaw, Jacob Morrell Photo by Valheria Rocha.

The Head [L-R]: Jack Shaw, Mike Shaw, Jacob Morrell Photo by Valheria Rocha.

What music were you listening to when you decided to form a band? Do you think this was/is different than what others your age listen to?

We were listening to a whole bunch of stuff ranging from The Stone Roses and Pavement to Frank Sinatra and the Velvet Underground. Most of our classmates at the time were listening to P. Diddy and The Fray, so, yes, there was definitely a big difference. We find a lot more common ground with people our age now, though.

How would you describe your music to the curious?

Scott Walker making love with Joy Division.

Is this your first major tour? How’s life on the road? Is it what you expected?

We’ve done a few seasonal legs of touring before, but this is our first time being out on the road for months at a time. We’re having a blast and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Since the end of October, you’ve played Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Boston. How are you being received? Are the crowds different than in Atlanta?

We’ve been met with great reception. The crowds all over really dig what we’re doing and dance a lot, especially to our newer songs. Some of the crowds are a little different from Atlanta in their own ways. All of them, regardless of the city, are on the younger side. We’ve enjoyed every city, but New Orleans and Boston are definitely among our favorites.

The Head could very well be the next Atlanta band to enjoy serious national attention for years to come. Do you have any favorite local acts?

Yeah, we really love what Tedo Stone and Sydney Eloise & The Palms are doing. We also really dig Chelsea Shag. All of those guys put on great live shows. There are, of course, several other local bands we respect. The list can go on.

The Head play the Drunken Unicorn on Sat. Nov. 28. Check out three tracks from MILLIPEDE here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Happy Days, Unhappy Days, Gathering Wild’s Jerylann Warner Has a Burning Question About the 1950s and She Is Answering It with Dance

Posted on: Jan 22nd, 2014 By:

Jerylann Warner goes back to CIRCA 50. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

The Gathering Wild Dance Company is transporting audiences back to CIRCA 50 this weekend Jan 24 and 25 at the 14th Street Playhouse, but their interpretation of the era of HAPPY DAYS isn’t just sock-hops, poodle skirts and perfectly trimmed lawns. Under the cheoreographic guidance of Art Director Jerylann Warner, the 14-member ensemble will “shine a light on oppressed emotions seething below the surface,” including race, censorship, the role of women in a patriarchal world and living the American Dream consumed by consumerism.

If those themes sounds heavy, Jerylann promises they are tackled with plenty of empathy, as well as a joyous soundtrack which includes classics from the decade that gave birth to rock n roll. ATLRetro decided to make Jerylann Kool Kat of the Week to find out more about one of Atlanta’s most innovative dance companies and their unique take on the 1950s.

ATLRetro: What inspired you to explore the 1950s through dance? Is there a personal connection, a personal fascination?

Jerylann Warner: I was inspired to create something that came from a memory. I was born in the ‘50s, all be it later in the decade, but I recall with reverence how people gathered in the streets at sunset in the summer, how radios and fireflies and Catholic widows exchanged laughter and food. But that is not in and of itself compelling enough, it has been a burning question for me: who would I have been in the midst of civil rights? Would I have stood up for what was in my heart? What would have been in my heart? What if I lived in the south, or if I was a young mother or if I was like so many women, dependent on a spouse??? I want to know if what I feel with such stinging clarity now would have surfaced for me then? I am intrigued by the sacrifices that protest entails, and I am so deeply in love with being human.

This isn’t just about 50s pop culture and the birth of rock n roll, though. You’re going underneath the outer veneer of the ‘50s as an idyllic American time. Can you talk about that why you decided an American housewife should be the narrator?

The housewife wears a beautiful red dress, and her role has been created by actress Amber Bradshaw, who joined me as a creator several months into the process. My first thought was “Ah she is the circulatory system.” Amber later helped clarify the housewife as a narrator, serving as a lens for the audience to see into the aspects of the decade that we have embraced. I can relate to her archetype. She was a natural for me to adapt into the dynamics of conformity and sexism.

