Kool Kat of the Week: Whiskey Belt’s Rich DeSantis Slings Old-Time Rockin’ Classic Country at The Star Bar Every Wednesday Night With His Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza!

Posted on: Mar 2nd, 2015 By:
Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Rich DeSantis of Whiskey Belt, guitar slingin’, classic country and roots rock lovin’ wayward son and card carryin’ member of the “Redneck Underground” along with his outfit, the Honkytonk Extravaganza deliver a night of high-energy live-band classic country karaoke with a whole ‘lotta shakin’ shenanigans during his Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza event raisin’ a ruckus at The Star Bar this Wednesday, March 4 and every Wednesday night at 9pm!

Rich is no newbie to Atlanta’s ‘roots’ music underground. He’s been “channeling the Grand Ole Opry circa 1957” with his band, Whiskey Belt since 2011, has put together boot stompin’ classic country line-ups in the past as his alter ego, Slim Chickens, revvin’ it up with The Blacktop Rockets, Julea & Her Dear Johns [March 2014; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Julea Thomerson, here], Migrant Worker, The Scragglers, Wayne “The Train” Hancock and more; and plans to keep on honkytonkin’ it up with the “Redneck Underground” on a weekly basis at The Star Bar!

The Honkytonk Extravaganza include members from Whiskey Belt as well as a few rockin’ extras: Rich DeSantis (host/vocals/acoustic guitar); Johnny McGowan (lead guitar/vocals); David James (keyboard); Dave Roth (bass/vocals); Mike Hammer (drums) and Steve Stone (pedal steel). So, come on down and raise a ruckus with these fellas at the rockin’est shindig in town, Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza, Wednesday nights at The Star Bar!

ATLRetro caught up with Rich for a quick interview about Atlanta’s “Redneck Underground” and roots music scene; his weekly Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza event and his admiration for Buck Owens of The Buckaroos.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Rich, gear up for a rockin’ night with the fellas by takin’ a peek at the Slim Chickens’s Honkytonk Extravaganza songlist here and take a listen to his Spotify playlist here!

ATLRetro: We see that you’ve been stompin’ it up since 2010 and dishin’ out a whole lotta live classic country karaoke, which has been a hit at the Star Bar. Can you give us the scoop on Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza’s origins?

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams, (L-R) Johnny McGowan, Steve Stone and Rich DeSantis

Rich DeSantis: I’ve been hosting an event for years to feature roots rock music and culture called the Honkytonk Extravaganza. I would hire a couple bands and also invite some extra talent to play and encourage on-stage collaboration; it was fun and a great meeting place for people who love this music. Then, last May, Kahle Davis put a note out on FB asking if anyone had an idea for an event for every Wednesday at The Star Bar. I suggested doing live band classic country karaoke with a house band. My first call was to Johnny McGowan to play lead guitar, then David James on keys, Dave Roth on bass and Mike Hammer on drums. The first night was a success and we moved forward watching the event grow every week. In August, I added Steve Stone on pedal steel and lead guitar and that’s the band.

Atlanta has proven to have a soft spot for old-time country, rockabilly and has thrived on the sleazy nitty gritty underground music scene. What drew you to the scene and what do you think could make it even better?

The music is what drew me to that scene – with a taste for Buddy Holly, Buck Owens and Elvis, I went looking for like-minded individuals and found them at The Star Bar. That was always where the cool kids were. I was watching bands and playing in bands and learning what it meant to be in a band and The Star Bar is ground zero for the “Redneck Underground”. What we need to make it better is what you are doing – a little promotion is all we StarBar SlimChickensneed to draw more music lovers out to our little event.

Have you always been into classic country? When did you pick up your first guitar?

I’ve always loved Buck Owens but I found classic country through the rock and roll and jump blues I was playing with my old band, Slim Chickens. I began adding a high-energy George Jones or Waylon Jennings tune to our set here or there and having fun and getting a good crowd response so I began looking for other great songs. I love the high quality of musicianship in classic country. I started playing guitar at 13.
Who are your favorite classic country and vintage performers and influences?

Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Gram Parsons are folks I haven’t already mentioned. I love the space in this music as these fine players weave together their little vignettes. And I love what feels like down-home comfort mixed with the worldliness of narrators who learned their lessons the hard way.

In 2010, we see that you revved it up with The Blacktop Rockets and later with other wranglers and foot stompers (Kool Kat Julea & Her Dear Johns, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Migrant Worker and The Scragglers). If you could line-up a show of your favorite musicians (still around or not) for a helluva hootenanny, who would you choose and why?

“Hot Rod Walt” & the Psycho-Devilles are a huge part of the Atlanta roots-music scene. I would have Cicada Rhythm, Willie Heath Neal, and Ghost Riders Car Club and open up for them, that would be a fun show. I guess Elvis opening up for Hank Williams would be pretty cool too.

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams; (L-R) Johnny McGowan and Rich DeSantis

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams; (L-R) Johnny McGowan and Rich DeSantis

You’ve stated that with the help of Steve Stone (Pedal Steel and producer/engineer) Honkytonk has been recording in his studio. Any plans for an album any time soon?

Well, we are recording – we have two songs finished and are about to record a new original or two for a compilation record. Steve is incredibly talented and busy being the hottest new picker in town, so I anticipate an EP ready in the spring.

What would you say is the most requested song at the Honkytonk Extravaganza? How do you choose your song lists?

I think “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter gets a lot of play and probably “Folsom Prison Blues” too. Johnny Cash is very popular; he is a dark character and creates a bridge between rock and roll/punk rock and classic country, so nearly every music lover likes the “Man in Black”. I started with the song list from my band Whisky Belt and continue to add new songs based on my research and suggestions from the audience and band members.

What can our readers expect at your Wednesday night Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza events at The Star Bar?

Expect to watch a great country band rip through a few numbers and then invite other entertainers from the audience to sit in with us for lively versions of dusted off country and rockabilly classics. It’s a fun-filled variety show with a parade of singers and instrumentalists showing out. The audience will be dressed in style and laughing, drinking and making the scene. Expect a spotlight shining on the “Redneck Underground” circa 2015.

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams, (L-R) David James (keys), Johnny McGowan (guitar), Mike Hammer (drums), Art Holliday (vocals), Rich DeSantis and Dave Roth (bass)

Any special events coming up? Special guests in the near future?

We’ve been asked by the folks at Dad’s Garage to play at the Masquerade for BaconFest 2015 on March 28. We will be bringing the Honkytonk Extravaganza out there to do 3 hours of live band karaoke in Purgatory from 2-5pm.

What’s next for you and Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza?

I’m just excited to move into the spring with the momentum we’ve gained through the winter and take the whole event to the next level in every way. I have a few new things in the works and people can follow along by joining the Facebook Group, Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

You don’t have to sing or play to participate – most people just come to watch and have their own kind of fun.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Q: “Where can we get shirts like you guys wear?”
A: I bring 10 or 20 western shirts to the events to sell.

 

Photo Credit: Kim Koch, Front (L-R) Dave Roth, Mike Hammer, Anita Lee, Steve Stone, Johnny McGowan. Back: Rich DeSantis

All photos are courtesy of Rich DeSantis and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Happy Days, Unhappy Days, Gathering Wild’s Jerylann Warner Has a Burning Question About the 1950s and She Is Answering It with Dance

Posted on: Jan 22nd, 2014 By:

Jerylann Warner goes back to CIRCA 50. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

The Gathering Wild Dance Company is transporting audiences back to CIRCA 50 this weekend Jan 24 and 25 at the 14th Street Playhouse, but their interpretation of the era of HAPPY DAYS isn’t just sock-hops, poodle skirts and perfectly trimmed lawns. Under the cheoreographic guidance of Art Director Jerylann Warner, the 14-member ensemble will “shine a light on oppressed emotions seething below the surface,” including race, censorship, the role of women in a patriarchal world and living the American Dream consumed by consumerism.

