Kool Kat of the Week: Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen Wax Nostalgic with a Pickin’ Pandemonium While Slingin’ Their Modern Brand of Rowdy Old-Time “Acoustic Brass ‘n’ Brew-Grass”

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2015 By:

by Melanie CrewUse Caleb_CD_front[1]
Managing Editor

Caleb Warren, ragtime rumble slingin’, guitar pickin’, Dixieland lovin’ purveyor of old-time dance hall tunes with a maniacal modern twist, along with his polite partners in crime, The Perfect Gentlemen (and lady) [Colt Bowen – percussion; Dave Aitken – lead guitar/banjo; Jenna Mobley – fiddle; Robert Green – trumpet; and Ian Blanton – upright bass] will be raisin’ a riotous ruckus at Mac McGee Irish Pub in historic Roswell this Saturday, August 15, at 9 pm! And if that isn’t enough, you’ll get a second and third hoppin’ helping of their juke joint jamboree at The Earl on Aug. 22, and a tail feather shakin’ good time with the band at the sensational ‘n’ seedy Clermont Lounge on Oct. 8!

Caleb hails from Chattanooga and has a hankerin’ for the tunes of yesteryear. Although heavily influenced by Western swing, gypsy jazz, ragtime and Dixieland blues, Caleb Warren and The Perfect Gentlemen (The Gents) have proven time and again their ability to tell relevant tales to the melodies of the past. The Gents have shared bills with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, “First Lady of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Billy Joe Shaver and more! Their self-recorded/self-released EP, “The River” was released in 2014, followed by their new single “Hoke Poole Stomp”/“Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.” And if you’re cravin’ a whole lot more from these rowdy folks, don’t fret! The Gents and are in the works on their first full-length album, so keep your ears peeled!

CWPG2[1]ATLRetro caught up with Caleb for a quick interview about whiskey ‘n’ women, The Gents’ flair for old-timey janglin’ jingles; his retro influences; and his love of Lefty Frizzell! And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Caleb, get an earful of Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen’s new single “Hoke Poole Stomp”/“Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.

ATLRetro: Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen’s sound has been described as coming straight out of the land of vaudeville, speakeasies, juke joints – all spiced up with that janglin’ ragtime Dixieland ‘n’ western swing, while “finding a place for the past in the present.” How important is it to resurrect the past to tell the stories of today?

Caleb Warren: Absolutely! I think being able to pay homage to the music that we love and the music that inspires us while telling the stories of today and connecting with the folks who are listening is not only an extremely important aspect of what we do, but an honor as well. The music we’re making today is hopefully a modern representation of some of the most pure forms of American music with our own twist, and if it weren’t for the pioneers of Western swing, country blues, gypsy jazz, Dixieland, ragtime, and blues, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing today.

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

Jenna Mobley

Jenna Mobley

When I was just a wee lad (haha) my grandfather, “Pops” or “Papa” to me, owned an alternator repair shop near Atlanta. He loved his work. He also had a love of honkytonk and classic country. Some of his favorites were Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams Sr. and George Jones. I can distinctly remember sitting at the kitchen table of my grandparents’ home (the same home my dad grew up in) as a 12-year-old who wanted to learn anything and everything that I could about music, playing guitar, classic country and old gospel hymns from my grandfather.

As a result, when I sit down at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee or a glass of whiskey (depending on the time of day), that’s where some of my most introspective and personal writing happens. In my late teens I strayed a bit from my roots as a musician and was in a few bands that were a little louder and a little heavier, but eventually found my way back to making the music that is, for lack of a better way to put it, “In my blood.” All that to say, I’ve always been interested in playing music. It just took me a little while to find and settle into what musically feels like “home”.

(L-R) Dave Aitken, Jenna Mobley, Caleb Warren

(L-R) Dave Aitken, Jenna Mobley, Caleb Warren

We see that you (Caleb) hail from Chattanooga, a once thriving ragtime, bluegrass ‘n’ Dixieland swingin’ musical haven. How much of an influence did Chattanooga have on your current musical endeavors?

I do live in Chattanooga and it’s a wonderful city, but I wrote the songs we’re playing today while living in and around Atlanta as well as the mountains of north Georgia. Chattanooga is an amazing city centered around the Tennessee River and for whatever reason, there’s something about rivers and bodies of water that are extremely inspiring and seem to almost pull songs out of me. The extremely rich musical history in Chattanooga as far as the blues are concerned is pretty amazing! It’s the home of Bessie Smith and the Chattanooga Choo Choo!

What is it about whiskey, women and woeful misfortune that influence musicians, especially those of the old-time variety, to pour out their soul in front of the masses?