The ‘50s was a key time in the history of jazz, an American art form enjoyed by whites but for which many of the most innovative composers and performers were black. Can you tell us a little bit about the segment, “Peace Piece,” which is inspired by music with the same name by jazz legend Bill Evans and his trio.

I was entirely blessed to have studied vernacular jazz dance and rhythm tap with Brenda Bufalino. This makes me no stranger to the force of jazz, the complexity and brilliance of improvisation. I choose “Pierce Piece,” a seminal improvised piano solo because it is beautiful and because I adore it and because jazz is a diffusing racial alchemy.It is a universal collective of voices and responses.

Amber Bradshaw narrates Circa 50 by Gathering Wild dance company. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

What are some of the 50s classic songs you decided to include and why?

It is fair to give you this synopsis. Chuck Berry was urged to do better and invented the alter ego Johnny B. Goode; he lived on Goode Street. Johnny Cash was a poet for the striving. Pasty Cline aroused everyone, and that was okay. Elvis was a very complex man and truly an original. I will refer to him often. Anytime I sense reluctance of expression in my students. Do not edit yourself, not yet. That’s what I say.

Circa 50 features some original musical pieces, too. I’m particularly intrigued by the innovative kitchen soundtrack in the Print Ads scene.

The original score is played live by the amazing Colin Agnew. He will play domestic appliances and kitchen utensils. I am sure I do not have to tell you why.

How about the segment around Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight?” 

Thanks to my dad Joe, Frank Sinatra is my wheel house. I made this duet for two women. We have so much more work to do in our ongoing civil rights movement. Frank’s romantic overtures belong to every couple.

Gathering Wild dancers in CIRCA 50. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

Do you use any ’50s movie imagery or icons, i.e. Marilyn Monroe or James Dean? If no, why not? 

I have not floated imagery in of James Dean or of Marilyn. Instead I have gravitated toward the iconic musicians in my interpretation of their impact, the way the music makes me feel, and in research I conducted.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about CIRCA 50 or Gathering Wild dance company?

Gathering Wild is known for its way of motioning audiences to look at things, like a gentle tap tap, hey, look at this, look at this marvelous, beautiful aspect of life [or] look at this bravado, this influence, this delightful presence that is real and powerful and of our creation. And particular to Circa 50, look at this suffering and triumph.

What’s next for you and Gathering Wild?

Next for Gathering Wild is a theme-free show. They are so very compelling, but I am ready to work with my beautiful, talented dancers in a very “other” kind of way. Just us, just us in the studio sourcing movement and building an arch, a passage, a tunnel to the deeper feelings of why we love to dance.

Tickets on sale through the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office.

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A Feast Fit for a King: Chef Val Domingo Cooks Up an Elvis Beer Dinner at Meehan’s Public House Thurs. Jan. 26!

Posted on: Jan 23rd, 2012 By:
Elvis Presley‘s birthday was Jan.8, but Meehan’s Public Housein Sandy Springs isn’t done celebrating. In fact, Chef Val Domingo is preparing a feast fit for a king this Thurs. Jan. 26. His Elvis Beer Dinner features a delicious four-course menu for just $47 (beer included) themed around the rock star’s music, movies and favorite foods, paired with a selection of Belgian-style brews by Ommegang Beer, a Cooperstown, NY microbrewery, and nationally known tribute band, Young Elvis and the Blue Suedes. ATLRetro caught up with Chef Val to find out what’s cooking, why Ommegang, how he got the ideas for rock star/music-themed dinners which have become a regular feature at Meehans, and what’s next on the music menu…
ATLRetro: How did you get the idea for rock star/music-themed dinners?
Chef Val Domingo: I first got the idea when I was the chef at Coastal Kitchen in St. Simons Island.  During the off-season, we were trying to think of ideas outside the box to generate income.  In my career, I’ve always thought of music and the culinary arts as being very similar.  In music, there are different notes, tones and instruments that when they complement each other, produce a harmonious sound.  Similarly, in food, we have different ingredients that have different flavors and textures that when cooked in a certain way produces a unique and pleasing complement to your taste buds.
What’s on the menu for the Elvis Beer Dinner?
First course – Louisiana crab cakes infused with andouille sausage, and served with crawfish gumbo. Second course – sesame-crusted Ahi tuna with rocquet greens, candied macadamia nuts, red curry pineapple vinaigrette, avocado and mandarin oranges.  Third – hickory-smoked Memphis ribs, dark chocolate bbq, smoked bacon and potato gallete, grilled asparagus. Fourth course – banana bread French toast with house-made honey-roasted peanut butter ice cream
How did you decide what to serve to honor the King of Rock n Roll? Did you look to his music for inspiration or more to the foods he enjoyed? 
I used his music, his background of where he grew up and lived, his acting career, and reviewed some of his favorite foods. For example, the first course is from the song and movie, KING CREOLE, second course is from his album, BLUE HAWAII, third course is from his album, FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS, plus the fact that he lived in Memphis, [and the] fourth course is a version of one of his favorite sandwiches, peanut butter and banana.

