A Real Hillbilly Gentleman: Remembering Earl “Bubba” Maddox Before Bubbapalooza 22

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 By:

Earl "Bubba" Maddox.

By Eve Wynne-Warren
Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: If Gregory Dean Smalley was the founding father of Bubbapalooza, the annual rockabilly/roots festival every Memorial Day Weekend at Star Bar, then Earl “Bubba” Maddox, who passed away from cancer in March, had to be its lovably crazy uncle.  Earl drummed for a slew of seminal bands such as the Diggers, the Convicts and Gregory Dean and the Bubbamatics, and lately had been a character actor in movies. Events like Bubba, places like the Star Bar and the musicians who play there are at the heart of why we do ATLRetro. In this companion feature to our Bubbapalooza preview, Eve Wynne-Warren asks some of the Bubba regulars who knew Earl well for a few stories. It wasn’t hard for them to think of a few. For more about Earl, also check out the warm tribute by James Kelly (Slim Chance) that appeared in Creative Loafing here.

Earl Maddox had his own way of seeing the world and thought outside the box more than anybody you ever met. Atlanta musician, entrepreneur and Star Bar institution Billy Ratliff recalls some instances that beautifully illustrate Earl’s uniquely creative charm:

Billy Ratliff: “I met Earl in the late ‘80s at the [Euclid Avenue] Yacht Club. He was on his way out of town; he always was a bit of a gypsy. About 3 a.m., Earl said before I leave, let me show you something. So we headed out to his car, and he opened the trunk and there lay an antique cannon of some sort – something like a Gatling gun off an old ship. Did I want to buy this item? I had no need for a cannon at that point.”

Earl Maddox in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008).

That was Earl. Random bits of dreamlike appearances always with a story, an offering and a new friend; things that don’t transpire in the day-to-day lives of most. And he was down to earth and approachable. He made some of the most unlikely friends just about anywhere he went.

Billy : “One day I ran into Earl. ‘I haven’t seen you in a while, where’ve you been?’ Earl said. ‘Oh, hanging out at Webster’s studio.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘Yeah, I was fishin’ down off a dirt road down south of the airport and outta the woods came Webster.’ ‘You mean the little guy from TV?’”

Yep, that was Earl.

Earl’s free spirit took him places so unimagined and sometimes unexpected by many. I asked writer-painter and fellow free spirit/barstool philosopher Greg Theakston to share his favorite memory of Earl..

Eve: Do you remember asking my advice as a Southerner for a Southern-sounding nom de plume? I suggested the name Earl to you (ironically many years before the TV show MY NAME IS EARL). Earl Maddox was my inspiration for that answer.

Greg Theakson: I remember. My favorite memory of him was one night in the Little Vinyl Lounge [the downstairs bar in the Star Bar]. Earl jumped up and announced that he was gonna go to Hollywood and be an Actor…and by God he DID! He was what I call a real ‘Hillbilly Gentleman.’”

Earl’s film and TV appearances can be seen on his Internet Movie Data Base listing.

Faylynn Owen (the former booking agent for the Star Bar, presently found behind the bar at the Yacht Club): “My favorite memory of Earl is the last time I saw him. He came into the Yacht [and] was very excited about being in DJANGO UNCHAINED, and we just talked for a little while. Earl was always fun.”

Bassist Bill Lattner first met Earl at the first rehearsal of the Diggers. He immediately knew he’d found one helluva drummer, but more than that, a lifelong friend.

Bill Lattner: It was the [previous] drummer’s loft. He hit the drums so lightly, he may as well not have been there, couldn’t hear him at all, and I knew, the kind of band it was supposed to be, we needed somebody knocking the shit outta the kick and snare! Earl was living in NOLA, just in town visiting Greg. I told him how frustrated I was with the drummer situation. During a break, Earl said I’ll be back in a minute and came back in with a cinder block, out of his truck. He put it in front of the kick, and sat down, and gave the pedal such a whack, the block moved! The rest of the guys came back in, and Earl said, mind if I play one? So, we kicked a tune off, and there was the snare and kick, that I knew we sorely needed! He played three tunes, I think; this was the fuckin’ drummer we need!! I think we had to do one or two gigs with the other guy, to give Earl a couple weeks to move up here. And then he became my roommate, one of my best friends and a true brother, to me! I miss him every day.”

Raise a PBR to the memory of Earl “Bubba” Maddox this Friday May 24 and Saturday May 25 at Bubbapalooza 22 at the Star Bar!

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Slim’s Jukebox #4: Around the World with Slim!

Posted on: Aug 14th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

While most of my favorite music comes from right here in the deep south, I still have a real taste for the British Invasion, the one that’s been constantly going on since the early ’60s. But over the years I have also had the great joy of discovering music from many other countries and regions, so this week’s column s dedicated to what is commonly referred to as “World Music.” I’m sure I listened to lots of different things as a kid, since my dad was such a music fanatic, but my first real connection to “world music” was when I heard Ravi Shankar performing with George Harrison. It opened my ears, and my mind. So, from the corners of the globe, here’s what has been making my feet shuffle.

Le Super Borgou de Parakou
THE BARIBA SOUND

Most of the music on this fine compilation originates in Benin, a small country in South Africa bordering Nigeria. Pulled from archives, a lot of this has never been heard in years, or even played outside Africa. Recorded between 1970-1976, the band was mostly led by the late Moussa Mama, who reportedly was exposed to a variety of western music by his dad. There’s a lot of ’60s pop influences heard in the 15 tracks, and the steady groove throughout is a perfect example of classic Afro-Beat. Throw in some rumba, pachanga and some “Bariba Soul,” and you have a nonstop dance party! The rhythms are incredibly infectious, and there is something celebratory about the beat that makes me smile. Unfortunately, I cannot understand a word they say, but it sounds great, has lots of energy and deserves some attention.

Paco de Lucía
EN VIVO CONCIERTOS – Live in Spain 2010

I first became familiar with legendary flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía in the ’70s, after discovering an import copy of his amazing ENTRE DOS AGUAS in the cutouts at a record store in Memphis. Hearing the lightning fast playing, the intense rhythms and the start-stop precision for the first time was transformative, and Paco became a hero in my house. He later joined forces with noted Fusion Jazz guitarists John McLaughlin (Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Larry Coryell, who was replaced by Al DiMeola (Return to Forever) in THE GUITAR TRIO. In addition to his own albums, Paco has recorded songs for films such as DON JUAN DEMARCO and more recently the beautiful soundtrack of VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Fast forward 30 years from ENTRE DOS AGUAS, and Paco’s newest release is a double live CD, featuring a nice retrospective of his own compositions, and one piece by McLaughlin. With a second guitarist, harmonica, bass and two singers, it’s a foot-stomping, mind-boggling display of incredible Spanish/flamenco virtuosity. I’m still blown away by his playing.

