Barry Zion, aka "Keef Richards," of The Jagged Stones.
Forget the Elvis impersonators. The Rocking Around the Christmas Tree benefit on Sat. Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. treats you to a rarer form of superstar tribute and a delightfully different holiday party courtesy of Nine Inch Neils, who channel Neil Diamond in his ‘70s heyday, and Jagged Stones, whose name should give away the act they idolize that also came of age in the late ’60s/’70s. In addition to two rockin’ fun bands, a humble suggested donation of $10 (kids free) serves up pizza from Mellow Mushroom Decatur, two glasses of beer or wine, free sodas and a dessert bar. There’s also a silent auction including some cool items like a signed movie poster from the TWILIGHT series and an original POWERPUFF GIRLS animation cell from Cartoon Network. Proceeds support the House of the Rock (also the site of the party; 731 Peachtree St., NE, corner of 4th Street) and Lutheran Community Food Ministries, which do amazing work feeding Midtown’s homeless. So if you can, also bring some cans to benefit the food ministry. And parking is free, too.
Last year ATLRetro interviewing Cage, lead singer of Nine Inch Neils, to find out what made him and the band a believer in Neil Diamond. This year, we decided we wouldn’t get no seasonal satisfaction without catching up with Barry Zion, aka Keef Richards, of The Jagged Stones.
ATLRetro: When’s the first time you heard the Rolling Stones and was it love at first listen?
Keef: When I was 13 years old, my older brother turned me onto the GET YER YA-YA’S OUT live album. I had been taking some bass lessons, and the guitar work on that album immediately grabbed me. I can remember playing the Chuck Berry cover “Carol,” about 200 times a day until I developed the strength to do that Keith Richards rhythm. It’s quite a physically challenging thing when you are first learning as it takes all of your fingers, barre technique, pinky strength and solid rhythm with the right hand, plus the added handicap of playing on a $20 acoustic guitar with string height action that was measured in feet rather than millimeters. But thanks to that, it helped me develop some very strong muscles in my left hand. After that it allowed me to focus on the other songs and I wore out that album.
It wasn’t until I was older that I mastered Keith’s tunings and techniques and got closer to his sound, and Mick Taylor‘s fluid lead playing was something that took me years to even understand and is something I am still working on today. Mick Taylor is in my opinion, the most under-rated guitarist in rock, and his time in the Stones is clearly the era that grabbed me the most and that I try to emulate in my playing.
There’s got to be a great story about how you all came together to found a Rolling Stones tribute band?
I had recently relocated to Atlanta from NY/NJ/PA, and I had been frequenting the Atlanta jam scene and been known as “that Allman Brothers guy, that did some Stones too.” Duane Allman and Dickey Betts are other influences on my playing. I was not really interested in being in a band for the usual reasons – low pay, long hours, lots of competition, playing songs you don’t like, smoky bars, etc. One of my jam friends saw on Craigslist an ad for an open audition for a Rolling Stones tribute band, and he dragged me to the tryout. Well, of course, everybody want’s to be Keith, and when I got there, the audition coordinator asked me if I wanted to take the lead guitar spot for the audition. Since I planned on trying out for Mick Taylor’s spot, I quickly set up. I think the first song we played was “Wild Horses,” and I guess I nailed it pretty good and stayed close to the album. Then while another Keith was setting up, Skip [Stephen Skipper, aka Mick Jagger in the band] and I were sitting around, and I started playing “Love In Vain.” The two of us just clicked, and from then on Skip put the pressure on me to be in the band.
Funny we clicked so well, that he asked me which of the Keiths I liked the best, and I told him, that I thought I could do a better Keith than any of the guys that had auditioned. Skip didn’t want to lose me as Mick Taylor, but I assured him that I could backfill a lead guitarist for my slot (Yeah, even back then I had Eddie Brodeur, our current guitarist in mind) and that it was more important to have a strong Keith guitarist in the band. Well, with some hesitation, Skip let me try it, and I guess I did pretty good during that audition and have been Keef ever since then.
