Kool Kat of the Week: The Flaming Heart: A Tribute to Buster the Human Blowtorch, aka Todd Kelly, as The Chamber Holds a Second Reunion

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2012 By:

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

“Todd was a Fire God on stage blowing his Soul of Fire for the world to see.”– Bry-baby, Chamber regular

 Back by popular demand, Mon Cherie has put together Chamber Reunion II, another gathering of the misfits who frequented one of Atlanta’s most notorious nightclubs, on Sat. Nov. 24 in Hell at The Masquerade. [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Mon Cherie on her Chamber memories and the first reunion here] It just wouldn’t be The Chamber without the presence of its favorite fire-breathing clown. However, due to his previous dinner arrangements with P. T. Barnum, Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury, Mr. Todd Kelly will not be on the bill. I thought a tribute was in order.

Todd “Buster the Human Blow Torch” Kelly walked into my world in 2000. He strolled up to me in the Star Bar and introduced himself. His face was familiar; he had been in the front row of most of my Dames Aflame shows wearing a bright yellow motorcycle jacket. It caught my eye. My roommate had been hanging out with him in the witching hours after the “legal hours of operation” of a variety of Atlanta bars…the tales of mischievous behavior (to say the least) had been numerous at that point. Diminutive of stature, yet a flamboyant and verbose one-man cult of personality, not unlike myself, we became immediately lifelong comrades. He spent the evening regaling me with the amazing details of his fiercely colorful life.

Todd worked as fire performer and pyrotechnician for a myriad of bands including My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Glitterdome and Impotent Sea Snakes (iss) just to name a few. He traveled constantly and spent the better part of 2001 in California where he became engaged to another performer from iss. Alas love’s misfortune brought him back to Georgia by the beginning of 2002. We took up right where we left off. Neither of us the type to waste much time, within days of his return, we began dating. He set the tone for our story by showing up for our first date in a knee-length REAL snake-skin jacket. He took me to The Chamber and promptly changed into his stilts and 7-foot-long silver sequined pants, tailcoat and top hat.

When Todd was not on the road, he worked a regular gig at The Chamber, either on stilts or doing his fire act, which I assisted as “safety” waiting back-stage with his fire-box full of fire-extinguishing paraphernalia in case of mishap. He taught me how to blow fire, and since we were both known for our snake acts as well, we soon began performing together. He was the consummate showman, yet never minded if my skimpy costumes upstaged his signature leather pants. But that’s who he was with everyone.

“The first time I saw Todd perform was at The Chamber. When he strode onto stage to the anthemic, ‘Du Hast,’ the energy in the room elevated immediately and then hung, palpable and frozen, in mid air. The audience, knowingly or not, fed him their every expectation, desire, anxiety, and Todd took it all in and let it go in a wildly cathartic and decadent rush of fire – a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. His act, although straightforward, was a bold, arcane ritual, and Todd was the Magus, sans turban, clad only in tight, red leather pants. In that room, he was more than fire-breather. He harnessed the frenetic energy of the room and focused it outwards into blazing spectacle. He was the transformer.” – Aileen Loy, creative impresario.

“Long before joining up with the Impotent Sea Snakes and when I first moved to Atlanta, I met Todd Kelly. We were both fixtures at The Masquerade and part of the core family of friends that hung out and/or worked there. We enjoyed many times together. I adored him. I just did not realize how beloved he was (to others) until I signed up with the band. We traveled the U.S.A. and Canada – this close quarters living bonds people in ways that can never be broken. ” – Mon Cherie, Chamber performer and promoter, and organizer of The Chamber Reunions I and II

“I never had to give Todd much direction. I’d tell him the theme for the event, and he would deliver. He was a natural at sideshow.” – Howie Stepp, manager at The Chamber

“Todd was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I got to know him through working with him at The Star Bar and in the band Greasepaint. He had an incredible gift for being empathetic and understanding while still being objective and non-judgmental. In the few years I had the honor of knowing him, he left a lasting impression. There are not many days that pass that I don’t think of him and miss him. The world would be a far richer place if Todd Kelly was still in it.” – Joel Burkhart, musician and fellow member of Greasepaint, co-founder of the band AM Gold.

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

“Todd had the soul of a rock star and helped me become one, in my own mind at least. He could steal the show and be totally humble in the same breath, blow you out of the water and totally supportive at the same time. I’ll never forget or be able to repay his support of my photography and my singing. If I listed the people he introduced me to or the doors he opened for me, you would think I was name dropping or bragging… or you knew him too.”  – Keith Martin, photographer, musician and singer/guitar for The Stumblers.