The Touré́ -Raichel Collective
THE TEL AVIV SESSION

The combined talents of Israeli pianist Idan Raishel and Mali guitarist Vieux Farka Touré́́ take center stage on this unique and creative endeavor. These informally recorded jam sessions emerged over an afternoon, and the amazing improvisational collection is a celebration of rich musical culture and collaboration. Vieux displays an amazing and enchanting acoustic fingerpicking style, and Idan’s gentle keyboards accentuate and complement the delicate and melodic excursions. Joined by several other players and singer Cabra Casey (born in Israel, of Ethiopian descent), the music flows like a summer brook, hypnotic, magnetic and intensely beautiful. Each track begins with a subtle chord progression and, as each player gradually integrates into the groove, becomes a fully realized entity, with stylistic touches from all over the world, blending into a thing of real beauty. This is one of the most amazing records I have heard this year.

The Chieftains
VOICE OF AGES

Continuing a tradition that has produced some of their finest albums, Ireland’s Chieftains collaborate with a number of interesting and oddly matched singers to create another entertaining package of song. With lovely ballads by Imelda May and Lisa Hannigan, a raucous shouter featuring the incredibly talented (and currently very popular) Carolina Chocolate Drops, and, of course, a few of their own instrumentals, the Chieftains prove once again that music is universal. Particularly intriguing is the heartfelt take on “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Scotsman Paulo Nutini. Critically adored artists such as the Punch Brothers, the Decemberists and Bon Iver all make more than adequate contributions. While it’s not the best of this series, there’s not a lot to complain about.

Ian Tyson
RAVEN SINGER

While including a Canadian cowboy artist in a column on “world music” might seem like a stretch, last time I checked Canada was part of the “world.” Ian Tyson first made his mark in the music world as part of the ’60s “Great Folk Scare” duo Ian & Sylvia. Their gentle harmonies and knack for covering great songs made them one of the most popular acts of the era. Tyson eventually left music and became a real cowboy for many years, but his love of singing and the discovery of many great cowboy songs pulled him back into the business, but on his own terms. Sadly, he literally destroyed his once clear voice one fateful night, and now sounds more like early Tom Waits than an old folkie. But he still sounds great IMHO (I worship at the altar of Tom Waits), and the material on RAVEN SINGER works on several levels. Tyson is believable, for one thing. Even with what sounds like some strained vocal effort, he brings the stories to life, and gives each song a real sense of authenticity. At 78 years old, Ian Tyson is still making great music, with no plans to ride off into the sunset.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Caroline Hull Engel Keeps on Ramblin’ with a New Album and CD Release Party Saturday at the Star Bar

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Full disclosure – Caroline recorded one of my songs on her new album, but I loved her music long before that happened)

It’s been a long time coming, but after almost 20 years, fans are FINALLY getting a full length album from the amazing Caroline & the Ramblers! They’ll be celebrating RED HOT MAMA with a record release party Sat. July 21 at the Star Bar, also featuring the Billygoats from Nashville, Whiskey Belt and Rockbridge Heights. Showtime is 9 p.m.

This “Red Hot Mama” is well known to the folks who frequent the Redneck Underground and rockabilly shows in town as one of the best singers around. She was even selected as Creative Loafing’s “Best Female Vocalist” in 2009. Keeping the spirit of the classic ’50s and early ’60s alive is her goal, and with an amazing mix of terrific original tunes and classy covers, Caroline & the Ramblers never disappoint.

We will let this week’s “Kool Kat” tell her own story…

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in performing music? Please tell us about your former bands and how they developed over time.
Caroline Hull Engel: I have been singing and performing since I was little. I performed at many school and church functions from a very young age. And then later as an adult I would sing with different friends’ bands at house parties and such, but really hadn’t found “my tribe” yet. Not until one fateful night in the early ’90s at the Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highlands where my best friend and I stumbled across a band called the Diggers. That changed everything for me. Once I saw those guys, I knew I had found “my people.”

After seeing the Diggers that night we found out when they would be playing their next gig. Turned out they were playing at a new bar called the Star Community Bar. One visit to the Star Bar and we were hooked. My friends and I started going there regularly. Night after night there were amazing roots rock bands playing rockabilly, country, hillbilly, garage, surf! We could always count on hearing great live music there. We were like kids in a candy store! It was an amazing time.

After that I was getting to know some of the bands and other regulars at the Star Bar, and one night I got up and sang a Patsy Cline song at an open mike night. This guy came running out after me as I was leaving the bar and he introduced himself as James, aka Slim Chance of Slim Chance and the Convicts. He asked if I would be interested in singing at a Patsy Cline tribute show he was putting together. I knew it was time to start my own band. Trail of Tears was primarily a country band with a hint of rockabilly. We did a lot of Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee covers – and a great Pogues song called “Haunted.”

Then I formed a new band called the Ramblers. This new band was geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and was heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin and Gene Vincent with some torchy stuff mixed in. I had gone through a tumultuous relationship and breakup which gave me a lot of inspiration to write some songs that are finally ending up on my new record. Probably the best example of this time in my life is the song “Wasn’t Ready for the Heartache,” which is on the new record. Of course, a little time passing and meeting the love of my life – my husband Robert – helped a lot, too! In 1999 at the first Drive Invasion, I changed the name of the band to Caroline & the Ramblers. We’ve been playing as C&R ever since. There have been some lineup changes over the past 15 years, but I have been very fortunate to play with some of the best players in Atlanta.

Having lived in Atlanta all your life, what are your observations and impressions of the local roots music scene?
Like a lot of things in life, there are ebbs and flows, genres of music that are more popular at one time or another, and that is no exception for the local roots music scene. I think for Atlanta – the roots music scene was probably at its height from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s with a few of the original players maintaining a presence all the way through, but it definitely slacked off in the mid 2000s. Bands break up, people move, and some people aren’t with us anymore. There have always been bands and players who have consistently performed over the years, but there seems to be a resurgence as of late of some new roots rock bands. It is exciting to see this happening!

Who are some of your favorite local and national artists, and why?
JD McPherson’s SIGNS & SIGNIFIERS has not left my CD player since I got it a couple of months ago. Before that was The Bellfuries’ JUST PLAIN LONESOME. Both are truly fabulous records. My all-time favorite touring band is Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. I love how how pure they are and how they stick to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. “No fuss, no fanfare,” as my husband would say. They don’t try to conform to popular conventions; they just do their thing and they do it really well.

I’m very lucky to be in Atlanta where there are so many great local bands of varying styles – like Tiger, Tiger, Anna Kramer and the Lost Cause, Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Serenaders, Villain Family and Ghost Riders Car Club (GRCC), but everyone who knows me knows that my favorite local band is The Blacktop Rockets. BTR doesn’t play as frequently as they used to,  but it is always a thrill to hear them live. They are the best!

What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of making this new CD?
Time and money – but doesn’t that seems to be a challenge regarding a lot of things in life?

Since it was recorded, you have made some major changes in the band. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The original players on the CD THE RAMBLERSChad Proctor, Matt Spaugh and Rodney Bell and I – are not currently playing together. They are very busy with family commitments, other music opportunities and their own band. They are amazing musicians, and they did such a fabulous job on the record. It is unfortunate that we could not promote the CD together as a group, but the timing wasn’t right for it. Everyone is going in different directions and I wish them all the very best.

For many months I have been working with new “Ramblers”: Danny Arana – guitar/vocals; Big Joel G – bass/vocals; and Mike Z – drums. The new line-up is awesome! We are having a great time, and they seem to really dig this new sound we are creating. Danny’s harmonies will absolutely blow you away! This new chapter of the Ramblers has turned out better than I could have hoped for.

How do you go about selecting songs to perform? What is it that pulls you to cover a tune?
I’ve been listening to “old school” country and rockabilly since I was a little kid. My Dad had an old jukebox, and I would play it for hours and hours. A lot of the 45s he had on the jukebox like Gene Vincent, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and the Beatles were influential in the kind of music I play today. I listen to a lot of compilations of stuff from the ’40s and ’50s, too, and I keep lists of potential covers. I am all about things that are vocally appealing to me and either move me emotionally or make me want to get up and dance. I just know a cover song that will work for us when I hear it.

How interested/involved in music and performance are your two lovely daughters, Ava Bonner and Ella?
We get performances on a daily basis at our house. My prediction is that I have one future Vocal Star and one future Rock Star! The joke is that in a few years they will form a band with some of our other musician friends’ children, and then we’ll be the ones in the audience!

What would be your “dream gig”?
Nationally I would have to say the real dream gig would be to play at the Ryman in Nashville. To perform on the stage where so many of my musical heroes have played would be amazing! Locally I think it would be really cool to play Chastain Park and open for someone like Chris Isaak, Loretta Lynn or Brian Setzer. Of course, it would be great to open for my hero Wanda Jackson again!

What are your plans for the band now that the album is completed and released?
We have several shows on the calendar to promote the CD and are working on more for the Fall. Currently we are playing our CD Release party at the Star Bar on Saturday July 21, a show at Twain’s in Decatur on Thursday August 2, a live in-store at Decatur CD on Friday August 10 and a show at Big Tex Cantina in Decatur on Friday August 24. We also plan to play a few out of town shows this fall and winter. You can find out more about our music and show dates on our ReverbNation page.

You do a benefit every year for people with Down’s syndrome. How did you get involved in that, and why? When is the next one, and who is the featured artist?
Yes, I have two different childhood friends whose children were born with Down syndrome, and I started this to honor these beautiful kids and to help each of them with their effort to raise money for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta’s yearly Buddy Walk. This all started in 2010 with a show called “A Tribute.” Each year I pick a musical legend to honor, and I ask local bands to do a few songs by that artist. The first year we did Patsy Cline, and last year to coincide with his 80th birthday we did an evening of George Jones’ music. This year we will do a tribute to Ray Price! This year’s show will be on Saturday October 13 at the Star Bar.

RED HOT MAMA can be purchased on www.cdbaby.com and locally at Decatur CD. All photographs are courtesy of Caroline and the Ramblers.

 

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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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Kool Kat of the Week: Drinking In The Graveyard: Lauren Staley Morrow of Whiskey Gentry Talks About Playing Tunes From the Tombs

Posted on: May 17th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

For the last couple of years Cabbagetown’s Whiskey Gentry has been blazing a trail across the Deep South, gathering a massive number of rabid fans wherever they play. Their cranked up “Pogues go to old time Nashville” style is addicting and infectious, and their live shows are memorable parties. With one excellent album under their belts, the band is currently planning a three-night stint at Smith’s Olde Bar on July 12, 13 and 14 to record a live album. But before that we get the chance to hear them a few blocks from home at the second annual Tunes From The Tombs festival this weekend. The two-day event (Sat. May 19 and Sun. May 20) is a benefit for the Oakland Cemetery and features a ton of great local, regional and national acts on several stages throughout the amazing and historic cemetery. The music starts around 11 a.m. and lasts until dusk. Tickets are $10 each day, or $15 for both days.

With the Whiskey Gentry closing out the event Sunday night at 6 p.m., ATLRetro.com decided that  lovely and talented lead singer Lauren Staley Morrow would be  a mighty swell Kool Kat Of The Week! Following a busy weekend on the road, Miss Lauren was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in music, and when did you ultimately consider yourself a professional singer?

Music was always a big deal in my household as a child. None of my immediate family are musicians, but they are all avid fans. I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 14 and started officially writing songs then. Unfortunately, I spent the next six years trying to hide the fact that I could sing from everyone. I was always so nervous that I would only play my music to a very select group of friends in my bedroom closet so my parents wouldn’t hear. I moved to England to study abroad when I was 20 years old and played my first open mic there. After that, I was hooked to performing live. I don’t do drugs or jump out of planes or anything like that, so I get my adrenaline rush from performing in front of people. Despite all that, I don’t know if I consider myself a professional singer just yet! I’ve always thought that once I was able to make a full-time living from music, then I would consider myself a professional. I’m not there just yet – but soon!

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

Who are some of your most important musical influences, and why do you consider them so essential?

Gosh, my musical influences are all over the place and keep evolving through the years. U2 is my favorite band of all time, and I loved Britpop when I was in high school. When I moved to England, I was so homesick for the South that I started listening to a lot of alt-country, Americana, and old country. I also started reading a lot of Southern folk literature and listening to Child Ballads (written tunes that influenced old-time and Appalachian music). That was really when I felt my Southern roots started working their way into my songwriting.

What do you think brought about the vast difference between the type of country music you play, and what is heard on commercial radio?

Currently, I think there is a great divide between those of us who want to honor a more traditional type of country music versus the amount of that which is played on commercial radio. Thankfully, I feel like people are ready to embrace country acts that aren’t so commercial but have the ability to cross over into the mainstream without losing their integrity. I was very encouraged to see acts like The Civil Wars, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons rise to success this past year. Even the Zac Brown Band, who is very successful in commercial country markets, stay true their sound without writing about “honky-tonk badonkadonks” and “red solo cups.” I think that’s an encouraging sign for those of us who want to honor the country genre that’s inspired us without looking like a bunch of hacks trying to make a dollar on CMT.

Please tell us a bit about the members of the Whiskey Gentry, and how you found them. Why do you think this lineup “clicks” so well?

The Whiskey Gentry really began when I met my husband, Jason. We knew we both wanted to play music together, and we assembled the rest of the players in the group. Jason was in punk bands with Price Cannon (drums) and Sammy Griffin (bass), and we found Chesley Lowe (banjo) through a good friend. The five of us were the core band for a long time aside from a few hired guns along the way. Last year, we were introduced to Michael Smith who plays mandolin, and we finally met a fiddle player, Rurik Nunan. We also met Waylon Elsberry who plays harmonica and lap steel and can write one hell of a tune. Having spent the last few months on the road every weekend, I feel like we’ve finally found the band line-up we want forever – all of these guys are like my extended family. Like any family, we have our issues and disagreements. But at the end of the day, we all understand, respect and love each other immensely.

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

How did the Whiskey Gentry develop such a rabid and large fan base? What do you think is the most interesting aspect of your audience?

Initially, I think it helped that we all played in relatively successful local bands before forming The Whiskey Gentry, and we all had large social networks who, through word of mouth, told friends about our band. Over the years, I think we have made a name for ourselves through our live shows. I’ll meet people who will say, “I saw you guys last month and now I’ve brought 10 friends!” It’s a loyalty that has carried us from show to show and town to town. I think the most interesting aspect of our audience is how diverse it is – I don’t feel like there is any certain group that responds better to us than others. We have fun when we play, and I think people like to see that energy, regardless of background and musical tastes.

What do you see as the greatest attribute of the Atlanta music scene? What do you think is the greatest need in the local music scene?

I think one of the best things about the Atlanta music scene is that we have a lot of really great venues run by really great people who are willing to help up-and-coming acts get gigs in the city. We would have never been able to get a start in this town if it weren’t for a few concert promoters and venue booking agents who took a chance on us, and now, we have great relationships with those people and they continue to help us to this day. As for a need, I’ve been really excited to see Music Midtown making its comeback the past two years. Other cities around us have huge music festivals that not only draw in loads of revenue for their respective cities, but the festivals also help people pay attention to that town for music. Atlanta has a lot to offer musically that’s not just hip-hop or rap, and I just hope the city continues to show that.

The Whiskey Gentry put out a great debut album, so why record a live album at this point, instead of a second studio album?

I’m very proud of PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, and I think it does a great job of capturing our live sound. Having said that, however, I do feel like there is something undeniable about coming to one of our shows. It’s a party. People are screaming and dancing and singing the words, and we want to display that through a live recording. Also, as musicians, I think the live shows really showcase the musical abilities of the people in the band. We feed off of the energy from the crowds, and it just makes everyone play so well. Also, the live record will not take the place of a second album – we plan on releasing our second record next year, and the live album will be sold in coordination with that.

Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming Tunes From the Tombs show that you are willing to share with us? We know y’all love to whip out the odd cover tunes…

Ha! Who knows what we’ll come up with – we learned “Sabotage” in the van home from Virginia two days after MCA died and played it at show that evening. We love a good cover tune.

If you could book a “dream gig” who would you have on the bill with the Whiskey Gentry, and why?

This is tough. We all come from so many different musicial influences that I would want to honor all of them at our dream gig. Here’s the line-up: U2, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch all signing three-part harmony to every song, Social Distortion, Flatt & Scruggs (you said dream gig!), Gram Parsons (dreaming…again), Weird Al Yankovic, a comedy hour with Louis CK, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Bad Religion and OutKast.

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Slim’s Juke Box: JD McPherson, Moot Davis, Amelia White, Gene Watson, Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 By:

by James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

Welcome to the first edition of Slim’s Juke Box. Our goal is to spread the word about recent, new and upcoming CD releases that may appeal to the average ATLRetro.com reader. Every few weeks we will be presenting a summary of five or so albums that are spending time in my disc drive. There will be various country, Americana, deep soul and assorted roots rock artists, plus whatever else floats my boat, as I have a pretty wide range of musical interests. You can also expect a few words on worthy re-issues. Hopefully you will read about something that strikes your fancy, and check it out.

JD McPherson
SIGNS AND SIGNIFIERS
Hi-Style Records

I’m embarrassed to say that this dude somehow went under my radar for the last couple of years, but one listen to this great new release and I was hooked! Mining the caves of classic R&B, rockabilly, and jump blues, McPherson fits in somewhere between Big Sandy and James Hunter. From the deep groove of opening track “Northside Gal,” through the Sun Session sounding “Fire Bug,” and the evocative moody ramble  in “A Gentle Awakening,” McPherson and the band get it right on every point. Jeremy Sutton nails the bass lines, and drummer Alex Hall keeps things moving.  I can’t pick a favorite song; it’s all good!

Moot Davis
MAN ABOUT TOWN
Highway Kind Records

New Jersey native Moot Davis was originally a rocker, but his discovery of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and other classic country artists led him down a different path. After a couple of albums that went nowhere but on the critic’s “Best Of” lists, he took some time off. A stint in Austin and now Nashville has rekindled the twang, and “MAN ABOUT TOWN is a fine collection of new tunes from a real deal honky tonker. Chris Scruggs’ sweet steel intro on “Rags To Rhinestones” sets the bar high, and Davis keeps the caliber up from start to finish. It’s not hard to do with Kenny Vaughn on lead guitar and production, and the fine duet with Elizabeth Cook on “Crazy In Love With You” recalls George & Tammy. This is the kind of stuff that’s simply too country for country radio anymore.

Amelia White
BEAUTIFUL AND WILD
Self-Released

It takes a lot of guts to try and make a living as a musician, and while Amelia White is willing to take on the arduous and often unrewarded task, the big question is why hasn’t she gotten more attention? With her fifth album, White proves she has the chops to stand alongside some of Americana’s finest. With a smooth syrupy voice (BETTER than Lucinda. There, I said it) and a penchant for rich emotional lyrics, White’s introspective songs capture a side of life that few people get an opportunity to experience.  She goes far beyond the formulaic singer-songwriter shtick, with sitars, deep percussion and drifting melodies that keep you guessing.  While Music City pushes the likes of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, real talented people like Amelia White grind it out on the road, making music worth listening to.

Gene Watson
BEST OF THE BEST: 25 GREATEST HITS
Fourteen Carat Music

Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s there were some awesome country tunes on top of the charts. It was a time when commercial country was finding a balance between the traditional style and the obtuse pop influences brought about by Chet Atkins and Billy Sherrill. Texas roadhouse singer Gene Watson had a string of hits during that era, and managed to toe the line between pop and country (with an emphasis on the country). On this career retrospective, Watson re-records 25 of his signature tunes, some were chart toppers and some were deep album cuts, but they are all pretty dang good. Well, the schmaltzy “Paper Rosie” may not be as intense as the classic “Should I Go Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)” or his best known opus “Farewell Party,” but it’s fun stuff nevertheless. Watson had a stellar chart history, and a recent bout with cancer has not affected his amazing voice. It’s good to see and hear the old timers keeping it real.

The Hobart Brothers + Lil’ Sis Hobart
AT LEAST WE HAVE EACH OTHER

Supergroups come in many forms, but a supergroup consisting of indie artists Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnson and Susan Cowsill bring a whole new perspective to the concept. Recorded over various dates, the trio got together in Austin, and a musical harmonic convergence occurred. Susan, yes, from THOSE Cowsills, is one of the most talented songwriters in the business, with an ear for catchy hooks and a great voice. Graham has been a mainstay in the Austin scene for years, and even though his solo works is amazing he may be best known for the True Believers, with Alejandro Escovedo. Johnson is an amazing songwriter, but virtually uncategorizable. Combined, the talents of all three result in one of the most listenable, infecting, and entertaining albums of the year. Each member brings something unique to the mix, and it works on every level. Great stuff, trust me.

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The Devil Lives in Jake La Botz’s Throat: The Dark Pleasures of Raising Hell as the Trickster Who Tempts and Teases the GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 By:

Jake La Botz and Kylie Brown in the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere production of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.

As the highly anticipated world premiere production of the Stephen King/John Mellencamp/T-Bone Burnett GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY hits its final week at the Alliance Theatre, there’s one thing critics and audiences seem to be able to agree on. Jake La Botz lights the stage on hellfire as The Shape, a supernatural trickster, tempter and Greek Chorus to the Southern Gothic Cain and Abel tale. Arms and chest riddled with tattoos with a slicked back pompadour that conjures images of Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, La Botz looks like the older man your mama warned you to stay away from but who you were certain held the keys to Elvis’s “One Night of Sin.” His untamed bump, grind and sensuosity can’t help to remind one of the scandalous early days of rock ‘n’ roll when church moms sought to ban Elvis and THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW refused to shoot the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll from the waist down.

All of which makes it a bit of a surprise that GHOST BROTHERS is Jake’s first go at musical theatre. But he’s a veteran musician who often plays tattoo parlors and a character actor in movies ranging from independent cult features like Terry Zwigoff‘s GHOST WORLD to major Hollywood pictures such as RAMBO. His vocals and lyrics reverberate with dark poetry and raw energy. He even sings a song called “The Devil’s Lives in My Throat.” He’s been compared to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and a “modern day Hank Williams” by Steve Buscemi who has cast him in two of his movies, ANIMAL FACTORY and LONESOME JIM.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Jake to find out more about how he approached the role of The Shape and what’s next for him after the curtain falls on this virgin run on Sunday May 13.

How did you land the role of The Shape and why did you personally want to play the part?

I got an email from Laura Stanczyk, a heavy-hitting New York casting director, a couple of years ago to come in and audition for a show called HARPS AND ANGELS that was set to Randy Newman’s music. At the time I was living in New Orleans, touring as a singer/songwriter, and occasionally acting in films… no background whatsoever in theatre. To this day I have no idea how Laura Stanczyk found me. After flying to New York to meet with Laura, Randy and director Jerry Zaks – and not getting the part – I thought ‘musical theatre… hmmm… what a fluke… but that was interesting.’ Laura must’ve kept me in her mental Rolodex because when GHOST BROTHERS came along, she sent me an email that said “Jake, I have something you are PERFECT for” She was right. I took the job because I wanted to work with an exciting group of people and explore new territory as an actor – both the role and the medium.

Jake La Botz as the malevolent character The Shape in Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.

Your performance can’t help but remind me of a time when rock n roll was down ‘n’ dirty and just emerging from blues and honkytonk, Elvis Presley was still scandalous with his hip grinds and Johnny Cash wore black. Which musical performers inspired you and why?

Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment. That was an interesting time in music. It’s almost as if white people were able to touch back into their pre-Christian roots. The stuff Elvis was doing had been done for years by black blues and R ‘n’ B singers before him. Sex and music is primordial –  imagine a ‘pagan’ ritual, Greek god Dionysus.

I’m inspired by all the great roots-American music (blues, gospel, field hollers, hillbilly, ragtime, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, etc). My favorite singers are the ones that sound unique and otherworldly: Skip James, Hank Williams, Blind Willie Johnson, Bob Dylan, Tommy Johnson, Howling Wolf. I like to listen to music that sounds like it’s coming directly from “the source,” i.e. not manipulated too much by the entrepreneurial efforts of ego.

Seems like there could be quite a bit of Randall Flag (THE STAND) in The Shape, too—the manipulator, the trickster. Did Steve give you any background reading or direction in how to prep for the part?

No background or prep work from anyone particularly, although the entire cast was asked to watch Tennessee Williams films. The Shape I’m doing now is the same character I created for the audition, though he has filled out quite a bit since then. And I received quite a bit of good suggestions from John Mellencamp, director Susan Booth and choreographer Danny Pelzig along the way.

Your dialogue makes lots of intimations that The Shape might be The Devil. Is he?

Intimations? You mean like riding up from ‘below’ on an elevator? Wearing red? Talking about how I get bad reviews in church?

In the elevator down to the parking garage after the performance, two older blonde yuppie women told me they liked the show overall but that the language didn’t have to be so obscene, i.e. “tone it down.” Why are they wrong?

I’ve heard that a lot. I’m not sure they are wrong.

What was it like working with John Mellencamp and T-Bone Burnett? Did you collaborate with them at all on the music, or was it more just taking what they gave you and bringing the character to life?

What an honor to work with both of them. The direction I was given was to take the songs and make them my own… make them like The Shape. I’ve enjoyed doing that. I’m playing two of T-Bone’s guitars in the show… how cool is that?!?!

Have you heard anything about where GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY may be performed next and will you be reprising the part of The Shape?

There’s no telling at this point about the future of the show or the cast. I haven’t heard anything confirmed. Of course, I would love to be part of this if it goes to Broadway.

Have you had a chance to get out on the town at all while you’ve been in Atlanta? Any favorite hangout or local musician?

Haven’t had much time to explore. Cast member and country music legend Dale Watson had a Monday night residency at Smith’s Olde Bar that many of us frequented and also performed at. That was a hoot.

What’s next for you after GHOST BROTHERS? I saw something on your Website about a European tour and we’ll be seeing you onscreen in a new movie version of Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD (Directed by Walter Salles; Starring Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen) and in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER?

From here I head to Cannes for the premiere of ON THE ROAD, followed by a European tour. Then back to NYC to look for a job! Yeah, both movies [are] coming out this year.

If you missed James Kelly’s Retro Review of GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY, you can catch up on it here. To purchase tickets for the final performances, click here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Watch out, Shirley Jones! Spooky Partridge’s Katy Graves Is a Real Mother?!

Posted on: May 9th, 2012 By:

Katy Graves and son Nick in Spooky Partridge. Photo courtesy of Katy Graves.