I feel like there’s a certain simple honesty and light-heartedness in a lot of the music we make that affords us the opportunity to write and

Robert Green

Robert Green

play songs that are fitting for the nights when you just want to have a good time, dance and forget about your troubles. On the other hand, this music lends itself really well to being able to tell some of the most heart-wrenching and deeply personal stories. Stories that might be autobiographical, might be about my best friend, or could be a declaration of love for a certain someone. I definitely feel like that’s one of the most beautiful and amazing things about this type of music. It’s made for telling stories. Good, bad, or otherwise.

We see that you’ve shared a bill with rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and “First Lady of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson. How exciting! Can you tell our readers a little about that experience?

It was a great experience! We got to see so much great music and share a bill with some pretty amazing names like Jim Lauderdale, Strung Like a Horse, Reverend Horton Heat, Lindi Ortega and Hot Club of Cowtown. It’s humbling to have our name on the same bill as those folks, Wanda Jackson included!

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

Oh man! This is a tough one! Geez! I would have to say that Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies is a band that never ceases to inspire me. The swing that they have as a band just blows my mind, the rhythm section is so solid, and the lead players are top notch. Those fellas along with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were instrumental (no pun intended) in making Western swing and country blues a form of popular music fifty years ago and the fact that those tunes are relatable and relevant today is, I think, a testament to how much fun that music is and how well-written those songs are.

Colt Bowen

Colt Bowen

Lefty Frizzell is one of my absolute favorites. I’m a bit partial to Lefty because my grandfather was a huge fan, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lefty Frizzell had one of the most amazing voices in the history of country music. You immediately know when you’re listening to one of his songs. I’m not sure there’s much more to say about that one.

Also, Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans is one of the first bands that really opened the door to all of this wonderful music for me. I can’t go a day without getting at least one Pres. Hall tune stuck in my head. The folks in that band are, to this day, teaching the newest generation of young musicians the traditions of New Orleans music and to me that is wildly inspirational!

Your newly-released single, “Hoke Poole Stomp”/”Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” was recorded live at the home of your fiddler, Jenna Shea Mobley. Can you tell our readers why you chose to record live and what sets this single apart from your EP, “The River”, self-recorded/released in 2014?

Of course! With the single, we really wanted to capture the feel and energy of a live performance and instead of going the route of tracking

live in a studio, we decided to do something a little bit different and track the whole thing like one of the Alan Lomax field recordings of the ‘40s where they would set up in a hotel room or a living room and just put songs to tape. It was kind of a way of paying homage to the folks who paved the way for bands like us. We had our good friend, Mr. Tony Terrebonne engineer and mix those tunes. Our lovely Ms. Mobley was kind enough to let us take over her (entire) house for the day and track those tunes as well.

(L-R) Caleb Warren, Dave Aitken, Ian Blanton

(L-R) Caleb Warren, Dave Aitken, Ian Blanton

Our EP, “The River” was recorded and mixed by our drummer, Mr. Colt Bowen at his home studio in Adairsville, Ga. We spent quite a good bit of time recording that one and making sure it was exactly what we wanted to give folks as a first impression of The Gents and we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

That’s a bit of a round-about way of telling you that the two recordings are totally different from one another, they represent two very different times in our progression as a band, and we are extremely happy to have been able to put our name on two completely different, but stellar recordings. Colt and Tony are both wizards when it comes to engineering. We’re lucky to have those fellas around, and even more lucky to be able to call them our friends.

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

Freddy Mercury, Ray Charles and Robert Plant sharing vocal duties;  Big Bill Broonzy and Merle Travis on guitar; Willie Dixon on upright bass; Bix Beiderbecke on coronet; Fats Waller on piano; guest appearance by Django Reinhardt on lead guitar and “La Pompe” for a song or two. Why? Because, seriously. Think about that band for just a second. I wouldn’t play in that band. I’d sit down at the table right in front of the stage with all The Gents and a glass of great whiskey. I’d smile, laugh, chuckle, give a thumbs up, make a joke that wasn’t all that funny, buy a round for everyone in the bar, and then I’d enjoy the show! My dream lineup of musicians to play some tunes with? The fellas (and gal) in our band.

What can ATLReaders expect to experience at your upcoming shows at Mac McGee (Aug. 15), The Earl (Aug. 22) and The Clermont Lounge (Oct. 8)? Should they bring their dancin’ shoes? Anything special planned?

IMG_9970[1]You can definitely expect to have a hell of a time and, yes, dancing shoes are a requirement for every show. I might even get off the stage and cut a rug with you! Special plans? There’s a possibility that you might see a singer playing an upright bass solo at The Earl…Also, isn’t any time spent at the Clermont special?

What’s next for Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen?

Definitely more shows, new cities, more writing and starting work on our first full-length album. We have some great things to look forward to in the next six months or so!

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen?

Thank you! Thank you for listening to our music, coming out to shows and for supporting this band of ours. You folks are one of the main reasons we do what we do and you make all the work we put into these songs so worth it.

