The Kool Kats’ Meow: Our ATLRetro Preview of the Third Annual Rockabilly Luau!

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2013 By:

Hawaiiana Tiki Culture and Rockabilly music are two of our favorite things here at ATLRetro, so you can bet we’re looking forward to the 3rd Annual Rockabilly Luau this weekend at Atlanta-Northlake Holiday Inn.  This year, it’s expanded to two days of feativities with a kick-off night on Friday Aug. 2 starting at 6 p.m. and then a full day of fun on Sat. Aug. 3 kicking off at noon hosted by Jim Stacy and mermaid Medusirena the Fire-Eating Mermaid, with bands, vendors, tropical cocktails, a classic car show, a pin-up swimsuit contest, Hawaiian fire performers and even a mermaid! The killer line-up includes a treasure chest of ATLRetro Kool Kats of weeks past, so we thought it would be fun to reprint some highlights from their interviews to give you a taste of the fun to come.

Rockabilly Luau Founder Chris Mattox

Chris told us that he grew up on rockabilly and surf music and that the Rockabilly Luau is a labor of love. “One of my fondest childhood memories was my dad taking me to see Dick Dale at the Variety Playhouse,” he says. “A love for Polynesian culture was inevitable.” At every turn, he reminded us of his passion for fair treatment of animals and that all proceeds from the Rockabilly Luau benefit dog rescue efforts. This year the designated nonprofit is Friends To The Forlorn Pitbull Rescue. Read Chris’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Hot Rod Walt of The Psychio-Devilles (Saturday 7 p.m.)

Hot Rod Walt, aka Walt Richards, may have roots in Jersey and Florida, but since parking in Atlanta in 2006, he’s quickly become one of Atlanta’s hardest working rockabilly/psychobilly singer/guitarists. He has 200 original songs, and his main band, the Psycho-Devilles, which also features Buford T. Ogletree on bass and Steve “Burnout” Barnett on drums, have generated multiple CDs, toured the US and Europe and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the Retro Revival, not to mention lighting a bass on fire at the first Rockabilly Luau in 2011.

“I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was around 12 years old,” Walt recalled. “I will never forget being so stoked about it and I can still smell the smell of the wood and glue and paint it was made of. I didn’t come from a musical family so having an instrument seemed very exotic as a kid. I also remember my little brother and I fighting that day and my father threatening to smash my new prized possession !! He would have done it too.”

As for his fantastic rockabilly wardrobe: “I make all my show clothes myself,” Walt said. “I have some vintage stuff that I find randomly. But I usually find a halfways cool suit at Goodwill and then customize it to a Western style or ’50s style coat. Since I am an upholstery guy, I have industrial sewing equipment and just make whatever I want. I have quite a huge collection of suits. I always want to make a new one for every show!”

Read Hot Rod Walt’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Caroline Hull-Engel of Caroline and the Ramblers (Friday 7:15 p.m.)

As interviewer James Kelly noted, “Red Hot Mama” [the title of the Ramblers’ CD] Caroline Hull Engel 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.”

Caroline herself said The Ramblers, her current band, is “geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and [is] heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda JacksonJanis 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.”

Read Caroline’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Julea Thomerson at The Star Bar's Bubbapalooza.

Julea Thomerson of Julea and Her Dear Johns (Saturday 1 p.m.)

When we caught up with lovely Julea, she was singing and strumming (she plays banjo, acoustic guitar and rubboard) with some of the best male blues and roots musicians in the city, including Bill SheffieldCharlie WootonNathan Nelson and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeckand her main gig was with the Bareknuckle Betties. Now she’s got her own band, Julea and Her Dear Johns.

When asked why she plays country and honky tonk in the 21st century, Julea retorted, “Why not? Every form of music we listen to today is, to some extent, derivative of some sort of sound that is not from the 21st century. There is not one song you can listen to that is completely unique, not one style or genre of music that hasn’t already been reinvented hundreds of times. And that’s true for every genre, not just honky tonk. So if you’re looking at music from that angle, why play anything at all? As for me personally, I play what I play because those are the kind of songs that I write. I write those kind of songs because that’s what I listen to. And I listen to what I listen to because it’s what I connect with and enjoy. I guess you could say that country western honky tonk music is not a 21st century sound. But in my opinion, I think it’s silly to try to assign a time period to something that is timeless.”

