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: Rod Hamdallah Plays the Blues Dark, Down and Dirty – Just the Way We Like It

Posted on: Sep 13th, 2011 By:

Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie

ATLRetro has been hearing a lot about Kool Kat of the Week Rod Hamdallah—from his fellow local musicians. Like his mentor, the sadly deceased Sean Costello, he’s been playing since very young and early gained a reputation as an Americana blues guitar prodigy. By age 17, he was sharing the stage with Sean and Dexter Romweber, as well as opening for top contemporary blues, funk, soul, rockabilly and roots performers such as Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Rosie Flores, Romweber and more. He’s only 21 now.

Anyone who’s heard Rod live—and live is the way he should be heard—talks about the dark lyrics, full-throttle energy and deep swamp passion he puts into his heavy licks. That hard-edged sound has earned him comparisons to Skip James, Captain Beefheart, Charlie Patton, Tom Waits and more recently the White Stripes. He looks the part, too—thick dark pompadour, sideburns, usually dressed in black.

This year Rod’s released a couple of singles, “Think About It” and a cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and has been playing Atlanta and touring the Southeast furiously. You can catch him next at The Five Spot on Friday, Sept. 16. We caught up with him recently to find out more about what made his influences, teaming up with drummer and frequent collaborator Gabe Pline, what he’s got planned for this gig and those recordings we’re looking forward to.

What happened at age 16 to get you, a Jersey boy into punk rock and skateboarding, so revved up about Southern blues and Americana?

I’ve always loved traditional music and was interested in what influenced punk rock. When I moved to Atlanta, live music became something I was around all the time. I watched guys like Sean Costello play around town and immediately wanted to play blues  and traditional American music.

What about Donnie McCormick and Sean Costello made them such an influence on you in the early days?

Sean was a great mentor and friend. He let me share the stage with him when others didn’t. He also turned me on to Donnie McCormick. I loved the inspiration and soul that came from them. [Editor’s note: Read a tribute by Rod to Sean Costello here.]

Rod Hamdallah and Gabe Pline. Photo credit: Scott Livignale.

How did you hook up with Gabe Pline?

Gabe and I would play together once and a while at jams and etc. He was a good person to talk to, where we could relate on music and personal pasts. I’ve always loves Gabe’s style of playing and his attitude on stage. He is definitely a big part of where I am today.

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