“Todd Kelly was a jack of all trades who mastered every trade he tried. He was willing to do anything to help a friend and was so well liked you felt like the ugly girl whenever you were out with him. A rock star who gave up the stage to help a brother, we hosted Yer 15 Fuckin’ Minutes karaoke together three nights a week and worked even longer hours together after our regular schedule. A gentle soul, he even took time out to stilt walk and breathe fire for my son’s 8th birthday. Little known fact, I stole the name ‘Blue Rat’ for a headshop I opened on Cheshire Bridge, the “R-A-T” stands for “Rotknee, Alex and Todd.” I promised him we’d open something we could put our name on. Rest in peace, brother, I finished what we started. Loved that man, still do.” – Rodney Leete, wild-man on the mic, musician and emcee, Atlanta’s Best Amateur Comedy, Yer 15 minutes of Fame Karaoke. 

Torchy Taboo and Todd Kelly.

My favorite story Todd ever told me was about how he’d injured his hands very badly while trying to rescue his 15-foot-python, Junior, from a burning tour bus. When he found that his injuries made it impossible to hold his fire torches a few days later at his next booked show, he duct-taped them to his wrists and went on. Ever a man of his word, the show must go on.

Even after parting ways, we remained fiercely loyal to one another, sharing responsibility for our pets during each of our extensive tour schedules and even working together a few more times. Todd Kelly left us in 2004. He is remembered dearly by everyone who ever knew him.

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

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.

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

Kool Kat of the Week: Shakin’ It Up with “Big Mike” Geier on His Burning Love for Elvis and Other Musical Matters

Posted on: Aug 11th, 2011 By:

"Big Mike" Geier don't need no jumpsuit to celebrate Elvis. Serenading the audience during last year's ELVIS ROYALE. Photo Credit: Laura Newman.

Over the past 14 years, Kingsized’s Elvis Presley tribute show has grown from a family affair at the Star Bar into ELVIS ROYALE, an always sold-out Vegas-style multimedia Retro extravaganza with a 15-piece orchestra and glamorous glittery dancing girls, aka the Dames Aflame, at Variety Playhouse. Forget Elvis impersonators. “Big Mike” Geier don’t need no jumpsuit—his deep baritone voice, wide smile and signature charisma are more than enough to rival the stage presence of the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, that is with that signature Geier twist. You’ll hear all the Presley hits with a sense of homage and humor, and some surprises along the way that Big Mike believes Elvis woulda sung had his life not been tragically cut short in 1977.

If you’re from Atlanta, skip on to the questions. If you’re new here or not from here, Big Mike has been big in Atlanta’s Retro revival scene since before we even knew we had one, and that’s not just because he’s six-foot-eight. He started performing in Richmond, Virginia, fronting the Useless Playboys, in 1989. That “swing noir” band attracted a national following and toured with Reverend Horton Heat, Southern Culture on the Skids and El Vez. But the Playboys also used to play here at the Star Bar so often it was hard to know he didn’t live here.

Mike Geier and wife Shannon Newton of the lovely Dames Aflame. Photo credit: David Stuart.

Then Big Mike came to Atlanta in 1995 to host the city’s first full neo-burlesque show, Go-Go and Torchy’s Taboo Revue, and he never left. Instead, he launched Kingsized—arguably Atlanta’s  best known and most popular swing band. In 2004, he started a Polynesian pop lounge band, Tongo Hiti, who are now Thurs. night regulars at Trader Vic’s downtown. Along the way he hooked up with burlesque troupe, Dames Aflame, led by his wife Shannon Newton. And that’s not to mention a slew of side projects, such as voiceover and music work for Cartoon Network and Puddles Pity Party, a cabaret clown act that recently toured with AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE LIVE.

So what do Big Mike, Kingsized and the Dames have in store at this year’s ELVIS ROYALE. Heck, let’s ask him…

You moved to Atlanta in 1995 at a very pivotal time for the Retro revival here. Obviously the opportunities have grown immensely here for performers who embrace a vintage style, but do you ever miss those more pioneering days? And do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share with those readers who were too young or moved here later?

I miss being able to fill up my 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville for $21. Gas was $1 a gallon! My favorite memory would be filling up my 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville for $21, then driving out past The Starlight Drive-In to Rio Vista for mountains of fried catfish and sweet tea with my super hot girlfriend who is now my super hot wife.

Can you talk a bit about the Elvis Royale’s humble origins and how it grew into the Vegas-style multimedia extravaganza it is today?