If those themes sounds heavy, Jerylann promises they are tackled with plenty of empathy, as well as a joyous soundtrack which includes classics from the decade that gave birth to rock n roll. ATLRetro decided to make Jerylann Kool Kat of the Week to find out more about one of Atlanta’s most innovative dance companies and their unique take on the 1950s.

ATLRetro: What inspired you to explore the 1950s through dance? Is there a personal connection, a personal fascination?

Jerylann Warner: I was inspired to create something that came from a memory. I was born in the ‘50s, all be it later in the decade, but I recall with reverence how people gathered in the streets at sunset in the summer, how radios and fireflies and Catholic widows exchanged laughter and food. But that is not in and of itself compelling enough, it has been a burning question for me: who would I have been in the midst of civil rights? Would I have stood up for what was in my heart? What would have been in my heart? What if I lived in the south, or if I was a young mother or if I was like so many women, dependent on a spouse??? I want to know if what I feel with such stinging clarity now would have surfaced for me then? I am intrigued by the sacrifices that protest entails, and I am so deeply in love with being human.

This isn’t just about 50s pop culture and the birth of rock n roll, though. You’re going underneath the outer veneer of the ‘50s as an idyllic American time. Can you talk about that why you decided an American housewife should be the narrator?

The housewife wears a beautiful red dress, and her role has been created by actress Amber Bradshaw, who joined me as a creator several months into the process. My first thought was “Ah she is the circulatory system.” Amber later helped clarify the housewife as a narrator, serving as a lens for the audience to see into the aspects of the decade that we have embraced. I can relate to her archetype. She was a natural for me to adapt into the dynamics of conformity and sexism.

The ‘50s was a key time in the history of jazz, an American art form enjoyed by whites but for which many of the most innovative composers and performers were black. Can you tell us a little bit about the segment, “Peace Piece,” which is inspired by music with the same name by jazz legend Bill Evans and his trio.

I was entirely blessed to have studied vernacular jazz dance and rhythm tap with Brenda Bufalino. This makes me no stranger to the force of jazz, the complexity and brilliance of improvisation. I choose “Pierce Piece,” a seminal improvised piano solo because it is beautiful and because I adore it and because jazz is a diffusing racial alchemy.It is a universal collective of voices and responses.

Amber Bradshaw narrates Circa 50 by Gathering Wild dance company. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

What are some of the 50s classic songs you decided to include and why?

It is fair to give you this synopsis. Chuck Berry was urged to do better and invented the alter ego Johnny B. Goode; he lived on Goode Street. Johnny Cash was a poet for the striving. Pasty Cline aroused everyone, and that was okay. Elvis was a very complex man and truly an original. I will refer to him often. Anytime I sense reluctance of expression in my students. Do not edit yourself, not yet. That’s what I say.

Circa 50 features some original musical pieces, too. I’m particularly intrigued by the innovative kitchen soundtrack in the Print Ads scene.

The original score is played live by the amazing Colin Agnew. He will play domestic appliances and kitchen utensils. I am sure I do not have to tell you why.

How about the segment around Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight?” 

Thanks to my dad Joe, Frank Sinatra is my wheel house. I made this duet for two women. We have so much more work to do in our ongoing civil rights movement. Frank’s romantic overtures belong to every couple.

Gathering Wild dancers in CIRCA 50. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

Do you use any ’50s movie imagery or icons, i.e. Marilyn Monroe or James Dean? If no, why not? 

I have not floated imagery in of James Dean or of Marilyn. Instead I have gravitated toward the iconic musicians in my interpretation of their impact, the way the music makes me feel, and in research I conducted.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about CIRCA 50 or Gathering Wild dance company?

Gathering Wild is known for its way of motioning audiences to look at things, like a gentle tap tap, hey, look at this, look at this marvelous, beautiful aspect of life [or] look at this bravado, this influence, this delightful presence that is real and powerful and of our creation. And particular to Circa 50, look at this suffering and triumph.

What’s next for you and Gathering Wild?

Next for Gathering Wild is a theme-free show. They are so very compelling, but I am ready to work with my beautiful, talented dancers in a very “other” kind of way. Just us, just us in the studio sourcing movement and building an arch, a passage, a tunnel to the deeper feelings of why we love to dance.

Tickets on sale through the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office.

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Their Day in Sun Records: David Elkins Walks the Line as Johnny Cash with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Posted on: Mar 12th, 2013 By:

The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Paul Natkin)

A fateful winter day when four of rock and country’s greatest sang together is recreated in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, the hit musical which plays the Fox Theatre from March 12-17 as part of the Broadway in Atlanta series. The extraordinary recording session on Dec. 4, 1956, included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash and was presided over by legendary Sun Records owner/producer Sam Phillips. Among the rock hits recorded that night were “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more.

The family of Johnny Cash, in a twist of fate and coincidence, moved to Memphis in the early 1950s. One day he worked up his gumption to show up at Sun and ask Sam for a recording contract. Sam wasn’t interested in the gospel songs that were Johnny’s first love and was rumored to suggest he “go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell.” Johnny says that anecdote didn’t happen, but he did switch to rockabilly, Sam took him on, and he recorded early hits such as “Hey Porter,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and ‘Walk the Line” at Sun. He actually became Sun’s best selling artist and the first to complete an LP.

To find out more about MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET and Johnny Cash’s Sun years, we caught up with David Elkins, who plays Johnny in the national tour company.

David Elkins as Johnny Cash in The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Paul Natkin)

How did you get the part of Johnny Cash?

I answered an open call audition inNew York City. Yes, I was going in solely for the role of Johnny.  I couldn’t begin to do those other guys justice. But I knew what I sounded like when I sang, and I just thought, “I can do that.” I love Johnny and his story. I respect his life’s journey and what he stood for, so it’s a real honor to try and bring a glimpse of that, one slice of time in his life, and share that with people everyday.

Some people may be less familiar with Johnny Cash’s relationship with Sun Records than with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. What will audiences learn about him in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET that they may not know?

Johnny Cash was there at Sun, but he left for Columbia Records, which is one of the dramatic story points in the show. He wanted to record a gospel album, and Mr. Phillips didn’t want to record it. He didn’t think the kids would buy it, but Columbia said they  would record it. It’s true that when most people think of Johnny, it’s more the “Man in Black” Johnny Cash of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and later AMERICAN RECORDINGS even, with [producer] Rick Rubin. That’s maybe why the Sun Records years don’t stick out as much today to some.

How did you approach playing Johnny Cash?

Instead of tackling the icon and trying to bring all that to the stage in less than two hours, I approached him as a 24-year-old kid from Arkansas who grew up picking cotton. My grandmother grew up 200 miles north of where Johnny was born [in Kingsland], so I heard all sorts of stories about picking cotton, working in the fields, and looking out for rattlesnakes. I thought of those folks who I have met. It made [Johnny’s early life] immediately tangible for me.

What are your favorite songs in the musical?

I really like our Quartet numbers. We do “Down By the Riverside” and “Peace in My Valley.” Those are pretty magical moments when we get to harmonize. And personally I love watching the other guys do their thing. I get to be on stage and watch them. Everybody I work with is so talented. I really love doing “Walk the Line,” too. People really open up to it. The first song I do is “Folsom Prison Blues,” and that song always gets a great reaction. After one show, I talked to a navy midshipman who used to listen to Johnny Cash all the time. He said, while I was singing, he closed his eyes and thought of his friends. I thought that was very genuine and from the heart. Things like that are very special.

I did a show in Durham, NC, and Johnny Cash’s nephew and his family met me after the show. He said that someone had told him he should go see the show. He said he figured that the other guys will be pretty good, but “nobody sounds like my uncle Johnny…but you nailed it.” That was such a blessing to me and a real confirmation of what we are trying to do.

Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis, James Barry as Carl Perkins, Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley and David Elkins as Johnny Cash in The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Paul Natkin)

Do you have any ritual for getting in character?

My warm-up consists of singing along to the HYMNS BY JOHNNY CASH album that he recorded shortly after he left Sun. I also watched old videos of his appearances on TV shows such as TOWN HALL PARTY and THE TEX RITTER SHOW and other clips of that era. It is not an impersonation, but I try to channel the feel of those shows. I think about what makes Johnny such a dynamic performer, so earnest and direct with his delivery. He really made each song his own. He was a storyteller. When he covered other people’s songs, he attached an earnestness, just a storyteller’s sensibility to every song. And there’s always that danger, that unpredictability under the surface that I think people are drawn to.

What will audiences be most surprised by?

I think audiences will be surprised by the undeniable impact this one man, Sam Phillips, had on the birth of rock n roll. He really had a gift for pulling new sounds out of young artists, and he recognized the racial barriers in music and helped to knock those down. He’s one of the few people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that wasn’t a musician. The show really is an ode to Sam Phillips. He really anchors the whole story. The script [by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux] was based on GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT: SUN RECORDS AND THE BIRTH OF ROCK N ROLL by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins. You can really feel the respect and love the authors have for Sam. It’s interesting to listen to the music of that time. If you listen to what they would have heard on the radio, then you can better understand why what they did at Sun was so revolutionary.

Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips in The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

In MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, you’ve had the pleasure of performing in a lot of vintage theaters before getting to our Fabulous Fox. Any favorites?

A great part of the tour has been seeing beautiful old theaters. One of the cast members, Katie Barton, who is the understudy for Elvis’s girlfriend Dyanne, is from Atlanta and she told me the Fox is beautiful. There was Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY, where Duke Ellington performed and KING KONG played. I liked the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia. It wasn’t the most beautiful and the boards were a bit creaky, but it takes you back in time a bit and it felt great to be right in the middle of the city. The [former] Hippodrome [ now the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center] in Baltimore was also very impressive and a lot of fun to play in.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Freaks, Geeks and Playing with Teeth: Aileen Loy Is Ready to Sing the Music of the Devil…Well, Till Someone Loses An Eye

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2013 By:

Aileen Loy, performing with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the Star Bar on Jan. 10, 2013. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons.

ATLRetro has had our eye on Atlanta visual and performance artist Aileen Loy for a long time, and now seems like the perfect time to catch up since her band Till Someone Loses An Eye will be playing Sunday March 10 in a three-month second Sunday series at the Corner Tavern in Little Five Points. The unique nine-person ensemble also will be opening for self-described “rockabilly-porno-metal with a country twist” Fiend Without a Face  and Ricer on Wed. March 6 at the Star Bar. Other band members include  Sam McPherson and Michael A. Robinson (L5P Rock Star Orchestra/DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA); Meredith Greer (The Chameleon Queen); Steve McPeeks (Art of Destruction)Frank Anzalone (Walk From the Gallows)Brigitte Warren (Wicked Geisha Ritual Theatre); and Dee Dee Chmielewski (DRACULA).

To call Aileen an eclectic talent would be an understatement for her passions definitely are eclectic and her talent unquestionable. Her singing voice is unexpectedly deep for a woman and has often been compared to Tom Waits. her costumes are always the very spirit of Bohemian and often feature bones, whether she is in full Mexican skull-face Day of the Dead regalia or  a skintight black pants fronted by a human pelvis and skeletal legs. Still to call her a goth would be selling her short. She certainly displays a passion for the macabre, but she also equally embraces the playful, including the recent Renaissance of carnival/circus culture and even a gypsy steampunk edge. Till Someone Loses An Eye lists its influences as Waits, Nick Cave and Gogol Bordello and its interests as “rusted metal, old time circus culture, cheese sandwiches, small rocks, freaks, geeks and miscreants.”

When she is not making music, Aileen crafts cool, creepy jewelry using prosthetic eyeballs and teeth, and she has experimented in film and just about every type of artistic media. If that’s not multi-talented, we don’t know what is. But enough talking about Aileen, let’s get talking to her.

ATLRetro: Seeing your artwork and listening to your music, we can imagine you being closer to Wednesday Addams than Cindy Brady as a little girl. How old were you when you started down the path to the darker side of creativity, and what pulled the trigger?

Aileen Loy: That’s a fair cop – I was a pretty serious and awkward little girl. I’m not sure how to answer the rest of that question but there was probably a library card involved.

Aileen Loy plays a mean harmonica with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the L5P Halloween Festival 2012. Photo credit: Stephen Priest.

Who/what were some of your early inspirations musically and visually that still influence your work today?

Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, a lot of classical music. My parents had a weird assortment of albums when I was growing up, so I’d go from listening to SONGS OF THE GUIANA JUNGLE, Lord Kitchener, those odd Reader’s Digest collected works of *insert western classical composer or awesome polka guy, here*, lots of Bollywood, Johnny Mathis and a good dose of Kitty Wells, Dolly, Willie Nelson. Rock and roll was kind of special because I got to discover that on my own. Those were the albums we played when the folks were at work or at my friend’s house. Dad went on a “Rock and roll is the music of the devil; we must burn all rock albums and rid the world of it’s horrible influence” phase, so most of my albums stayed in my room hidden safely behind the Mozart and Ravi Shankar. It was an odd time.

Why do you think circus and carnivale culture has made such a comeback and is seemingly in a renaissance in the independent arts scene from burlesque to steampunk to modern-day proud-to-be-freaks shows?

Good question and I don’t really know. I’ve always been drawn to it because it seemed like a magical amorphous place, where one can, not only be exactly what one is, but is encouraged and expected to be fully that – to gain power and reflect competence and heart through what others might view as “freakish.” It’s a place where no one expects tidy and convenient truths. Fantastic stuff. I think I definitely would have felt safer in there as a kid.

Your vocals have often been compared to Tom Waits, which is unusual for a woman. Did you work to create your unique singing voice or did it just come natural?

I’ve always had a little froggy voice, and the vocalists that I really loved had such huge resonance. You could feel them in your chest! So, yeah of course I wanted to sound like them. That would be me, age 5, trying my damnedest to sing Johnny Cash, and eventually I could. I had a voice therapist tell me that I have the physiology for it . My vocal cords are similar to a male’s. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to train that low.

Aileen Loy fronts Till Someone Loses An Eye at 7 Stages during Day of the Cupcake, Oct. 8, 2012. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons

Tell us about Till Someone Loses an Eye, your latest band. Why the name? And what makes this band special and unique musically?