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

Q: What is the band’s favorite food?
A: Dude! Avocado (Guacamole counts), grilled chicken, bacon, bell peppers, pizza with all of the aforementioned foods as toppings, and if you really want to find the way to Uncle Buttermilk’s (Dave) heart, a damn good cheeseburger should do the trick.

Caleb_Warren_press_pic[1]

(L-R) Robert Green, Dave Aitken, Caleb Warren, Colt Bowen, Jenna Mobley, Ian Blanton

All photos courtesy of Caleb Warren and The Perfect Gentlemen and used with permission.

 

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All Hail Bubba! Why You Should Swing Down to the Star Bar for the Best Rockabilly/Roots Family Reunion on the Planet Every Memorial Day Weekend

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Spike Fullerton plays an early Bubbapalooza. Clipping courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

By Eve Wynne-Warren
Contributing Writer

Bubbapolooza is a celebration of American roots music held every Memorial Day weekend at the Star Community Bar in Little 5 Points. This year marks the 22nd year that friends, fans and family have gathered together to hear some of the best rockabilly, country and rock music around, and the line-up is mighty exciting. On Friday May 24 starting at 8 p.m., hear The Belmont Playboys, Hi-Test, Ghost Riders Car Club, Blacktop Rockets, AM Gold and Slim Chance & the Convicts. Then on Saturday May 25 with doors at 4 p.m. (music at 5), the roster includes an even bigger herd of ATLRetro Kool Kats such as Caroline & the Ramblers, Cletis & His City Cousins, and Grim Rooster, plus Nashville’s The Billygoats, with Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Scorchers), Ohio’s The Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition up from Missississippi, El Capitan & The Band With No Name (surf meets Ennio Morricone!) and McPherson Struts. And that’s not to mention a triad of surf bands – Kill, Baby, Kill, The Intoxicators and The Mystery Men? – downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge.

There used to be a bumper sticker adorning the rear of many an Atlanta vehicle that read, “The Star Bar, where things go Twang in the night.” The gracious booking agents who have worked the offices there over the years have, as any live venue does, varied the types of bands and shows offered since the doors opened on Halloween, 1991. However, few other Atlanta venues have been so inclined to offer as much Roots Americana as the Star. It’s not what you’d think of a swank place to “be seen”; it’s a Honky Tonk. People come there for the music. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you didn’t have to be a certain age, race or one of the “beautiful people” to feel at home there…just love the music. That is the essence of Bubbapolooza, which was founded by Cabbagetown songwriter/guitarist Gregory Dean Smalley. Since Greg passed away from AIDS in the mid-1990s, every Bubba has been dedicated to him and the Boones Farm toast to his legacy is always an emotional moment. This year’s event also pays tribute to the memory of Earl Maddox, another Bubba godfather who passed away from cancer last year. Earl drummed for a slew of bands such as the Diggers, the Convicts and Gregory Dean and the Bubbamatics, and lately had been a character actor in movies. [Ed. note: read a companion story about Earl here and check out our 20th anniversary retrospective for some more history.].

This year ATLRetro decided to catch up with some Star Bar regular suspects, musicians and fans to give those “Bubba virgins” an idea of what it’s all about.

“My goal for this year’s booking of Bubbapalooza was to have a few more regional and national acts to go along with our great regulars and keep the spirit of the event alive,” says Bryan Malone, who does the booking for the Star Bar. “We have more touring acts this year than in the past few years. With Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jason Ringenberg and Jimbo Mathus, I feel we’ve done that.

One of the things that makes this event special is that it is a chance for some of the older fans to come out,” he adds. “Bubbapalooza is almost like a Star Bar family reunion. It’s the one time of year that we see faces and groups from the days of the club’s inception having a great time and enjoying great music.  It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “Happy Bubba” throughout the course of the weekend. This year as always, we donate a portion of the proceeds to the family of Gregory Dean Smalley who created Bubbapalooza. But this past year we lost an old friend when Earl Maddox passed, so we will also be doing something special in honor of him and his family. The whole thing is a family reunion with great friends and great music. There ain’t much else like it anywhere. Happy Bubba!”

Richard “Spike” Fullerton currently plays with Ghost Riders Car Club, on the Friday Bubba playlist, and in the first few Bubbas, with the HotPoint Rangers and later Kingsized, or so he thinks. “My memories are pretty dim,” Spike admits. “The first one, as I barely recall, was very much about humor and the feeling that Atlanta had a pretty good crop of young players in a genre that was on the way back. In the few years I’d been here the rockabilly/country scene had been evolving out of second rate clubs and into better venues. It felt like a sort of coming-out party that our music was vibrant enough to have a club to call our own. The Star Bar really became something vaguely akin to The Ace or Dingwalls in London, where our group just would naturally go there first and check who’s on the marquee later. I really feel fortunate to have had that moment in my musical career. One of my very first gigs back after work had kept me away was with the Ghost Riders Car Club at Bubbapalooza. It’s a very gratifying experience to come back to old friends in a familiar place, and find you’ve still got something to say to each other, musically and spiritually. I thoroughly enjoy the festival and what it has come to mean, to me anyway. I hope to play many more.”

I then asked drummer Mike Hammer to relate what might be his favorite year of playing the event. He said he had not been to every Bubba, but to most of them. “I became good friends with Greg Smalley back in those days,” Mike recalls. “My memory of a great gig was ‘94 or ’95, I think. [Ed. note: Mike was playing with Caroline and the Ramblers then]. The Lost Continentals were the next to last band, and the headliner was to be Scott Miller and his band, the Viceroys. At the last minute, we were told they could not make it for some reason, so we had the stage for the rest of the night. I think we even had Ben Friedman from Cigar Store [Indians] up with Amy Pike singing something. It turned into a wild show and the place was packed. I think it really pushed the Lost Continentals’ rep over the top here in town.”

The Billygoats play Bubbapalooza 20. Photo credit: Al Laipple.

I remember that. Those Bubba pickin’ party/encore sets are definitely some of my favorite memories. Mike will be at the drums with Cletis and the City Cousins on this year’s line-up. I asked Clete, who just may have been at every Bubbapolooza (even some only known to fans in an alternate universe), the same question. Alas there was a Braves game on and I got no reply. I will be sure to ask him in the middle of his set at the show.

Faylynn Owen, bartender at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, booked the bands for the Star Bar in the early years, and damned, if she didn’t do great job of it, too. I asked her what year stood out in her mind. Drive by Truckers is probably the most now famous band to play Bubba,” Faye Lynn says. “I don’t really have a favorite memory of Bubba. I loved them all.”

This year’s Bubbapolooza is headlined by the one and only Jason of Americana Roots Rock royalty Jason and the Scorchers, backed by The Billygoats, one of my all-time favorite Star Bar bands, also from Nashville. I asked them how many Bubbapoloozas they’d played. “I can only say that, even though I know that we played Bubba may more times than this, we only remember the last three – ’cause we were sober.”

There you have it. Come early; there’s real good Bar-B-Q on the patio courtesy of Slope’s BBQ. And try to plan on coming both nights; choosing which night to be there is too hard. Bryan Malone booked the line-up this year and I gotta give him extra credit for doing a fine job and setting the ticket price so it’s easy to come both nights ($10 Friday/ $15 Saturday). Wear something comfortable and think about cabbing there and home if you like to have a drink with your “Twang.” If you’ve been before, find me and give me a hug. If it’s new to you, come join the friends and family, and we’ll raise a toast together to Greg Smalley, Earl Maddox and George Jones. I bet you’ll come back next year.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Joel Burkhart Plans on Doing Something With It; AM Gold Throws a CD Release Party at the Star Bar

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2012 By:

AM Gold at Oakland Cemetary. Photo credit: David Batterman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

My radio was my best friend from grade school all through college. I knew every word to every song and spent my teen years trying to stretch my tiny hands across the frets to eke out “Smoke on the Water” like the rest of my artsy friends. An Atlanta band has emerged called AM Gold that speaks to the growed-up heart looking for that “me and my radio” feeling. They will celebrate the release of their first CD, PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT, this Friday September 28 at the Star Bar with Higher Choir and My Rebel Episode.  A dream-team of an outfit, they’re fronted by this week’s Kool Kat guitarist Joel Burkhart, who was good enough to give ATLRetro the back-story on growing up in the glory days of AM radio, his past bands and Star Bar shenanigans.

Torchy/ATLRetro: Tell me about AM Gold.

Joel Burkhart: AM Gold started as a dream. Several nights in a row I had this dream of a band playing on the top of a hill. There was sunlight behind them so all I could see were the long shadows of the band cascading down the hill. The golden rays of the sun eclipsing any details other then the shadows of the people playing. The sound was a chorus of voices, not heavenly like a choir but more earthly and gritty. I heard them singing these lines:

“These are the songs we like to sing
Makes us forget most everything
This is the way that I want to feel
Soft as love and strong as steel.”

After the third or fourth night of this dream, I picked up the guitar and wrote that song. Then I started putting together the band. I knew it would possibly be the last band I ever put together so it had to be amazing. It had to have great players but this time it also had to have great singers. This was going to be all about the words and the melodies. If I wanted them to shine I had to get the right people to be in the chorus.

I have played with Jim [Stacy], Eric [Young] and Jeff [Langston] for years and knew what they were capable of. Jim Stacy has been a lead singer/frontman for many years with Greasepaint, LaBrea Stompers and Little Women and sings with me in The Downers. He was first on the list, but I asked him last because I didn’t think he’d want to be in another band with me. Jeff plays with me in Bully but has also fronted his own bands (Ledfoot Messiah, Ritual, Flathead Fuel) for years. He is quite possibly the best male vocalist in Atlanta that no one knows about. Eric has been my drummer through Mulberry Street, Bully, The Downer Brothers and now AM Gold. Along the way he started singing back-ups and is one of the best singing drummers around. He also makes playing drums look as easy as breathing. Musically I have never played with a better drummer. I have a hard time imagining my songs with anyone else playing drums on them.

When it came time to complete the rhythm section, there has always been a combination that I wanted to hear together. I had Eric and now I was lucky enough to get Blake [Parris] to say yes also. Blake is this town’s hidden treasure. Someday someone who can pay him properly for his services is going to come and take him on the road and we won’t ever see him again. Blake is an amazing bass player and singer – probably one of the best -but he can play almost anything: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead, rhythm, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, keys… I really bet that you could give him a trombone, and in 15 minutes he would have a proper part written for a song. There is nothing that I can play or sing that won’t be made significantly better with Blake. He could just sit onstage with anyone and make then sound better. Seriously.

The final piece to the puzzel was a keyboard player. The only person that even crossed my mind was Jett [Bryant]. While he is not one given to the art of practice, he is one of the best damn singers in the game of rock and roll. He knocked’em dead in the Rock City Dropouts and kills it every night with Bigfoot. With AM Gold, he is pitch perfect and brings the pretty. I am sure that this is the most professional band I have ever played with. Practices and rehearsals are exciting and fun. We always have fun playing shows and hell, on top of all of that, we like each other. We all genuinely like being in the same room and shooting the shit. When the 6 of us are playing and singing together it is magic. There is no other word for it.

Joel, where are you from? Did you grow up listening to AM radio?

Joel: I am originally from Detroit. Lived there until the age of 5. Lived in farm country – Tecumseh,MI – for a few years before moving to Brighton, Michigan. I spent the 1980s as a mall rat in the suburbs. I moved to Atlanta when I turned 19 [in 1989].

Totally grew up listening to AM radio early on in Detroit – WJBK, WXYZ and CKLW. Later listened to commercial FM Radio – WRIF, WLLZ – and the college stations from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Joel Burkhart. Photo Credit: John McNicholas.

Do you write much aside from lyrics and when did you first start writing songs?

You know, I used to write all the time. I have notebooks and notebooks of stuff. Poems, short stories, essays, laundry lists – actual and metaphysical – good, bad, everything,  As I have gotten older, I write less but the quality seems to be higher. I think that comes with being married and having kids, but also realizing who I am and what I want to say. When I do put pen to paper these days, there is probably a song there.

I started writing songs pretty late, I think. I was in my mid-teens when I first learned enough chords to have two different parts to a song. Unfortunately the first one sounds a lot like “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church and the second one sounds a lot like “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to think I was writing my own songs that sounded like me. I think that’s part of the process: writing and writing and writing until you find your own voice.

Who were your earliest musical influences that stuck with you?

I think like most kids you listen to what is around you at the time, and my earliest influences were from my relatives. Whether it was my cousins listening to Elvis, Chicago, Kiss or Steve Miller; my grandfather listening to hits from the ’40s and ’50s; my grandmother playing WWII ballads on her Wurlitzer; or my uncle’s Rare Earth, Kansas and Yes records, it all influenced me. Some of the best memories I have are driving around singing “Afternoon Delight” [Starland Vocal Band] or “What’s Going On” [Marvin Gaye] along with my mother. Detroit radio was some of the best in the country in the ’70s, and my mother, in particular, was pretty influential in my early years. She loved music and loved singing; whether it was rock, soul or country, she listened to it all. Our record collection had Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees. Another big record that stuck with me was Tom T. Hall record SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW – For Children of All Ages. My grandmother gave that to me. I wore that thing out.

Who’d you listen to that makes you ask, “What was I thinking?  and how’d you ‘take their sad song ‘n make it betta’? Even the questionable influences of childhood can positively shape budding creativity, right?

When I was a young child, we had one of those small Imperial portable record players and I would go from room to room when my parents had parties putting on my “show.” I would carry my record player, my yardstick – which doubled as microphone and guitar – and my favorite record, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” b\w “Delta Dawn.” I would sing through side one, take my break and then sing through side two. Man, I could rock that shit.

While there was some questionable hair metal that I listened to in the ’80s – TnT, Krokus, Helix anyone? – I can’t really disavow it in good conscience. They are all colors in my crayon box so to speak. Some people are great at painting with one color; I’m not. All of the music that I have listened to tends to find its place in the songs that I write for my different bands.

Before the Star Bar sound booth days, what was your worst day job, and did I hear the residue of that angst in your band Bully?

I did death scene clean up for almost two years. It was miserable work, didn’t pay very well, boss was a dick. That was very influential in the Bully songwriting process. “Quitter,” “Spit,” “I Don’t Feel Well,” “2nd Drawer Down.” All from that period of time. I’d come home pissed off and beat, fire up the bong, hit the Jaeger and let it all out. Thankfully my work life is less stressful now, but I think that was what life is supposed to be like in your 20s, living hard and carefree.

What was it like working sound at the Star Bar? Favor us with a story of your days in the booth.

So much to tell – Jim Stacy and I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a G string on Hasil Adkins’ guitar while a nearly sold-out house waited impatiently. He had a box of old guitar strings he carried with him, every one of them old and rusty. Just looking at the box gave me tetanus. For some reason, none of them were the right one.

Once we had a kid who was trying to promote some shows – this particular one with Har Mar Superstar – have a breakdown on stage. He started calling out the booker of the club, the owners, the bartenders and finally me. He told the room filled with people I had stolen his guitar and amplifier – which I believe he had left in a friend’s car or sold for meth – and that he wasn’t a “fat, jaded motherfucker” like me. I, for sure, took the brunt of it, I guess because he was on stage staring right at me. I think most everyone thought I was going to kill his mic (or him), but I just let him keep going until he tuckered himself out. He ended up going to a mental hospital a week or so later. Pretty weird.

But I also had some great, amazing memories there. The Ex-Husbands blowing everyone away with an out of left field, dead-on cover of “War Pigs” [Black Sabbath], followed by “Beating around the Bush” by AC\DC.

I remember that!

Alejandro Escovedo bringing over 200 people to complete silence with the breathtaking-ness of his songs; The Drive-By Truckers playing an Atlantis Music Conference and just weeping over the song “Heathens,” knowing things would never be the same for them after that night. That stage is magic.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

As I was on the road last year, I heard a lot of BS about how listening to Johnny Cash was a hipster trait and therefore passe. What would you say to that labeling?

One of the bonuses of being older is that I don’t know if it’s hipster or not. I’ve been listening [to Cash] since the ’70s when I was a kid and never stopped. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

With The Downer Bros, you and Jim Stacy pay homage to some of Johnny Cash’s most, for the lack of a better word,  “fierce” recordings. You recently rattled the walls at the 12th Annual Cash Bash at the Star Bar [Sept. 22]. How’d the idea for the Downer Bros come about?

Like most of our great ideas, it started off with drinking. During the rockabilly\country revival in the 1990s, there were a lot of bands that would throw in a Johnny Cash or George Jones [song] and do it in whatever style they played. There was no one really doing the slower, lost love, murder ballad stuff, and definitely no one doing it stripped down and acoustic. Jim and I loved that kind of stuff. So when we were waiting for bands to show up or when the night was over, we would play songs, just me and him. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and our two voices, harmonizing and trading songs. It was magic. The name came from trying to describe the music to our good friend Andy McDaniel. He asked what kind of music we were doing and we said “country music, but you know, the ‘downer’ stuff.” It stuck.

I’ve been paying attention and coming to see your bands for a bit now. Do I detect a progression of a happier and more fulfilled man through your musical timeline, having made so many people weep openly, inviting us to be healed and happy – or am I waxing fanciful?

I think there is a definite evolution. Mulberry Street was me getting my feet wet playing and performing but quickly became a little darker then I thought it would become. With Bully, I totally embraced that darkness and anger. When you are more or less penniless, living from day to day, broken-hearted and feeling alone, it is hard to find the light. The Downer Brothers are similar to Bully in that there is some frustration and  loneliness, but instead of being loud and in your face and angry, it was quiet and more thought-out and reserved.

AM Gold it is next logical extension of the realization that there is goodness all around you. Goodness in the things you do, the places you go and the people you meet. The trick, I think, is being open to it, being willing to let it chase away the darkness that has comforted you for so long. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a meanness out there, thriving and consuming, but you have the choice. You can live in fear with the darkness or live in the happiness of the light. Mostly now I choose the light. Some days it is really hard work to find it, but I think it is worth the struggle.

As a performer, what show stands out in your memory?

Probably one of the highlights for me personally was playing in Greasepaint and opening for Tenacious D. It was a sold-out crowd at The Tabernacle here in Atlanta. For AM Gold, it has to be playing The Dogwood Festival earlier this year. A few thousand people on a beautiful day in Piedmont Park. Nobody knew who we were or our songs, but they seemed to really appreciated them and we had a great response.

Honestly though every show is great in its own way. Any time I get to get on stage with my friends and we get to play our original songs, the ones we have practiced a hundred times, the ones we put our time and effort into writing and arranging and performing. That’s a good day.

Worst gig ever has to be the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain last year.  It was the first time in over 20 years I set foot on stage for the sole purpose of making money by playing covers. While we had fun playing our Steve Miller Greatest Hits set at the Star Bar a couple months earlier, when it came to doing those songs again, there was no love for them. While I admire people that can get on stage and play three or four sets of somebody else’s material and are able to support a family doing it, I am not cut from that same cloth. I suppose that’s why I am not able to support a family doing that.