Imagine 350 people crammed in the Star Bar. It’s August and 80 degrees at 10 p.m. Everyone is chain-smoking and guzzling Rolling Rock. PBR’s ironic comeback is just beginning. The Grace Vault is where ya go to pay your respects to the King, among other things. Tim Lathrop used to perform the séance at midnight. The show didn’t even start until 11 o’clock. I had to move the show or else it would have killed me.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Kool Kat of the Week: Rockin’, Rollin’ and Raisin’ Japanese Monsters with Shane Morton at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2011 By:

What’s more Retro than watching a classic horror movie at the drive-in? Lucky Atlantans will get that rare opportunity this Sunday June 5 when the annual ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH invades the Starlight Six Drive-In, one of the country’s last remaining drive-in movie theaters. Even better, the eerie all-day extravaganza also features a frightening fantastic line-up of bands, a Miss Monster Bash contest, vendors of spooky merchandise, custom hearses and not just one but three Japanese horror classics, GODZILLA 2000 (1999), HOUSE (1977) and RINGU (1998). Gates open at 10 AM, live performances start at 2 PM, the movies roll from dusk into the wee hours of the morning, and for those who want to party all weekend, there’s even a Monster Bash Pre-Party on Saturday night (June 4) at the Star Bar with even more bands.

ATLRetro caught up with Shane Morton, the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Ghost Host with the Most Professor Morte, musician (Super X-13/Gargantua/etc.), painter, tattoo artist, SFX artist, actor, all-around horror Renaissance man, and one of the mad masterminds behind ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH for a scary sneak preview…

How did the ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH get started?

Billy Messina, Ben Armstrong and Tim Dolph of Netherworld fame were the original mad scientists that brought this thing to life.  Atlanta’s horror community deserves its own horror-themed DRIVE INVASION! they would always contact me for help in the rock ‘n’ roll dept. Billy and Ben are just too busy with netherworld—in my opinion, the greatest haunted house attraction in the world—so Tim, Jim Stacy [Starlight manager/ Palookaville mastermind/Greasepaint/AM Gold/etc.) and I took it over four years ago.

Professor Morte sings with the Silver Scream Spookshow band at Monster Bash 2009.

What’s the band line-up this year, and why should we be excited about it?

This is a great rockin’ line up this year with something for everybody! Spooky Partridge is a fun family band—[as in] Addams Family, ha!—that play a lot of punk covers along

LUST. Photo courtesy of Barb Hays.

with cute originals. The drummer is just a li’l kid, but he’s already one of the best in the city with all the stick spins and showmanship kicking already. It’s amazing to watch! Radio Cult is also a very visual band—almost like a fem-fronted ‘80s Van Halen! Big fun and way over the top! LUST needs no intro as they put on legendary and hilarious shows! [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with Barb Hays for more about LUST]. I love these gals like sisters, so it’s always a pleasure to have them on the bill. The Brimstones are New York City’s greatest spooky garage band. Trust me, when you see Justin’s Farfisa [organ] solos while in a headstand, you’ll know why they are so famous! Super X-13, ‘nuff said. This line-up of music is gonna tear your face off and rip up the pavement!

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

Posted on: May 26th, 2011 By:

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

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

Ghost Riders Car Club

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

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

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

Blacktop Rockets

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

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

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

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

 

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

Are you doing anything special for the 20th year?

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Daddy & the Kissin' Cousins

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

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

Sonoramic Commando

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

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

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

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

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

Glitz, Glamour and Girls, Girls, Girls: The Southern-Fried Experience

Posted on: Apr 13th, 2011 By:

As tickets go on sale for next year’s Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, Atlanta burlesque maven Talloolah Love looks back on an absolutely fabulous first year…

I have to give my eyes a rest, as I may develop rhinestone cataracts after seeing such an array of magnificent, world class acts as graced the stage March 10-13 for the first-ever Atlanta burlesque convention: The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival. Plenty of articles have been put out there about the two gals behind the event. Masterminds and inner puppeteers, Ursula Undress and Katherine Lashe, were certainly exercised to the extreme as they worked their little tail feathers off to put this show on, and boy, didn’t it show! The vendors room alone could have struck you blind for all the fabulous glitter, rhinestones and color. As someone who has been to many festivals all over the country, ATLRetro asked me to share my experience as a spectator with a sweet nod and smooch to everyone behind the event who volunteered and assisted in their own ways to make it all happen.