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

With Mother’s Day approaching, ATLRetro wanted to find someone special who represents both the Atlanta music scene and makes motherhood look easy. Local musician Katy Graves is one of the most energetic, friendly and interesting people in town. She has been part of the rock & roll community for many years in such bands as Doll Squad and Catfight, and while she is currently working on her teaching degree, she is also in an amazing and entertaining band called Spooky Partridge, with HER 10-YEAR-OLD SON, Nick Christian!!! Those credentials and the fact that Spooky Partridge are rocking Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker this Saturday May 12 at 8 p.m. are more than sufficient for ATLRetro to make Katy Kool Kat of the Week just in time for Mother’s Day!

ATLRetro: How did you initially get involved with performing music in Atlanta? What was your first band experience?

Katy: I sang in a couple bands in high school starting in about the 9th grade, and by the 11th grade, our band, The Doughboys, was playing out at the infamous Margaritaville as well as The Dugout in Emory Village. We did mostly covers by bands like The Police, Squeeze, The Jam, Ramones, Echo and the Bunnymen and loads of REM. Our guitar player loved REM! Can you imagine me singing REM covers? We had some originals, but mostly covers. I played cello and and piano as a kid. Susanne Gibboney (who plays with Tiger! Tiger!, Lust and Catfight), and I started Doll Squad while I was in college. We both worked at Junkman’s Daughter at the time. We all loved The Runaways and ’60s girl groups, but also L7 and the Lunachicks so we wanted to be in an all-girl band. Doll Squad opened for Shonen Knife at the Masquerade, that was so fun! 

Catfight was an incredibly popular band for several years. what do you think was the source of the appeal, and what was going on in Atlanta at that time to make the scene so open to the band? How was David T. Lindsay involved?

Ann Beaman and I had been in Doll Squad for a while, and that had kind of run its course. We ran an ad for a guitar player so we could start a new band, and Jennifer Leavey answered. She was the only person who answered that wasn’t nuts! Jennifer is just an incredible songwriter, and Catfight really took off. I think the reason we managed to do well was that we had songs with elements of a several kinds of genres and we could fit in on a lot of shows, appeal to a lot of people. We were a little garage, a little punk; we liked rockabilly; we did some girl group type songs; we also covered Van Halen, though!

David Lindsay put out a Doll Squad 7″, and he and I were friends. He had had a disagreement with someone in Doll Squad and wasn’t keen to put out any more of our records. I didn’t know if I would want to work with Catfight, but I brought a tape over of us and gave it to him. I told him I just wanted him to give me some feedback. He called me like an hour after I gave him the tape and told me he had to put out our stuff! David put out two singles and two CDs on his label, Worry Bird Records.

How did working in the music business affect your perception of playing music as a profession? Any good sleazy Green Room stories?

I remember when I got a job working for a record company, this boyfriend (a musician) said, “You are working for the enemy now!!!” I had a great run working in the music business for 15 years, but sometimes I was conflicted. It’s hard when you have to sell art like it is shoes or office supplies or something. Also, I figured out quite early on that I did not care about meeting a lot of famous people, which I thought initially would be really fun. Yawn! That being said two of the nicest people I met while working at a record company were Brittany Spears and Notorious B.I.G. Seriously! There were a few who were complete jerks – if you see me out sometime I’ll tell you who!! I can’t think of any super sleazy stories, but I do remember we took this guy from a New York band to the Clermont Lounge after his show one night. He has irritated all of us with this superior attitude, like he had seen it all/done it all in NYC. We introduced him to Blondie, she personalized a beer can for him as she does, and he just about lost it. He was completely freaked out by the whole Clermont scene! We couldn’t believe it – he was playing Mr. Badass rock guy but he got all nervous at the Clermont! Come on!

What must one do to reconcile motherhood with a rock & roll lifestyle?

Well, I began my rock’ & roll mom lifestyle when Nick was in utero – I kept playing shows with Catfight until I was more than eight months pregnant! I would have played up until I went into labor, but Jennifer but the kibosh on that. Probably the girls were sick of loading all the equipment without me at that point. Anyway, you have to rock & roll at home a lot more when you are a mom, because as you might guess it becomes difficult to be out at shows until 2 a.m. on a regular basis. The child watched THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT from an early age, which is a questionable decision when you think about how The Who treat equipment, but we escaped any serious damage around the house somehow. When I still worked for a record company I brought Nick to every daytime in-store appearance by a band that I was working. One year I took him to Ozzfest. I always tried to take him to any daytime shows I could find – he went to Warped Tour a few times. And yes – we made him wear earplugs to every show, of course! Finally I ended up being in a band WITH my son so I could still play but also keep kid-friendly hours!

Spooky Partridge's Nick poses with a pair of drumsticks.

Tell us about Nick. Do you think he will become a professional musician? Or a baseball player? He seems equally great at both…

Nick turned 10 in February. He has been in Montessori school since he was 3. He plays drums and guitar; he can play bass and fools around on piano as well. He is dyslexic, which I believe is why he is so good at music and art; I think that the things in his brain that often make reading hard make music easy. He loves to draw. And yes, he does love baseball and soccer. I am the only mom in Americawho actually asks her child to please use the Wii or the Nintendo DSI, because we have these expensive games and the kid never uses them! He loves Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who and The Cartoon Network. Nick cooks a lot – he puts red pepper flakes and/or Siracha in almost everything, however, so if you don’t like spicy food, you have to watch out. At different times he has told me that when he wants to grow up he wants to be a musician, a baseball player, a soccer player or a pathologist. Yes, a pathologist! Recently he has gotten way interested in bird-watching, of all things! He can identify lots of birds, and he draws them all the time.

Where did the idea for “Spooky Partridge” come from, and what was the formation of the band like for everyone?

Nick’s dad is Shawn Christian from X-Impossibles and Rock City Dropouts. Shawn and I met because we were in bands that played shows together all the time, so it was only natural that we wanted our child to be a musician. Nick was almost named Marshall – after the amp, of course! Shawn and I made sure that Santa brought Nick a drum set when he was two years old. By the time he was seven, he was getting pretty good, and since I had a friend teaching at a rock band camp, we sent Nick there that summer. That is when we could see he was really progressing, when we saw him play with a band. So we sent him again two years ago. He wanted to play “No Action” by Elvis Costello, but the kids in the band couldn’t learn it fast enough to perform it, which bummed him out. There were so many songs Nick wanted to play and no one to play them with. I was like “Why am I paying for this rock band camp when we can just have rock band camp at home for free?” Those camps are crazy expensive, and we already had a practice room in our house. What was I thinking?

Shawn and I decided that we would have a family band. Shawn and I have not been a couple since Nick was two, but we get along extremely well, so the band was nothing but fun from the start. We started by learning songs that Nick wanted to do, we started writing originals. Nick has written some on guitar, and he writes words and works with his dad to write songs, like “I Hate Chores.”