I’ve been the annoying fan begging for CDs forever. What was the AM Gold studio experience, was it documented on film and when will PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT be available? Joshin’, but seriously does being recorded affect your perspective? And by the way, thanks and eager to hear both the Bully and AM Gold disks!

The recording process was really fantastic. We recorded with a great guy named Jimmy Ether at his studio called Headphone Treats. For this recording we were all in the same room, playing together. We set up in the morning, recorded seven songs, and were pretty much done that night. We came back a couple times and overdubbed a few guitar parts, percussion and some vocals, but for the most part, what you hear is what we did that first day. It is a really great way to record. All of the recordings I have ever done previously were all with the drummer in his own room and the guitar amps in their own rooms and the rest of the band usually in the control room listening back through small, tiny speakers. It has always been frustrating for me. I like being able to feel the kick drum and bass, feeling the air move in the room with the music, the rise and fall of the conversation we are all having with one another through our instruments. There is no replacing it.

As for the Bully stuff, we’ve got over 40 songs that had very limited – me handing a homemade CDR to someone – release. I’m hoping to change that later this year. I think we are going to put out three EPs, each having five to seven studio cuts and two to three live recordings. I’m not really sure. We also started re-recording some Bully stuff a couple of years ago that has yet to see the light of day. When your bass player is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, it gets hard to get everyone together in the same room and on the same page, but hopefully while Troy [Sanders] is home for a little bit between records, we can get some Bully time out of him.

What aspirations does the band muse about for the foreseeable future? Just sheerly hypothetically speaking, what’s next for you creatively?

The thing about us being in our 40s and doing this is that we don’t have the free time and lack of obligations that being 20 something has. Jett [Bryant, keyboards] has Bigfoot and a budding movie career [he was the star of DEAR GOD! NO! and is going to be in the follow up], Blake [Parrish, bass] and Eric [Young, percussion] are both in several bands and are in high demand as players, Jeff [Langston, guitars] has Ledfoot Messiah (they are doing the Kiss Kruise later this year) and he is in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA (ED note: Watch out for a Retro Review soon) at 7 Stages and Jim [Stacy, harmonica] has the Starlight Six Drive-In and Palookaville to run, as well as a successful TV show and the possibility of a opening a restaurant fairly soon.

And me, I’m not getting any younger. The thought of getting in a van and blowing with the wind down the road trying to find my rock and roll fortunes has long passed me by. The music I write and play isn’t fashionable. I have no hipster cred; my waist size has expanded. I’m not much to look at;  my head is shaped funny. At the end of the day I’m a 43-year-old IT nerd scraping by at a job I don’t care about, working for people who don’t care about me so I can earn money which is spent before I get it so I can keep a roof over my family’s heads and food and clothes in and on our bodies. I have a beautiful wife and family and a life like most people: spectacularly wonderful and exceedingly average. It just depends on what day of the week and how close we are to the next paycheck. Sometimes we have a little more than others, sometimes a little less. In my mind I’m doing all of this for them, hoping for the big pay-off someday. Rational Joel knows that is probably never going to happen.

But still, I have this need to make this music. I tell these stories and dream these dreams. That’s all good music really is. Stories and dreams. I’m going to keep writing and playing every chance I get for whoever will listen. When I have new stories, I write new songs. When I have new dreams, I write new songs.

It’s what I do, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Look for me up front and center.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

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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.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life Goes On for Murray Attaway as Guadalcanal Diary Rises Again 30 Years Later at Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Jun 30th, 2011 By:

Photo courtesy of Guadalcanal Diary.

I see life like a mirror
And I see life so much clearer

We move so quickly
Who knows where the time goes
Where does this road lead?
No one knows, no one knows

-Excerpted lyrics from “Litany” by Guadalcanal Diary (2 x 4, 1987)

Back in the early ‘80s when alt-rock was still called post-punk or new wave and relegated to the ghetto of college radio, Athens seemed to grab all the cutting edge music glory in Georgia. While many music critics liked to insist Guadalcanal Diary came from that scene (their first LP was on Danny Beard’s DB Records, which while based in Atlanta, was known for breaking out The B-52s), the band actually hailed from Marietta, proving something much more innovative than the Big Chicken could hatch out of what’s often thought of as Atlanta’s most white-bread suburb.

It doesn’t seem like it could possibly have been three decades ago when they first got together to play a friend’s backyard wedding, but it’s mighty good to hear that Guadalcanal Diary, who broke up in 1987, are back and performing live, if only for two shows. The first was at AthFest last weekend, and rumor has it that the second at Smith’s Olde Bar is already sold out. Yeah, it seems like there are plenty of folks who miss hearing the voodoo jangly twang with an offbeat sense of humor of “Watusi Rodeo”—the name of their first EP released in 1983 (Entertainment on Disk) and later a song on the WALKING IN THE SHADOW OF THE BIG MAN LP (1984) released on DB Records and produced by Don Dixon (REM, Smithereens). Back then MTV’s CUTTING EDGE, the go-to late night show for progressive content, named the video for “Watusi Rodeo” its video of the year. They’d go on to cut three more albums, and even after they broke up, thankfully they’d occasionally reunite every once in a while for a show and even cut a live CD, GUADALCANAL DIARY AT YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY, in 1998.

In more recent years, lead singer/guitarist Murray Attaway recorded a memorable solo album, IN THRALL, and lately he’s been performing again with Guadalcanal Diary guitarist and oft co-composer Jeff Walls in Bomber City. Walls has popped up in a variety of bands including Hillbilly Frankenstein, Dash Rip Rock, Southern Culture on the Skids, Man or Astro-Man? and The Woggles. ATLRetro caught up with Murray to find out why Guadalcanal Diary decided to regroup this summer and what’s ahead for him, Walls and the band…

You were one of the bands that converted me to a whole different way of looking at music, listening to WRAS in the early 1980s. It’s great to hear you guys playing again. What inspired you to bring the band back this summer?

That is very kind of you. The advent of social networking had a hand in the reunion. I had quite a number of music people, promoters and such contact me over the last few years asking if I had plans to do any more music. This led directly to Jeff and I starting Bomber City. As 2011 drew near, Jeff, Rhett, John and I began to discuss the possibility of doing a few Guadal shows to commemorate our 30th anniversary. And here we are.

Is it the whole original line-up—you, Jeff Walls, John Poe, Rhett Crowe?

Yes, we’d never consider it otherwise.

For those too young to remember, briefly how did Guadalcanal Diary get started and why the name?

Jeff and I had been writing songs together on and off for years, and we wanted to play them live. We both had been in a band called Strictly American with Rhett’s brother Curtis Crowe of Pylon, and John and Jeff were in a couple of bands together as well, The Motive and The Rooms. Rhett and I were a couple at the time and she wanted to learn to play bass, which Jeff taught her. The original idea involved doing a number of Civil War ballads all rocked up, but, thankfully, our originals sunk that idea. The name, taken from the Richard Tregaskis novel, seemed ambiguous enough to work creatively under. Plus, it sounds like water.

Who were your early influences? In an old Spin interview, you mention XTC, Bowie, Velvet Underground, Roxy Music but also old country like George Jones?

Yes, there are quite a few older country artists I like: Hank Sr., Johnny Horton, Buck Owens. Big list. Also Yes, Tull, Eno, Beatles, Stones, Miles Davis, Wynonie Harris. This could take days…

“Watusi Rodeo” is your best-known song, but what’s your personal favorite and why?

I like that song. I also like “Litany,” “Trail of Tears,” “Ghost on the Road,” “Vista” and “Pretty Is As Pretty Does.” “Litany” came along at a very happy time in my life, and I think the song reflects it. I hope.

In an interview from 1993, you were asked whether you had any regrets about breaking up in 1989 but you said that while you were possibly poised for the kind of mainstream success that Soul Asylum had, you were happy the band didn’t push it until you were burnt out and no longer friends. How do you feel about that now, or are you sick of answering that question?

Did the interviewer ask me specifically about Soul Asylum? I was only peripherally aware of them, so I’d be surprised to know that I compared Guadal to them. I am still happy that things turned out the way that they did. I don’t like the idea of comparing one group’s success to another’s. Guadalcanal Diary’s original goal was to be able to headline 688 on a Friday night. We went a little further, happily. I’m pleased with the body of work we left. I’m even more pleased that we are still good friends.

You’re often more associated with Athens than Marietta. Was the gig at AthFest a bit of a coming home?

Yes indeed. No matter how much we may have bitched early on about differentiating between us and Athens, Athens became Guadalcanal Diary’s home. So Athfest was great, certainly a homecoming.

Any special plans for the Smith’s Olde Bar show?

Yes, to top the performance at Athfest.

When will we hear Guadalcanal Diary live again or a new recording?

No plans, but either is possible.

What’s up with Bomber City and are you collaborating with Jeff on anything else?

After a personnel change last year, we’ve been rehearsing steadily and are ready to play live again. First show is July 30 at The Melting Point in Athens.

Are you up to any more solo work or anything else musically right now?

Between Guadal and Bomber City, and a startup company that I’m a partner in, my hands are full. Jeff’s the one who’s in four bands at a time, plus producing. I think he takes lots of vitamins.

What’s your favorite Atlanta used record store and why?

Wax n’ Facts.  Danny Beard put out our first LP, and he’s also a relative by marriage. Plus great selection.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do, and what’s the answer?

I wish someone would ask me why I like peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches. Because they’re crunchy, sweet and sour.

 

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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