Executive Chef Val Domingo. Photo courtesy of Meehan's Public House.

What one dish do you think he’d especially enjoy and why? 
The dessert course, “21st century peanut butter and bananas” because just like a creative musician, I think he’d appreciate my creativity in bringing a different twist with the banana bread French toast and homemade honey-roasted peanut butter ice cream.
Can you tell us a little bit about Ommegang Beer, and how it compliments the food pairings?
Ommegang brewery is the first farmstead brewery built in the USA in over a century.  It is located in Cooperstown, NY.  I chose this high-gravity brewery because of its uniqueness, just like how Elvis was a unique artist during that time.  For example, the Three Philosophers that I am pairing with my dessert course is quadruple ale blended with Kriek, a fermented cherry beer in Belgium, that complements the dessert with some bittersweet chocolate tones and the hint of cherries.  Another beer that I’m using is Ommegang Hennepin that pairs extremely well with shellfish. It is one of the few beers that is aged in a cave 45 minutes from Cooperstown, 40 meters below the ground in at a temperature of 52 degrees.  I am pairing my Louisiana crab cakes with that beer.  I believe beer is the best palate cleanser due to the carbonation in the beer cleansing your palate from what you just ate.
What else will be going on in addition to dining and drinks? 
We have an Elvis tribute band, Young Elvis and the Blue Suedes, which is a national act that is endorsed by Elvis’ stepbrothers. They are different from other Elvis tribute bands because they actually use the vintage instruments in their performances.
How often do you schedule music dinners, and what other rock/music stars have you developed menus around?
We do these music themed dinners on Thursdays, for the most part.  I chose Thursdays because [it’s] a preview to the weekend. Other dinners I have done in the past include The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Dave Matthews, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd.
Which was your favorite, and who was the most challenging? Why?
Most challenging – Pink Floyd because at the time, we had the biggest attendance, and for my entree course I had to make as part of my entree, Yorkshire pudding, for 55 guests. Yorkshire pudding, if you haven’t made it before, can be tricky, and you can’t really prep that too far ahead of time. My favorite is a tie between Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.  I’m a huge fan of both.  With Ray Charles, I prepared the menu with his ties towards Georgia, using all local produce and ingredients native to the state.  Johnny Cash was my first music dinner at Meehans Public House, Sandy Springs.  All the food was perfectly executed, and we had a great turn-out at 47 guests. It was so successful that we are now partnering up with the Atlanta Ballet in March to do the dinner once again, during their THE MAN IN BLACK performance.
What’s and when is your next music dinner? And can you give us a taste of what’ll be on that menu yet?
Our next music dinner will be a New Orleans Mardi Gras dinner that will be held in late February. The music will be jazz tunes. My entree for that dinner will be a cast iron blackened catfish, andouille sausage red beans and rice, shrimp etoufee. My dessert will be sweet potato beignets with house-made butter pecan ice cream.
For more information and reservations, call 404-843-8058 or visit www.meehanssandysprings.com. Meehan’s Public House is located at 227 Sandy Springs Place Atlanta, Ga. 30328.