Read Julea’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Rev. Andy Hawley. Photo courtesy of Andy Hawley.

The Right Reverend Andy of Garage 71 (Friday Kick-Off Party, 10:30 p.m.)

For almost a decade, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley has been at the pulpit of Atlanta’s rockabilly revival as the DJ of Psychobilly Freakout (now airing Mondays from 8-10 p.m. on Garage 71 Internet radio and live at area events) and also for the many ‘billy events he has organized. Andy said he became the Right Reverend a bit by accident. “It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon,” he added.  “I came in to do my show at Album 88 (88.5FM) and told the DJ before my show went on I had become ordained through the Universal Life Church. Without prompting her, she ended her shift by saying, “Coming up next is Psychobilly Freakout with Reverend Andy!” Years later, Sully from daveFM would add the “Right” part to add some flourish. Now, I’m active outside the studio with my role as the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll getting folks deep fried and sanctified with the help of roots music!”

As for the origins of “Psychobilly Freakout,” he told us “This name (and song) encapsulated the theme for what I wanted my show to become. Honestly, it came down to naming it this or “Rockabilly Rebel,” after a Hillbilly Hellcats song. The program director for Album 88 wanted to differentiate my show from the country show, so I went with the Freakout. The first time I interviewed Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), I told him I had named my show after one of his songs. He told me, “You better make it live up to the name,” and I think I have, eight years going.”

Read Rev. Andy’s full Kool Kat interview here.

 

Mon Cherie. Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Mon Cherie (Hostess, Friday Night Kick-Off Party)

When we Kool Katted Atlanta’s hostess with the mostest Mon Cherie, she was resurrecting notorious nightclub The Chamber for one more dark and delightful night, but she’s also the divine visionary behind the Rockabilly Lounge, burlesque shows and an amazing array of other Retro-inspired activities here. We asked her what started her love of all things vintage and she told us: “When I was a little girl, my Aunt Peggy from the hills of Pennsylvania used to let me and my sisters listen to her 45 records on her portable record player. This is the beginning of my fondness for ElvisJohnny CashEddie Cochran,Hank Williams and Ritchie Valens et al. I have always loved the trends of the ’40s, ’50s & ’60s – Rockabilly Lounge was just my way of putting it all together.” As to her secret to success: “I have an ability to share a smile, so when I put one on your face, it puts two on mine.”

Read Mon Cherie’s Full Kool Kat interview here.

Chris Hamer. Photo courtesy of Chris Hamer.

 

Monsterific Comics Artist Chris Hamer (Vendors Row)

The Rockabilly Luau’s vendors’ alley is always full of fantastic finds from carved tikis to floral hair styling accessories to carved Cthulhu tiki mugs, but one of our favorites has to be the man who put a monster in your thrift store painting, Chris Hamer of Urbnpop Studio. When we caught up with him, he was about to do a Tom Waits-themed art show, and this is what he said about his approach to using found pieces in his works: “This show was a bit how I do my thrift store pieces, but I did the shopping at antique stores instead. I would travel around to different stores with a song in mind, walk around, do a lot of staring at stuff, and buy it [if I had] the feeling that I could make it work. When you listen to Tom Waits, or even see a photo of him, there is this nostalgic, romantic quality to him. I feel that with his music, he does not fit into this new polished sound that is on the radio or popular with a wide audience. It’s almost like his fans are antiques or vintage themselves. By no means am I calling them old, but you just do not hear people talking about him as much as you do a mainstream band or singer. I did not want to just simply make a wooden box or buy some canvas for the art, I wanted to take the vintage old soul approach with the art. So each piece has some sort of lost antique or discarded feel to it. One piece that will stand out the most in the show is for the song “Old 55.” I used an original pre-‘50s Ford truck door for my canvas to paint on. It’s all rusty and looks like time forgot all about it. I love it.”

Read Chris Hamer’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Medusirena. Photo courtesy of Medusirena.

Medusirena (Saturday, 8:15 p.m.)

And last but not least it’s true, there will be a mermaid and she knows how to play with fire! One of the last luau’s most alluring acts was aquatic dance by Medusirena, also known as Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaidfrom Fort Lauderdale, FL., and we’re happy to say she’s back. She wasn’t an official ATLRetro Kool Kat, but we did interview her for last year’s preview to find out a little more about this self-described “zany Uncanny Exoticat-Aquaticat,” whose passion is to recreate vintage aquatic dance for today’s audiences.

“Well, there was never a time I “became” a “mermaid,” to tell you the truth,” Marina told ATLRetro. “I can say that  I learned how to free dive at a very early age – 3 – in the West Indies and have always maintained a strong connection with aquatic movement art. That, together with training in Polynesian and Eastern dances, it was a natural fit.  I was inspired by marine animal movement and performers and showpeople ranging from Esther Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ricou Browning, Annette Kellerman, Iris Chacón and even Freddie Mercury, with a touch of Bruce Lee. My goal is to not only to return aquatic performances to people’s consciousness, but to help educate and encourage the art form for future generations. Retro-tainment if you will.”

Read our full interview with Medusirena here.

And that’s just our Kool Kats sos far. Everyone on the Rockabilly Luau playlist is a sure-fire contender for a future Kool Kat. Here’s the full performance schedule, but keep in mind, as we said, they’ll be a lot more going, especially on Saturday, including vendors, classic cars, cocktails and food.

Friday Night Line-up:

6:00-7:00 The Monterreys
7:00-7:15 Daisy Day
7:15-8:00 Caroline & The Ramblers
8:15-9:00 Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Pre-Qualifier
9:00-9:45 The Mystery Men?
9:45-10:30 Forged Creations Fire Performers
10:30 -? Hotel guests only kickoff party! Hosted by Mon Cherie, Garage 71 and Bachelor Pad Magazine!

Saturday Line-up:
12:00 Gates open!
1:00-2:00 Julea and her Dear Johns
2:00-3:00 Gemini 13
2:30-3:30 “Taste of the Islands” part 1
3:00-4:00 Davina & the Harlots
4:15:-5:15  The Intoxicators
5:30-6:00  Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders
6:00-6:45  Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Contest Finals “Taste of the Islands” part 2
7:00-8:00  Hot Rod Walt & The Psycho Devilles
8:15-8:45 Medusirena
9:00-9:30 Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders, Fire Knife dancer
9:30 Kat Chaffin & Woven Pines

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Old Enough To Drink: Bubbapalooza Turns 21! Remembering Gregory Dean Smalley

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Note: all photos of Gregory Dean Smalley are courtesy of James Kelly)

In Atlanta’s Redneck Underground, Memorial Day weekend means one thing: BUBBAPALOOZA! For 21 years, the Star Bar has hosted a wild and wooly hootenanny of great Southern music and fun. This year’s event takes place on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26, with 21 bands representing a vast array of rootsy musical styles (for a complete schedule, scroll down to the end of this article!).

Some of us have been there since the very first event, but over time things have changed; bands have come and gone and familiar old faces faded away, pulled by grown up jobs, family obligations or the need to preserve their livers. But like any great music scene, new folks step in to fill the void, and this year promises to be as good as it gets. It seems that no matter what crappy genre of music is being adored by the mainstream, traditional country, rockabilly, surf and roots rock continue to maintain a high profile in L5P. A mix of the old, the new and the unknown makes each band’s set a celebration of the diverse musical legacy established so many years ago by the late Gregory Dean Smalley.