Spooky Partridge performs at last year's Tunes From The Tombs.

Any plans to release a Spooky Partridge record anytime?

We have three songs recorded that we are really happy with, and we need to record some more! We recorded the songs with Jimmy Demer from The Accidents, and his two daughters sing back up on our song, “Robots Don’t Poop.” It’s me that is holding this record up, really – around the time we started the band I went back to school to become a Montessori teacher. I work full time, I am in school, I’m a single mom, and I’m in two bands since Catfight has been out playing again this year. I’m hoping after I finish my class at the end of the summer we can really focus on getting out a CD. Vinyl would be cool, too! Right now we have music up on our Facebook/ReverbNation page, so everyone go listen to that!

How do you go about booking a band in Atlanta, with a 10-year-old drummer?

Very carefully! We have been very lucky; Nick doesn’t even know how lucky he is, what great shows he has played! Before he turned 10, he got to play not only [Rock n Roll] Monster Bash and Drive Invasion, but he got to open for CJ Ramone at Masquerade! We started by playing in restaurants owned by friends, we got everyone we knew out to see us, and we were lucky that a lot of folks posted videos of us on youtube. We got a lot of good word of mouth, and that led to more shows. I have played some of the most interesting shows with this band. We have played at Atlanta Rocks rock climbing gym on top of a huge boulder! You have to get creative booking shows when you have a 10-year-old in the band, but really I would say it’s good to do that no matter what kind of band you have.

What’s coming up for the band in the near future?

Well, we are playing at Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker on Saturday, May 12. We have wanted to play Shorty’s because the food is great! This is a special show because it’s also an end-of-season party for Nick’s baseball team. The coach wanted Spooky Partridge for the party, and we were only too glad to oblige. There is one kid on Nick’s team who loves Led Zeppelin as much as Nick, so we are going to do an abbreviated “Moby Dick” for him. We are also playing an art opening at the Defoor Centre on June 10! That should be great.

Catfight is playing Tunes From the Tombs at Oakland Cemetery on Sat. May 19 at 3 p.m. in the Criminal Records tent. Also we are playing at the Plaza Theatre before the [Blast-off Burlesque Taboo-La-La] screening of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS June 2 – my dream show!

Spooky Partridge. Photo credit: Rose Riot.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring female musicians? Mothers?

I have a little anecdote about being a female musician in Atlanta 20 years ago for everyone, and I hope this is something that does not happen to women in bands anymore! Doll Squad was playing at Masquerade one night, and when we finished we got off stage and wandered around, as you do, waiting to see the next band. This guy came over and said, (imagine redneck kind of voice) “Y’all were pretty good. But you’d be better if you played naked.” We just had to laugh – what can you say?? That was not the only incident like that I experienced with Doll Squad or Catfight, but it’s been a long, long time since I heard any nonsense like that. I hope no women in bands have that experience these days, but unfortunately I bet they do . . . Just keep playing ladies! Ignore the crap and get out there and play.

Moms: Expose your child to music as soon as possible – in the womb! Play every kind of music for them. Let them explore what they like. Even if you can’t sing or play anything sing with your child anyway. Get silly, have fun! Nick and I will sing “Ma-na-ma-na” from The Muppets in the car, then we sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s all music, it’s all good.

One more word of wisdom for mothers – no matter how much you want to absolutely do not watch THE STOOGES LIVE IN DETROIT DVD with your toddler thinking that he is too young to notice what obscenities Iggy Pop is yelling out. You could find yourself in the middle of Kroger with a child who yells “F****** dirt!” in the middle of the produce department. If this does happen, do what I do – pretend you are horrified and have no idea where the child could have learned this! If you are lucky, as I was, you ask him where he learned that word and he says, “From Daddy!”

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Kool Kat of the Week: Down By The River: Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics Add Some Soul to a Good Cause

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

The recent splash of international attention for retro soul music in the mainstream with artists such as Adele, Duffy, and Bruno Mars has been a welcome event. However, it should be no surprise that there has been a thriving deep soul underground that features artists who are just as good, if not better, than a lot of the major label acts. For about five years Atlanta has been the home for the amazing Soulphonics and Ruby Velle. This coming Friday they are performing at the 16th annual River Revival, a fundraiser for Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. The event is May 4 at Park Tavern in Piedmont Park starting at 6:30 p.m. and also featuring Burnt Bacon, Julia Haltigan and Ben Sollee.

ATLRetro.com caught up with the lovely Miss Velle this week, and she was kind enough to answer a lot of questions. We officially declare Ruby Velle (and the Soulphonics) the Kool Kats of the Week.

ATLRetro: What inspired you to become a singer, and how did you find your “voice” in such a commercially underappreciated genre?

Ruby Velle: I’ve been singing since I was 8, with early hand-me-down inspiration from my aunt and uncles musical influences. They were constantly providing me with vinyl listening parties, live jams with friends and creating an environment where I could perform at a young age. They were great friends with the late Luther Allison, [an] amazing blues artist.

Growing older, my parents and friends along the way were all very into soul, so I soaked up the greats and some of the lesser known artists through auditory osmosis. However, I don’t see the genre itself as commercially under-appreciated; it just will never gross as much as other genres such as pop or country. But there are some great acts out there making a good living from playing soul. I think the commercial factor is less relevant in the genre than the emotion portrayed in the music itself.

How and when did you and the Soulphonics end up in Atlanta, and why?

I had just graduated from college and wanted to study graphic design in Atlanta because I knew it was a career that could be useful to being a recording artist. The band’s creator, Spencer Garn (also the band’s leader, keyboardist, co-writer, producer and engineer), wanted to expose our music to a new audience, as we had a pretty good hold on the market in Florida. I moved, then Spencer, then Scott Clayton, the original guitarist/co-writer.  Atlanta seemed like a great next step and has proven to be a great place to call home. Our music has been able to evolve here into something Atlantans are proud to call their own, and since we’ve been here we have been voted Atlanta’s Best Soul Band by Creative Loafing, two years in a row! So Atlanta has quickly become home to us.

You have often mentioned Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding as big early influences, who are some of your favorite contemporary artists, and why?

Oooo… there’s such a long list. I always say my music is a collection of inspirations from all types of artists and genres, so it’s hard to just name a few. The biggest influences for songwriting lyrics have been Paul Simon, Fiona Apple and even Ani DiFranco. These artists are storytellers and their writings speak to me in a deeper more intellectual way. That is what I aim to do with the soul music we’ve been creating. Sure, anyone can write a soul ballad, but can it be deep and introspective? Can soul music make you move and make you think? I believe the answer is yes. I think my need to offer a new take on soulful lyrics is a result of the influences from these writers.

As far as musical influences that are contemporary, I’ve really been enjoying Alex Clare’s music lately. He just released his album to the states; he is originally from the UK. I love his soulful voice, and I can tell that he, like me, has been pulling pieces of styles, inflections, and vibe from the greats, but he makes it his own. I recommend his album because it mixes genres well with some soul, electro and dub-step (with credit to Diplo and members of Major Lazer). I think the melding of these genres is intoxicating.

Lastly, as far as contemporary artists go it doesn’t get much better for me than the Black Keys. I really admire Dan Auerbach’s talent and his ability to carry the torch for the blues and blues rock. I’m always impressed by whatever they put out, so soulful and simply genius.

What do you think brought about the re-emergence of deep soul and classic R&B over the last several years? 

Well, I’m glad you said “re-emergence” instead of “resurrection” because I hold the belief that soul never really died; it’s just become an evolving genre because the context has shifted so much from the days it originated.  I think more than anything people were craving that old sound made by new artists, so new interpretations have been born  a la Sharon Jones & The DapKings, Amy Winehouse, Adele and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker. I’m grateful these artists have fueled the re-emergence because we have been doing soul music for almost 10 years as a underground act. It’s great to know that the genre itself has growing appeal to all ages on a wider scale.

What sort of crowd comes to see Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics? Does the age range surprise you?

ALL TYPES and ALL AGES. I’ve seen gay, straight, black, white, Indian, Chinese – you name it, they have been in the front row dancing till the last song ends. I’m very fortunate that our music resonates with all ages; it really has a way of bringing the community together when we play shows or benefit festivals. I’m not particularly surprised because the music is about emotion and feeling. And everyone of all ages can relate to certain emotions.

How challenging is it to maintain a band and keep things fresh and exciting in the Atlanta music scene?

Well, maintaining an eight-piece band can be hectic and can bring you to your knees if you begin to focus on logistically how hard it is, but I certainly can’t take credit for great management to date. We’ve become a tight knit team of multi-taskers and multi-talented folk. Spencer Garn, for example, manages the band, owns a record label [Element Records], and also records and mixes our music. I’ve had the band as my graphic design client for the past seven years, creating merch and posters to album art and vinyl labels. I also work as a creative director with stylists and designers, such as Bill Hallman, to maintain our dapper image and keep up looking sharp. Our guitar player and co-writer Scott Clayton is also an expert with sound equipment and repeatedly has the band sounding great. I’m very fortunate to work with some amazing people that believe in what we do.

In the Atlanta music scene, if you did not put out a song yesterday, you are pretty much obsolete. You have to really create here on a large scale and frequently to be recognized. I think Atlanta has prepared us well to deliver on a larger scale. Luckily we’ve been playing shows in Atlanta for the last five years at a pretty constant rate so we are seeing some of the fruits of that labor. The fans here, though, are incredibly supportive, more so than I’ve seen anywhere else. Sometimes I wish they would let go, lose it all and dance a bit more, but I came from a hippie town in Florida so it’s been a little adjustment for me to see the more refined fans here.

You and the band have put out a few great singles, which have whetted the appetites of your fans. Was this a strategic plan, or simply a business decision?

This has been a little of both. Just internally, we’ve had some of these songs written and recorded for a while, but we are very particular about what gets heard when. We love to build suspense around our releases, which is why we’ve been putting out a steady stream of singles since 2010. Our fans are losing their minds in anticipation of the album, and I’d like to think the singles have had something to do with that hype.  We are just as excited for the release of our debut album IT’S ABOUT TIME.

When will we finally see a full-length recording of the band?

This Summer we will FINALLY release the full-length debut album. Keep an eye out for our album release party in early August. The street date for the release will be around July 24. And we will party till the sun comes up. It’s been a very long road to put out the album, but we are pleased with it and are looking forward to the reviews and press to help it grow legs.

You are playing a benefit for the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeepers this coming weekend, so how important are the environment and other social causes to you?

Environmental and civil rights issues are a huge cornerstone for the Soulphonics and myself. A lot of the lyrics in our songs are about inspiring change, in ourselves as well as in others. We are just a group of folk that feel a need to use our musical influence to bring about change. In addition to working with the Riverkeepers to promote their benefit, we will be working with a number of nonprofit organizations dealing with sustainability, economic recovery in struggling regions and environmental causes. Although some of these plans are just getting going, we are partnering with CTC International in Kenya on some sustainability efforts for the communities there. We’ve also made an impact here in Atlanta with benefit shows and song donations for the Atlanta Humane Society and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and are always looking for more opportunities to promote social and environmental causes.

What does the future hold for Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics?

Positive change on a mass scale. With the release of the album and planning a tour, we will be able to bring our music to more ears than ever before. We are thrilled to be on the road soon touring and spreading the word about this little soul outfit with a big sound from Atlanta. There is a lot going on over the next year, but I look forward to being more involved in social causes as well as continuing to write for the follow-up album. IT’S ABOUT TIME chronicles our struggles and setbacks since we were established in 2007, but now that it’s releasing soon I guarantee there is no stopping this soul machine. The future, for all of us, is as bright as we think it to be.

All photos courtesy of Element Records and Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics and used with permission. For more information and to purchase tickets for the River Revival on May 4 at Park Tavern, go to their website at: https://www.xorbia.com/e/ucr/rr2012

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Retro Review: HANG AROUND by Sonoramic Commando

Posted on: Apr 25th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

Sonoramic Commando
HANG AROUND
Sonoramic Records

Atlanta has had a rich and thriving country/rockabilly/roots music community for over 25 years, and while the bigtime glory days of the storied Redneck Underground may fade a bit, there are still plenty of talented bands making good music that fits in the genre. On HANG AROUND, their second album, Sonoramic Commando exhibit significant maturity and a strong command of their eclectic style. Over 18 quick tracks (clocking in under 50 minutes), the boys cover most of the musical bases well, including the rockin’ groove of “Gina L.,”  the sweet honky tonk “Pony” and the surfy sultry “The Stalker.” Lead singer-bassist Rodney Bell, guitarist Chad Proctor, and drummer Matt Spaugh cut the record over a three-day stretch, and the rawness of the “live in the studio” recording effectively captures their energy and intensity.

Other than support on two tracks by pedal steel player Bill Fleming, the boys pretty much did this one by themselves, and manage to create a full and well balanced sound.Chad’s guitar rings loud and clear, Matt’s backbeats keep the rhythm rolling, and Rodney’s confident vocals deliver the quirky material with harmonic accompaniment from his cohorts. The band wrote 16 of the 18 tracks, and received some help with the words for a couple of tunes from Commando Emeritus John McLean and the Bluejays’ Jay Murphree. All in all, a fine piece of work, and an excellent representation of Atlanta’s roots rock community.

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