I thought the name was funny. It could be a threat, an eventuality, or an aspiration. The band is personally interesting to me because everyone has such a widely different back story and vibe from one another, and it informs the music in a pretty cool way.

At an Artifice Club performance in fall 2012. Photo credit: James Curtis Barger.

You list some of your collaborators as “heads of mischief.” What do you mean by that?

I was being glib when I wrote that, just trying to fill a page and get it up. But now it’s very apparent to me that it’s absolutely true on its face, no explanation needed. Lovely troublemakers, all of them.

You’re playing twice this week. Wed. March 6 at Star Bar and then Sunday march 10 at Corner Pub, which is going to be a once-monthly event on second Sundays. Do you have any special plans for either show? Why should folks come out?

Wednesday’s show we’re playing with Fiend Without a Face and Ricer, two reasons right there to come. Second Sundays, we have the whole night to do whatever we want. We could play two full sets just us, or have another band open, or musicians sit in for a song or two. This Sunday, the band, Tulsa, is coming through from SXSW and will be doing an early opener set at 8:30.

A vintage stag pocketwatch sporting a prosthetic eye designed by Aileen Loy.

What are you up to in the visual arts right now? Last time I checked you were making beautiful jewelry involving teeth.

Still plugging away, trying to up the scope of the teeth jewelry a bit and take it to a logical conclusion, not sure what that is. I’ve got a few new projects brewing, but it’s still to foggy to talk about them with any kind of intelligence.

What artistic or musical accomplishment are you most proud of so far, and why?

I’m just happy I’m doing it. Neither was particularly supported when I was growing up, so I kind of always found my own way around. Definitely, a late bloomer.

Finally we had to ask. What’s your favorite whiskey and why?

Is there ever a bad whiskey?

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Kool Kat of the Week: Hooting, Hollyfesterin’ and Cockle-Doodle-Doom with Phil Stair of Grim Rooster

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

Phil Stair, lead vocalist/guitarist of Grim Rooster. Photo courtesy of Phil Stair.

Every year around the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley gathers some of Atlanta’s best rockabilly and neo-honkytonk talent at the Star Bar for a righteous revival called Hollyfest! This year the fifth annual tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper is on Sat. Feb. 2, so mark your calendars for  a Groundhog Day you’ll want to relive with a 14-band line-up conjuring up rock n roll deja vu that includes many groups whose members have been previous Kool Kats from Cletis Reid to Andrew & The DisapyramidsThe Stumblers to Rod Hamdallah.

Also on the playlist is Grim Rooster. While the group has only been around for a couple of years, its members include Phil Stair (lead vocals, guitar), Dylan Ross (bass) and Nate Elliscu (mandolin) and Tigerbeat Tony (drums) who have been active in the scene here for many a corn season. Boasting a diverse barnyard of influences that range from Johnny Cash to Rancid, they’ve already got more than 30 original songs under their belt and the fireball audacity to promise this about their musical menu on Facebook: “just try not to drip any tobacco juice on the floor the first time you feast your ears on this blue-plate dee-light of mother-cluckin’ foot-stompin’ fun and your jaw drops wide open!”

ATLRetro caught up with Phil to find out how Grim Rooster got hatched, what Hollyfest is all about and just what the hell is honky punk anyway?

So how and when did Grim Rooster get hatched?

Grim Rooster came about in the spring of 2011. My band Rocket 350 was on its last legs, and I was fairly bummed about it. My bass player had moved to Nashville so I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. Also our crowd had finally faded, and it  just wasn’t worth the effort of getting everyone together. At that point, my buddy Dylan asked if I had any interest in starting some sort of side project. I knew that I wanted to start either a straight punk band or do something very stripped down and roosty. Dylan wanted to play stand-up bass so it was settled. We asked one of neighbors to come play drums, and then I wrote about 20 songs for the project. I really got wrapped up in the music and was very excited to be doing something new. It had been about 15 years since I started a new band.

What’s in the name?

Grim Rooster came from a goofy brainstorming session. We wanted to use something with the word “rooster” in it, and that’s when we started coming up with ridiculous names. Obviously it’s a play on Grim Reaper, and it was meant to be funny at first, but it had a pretty good ring to it. We started coming up with crazy logos and realized we had a winner.

What the hell is honky punk?

We play honky tonk and bluegrass. We have an acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass and drums. The ferocity that we play our honk tonk is where the punk comes in. Although we have a real roosty sound, the punk rock still seems to slip in there. This is great when we play places like the Star Bar, but when we play to the bluegrass crowd, a lot of times they get a bit lost. We used to do a cover of Operation Ivy‘s song “Knowledge,” but it never seemed to go over too well even though we really honky-tonked it up.

What’s so great about three dead Retro rockers and was it really the day the music died? In other words, what do Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper mean to you personally?

The day the music died will always remind me of the terrible Ritchie Valens movie that they did in the 80s. “Not my Ritchie!!” But seriously I think out of the three, Buddy Holly was the biggest loss. He was a great songwriter, and he did a lot to help shape rock ‘n’ roll at its very beginning. I will have to say though, that I’m very happy Waylon Jennings did not get on that plane. I can only imagine how terrible this event was when it happened and what a blow to rock ‘n’ roll it was. It seems like we always lose the great ones, yet guys like Justin Bieber seem to stick around forever. As far as what they mean to me personally, I’m more of an Elvis man myself, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Grim Roosters at Twain's. Photo courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Have you played past Hollyfests? For the uninitiated, what happens at Hollyfest and makes it special? With all the Star Bar regular bands and Andy organizing, it sounds like it’s a big rockabilly/honkytonk homecoming. 

I have played many Hollyfests. One with Grim Rooster and a couple with Rocket 350. It is like a big homecoming, or more like the Atlanta rockabilly scene’s annual meeting. It’s always a great time, and its always great to see friends that I’ve hung out with for the past 20 years. It’s funny. I was sneaking into that place when I was 18, and here I am seeing the exact same folks. Something like that is rare, and I’m glad Andy and the Star bar are keeping it alive.

What will Grim Rooster be playing at Hollyfest – Holly classics or your own songs or both? Any special plans?

We are stripping down for Hollyfest because our drummer won’t be able to make it. We will be going string-band style. We are going to bluegrass up “Midnight Shift” and “True Love Ways.” Next we are going to do a slow-dance version of “Rave On.” Then, last but not least, we are going to do a Roosterized version of Weezer’s tune “Buddy Holly.”

How did you start playing guitar, and were your first rock influences the classics or were you more of a punk rock boy or a metal-head?

I started playing guitar in 7th grade but quit when I got a Nintendo for my birthday. I stupidly put it down, but hell, I was 12. I picked it back up when I was 19 because I wanted to be in a band and I realized that no one wanted just a singer. I started by trying to play along to punk rock records. It took a few years to start getting the rockabilly licks down.  When I finally did, I started Rocket 350.

I would say punk rock boy and metal head, or maybe just a lot of classic rock. I love Guns n Roses and the Ramones, what can I say?! I knew about the classics, but I didn’t start seeking out different genres till high school. I originally got into roots music through ska. That scene used to be huge in Atlanta, and there were a ton of shows. That pushed me to seek out rockabilly, and then I was hooked on that for many years. Through all of it though, I would have to say punk rock is by far my favorite music. That is probably my biggest influence. Then there’s a lot of old school country and just plain rock ‘n’ roll thrown in there.

