Kool Kat of the Week: A Bluesy Night in Georgia: On the Road and Home Again with Brooks Mason of the Georgia Flood

Posted on: Apr 20th, 2016 By:

georgiaflood-1By Geoff Slade
Contributing Write

By the end of their set opening for Sister Hazel this Fri. April 22 at Variety Playhouse, Atlanta band The Georgia Flood will have a ton of new fans, and Kool Kat of the Week Brooks Mason (lead guitar/vocals) seems to know it. “We’re hitting our stride as a band now and it’s a lot of fun,” he says in the band’s bio.

The Georgia Flood play soulful, bluesy rock, and they play it confidently, though their musical interests are varied. Growing up in McDonough, Brooks and his brother Lane Kelly listened to and performed all kinds of music. They cite Weezer among more obvious influences (Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Jimi Hendrix, The Black Keys…), and a quick YouTube search turned up a raucous Who cover, a sultry version of “It’s a Man’s World,” and this gem.

Their original material and overall sound is archetypal, classic blues-rock, reminiscent of the best of the genre. Check out songs from their two releases and be sure to watch the video for “The Race” on their Website.

ATLRetro and Brooks recently discussed a low moment on the road, why Gregg and Duane (not to mention Jake and Elwood) may have been onto something and, of course, the best blues guitarists.

(Special thanks to Luis Ponce)

ATLRetro: Thanks for doing this!

Brooks Mason: No, thank you! Thank you for having us.

How long have you been playing music?

We have been playing music since I was in 8th grade trying to get in my brother’s high school metal band. They didn’t want me cause I was middle school!

ad-gaflood-robbedWhat are you listening to these days? Who are your favorite bands?

Good question! These days, it all depends on the day. Most of the time if I’m not playing old blues CDs, I’m usually listening to our local alternative radio station to keep current with the music that comes out today.  I’m a big vinyl head so I got all the Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy, Freddy King, classic blues stuff, but today there are some great bands that I love like Dawes, Young The Giant, Lake Street Dive and Houndmouth, just to name a few.

Tell me about The Georgia Flood. Who’s in the band? How old are you guys? How did you guys get together? How long have you been playing in front of people?

The Georgia Flood is a band that consists of me and my brother. I am 19 and Lane is 23. Lane and I have been in and out of various bands since the start of high school – metal bands, folk bands, cover bands you name it.  Somehow we always stick together. I believe it’s just easier to have a brother that is always around and to have your back. We weren’t good at any sports so we had to branch out. We’ve been doing music for roughly five years.

gaflood3I heard you guys recently had all of your gear stolen. What happened?

Yes, that was an interesting day.  We were tracking a new song at Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn, New York for the whole day, and when we went back to the van we knew something was different. We noticed that the side mirror had been broken. We had just thought that maybe a car hit it as it was sitting on the side of the road, but as soon as we opened the back we knew right away we had just been robbed. Everything got stolen. Drumset, guitar amps, bass amps, road cases and even our suitcases!  Luckily, me and my brother brought in our guitars or they would have been stolen as well.  So whoever has our gear, they are ready to start their own band with all the gear they got (laughs).

What’s the one thing you immediately missed most?

To be honest, probably my clothes. Since being on tour, I had brought basically all my good show clothes. Oh and I also lost a coat my grandmother had gotten me. I loved that coat! Oh and my shoes!

Have you been able to replace everything yet?

Fortunately, with the help and support from our fans, friends and family we were able to replace just about all of it. Obviously, some things were sentimental that we probably never see again, but for the most part we are back on our feet touring once again due to the fact of our great fans and supporters who we will always be truly grateful for.

Aside from that, how has the band been received away from home? Any differently than at local shows?

Awesome! Everywhere we have played, we have just received so much love and been able to meet and gain new friends and fans! It’s definitely different being out on the road in a different town, but everyone has been so nice and friendly to us.

You’re playing some dates (including Friday at Variety Playhouse) as an opener for Sister Hazel. How did you hook up with those guys? Are you currently on tour with them?

I know! We are so pumped to play such a historic venue in our hometown. Luckily, the manager we work with knows and works with Sister Hazel and was able to get us on some dates. We have played with them on some previous dates before and their fans are always so nice and responsive. As for the band, they are super nice as well. There’s a reason why they are so popular.  Before each show they make time to come speak to us and say “hey!” So we are really appreciative for them having us on the road.

gaflood-galleryWas there a particular song or artist or moment in your life that made you want to be a musician?

Definitely! Probably our first gig as a ’50s cover band. We made $120 in tips! I looked at Lane and I said “we may need to pursue this.’’ Back then it might as well been a million.

You can’t miss the blues rock influences in your songs, and you guys cover several genre staples (Here are a few examples). Are you a fan of traditional blues? Do you consider any classic bluesmen direct influences on your band?

I am a blues guy first.  I have been entrenched in the blues since I was 15. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great blues guys out there now, but you just can’t beat the old sound of the greats. It just hits you right in the soul and heart.  A lot of blues music just will make you feel different or make you change your mood! I’m serious! Listen to Lightnin’ Hopkins one night by yourself, and you’ll swear you ran around on your woman, or you’ll feel like drinking a glass of whiskey straight with your head hung low thinking all the wrong you’ve done in your life. In a good way of course… But I would say as a guitar player I am most influenced by the great Freddie King.

Do you have new songs you’re ready to record? Any plans to get in the studio?

Glad you asked!  We are about to hit the studio in the end of May. We will be putting out a seven-song EP hopefully by the end of summer. We can’t wait to put it out.  We have a great feeling with these songs we’ve never had before when coming up with new material.

Give me two songs, one original and one you cover, that best defines The Georgia Flood right now.

We do Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and then go into “Hey Jude” all in one song. It’s so fun, and it’s a great way to get the crowd singing “nah nah nah nah” Everybody knows that part.  And for our original, probably “Not Quite Over You.”  It’s a great pop blues rocker that is so fun to play.

Best living blues guitarist?

Best living blues guitarist… easy. JD Simo.

Best all time?

Everyone asks me this question. And I can’t really pick, but I would say my favorite is Freddy King.  Again the way he plays just knocks me out every time!

All images courtesy of Georgia Flood and used with permission.

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

Posted on: Apr 5th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6What’s next for The Blacktop Rockets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Genre-Bending, Vintage Rock ‘n’ Roll Slingin’, Nashville Soul Revivalist, Will Stewart of Willie and the Giant, has Rhythm, So Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Posted on: Oct 14th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/
Contributing Writer

L-R Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor, Will Stewart. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

L-R Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor, Will Stewart. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

Willie and the Giant, vintage rock ‘n’ roll slingers will be takin’ Atlanta by storm at Smith’s Olde Bar this Saturday, Oct. 18 on their tour through the South! Their newly pressed 7-inch vinyl, debuting two singles reeking of nostalgia, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and “Poor Boy,” both cut and recorded live at the ever comfy and throwback studio, Welcome to 1979, will be up for grabs! So, rock out, get a whole lotta rhythm, shake a tail feather and don’t forget to snag up a 7-inch or two! Acoustic folk and blues duo, Alex & Todd are along for the rhythmic ride, so come on down for a rockin’ retro ruckus this Saturday night at Smith’s Olde Bar!

Willie and the Giant, musical sons of Nashville and Birmingham, is made up of Will Stewart (vocals/guitar), Jon “The Giant” Poor (vocals/guitar), Grant Prettyman (bass) and Mac Kramer (drums). Not only has the group released two new singles, but a self-titled album is on the horizon for 2015, with their brand new label, Cumberland Brothers Music, run by Nick Worley, the band’s producer and engineer.The new album will be filled to the brim with an explosion of sounds with nods to American roots rock, ‘70s funk and more! Willie and the Giant, bathing in the blood, sweat and tears of vintage rock ‘n’ roll, are groovin’ to the top and have no plans to slow the momentum any time soon!

ATLRetro caught up with Stewart, for a quick interview about Willie and the Giant’s headfirst dive into rock ‘n’ roll, their new singles and record deal with Cumberland Brothers Music and their aversion to music labels and genres.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Stewart, take a listen to Willie and the Giant’s “Ain’t Gonna Wait”/”Poor Boy” single, here.

ATLRetro: Can you tell folks how you found the “Giant” and the rest of your band-mates and what brought you guys together?

Will Stewart: I moved from Birmingham to Nashville in November 2012. By coincidence, Jon Poor (“Giant”) and Mac Kramer (drums) moved from Birmingham to Nashville at the exact same time (We didn’t know each other while living in Birmingham.) They moved into a house with my then-bandmate Nick (also a Birmingham transplant), and that’s how we eventually met. The rest, as they say, is history.

There’s got to be a story behind the band’s name. Can you fill our readers in?

Photo Credit: Jack Smith

Photo Credit: Jack Smith

My height is pretty average and Jon is 6’5″ on a good day. There’s a video of us playing a show a few years back in which the camera exaggerates his height and has the opposite effect for my height. We thought it was hilarious and jokingly said, “Willie and the Giant!” When we formed the band, that name immediately came to mind as the obvious choice for the band name. We also think the “Giant” is a nice metaphor for our monster rhythm section – it could go a few different ways I suppose.

Can you tell folks a little about your debut singles, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and “Poor Boy,” released this past September?

These two tunes just go really well together. I wrote these when I first moved to Nashville in late 2012, before the formation of WATG but thought they would fit into the set we were building in the early months of the band. I was listening to a lot of songs from the early/mid-sixties Chess Records and Atlantic Records R&B catalogs and almost every song seemed to be about breaking-up or falling in/out of love. So these tunes were sort of born out of that period of listening – it’s a tip of the hat musically and lyrically to that era.   

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Jon Poor, Grant Pettyman. Photo Credit: Sarah Sellari

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Jon Poor, Grant Prettyman. Photo Credit: Sarah Sellari

Any special tricks on snagging the jazzy award-winning, The Chad Fisher Group, known for backing Greg Allman, and legendary groups, like The Temptations, The O’Jays and the Four Tops, for your debut singles?

Well, being from Birmingham, we had nothing but respect and admiration for Chad Fisher – he’s an institution in Birmingham and when we decided to use horns on these two tracks we knew immediately that we wanted Chad Fisher Horns to play and arrange the parts. 

How exciting to not only get offered a rockin’ record deal, but to be the first group to sign with the new label, Cumberland Brothers Music. Can you tell folks a little about how you were discovered?

It’s incredibly exciting and we’re all very grateful to be part of the Cumberland Brothers family. Nick Worley and I met in late 2012. We shared very similar tastes in music, so I approached him about recording some demos in early 2013. After that we continued working on other projects and some months passed. Later, I got a call one day from Nick saying that he was starting a label and wanted me to be a part of it. As a musician, it’s one of those things you always fantasize about, so when it actually happened I was just thrilled and very grateful for the opportunity.

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Grant Pettyman, Jon Poor. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Jon Poor. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

How would you, as a musician, describe your band’s sound? Willie and the Giant has been described as being like, “M. Ward fronting a Memphis soul revue,” groove rock and a vintage soul revival. Was this intentional, or did it just happen?

People are going to throw around labels and genres pretty loosely, that’s just how it is. Obviously, our first two singles are our interpretation of early American R&B, so we’ve heard the “soul” thing quite a bit (not that that’s a bad thing). That said, our forthcoming full-length and live show is a smattering (word of the day!) of American roots and rock to British invasion to 70s funk to modern indie and pop. So I’m going to stop short of labeling and just let folks listen and decide for themselves. Ultimately we want to be a band whose music is very difficult to label.

Who are some of your favorite vintage performers and influences?

I’ll just keep this pre-1965: Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, The Impressions, Solomon Burke, Elvis, James Brown, the Stones, Dylan, Sam Cooke and on and on.

Can you tell our readers a little about your upcoming debut album and when they’ll be able to snag ‘em up?

We’re actually right in the middle of mixing the full-length and hoping for an early 2015 release. But again, it’s kind of hard to describe the sound because it covers a lot of ground. We’re just so excited that this is becoming a reality and can’t wait to share it with everyone. 

L-R Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor.

L-R Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor.

What brings you southern guys even further south, way down into Atlanta?

Our bassist (Grant) is from Atlanta, so we have some roots there. I have some close friends there and we always have a hell of a time playing in Atlanta – we’re looking forward to the show next week!

Any special plans for your show at Smith’s Olde Bar this Saturday?

Nothing too crazy, just playing a ton of new tunes. We’ll also have our newly pressed 7-inch vinyl and t-shirts in tow (We accept cash and all major credit cards!)

What’s next for Willie and the Giant?

We’re going to be hitting the road as much as possible for the next two to three months, leading up to the release of the debut full-length album. Playing live is what we get off on – so that’s always going to be front and center for us as a band.

All photographs are courtesy of Will Stewart/Willie and the Giant and used with permission.

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