A will o’ the wisp of a man, Smalley had a vision that has continued on, and is now entering its third decade of existence. Smalley was a journeyman musician, with temporary stints in just about every band he booked at Bubbapalooza. He was as charming as he was infuriating, able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with just about anyone on just about any subject, and a mind full of the dirtiest jokes you ever heard. While so many of the newcomers weren’t even of drinking age when Smalley died in 1996 from AIDS-related illness, each year the long-term attendees make an effort to remind everyone of his contributions to our music scene, and to keep his memory alive for old and new fans alike. But sadly, many people never got to meet him, listen to his witty and usually offensive tirades, or hear his amazing guitar playing.

During the last year of his life, Greg spent a lot of time at my house, sitting in an easy chair and watching Nascar, picking guitars, shooting the breeze, or napping for a hour or so. As the AIDS virus ravaged him, he had a medical port for injecting his prescribed drugs, and often dosed while in that chair. About six months after he died, I was walking through the living room when I noticed something under the chair that had not been there before. It was an empty syringe that had just fallen from the chair that day, one of Greg’s medications he had injected while in my home. The day it fell was September 3, Greg’s birthday. His way of saying “Hey, remember me?” As if I needed a reminder. He was unforgettable, and is still around in spirit, and every Memorial Day weekend, he smiles upon his family and friends as we celebrate his legacy.

The social media as we know it today never existed during Greg’s lifetime, and there is no telling what he would have thought of all the Twittering, Facebooking, blogging and what-not that goes on. ATLRetro tossed a request for a personal comment out into the web-o-net regarding our old pal Gregory Dean, and here’s a sample of the (printable) responses we got:

A natural-born entrepreneur, raconteur and spirited musician, Greg hustled and humped his way through life with unbridled exuberance, which carried anyone in the vicinity along for what often turned out to be a wildly memorable ride.Doug Deloach

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest, sweet, and bravest guys I ever knew, and he had a fantastic ear for music – playing it as well as putting together great shows! I miss him a lot. –  Katy Graves

Greg Smalley was a funny, wirey little dude that could play the shit out of the guitar!Annie Hamm

The first time I met Greg – in Columbia, SC – he tried to pick a fight with me, the ‘college-rock’ dude… a year or so later, he was an important part of the band.Walter Czachowski

Thoroughly Southern in manner and mind.Ian Shipp

Greg was quite strange (not a bad thing, I am also!), and he gave John Grant and me (Dos Hombres) a chance to play at Bubbapalooza, so how could I dislike the man!? – Elliott Michaels

One of the most rewarding guitar repair clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Seeing Greg on stage tearing it up on his Les Paul Special made me feel like his NASCAR crew. Being in a band with him was just as rewarding. I’m sure he’s up in heaven telling other deceased rock star guitar players how to play their trademark licks.Bryan Lilje

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.Wher he played with The Chant for the first time, he knew all the guitar parts, including the little riffs in the background to sweeten things up. He put everything into what ever he was doing. I miss him so much. He made my life a better place to be.Jim Johnson

Funny, unaffected, kind human being!Sean Bourne

Greg wouldn’t just wave or nod from across the bar. He’d always come over for a chat. Still deeply missed and finding his way into many conversations today. And there was the whole guitar giant thing.Thom Heckel

One determined person who really didn’t care what anyone else thought.Faylynn Owen

Greg was completely fearless about being himself all the time, extremely good and incredibly awful, and if you could recognize and accept that, you could be his friend, and that was a very rewarding experience.Tim Lathrop

Played “breaking my heart while I’m drinking her beer” before it was finished on his couch on Franklin Rd. Long cigarettes and intelligent music.Philip Buchanan

Not a lot of pretense with Greg. I recall he labeled effects pedals “SHIT” and “MORE SHIT.”Al Shelton

He was only ever nice to me. Good to me especially on stage, which is 90% of my interaction with him. Generous, encouraging, and a fearless gamer. I learned a lot about not caring what people think: a difficult and priceless lesson for this Southern mama’s boy.Jon Byrd

No matter what Greg went into everything with a smile on his face, and a joke at the end of his tongue. If you were offended then wait for the next one.  – John Thomason

Greg Smalley was everything I love about the south. – Steve Pilon

Bubbapalooza #21 Line-up:

FRIDAY MAY 25
DOORS 7PM/$8

12am: THE BAREKNUCKLE BETTIES
11pm: BLACKTOP ROCKETS
10pm: GHOST RIDERS CAR CLUB
9pm: UNCLE DADDY & THE KISSIN COUSINS
8pm: SLIM CHANCE & THE CONVICTS

in the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:30: SUICIDE DOORS
11:30: JUNIOR, DOLAN & CASH

SATURDAY MAY 26
DOORS 4PM/$10

12:30: THE MYSTERY MEN?
11:30: THE KENTUCKY BRIDGEBURNERS
10:45: AM GOLD
10:00: CLETIS & HIS CITY COUSINS
9:15: SONORAMIC COMMANDO
8:45: DUSTY BOOZE & THE BABY HATERS
7:45: THE MIDWAY CHARMERS
6:45: J.J. & THE HUSTLERS
5:45: THE SKYLARKS
4:45: CHICKENS & PIGS
4:15: THE SERENADERS

In the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:45: ATOMIC BOOGIE
9:45: THE WHEEL KNOCKERS
7:00: ALICK GERARD & THEDIXIE LIMITED

To find out more about the history of Bubbapalooza, check out last year’s interview with Bryan Malone and Ted Weldon, Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20.

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Extra Kool Kat of the Week: How a Few Too Many Drinks and a Holy Trinity of Johnnies Led to Keith Martin Stumbling Down into The Basement This Friday

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2011 By:

At Bubbapalooza at the Star Bar back in May, Torchy Taboo told me that she was really digging this new rockabilly band called The Stumblers. Now I know Torchy well enough to know she doesn’t mess around with her rockabilly, but when this quartet hit the stage in those ace cowboy shirts and started playing, let’s just say they weren’t stumblin’. Not that would expect anything klutzy coming from a line-up like vocalist/rhythm guitarist Keith Martin (Brandy, Car Thieves, Pickman’s Model), David Stuart (Hallows Eve) on lead guitar, veteran drummer Robbie Whelan and prolific English bassist Paul Diffin (recently The Psycho-DeVilles and Linda Gail Lewis, but also London acts The Big Six, Sugar Ray Ford and The Hotshots, and The Blue Cats).

While Keith and David have punk and metal band roots, sometimes your first love is your greatest one and for them, it was the southern roots music of the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Ask the boys what they play, and they’ll tell you that they are a four-piece traditional country band. Later that night I cornered Keith in the stairwell heading down to The Little Vinyl Lounge to ask when he’d be up for an interview, and he suggested a downstairs gig Friday July 22 with Vermont country-Goddamned-music band JP Harris & the Tough Choices at The Basement underneath Graveyard Tavern.

The Stumblers front man Keith Martin. Photo Credit: Scott Lowden.

Needless to say, it’s two months later and that show is now this week. Lucky for ATLRetro readers, Keith still was more than happy to take a break from honkytonkin’ to divulge the origin story of The Stumblers, give a crash lesson in the history of “hillbilly jump,” talk about their pronounced predilection for dive bars and share some shopping tips on finding cowboy shirts as cool as theirs.

How and when did you fine fellas get together?

Robbie and I have been friends for years but had never played together. We started back in 2007 to work on what would become The Stumblers. The first go at it was great, but soon life began to kickus in the teeth with a series of personnel issues. Our bassist took a job in Florida, our lead player had to quit for personal reasons, and to top it off, Robbie was called up and deployed to Iraq. The night he shipped out, I promised Robbie that I wasn’t giving up, and that by the time he came back I would have the players we needed to keep the band alive.

During this time my other old friend David Stuart decided to come out of semi-retirement and try his formidable hand at country music. I gave him a few reference songs and he took off like a bat out of hell. My friend Mike Bourne of Atlanta Boogie told me I should “Call Paul Diffin; he lives and breathes the stuff you’re doing.” After looking up Paul on the Internet, and realizing that he was the bassist for some of my favorite English bands, I immediately called him. Two minutes into our first get-together with this new line up, I knew we had a magical combination.

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