Lydia DeCarllo

I arrived Friday night, just before doors. The moment I came in, the fabulous Lydia DeCarllo, the international sensation from Vancouver, swept me up. Now that’s my kind of welcome wagon! We chatted about her trip in and about how she’s been since we last saw each other at the Texas Burlesque Festival. Derek Jackson, Atlanta photographer and avid burlesque advocate, arrived soon after along with world-famous Rick DeLaup, founder of the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. I took a quick jog over to the bar, as I am quite familiar with the Decatur Holiday Inn and Convention Center, which has been newly renovated and also is the home of TribalCon, a national bellydance convention I try to attend every year. The bar was literally dripping with burlesque stars, but the most fabulous in attendance at that moment as Ms. Torchy Taboo, Atlanta’s own burlesque Godfather. She held court there as only she can, a moment I so sorely missed out on because there was so little time to commiserate before the first big show began.

Talloolah Love and Derek Jackson

I took my seat in the VIP section with Rick and Derek and used my commemorative Jo Boobs pen to take notes on the festival’s first all-star show. My only disappointment was that when Derek invited me to sit VIP, my vision of it would be some kind of small gift bag or at the very least drink tickets for the conveniently located hotel bars in the ballroom. But not this year. Happily the bar’s prices were so reasonable it wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been had the event been held in Atlanta. Still, if I were to critique the VIP experience for its price, a small gift of appreciation would have been nice and usually expected at most festivals.  All of this, though, was again mitigated by the national celebrities who came to chew the fat with us, like Atlanta’s own Mike Geier, the evening’s emcee, and Margaret Cho, along with the cast of DROP DEAD DIVA.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Weekend Update, April 8-10, 2011

Posted on: Apr 8th, 2011 By:

Friday, April 8

Mike Geier and one of the lovely Dames Aflame.

Kingsized swings, lounges and rock and rolls the Star Bar in that wondrous way that only “Big Mike” Geier can.  Master mandolin player and one of the fathers of bluegrass music, Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder play Variety PlayhouseAlex Lattimore brings jazz, R&B and a light touch of blues to Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.  Joe Gransden and Kenny Banks jazz up Twelve at Atlantic Station.

Film Love‘s Yoko Ono: Reality Dreams short film series concludes with a free screening of Bottoms at 8 PM at Emory University‘s White Hall Room 206.  Ono’s most notorious film literally reveals the backsides of several hundred “saints of our time. All Film Love events are curated by recent Kool Kat Andy Ditzler.

Saturday April 9

Celebrate the 19th birthday of The Highlander with a free concert by musical masters of the circus freak show, Greasepaint, featuring Atlanta’s own insane clown posse of Puddles, aka Big Mike Geier (Kingsized), and the Reverend Uncle Laffo, aka Jim Stacy (Grand Moff Tarkin). Also on the bill is Super X-13, featuring Shane Morton (Gargantua, Silver Scream Spook Show) on bass in a big hair wig and crazy Ultraman-inspired jumpsuit (well that’s the whole band actually)!

 

Cuba’s greatest rumba ensemble for more than 50 years, Los Munequitos de Matanzas proves “without rumba, there is no Cuba, and without Cuba, there is no rumba” at GSU’s Rialto Center for the Arts. Legendary ’80s industrial/ experimental rock band Savage Republic revs up The EarlBetter Than The Beatles pays tribute to the Fab Four at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno.

Sunday April 10

Tinkerbell (Yetter) flies with Peter Pan (Ciaran Joyce). Photo credit: Ed Krieger.

Tom Gentry & Co. serve up the blues at “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. And today is the last day to catch KOOL KAT Emily Yetter starring as a precocious, politically incorrect Tinkerbell in J.M. BARRIE’S PETER PAN under the big tent at Pemberton Place, next to the World of Coca-Cola.

 

Ongoing

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901, but it’s not a stretch to say that his vibrant posters and prints of showgirls, nightclub stars and the café culture influenced the 20th century romantic view of Paris and still inspire today’s burlesque performers. The High Museum of Art’s dynamic new special exhibition, TOULOUSE-LAUTREC AND FRIENDS: THE IRENE AND HOWARD STEIN COLLECTION, runs through May 1. Also at the High through May 29 is the MOMA-organized HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: THE MODERN CENTURY, another blockbuster exhibit showcasing a photographer and photojournalist who captured on film many of the seminal moments  of the 20th century from World War II to the assassination of Ghandi, China’s cultural revolution to civil rights and consumer culture in America.

Tune back in on Monday for This Week in Retro Atlanta. If you know of a cool happening we’ve missed, send suggestions to ATLRetro@gmail.com.


Category: Weekend Update | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress