(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
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
FRIDAY MAY 25
in the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:30: SUICIDE DOORS
11:30: JUNIOR, DOLAN & CASH
SATURDAY MAY 26
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.