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Jazz Interlude With Kayla Taylor: Why She Loves ‘30s/’40s Classics, the Unsurprising Success of Her New CD and the Pleasures of Playing the Vintage Artmore Hotel This Friday

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2011 By:

Atlantans who love classic jazz won’t be surprised to hear that Kayla Taylor’s new and sixth CD YOU”D BE SURPRISED hit #23 on the CMJ Jazz charts this week and is receiving airplay across the nation and throughout Europe. Instead, we’re liable to say it’s delovely and just one of those things that had to happen. But then local audiences have had the treat of listening to this Atlanta native and chanteuse extraordinaire resurrect top tunes from the ‘30s,  ‘40s and ’50s  live for a decade or more with musical partner/guitarist Steve Moore. And because this Friday night, Kayla will be performing at one of Atlanta’s coolest vintage venues, the courtyard of the Artmore Hotel in Midtown whose building dates back to 1924, we thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect to make her Kool Kat of the Week.

One of those rare actual Atlanta natives, Kayla literally grew up singing, in her school chorus, church choir and in the shower, but winning two awards in a 7th grade talent show cemented her ambition to make music a career. Along the way, she has performed country music, gospel, R&B and classic and original rock ‘n’ roll until she finally found her heart resided in the golden era of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin—all of whom are represented on YOU’D BE SURPRISED’s playlist. ATLRetro caught up with Kayla to find out more about why she decided to embrace one of our favorite musical eras, what she has planned for this Friday night at the Artmore, her new CD, what’s next and where you might catch her singing while shopping…

ATLRetro: According to your bio, you always sang even as a little girl, and through the years, in addition to jazz, you’ve performed country, gospel, R&B and rock n roll, too. How did you come to embrace vintage jazz?

Kayla Taylor: I have always loved vintage jazz. The charm and romance of the ‘30s and ‘40s was something that always attracted me. I love how clever the lyrics are. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of old movies that were filmed and set during that time period and found all of it to be a natural embrace. Then in the mid-‘80s, Linda Ronstadt—one of my rock heroes—came out with her Big Band albums with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra and the romance started all over again.

Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

I understand that your earliest award was for singing Irene Cara’s “Out Here on My Own” from FAME? What’s the story and how big an early influence on you was the movie, FAME?

I wouldn’t say that FAME had a big influence on me, but the music and Irene Cara’s voice definitely did. I loved the pure emotion that was in her voice when she sang “Out Here On My Own.” The school talent show was coming up, and so I decided that I’d sing that song. I practiced for weeks in my room with the door closed. I must have played that record hundreds of times. My parents had no idea. I wasn’t trying to win—I just wanted to sing in front of all those people. I was also in a girls’ trio that performed “Sincerely”— a tune from the ‘50s. Well, the trio took 1st place, and I took 2nd place. I was so thrilled and excited. My parents had always been supportive of whatever I wanted to try, but at that point, they jumped completely onboard with my singing adventures.

Who are some of your favorite classic jazz composers and performers, and why do you think their music remains so timeless and relevant today?

Cole Porter, The Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer . . . there are so many amazing composers from that era that I adore, but these are just a few of my top picks. As far as performers, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Etta James, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I think the music is so well-crafted that it can’t help but remain timeless and relevant. Most of the songs are about love or the loss of love—that will always be timeless and relevant.

How did you meet Steve Moore and end up working together?