What other bands have you played with?

Rocket 350 has been my main band; that lasted from 1997 to 2011. We went on four US tours and played hundreds of regional shows. We recorded five albums. I have yet to release our last record. Also I did fill in for my buddy’s metal band Grayson Manor once. That was fun as hell, but not exactly a good fit.

Other than Hollyfest, what’s your most memorable, fun, crazy or satisfying Grim Rooster gig? 

We enjoy playing an outdoor venue in Alpharetta called Matilda’s. Everyone calls it the poor man’s Chastain. They have roots music outside every Saturday during the summer. You play on the porch of an old house, and everyone brings their own food and beer. It’s all ages, so all of our families can make it out to the show. Those so far have been my favorite gigs, and they always draw a huge crowd. Just a really great vibe when we play there and a lot of interaction from the crowd. At the end of the day, we do this for fun so when you can get people out and involved, it makes it worth it.

The Grim Roosters shake up Matilda's. Photo Courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Do you have a day-job?

I do, but I don’t want to ruin the illusion. Ha, yes in real life, I have a wife and two kids and live in the burbs. I work as a financial advisor, so me playing music has become a way for me to release a ton of stress. If it wasn’t for the release of playing music, I would probably be in the looney bin. I was very lucky to have been able to play music for a living and go nuts. In my late 20s, the writing was on the wall. I realized I wanted other things.

What’s next for Grim Rooster?

Just trying to find more gigs. If you know of any, let me know. We do have a big one on Feb. 6 at Smith’s Olde Bar. We are opening up for Corb Lund, and we are super excited about it. We will be playing our usual set of originals with a couple covers thrown in. Should be a great night of honky tonk.

Also, Grim Rooster is on Facebook if anyone wants to check us out. We have a three-song demo up there for everyone to listen to and download.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Joel Burkhart Plans on Doing Something With It; AM Gold Throws a CD Release Party at the Star Bar

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2012 By:

AM Gold at Oakland Cemetary. Photo credit: David Batterman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

My radio was my best friend from grade school all through college. I knew every word to every song and spent my teen years trying to stretch my tiny hands across the frets to eke out “Smoke on the Water” like the rest of my artsy friends. An Atlanta band has emerged called AM Gold that speaks to the growed-up heart looking for that “me and my radio” feeling. They will celebrate the release of their first CD, PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT, this Friday September 28 at the Star Bar with Higher Choir and My Rebel Episode.  A dream-team of an outfit, they’re fronted by this week’s Kool Kat guitarist Joel Burkhart, who was good enough to give ATLRetro the back-story on growing up in the glory days of AM radio, his past bands and Star Bar shenanigans.

Torchy/ATLRetro: Tell me about AM Gold.

Joel Burkhart: AM Gold started as a dream. Several nights in a row I had this dream of a band playing on the top of a hill. There was sunlight behind them so all I could see were the long shadows of the band cascading down the hill. The golden rays of the sun eclipsing any details other then the shadows of the people playing. The sound was a chorus of voices, not heavenly like a choir but more earthly and gritty. I heard them singing these lines:

“These are the songs we like to sing
Makes us forget most everything
This is the way that I want to feel
Soft as love and strong as steel.”

After the third or fourth night of this dream, I picked up the guitar and wrote that song. Then I started putting together the band. I knew it would possibly be the last band I ever put together so it had to be amazing. It had to have great players but this time it also had to have great singers. This was going to be all about the words and the melodies. If I wanted them to shine I had to get the right people to be in the chorus.

I have played with Jim [Stacy], Eric [Young] and Jeff [Langston] for years and knew what they were capable of. Jim Stacy has been a lead singer/frontman for many years with Greasepaint, LaBrea Stompers and Little Women and sings with me in The Downers. He was first on the list, but I asked him last because I didn’t think he’d want to be in another band with me. Jeff plays with me in Bully but has also fronted his own bands (Ledfoot Messiah, Ritual, Flathead Fuel) for years. He is quite possibly the best male vocalist in Atlanta that no one knows about. Eric has been my drummer through Mulberry Street, Bully, The Downer Brothers and now AM Gold. Along the way he started singing back-ups and is one of the best singing drummers around. He also makes playing drums look as easy as breathing. Musically I have never played with a better drummer. I have a hard time imagining my songs with anyone else playing drums on them.

When it came time to complete the rhythm section, there has always been a combination that I wanted to hear together. I had Eric and now I was lucky enough to get Blake [Parris] to say yes also. Blake is this town’s hidden treasure. Someday someone who can pay him properly for his services is going to come and take him on the road and we won’t ever see him again. Blake is an amazing bass player and singer – probably one of the best -but he can play almost anything: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead, rhythm, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, keys… I really bet that you could give him a trombone, and in 15 minutes he would have a proper part written for a song. There is nothing that I can play or sing that won’t be made significantly better with Blake. He could just sit onstage with anyone and make then sound better. Seriously.

The final piece to the puzzel was a keyboard player. The only person that even crossed my mind was Jett [Bryant]. While he is not one given to the art of practice, he is one of the best damn singers in the game of rock and roll. He knocked’em dead in the Rock City Dropouts and kills it every night with Bigfoot. With AM Gold, he is pitch perfect and brings the pretty. I am sure that this is the most professional band I have ever played with. Practices and rehearsals are exciting and fun. We always have fun playing shows and hell, on top of all of that, we like each other. We all genuinely like being in the same room and shooting the shit. When the 6 of us are playing and singing together it is magic. There is no other word for it.

Joel, where are you from? Did you grow up listening to AM radio?

Joel: I am originally from Detroit. Lived there until the age of 5. Lived in farm country – Tecumseh,MI – for a few years before moving to Brighton, Michigan. I spent the 1980s as a mall rat in the suburbs. I moved to Atlanta when I turned 19 [in 1989].

Totally grew up listening to AM radio early on in Detroit – WJBK, WXYZ and CKLW. Later listened to commercial FM Radio – WRIF, WLLZ – and the college stations from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Joel Burkhart. Photo Credit: John McNicholas.

Do you write much aside from lyrics and when did you first start writing songs?

You know, I used to write all the time. I have notebooks and notebooks of stuff. Poems, short stories, essays, laundry lists – actual and metaphysical – good, bad, everything,  As I have gotten older, I write less but the quality seems to be higher. I think that comes with being married and having kids, but also realizing who I am and what I want to say. When I do put pen to paper these days, there is probably a song there.

I started writing songs pretty late, I think. I was in my mid-teens when I first learned enough chords to have two different parts to a song. Unfortunately the first one sounds a lot like “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church and the second one sounds a lot like “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to think I was writing my own songs that sounded like me. I think that’s part of the process: writing and writing and writing until you find your own voice.

Who were your earliest musical influences that stuck with you?

I think like most kids you listen to what is around you at the time, and my earliest influences were from my relatives. Whether it was my cousins listening to Elvis, Chicago, Kiss or Steve Miller; my grandfather listening to hits from the ’40s and ’50s; my grandmother playing WWII ballads on her Wurlitzer; or my uncle’s Rare Earth, Kansas and Yes records, it all influenced me. Some of the best memories I have are driving around singing “Afternoon Delight” [Starland Vocal Band] or “What’s Going On” [Marvin Gaye] along with my mother. Detroit radio was some of the best in the country in the ’70s, and my mother, in particular, was pretty influential in my early years. She loved music and loved singing; whether it was rock, soul or country, she listened to it all. Our record collection had Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees. Another big record that stuck with me was Tom T. Hall record SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW – For Children of All Ages. My grandmother gave that to me. I wore that thing out.

Who’d you listen to that makes you ask, “What was I thinking?  and how’d you ‘take their sad song ‘n make it betta’? Even the questionable influences of childhood can positively shape budding creativity, right?

When I was a young child, we had one of those small Imperial portable record players and I would go from room to room when my parents had parties putting on my “show.” I would carry my record player, my yardstick – which doubled as microphone and guitar – and my favorite record, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” b\w “Delta Dawn.” I would sing through side one, take my break and then sing through side two. Man, I could rock that shit.

While there was some questionable hair metal that I listened to in the ’80s – TnT, Krokus, Helix anyone? – I can’t really disavow it in good conscience. They are all colors in my crayon box so to speak. Some people are great at painting with one color; I’m not. All of the music that I have listened to tends to find its place in the songs that I write for my different bands.

Before the Star Bar sound booth days, what was your worst day job, and did I hear the residue of that angst in your band Bully?

I did death scene clean up for almost two years. It was miserable work, didn’t pay very well, boss was a dick. That was very influential in the Bully songwriting process. “Quitter,” “Spit,” “I Don’t Feel Well,” “2nd Drawer Down.” All from that period of time. I’d come home pissed off and beat, fire up the bong, hit the Jaeger and let it all out. Thankfully my work life is less stressful now, but I think that was what life is supposed to be like in your 20s, living hard and carefree.

What was it like working sound at the Star Bar? Favor us with a story of your days in the booth.

So much to tell – Jim Stacy and I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a G string on Hasil Adkins’ guitar while a nearly sold-out house waited impatiently. He had a box of old guitar strings he carried with him, every one of them old and rusty. Just looking at the box gave me tetanus. For some reason, none of them were the right one.

Once we had a kid who was trying to promote some shows – this particular one with Har Mar Superstar – have a breakdown on stage. He started calling out the booker of the club, the owners, the bartenders and finally me. He told the room filled with people I had stolen his guitar and amplifier – which I believe he had left in a friend’s car or sold for meth – and that he wasn’t a “fat, jaded motherfucker” like me. I, for sure, took the brunt of it, I guess because he was on stage staring right at me. I think most everyone thought I was going to kill his mic (or him), but I just let him keep going until he tuckered himself out. He ended up going to a mental hospital a week or so later. Pretty weird.

But I also had some great, amazing memories there. The Ex-Husbands blowing everyone away with an out of left field, dead-on cover of “War Pigs” [Black Sabbath], followed by “Beating around the Bush” by AC\DC.

I remember that!

Alejandro Escovedo bringing over 200 people to complete silence with the breathtaking-ness of his songs; The Drive-By Truckers playing an Atlantis Music Conference and just weeping over the song “Heathens,” knowing things would never be the same for them after that night. That stage is magic.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

As I was on the road last year, I heard a lot of BS about how listening to Johnny Cash was a hipster trait and therefore passe. What would you say to that labeling?

One of the bonuses of being older is that I don’t know if it’s hipster or not. I’ve been listening [to Cash] since the ’70s when I was a kid and never stopped. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

With The Downer Bros, you and Jim Stacy pay homage to some of Johnny Cash’s most, for the lack of a better word,  “fierce” recordings. You recently rattled the walls at the 12th Annual Cash Bash at the Star Bar [Sept. 22]. How’d the idea for the Downer Bros come about?

Like most of our great ideas, it started off with drinking. During the rockabilly\country revival in the 1990s, there were a lot of bands that would throw in a Johnny Cash or George Jones [song] and do it in whatever style they played. There was no one really doing the slower, lost love, murder ballad stuff, and definitely no one doing it stripped down and acoustic. Jim and I loved that kind of stuff. So when we were waiting for bands to show up or when the night was over, we would play songs, just me and him. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and our two voices, harmonizing and trading songs. It was magic. The name came from trying to describe the music to our good friend Andy McDaniel. He asked what kind of music we were doing and we said “country music, but you know, the ‘downer’ stuff.” It stuck.

I’ve been paying attention and coming to see your bands for a bit now. Do I detect a progression of a happier and more fulfilled man through your musical timeline, having made so many people weep openly, inviting us to be healed and happy – or am I waxing fanciful?

I think there is a definite evolution. Mulberry Street was me getting my feet wet playing and performing but quickly became a little darker then I thought it would become. With Bully, I totally embraced that darkness and anger. When you are more or less penniless, living from day to day, broken-hearted and feeling alone, it is hard to find the light. The Downer Brothers are similar to Bully in that there is some frustration and  loneliness, but instead of being loud and in your face and angry, it was quiet and more thought-out and reserved.

AM Gold it is next logical extension of the realization that there is goodness all around you. Goodness in the things you do, the places you go and the people you meet. The trick, I think, is being open to it, being willing to let it chase away the darkness that has comforted you for so long. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a meanness out there, thriving and consuming, but you have the choice. You can live in fear with the darkness or live in the happiness of the light. Mostly now I choose the light. Some days it is really hard work to find it, but I think it is worth the struggle.

As a performer, what show stands out in your memory?

Probably one of the highlights for me personally was playing in Greasepaint and opening for Tenacious D. It was a sold-out crowd at The Tabernacle here in Atlanta. For AM Gold, it has to be playing The Dogwood Festival earlier this year. A few thousand people on a beautiful day in Piedmont Park. Nobody knew who we were or our songs, but they seemed to really appreciated them and we had a great response.

Honestly though every show is great in its own way. Any time I get to get on stage with my friends and we get to play our original songs, the ones we have practiced a hundred times, the ones we put our time and effort into writing and arranging and performing. That’s a good day.

Worst gig ever has to be the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain last year.  It was the first time in over 20 years I set foot on stage for the sole purpose of making money by playing covers. While we had fun playing our Steve Miller Greatest Hits set at the Star Bar a couple months earlier, when it came to doing those songs again, there was no love for them. While I admire people that can get on stage and play three or four sets of somebody else’s material and are able to support a family doing it, I am not cut from that same cloth. I suppose that’s why I am not able to support a family doing that.

I’ve been the annoying fan begging for CDs forever. What was the AM Gold studio experience, was it documented on film and when will PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT be available? Joshin’, but seriously does being recorded affect your perspective? And by the way, thanks and eager to hear both the Bully and AM Gold disks!

The recording process was really fantastic. We recorded with a great guy named Jimmy Ether at his studio called Headphone Treats. For this recording we were all in the same room, playing together. We set up in the morning, recorded seven songs, and were pretty much done that night. We came back a couple times and overdubbed a few guitar parts, percussion and some vocals, but for the most part, what you hear is what we did that first day. It is a really great way to record. All of the recordings I have ever done previously were all with the drummer in his own room and the guitar amps in their own rooms and the rest of the band usually in the control room listening back through small, tiny speakers. It has always been frustrating for me. I like being able to feel the kick drum and bass, feeling the air move in the room with the music, the rise and fall of the conversation we are all having with one another through our instruments. There is no replacing it.

As for the Bully stuff, we’ve got over 40 songs that had very limited – me handing a homemade CDR to someone – release. I’m hoping to change that later this year. I think we are going to put out three EPs, each having five to seven studio cuts and two to three live recordings. I’m not really sure. We also started re-recording some Bully stuff a couple of years ago that has yet to see the light of day. When your bass player is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, it gets hard to get everyone together in the same room and on the same page, but hopefully while Troy [Sanders] is home for a little bit between records, we can get some Bully time out of him.

What aspirations does the band muse about for the foreseeable future? Just sheerly hypothetically speaking, what’s next for you creatively?

The thing about us being in our 40s and doing this is that we don’t have the free time and lack of obligations that being 20 something has. Jett [Bryant, keyboards] has Bigfoot and a budding movie career [he was the star of DEAR GOD! NO! and is going to be in the follow up], Blake [Parrish, bass] and Eric [Young, percussion] are both in several bands and are in high demand as players, Jeff [Langston, guitars] has Ledfoot Messiah (they are doing the Kiss Kruise later this year) and he is in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA (ED note: Watch out for a Retro Review soon) at 7 Stages and Jim [Stacy, harmonica] has the Starlight Six Drive-In and Palookaville to run, as well as a successful TV show and the possibility of a opening a restaurant fairly soon.

And me, I’m not getting any younger. The thought of getting in a van and blowing with the wind down the road trying to find my rock and roll fortunes has long passed me by. The music I write and play isn’t fashionable. I have no hipster cred; my waist size has expanded. I’m not much to look at;  my head is shaped funny. At the end of the day I’m a 43-year-old IT nerd scraping by at a job I don’t care about, working for people who don’t care about me so I can earn money which is spent before I get it so I can keep a roof over my family’s heads and food and clothes in and on our bodies. I have a beautiful wife and family and a life like most people: spectacularly wonderful and exceedingly average. It just depends on what day of the week and how close we are to the next paycheck. Sometimes we have a little more than others, sometimes a little less. In my mind I’m doing all of this for them, hoping for the big pay-off someday. Rational Joel knows that is probably never going to happen.

But still, I have this need to make this music. I tell these stories and dream these dreams. That’s all good music really is. Stories and dreams. I’m going to keep writing and playing every chance I get for whoever will listen. When I have new stories, I write new songs. When I have new dreams, I write new songs.

It’s what I do, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Look for me up front and center.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Getting Ready for a Rockabilly Rumble in Little 5 Points with Right Reverend Andy

Posted on: Aug 9th, 2012 By:

For almost a decade, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley has been at the pulpit of Atlanta’s rockabilly revival as the DJ of Psychobilly Freakout (now airing Mondays from 8-10 p.m. on Garage 71 Internet radio and live at area events) and also for the many ‘billy events he has organized. This Saturday August 10, he’s hosting a Rumble in Little 5 Points at the Star Bar, long the temple of Atlanta’s rockabilly/psychobilly scene, with a great line-up headlined by Hi-Test and including Sonoramic CommandoAtomic BoogieJunior, Dolan & Cash and Grim Rooster, so we thought it’s high time we declare the minister of one of our favorite Retro musical styles Kool Kat of the Week

ATLRetro: What’s so special about Hi-Test and why does their return warrant a Rumble?

Rev Andy: Hi-Test is one of those bands that any other band would have a hard time following. Their music is in-your-face and when you listen it goes straight to your core. They put on one hell of a stage show and all four guys are incredibly talented musicians! If you’ve never seen Hi-Test, then you’re truly missing out.

What else is happening at The Rumble?

A: We’re also having an unofficial CD release for Sonoramic Commando’s new album HANG AROUND [Ed. note: Read Slim’s Retro Review here], and you need to come early to catch the new punk country band Grim Rooster!

How did you discover rockabilly/psychobilly? And was there a key turning point when you decided to devote your life to keeping these Retro music styles alive?

I grew up with parents who listened to Elvis, Cash and all those old cats from the Sun Records days. When I hit high school, I stopped listening and began buying heavy metal albums. Toward my late twenties, I migrated back to what I grew up on and eventually went to my first local rockabilly show, which featured Sonoramic Commando. When I had the chance to start a ‘billy radio show, I grabbed the bull by the horns.

How did you become a Right Reverend?

It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon. I came in to do my show at Album 88 (88.5FM) and told the DJ before my show went on I had become ordained through the Universal Life Church. Without prompting her, she ended her shift by saying, “Coming up next is Psychobilly Freakout with Reverend Andy!” Years later, Sully from daveFM would add the “Right” part to add some flourish. Now, I’m active outside the studio with my role as the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll getting folks deep fried and sanctified with the help of roots music!

Why Psychobilly Freakout?

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

For the uninitiated, what makes a great rockabilly and/or psychobilly band?

The band should capture your attention with their sound and stage presence. It may add to the stereotype, but they need to be dressed the part – no loafers on stage! A great rockabilly band should be sonically sound, know and love their songs, and avoid being “shoegazers” on stage. If someone wants to start a band, go watch and listen to Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Billy Lee Riley, and figure out how their music speaks to you. Turn that sound into your own. Little Richard once told me, “Everything has already been done. You just have to pick something up and figure out how to make it your own.”

How long have you been doing your Monday night shows on Garage 71?

Last month marks three years on Garage 71, but my show has been around much longer. I started it on Album 88 in August of 2004, so the show has now been around 8 years! It had a brief stint on WREK (91.1FM) and as a podcast. No matter what, this is my show and I’m sure the name will be associated with me for years to come.

What are a few bands and performers who are exciting you now?

I’m really digging the sound of JD McPherson [Ed. note: Read our Retro Review of JD’s latest album here]. Holy crap, this guy has captured the classic essence of rockabilly and jump blues, and he’s very exciting to watch perform! Check out King Sickabilly & His Full Moon Boys if you’re into Johnny Cash. His songs, even toned down, speak volumes. Exploring the past I’ve recently acquired a love for The Queers and The Cult. I don’t know how I let those two bands stay under my radar for so long. And if you don’t own any, go buy some Lone Wolf OMB and Ronnie Dawson right now!

You DJ regularly at Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge (bimonthly at Masquerade), her new Mad Lib-Ations (Thursdays at Corner Tavern in L5P)and many other of her events. How did you both meet each other and why do you enjoy working with her so much?

I believe a mutual friend had us meet a few years ago. When she began working on her first Rockabilly Lounge, said friend told her her event wouldn’t be complete without getting me involved. Since then, she and I have worked together on many events and you’re guaranteed a good time! If you can’t enjoy yourself at one of our shows, then you should be flogged.

What’s next for the Right Reverend Andy, i.e. what should our readers mark their calendars for?

I have a few more events in the works before the end of the year. I’m working on bringing Hillbilly Casino back to Atlanta, a Rocket 350 reunion, and one of the musicians I mentioned in this article will be playing Atlanta in November (his manager asked I not discuss details). I’m also collaborating on a book about rockabilly lifestyle from the past 60 years – this is in the very early stages. I’m lending my voice to the Left 4 Dead 2 video game – you’ll find me voicing multiple characters in some upcoming downloadable content! I’m a geek at heart, so hearing my voice in a video game is pretty darn cool! You’ll also find my own Website launching in the next couple of weeks so people can keep track of my new and ongoing projects.

Until the Website launches, keep up with Reverend Andy at rightrevandy.blogspot.com and twitter.com/revandy. All photos are courtesy of Andy Hawley.

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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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A Feast Fit for a King: Chef Val Domingo Cooks Up an Elvis Beer Dinner at Meehan’s Public House Thurs. Jan. 26!

Posted on: Jan 23rd, 2012 By:
Elvis Presley‘s birthday was Jan.8, but Meehan’s Public Housein Sandy Springs isn’t done celebrating. In fact, Chef Val Domingo is preparing a feast fit for a king this Thurs. Jan. 26. His Elvis Beer Dinner features a delicious four-course menu for just $47 (beer included) themed around the rock star’s music, movies and favorite foods, paired with a selection of Belgian-style brews by Ommegang Beer, a Cooperstown, NY microbrewery, and nationally known tribute band, Young Elvis and the Blue Suedes. ATLRetro caught up with Chef Val to find out what’s cooking, why Ommegang, how he got the ideas for rock star/music-themed dinners which have become a regular feature at Meehans, and what’s next on the music menu…
ATLRetro: How did you get the idea for rock star/music-themed dinners?
Chef Val Domingo: I first got the idea when I was the chef at Coastal Kitchen in St. Simons Island.  During the off-season, we were trying to think of ideas outside the box to generate income.  In my career, I’ve always thought of music and the culinary arts as being very similar.  In music, there are different notes, tones and instruments that when they complement each other, produce a harmonious sound.  Similarly, in food, we have different ingredients that have different flavors and textures that when cooked in a certain way produces a unique and pleasing complement to your taste buds.
What’s on the menu for the Elvis Beer Dinner?
First course – Louisiana crab cakes infused with andouille sausage, and served with crawfish gumbo. Second course – sesame-crusted Ahi tuna with rocquet greens, candied macadamia nuts, red curry pineapple vinaigrette, avocado and mandarin oranges.  Third – hickory-smoked Memphis ribs, dark chocolate bbq, smoked bacon and potato gallete, grilled asparagus. Fourth course – banana bread French toast with house-made honey-roasted peanut butter ice cream
How did you decide what to serve to honor the King of Rock n Roll? Did you look to his music for inspiration or more to the foods he enjoyed? 
I used his music, his background of where he grew up and lived, his acting career, and reviewed some of his favorite foods. For example, the first course is from the song and movie, KING CREOLE, second course is from his album, BLUE HAWAII, third course is from his album, FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS, plus the fact that he lived in Memphis, [and the] fourth course is a version of one of his favorite sandwiches, peanut butter and banana.

Executive Chef Val Domingo. Photo courtesy of Meehan's Public House.

What one dish do you think he’d especially enjoy and why? 
The dessert course, “21st century peanut butter and bananas” because just like a creative musician, I think he’d appreciate my creativity in bringing a different twist with the banana bread French toast and homemade honey-roasted peanut butter ice cream.
Can you tell us a little bit about Ommegang Beer, and how it compliments the food pairings?
Ommegang brewery is the first farmstead brewery built in the USA in over a century.  It is located in Cooperstown, NY.  I chose this high-gravity brewery because of its uniqueness, just like how Elvis was a unique artist during that time.  For example, the Three Philosophers that I am pairing with my dessert course is quadruple ale blended with Kriek, a fermented cherry beer in Belgium, that complements the dessert with some bittersweet chocolate tones and the hint of cherries.  Another beer that I’m using is Ommegang Hennepin that pairs extremely well with shellfish. It is one of the few beers that is aged in a cave 45 minutes from Cooperstown, 40 meters below the ground in at a temperature of 52 degrees.  I am pairing my Louisiana crab cakes with that beer.  I believe beer is the best palate cleanser due to the carbonation in the beer cleansing your palate from what you just ate.
What else will be going on in addition to dining and drinks? 
We have an Elvis tribute band, Young Elvis and the Blue Suedes, which is a national act that is endorsed by Elvis’ stepbrothers. They are different from other Elvis tribute bands because they actually use the vintage instruments in their performances.
How often do you schedule music dinners, and what other rock/music stars have you developed menus around?
We do these music themed dinners on Thursdays, for the most part.  I chose Thursdays because [it’s] a preview to the weekend. Other dinners I have done in the past include The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Dave Matthews, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd.
Which was your favorite, and who was the most challenging? Why?
Most challenging – Pink Floyd because at the time, we had the biggest attendance, and for my entree course I had to make as part of my entree, Yorkshire pudding, for 55 guests. Yorkshire pudding, if you haven’t made it before, can be tricky, and you can’t really prep that too far ahead of time. My favorite is a tie between Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.  I’m a huge fan of both.  With Ray Charles, I prepared the menu with his ties towards Georgia, using all local produce and ingredients native to the state.  Johnny Cash was my first music dinner at Meehans Public House, Sandy Springs.  All the food was perfectly executed, and we had a great turn-out at 47 guests. It was so successful that we are now partnering up with the Atlanta Ballet in March to do the dinner once again, during their THE MAN IN BLACK performance.
What’s and when is your next music dinner? And can you give us a taste of what’ll be on that menu yet?
Our next music dinner will be a New Orleans Mardi Gras dinner that will be held in late February. The music will be jazz tunes. My entree for that dinner will be a cast iron blackened catfish, andouille sausage red beans and rice, shrimp etoufee. My dessert will be sweet potato beignets with house-made butter pecan ice cream.
For more information and reservations, call 404-843-8058 or visit www.meehanssandysprings.com. Meehan’s Public House is located at 227 Sandy Springs Place Atlanta, Ga. 30328.

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Happy Birthday, Elvis! Big Mike Geier’s Top Five Picks for Songs Elvis Would Have Covered Had He Lived

Posted on: Jan 5th, 2012 By:
Elvis Presley was born on Jan. 8, 1935, and while it’s a big unnerving to think about the King of Rock n Roll as a 76-year-old, wouldn’t it have been just grand if he was still enjoying a recording and concert career into the ’70s, ’80s and today? A big part of the fun at the Elvis Royale, the spectacular annual Vegas-style birthday celebration thrown by KingSized and the Dames Aflame, isn’t Big Mike Geier crooning the same old hits but having some fun by speculating “W.W .E.D.?” with audience members submitting requests for song s that they think Elvis would have covered. The band selects their favorite of these requests and plays them as the show’s encore. In honor of this year’s show Sat. Jan. 7 at the Variety Playhouse (doors 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m.), ATLRetro asked Big Mike to recall some of the best “W.W.E.D.?” selections from previous Elvis Royale shows:

 

1. “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
No doubt Elvis would have been a Bruce Springsteen fan with his triumphant lyrics for the blue collar rebel.

 

2. “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)
We’re pretty sure Elvis would have been drawn to the dramatic lyrics and gospel appeal.

 

3. “Under Pressure” (Queen and David Bowie)
Elvis constantly struggled with the pressures of celebrity and also seemed to have compassion for the have-nots.

 

4. “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion)
Elvis loved the melodramatic Broadway tunes, and this theme from TITANIC is just such a tear-jerker.

 

5. “Do You Realize?” (Flaming Lips)
It would have been great to hear Elvis interpret this tune in a recording produced by Rick Rubin a la Johnny Cash’s AMERICAN RECORDINGS.

 

Which songs will Big Mike and the Kingsized crew perform for the “W.W.E.D.?” encore this Saturday?  You’ll just have to come to the show to find out.  Better get your ticket in advance, though.  With this being Big Mike’s last Kingsized performance before he leaves for his residency in Seattle (he is performing in Teatro ZinZanni’s CALIENTE show from February through June), it looks like the show is going to sell out in advance. Get your advance tickets here.
All photos courtesy of KingSized and the Dames Aflame. Photo credit: Emily Butler. 

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