Great Story! Steve Moore was in a rock band called A Fine Line—an original rock project. They ran an ad in the Creative Loafing looking for a female vocalist. (That’s what you did 19 years ago—you ran an ad in a printed publication if you were looking for a musician.) I called about the position. They sent me a demo of some of their tunes, and I thought they were really cool, so I learned them and showed up at the audition. Later that night, Steve Moore was the one who called me to tell me I had gotten the job. That was the beginning of an amazing relationship as friends, co-writers and business partners. We went through several original rock projects together (A Fine Line, OneWithout) and even an acoustic duo (The Adventures of Kayla & Steve). One day we were talking about all these great jazz standards that we both loved and how much we would both love to play that music one day and to have our own jazz combo. Five minutes later we had made a decision to start working towards that direction. That was over 10 years ago, and we’ve been at it ever since.

Kayla Taylor and Steve Moore. Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

Can you tell us a bit about YOU’D BE SURPRISED came together, and what it means to you that it’s doing so well?

To say we are excited is an understatement. OVER THE MOON with excitement might scratch the surface. All of this came about because we hired an expert to handle it for us. We’re indy artists—SmartyKat Records—that’s our own label. We don’t have the connections personally to make this kind of airplay and exposure happen, so we hired Kari Gaffney and Jeff Williams of Kari-On Productions to handle all of it for us. Kari has over 21 years experience promoting and marketing CDs to radio and print media. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she has been working. I don’t know when she even has time to sleep. She’s done a fabulous job for us.

What’s your favorite song on the CD to perform and why?

WOW. To pick one tune—that’s tough because I love every song that’s on the CD. It’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. If I have to pick one, though, I’d have to say the title track—“You’d Be Suprised.” What I love about that song are the great lyrics. They are so clever!!! I love the Marilyn Monroe version.

The Jazz in the Courtyard series at the Artmore, where the building dates back to 1924, promises an urban escape with “sultry music, sexy vibes and sinful drinks.” And the signature cocktail is “The Prohibition.” Can we surmise that the goal is to create a speakeasy atmosphere, and will you be tossing some Roaring ‘20s tunes into the mix?

Artmore is a great hotel, and the courtyard is a beautiful venue. We have a great time playing there and love that they have embraced our music. We’ll still be hanging out in the ‘30s and ‘40s era but love that they have created a speakeasy feel—with a modern twist. All concerts take place in the courtyard, and there is a fabulous firepit and heaters to keep everything warm. If it should rain or turn freezing cold—we’ll move the show into their basement speakeasy lounge. I think we might be good to have this final concert of the season out in the courtyard, though.

Anything else you’d like to share about Friday’s gig at the Artmore?

Reservations are not required, but if you want to reserve a seat, you can email them at sales@artmorehotel.com. Come prepared to have a great time. I have a retro-styled microphone that is wireless so I can move all over the courtyard, and I love to come by and sing to anyone who seems like they might be receptive. Trust me, though—if it’s clear you’re there with a date and you just want to make eyes at each other—I’ll stay out of your way.

Where else will you be playing in Atlanta soon, and any plans for a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED?

Our next big show will be at Feast in Decatur on Saturday, December 3. This will be a great show because it’s the beginning of the holiday & Christmas season, and we’ll have some of the great jazzy Christmas tunes from the era to throw into the mix. This show generally sells out, so it’s a really good idea to call them to make a reservation. We play from 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. with the five-piece combo. The food at Feast is fantastic and we always have a great time. [Call] 404.370.2000 – for reservations.  As far as a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED—definitely something we are thinking long and hard about we just have to make the numbers work out.

Do you really burst into song at the grocery store? If yes, where do you shop?

Not every time I’m in the grocery store, but yes, I have been known to burst into song in the middle of a shopping excursion. My sweet husband, Scott, has been so good about dealing with those moments and I know they have been embarrassing—but sometimes a song just wells up inside and I have to blurt it out. For the record, my favorite place to shop locally is Publix—the stores are smaller and easier to navigate and everyone is super-friendly. If I’m going to travel away from my neighborhood to shop, you’ll find me at Whole Foods.

Finally, we’ve got to ask. What would we be most surprised to know about you?

Two things: first, I am an avid gardener. I love digging holes and putting plants in them and then nurturing them and watching them grow. It fascinates me! The next thing . . . I actually suffer from stage fright on occasion. It’s true.

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