Since then Skip and I have become “Soul Brothers,” and we share the same vision on where the band is going. All the guys in the band are the top musicians that I had met from the jam scene. Dave Lang (keyboard/vocals/guitar/harmonica/kitchen sink) and I had met a few months before that at a Kennesaw jam. About a year before that, Eddie Brodeur (lead guitar/Ronnie Woods) and I had met at a Southern Rock theme night jam where without a rehearsal we absolutely clicked. It’s a really rare thing to have two lead guitarists that can leave space for each other and have styles that are different enough yet similar enough for the magic to happen. Eddie is that guy for me. The bass player and drummer took a while to settle in, but Joel Edwards (bass) is one of the most sought after bass players in Atlanta, and he’s a scary good musician that can play just about any style, and also plays drums, keyboard and guitar very well. Frankly I was shocked that he wanted to play in The Jagged Stones. He has, in my opinion, solidified us and carried us over that hump of trying to establish a new band. Martin Abbot was the drummer that same night I played with Eddie at the theme night, and I knew that day that he would be the rock steady drummer to anchor the rhythm section.
Keef Richards (Barry Zion) and Mick (Stephen Skipper) of The Jagged Stones.
How many Rolling Stones tribute bands are out there and where do The Jagged Stones fit in?
We definitely have some competition and that keeps us always trying to improve. I really love The Glimmer Twins from Philadelphia. I’ve seen them on visits I make up north, and they are a vintage 70s Stones band. I think because we are a bit older, we are more of the recent Stones tribute, probably 90s/2000s. The GTs don’t travel much down here, and we don’t travel up there, so I like to think that we are mutually supportive of our respective bands, and territories. Their Mick (Keith Call) and Keith (Bernie Bollendorf) are masters at their craft, and they have a great supporting cast behind them and have been at it for quite some time and are successful at it. I really respect Bernie and the attention he pays to the tunings and the version of the songs they play. I think what sets us apart from the other tributes, is that Skip nails the look and sound of Mick Jagger whereas most of the other tribute bands have a Mick Jagger lookalike, but they don’t sound much like him.
This is your second year doing the Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree show at the House of the Rock with the Nine Inch Neils, right? How did you get involved?
Cage (Neil Diamond from the Nine Inch Neils) was instrumental in getting Skip to go from a karaoke singer to a front man for The Jagged Stones. Last year’s event was really our first “real gig,” and thanks to Cage, we got that gig and met Jon Waterhouse and Pastor Matt. Jon has been a key to our success, and without his support and guidance we would probably not be together, so anything that we can do to help Jon out including playing his charity events we try to do. For me, once I saw what was going on at The HOTR last year, I was just really moved by the people that are involved with the church and the event. It was a real special event for me, and one that I will always remember. I think this year will be even better, as we are now more seasoned, and our current lineup is firing on all cylinders. People have told me that they can see that we all have fun playing the music and that it carries over to the audience.
What can audiences expect from the Jagged Stones at Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree this Saturday? Holiday favorites? Greatest hits?
We always put a lot of thought into our setlist and tailor it to each show. Dave Lang works hard on that and takes in all the parameters of the venue. You will definitely hear all the familiar Stones hits and a few deeper cuts for the Stones aficionado. They have such a vast catalog of hits, [so] it becomes challenging to try and cram them all into the time we have allotted.
Some people might think the event can’t be hip, because it’s at a church. But to us this just tells us the House of the Rock is mighty hip. Tell them why they’re wrong.
As I said above, the event was an incredibly moving experience for me last year. I was surprised that the Church has a state-of-the-art sound system, lighting and a nice size stage for Skip to strut his stuff on. The people who organize and staff the event are cool cats and chicks and are more of the hippie generation, and certainly not that image I had of little old church ladies pulling bingo balls. Pastor Matt is quite a musician himself and has a pretty good band that plays regularly at the HOTR. I live close by and it truly touched me how they are helping the hungry in downtown Atlanta. I have been shopping the whole week for canned food to bring with me and encouraging all our friends to go above the ‘suggested one can of food. Also it’s such a bargain at $10 for two excellent bands, let alone Mellow Mushroom Pizza and two drinks. You’d be hard pressed to find that anywhere around Atlanta.
What’s gives you the most satisfaction about being a Rolling Stone impersonator?
Well if you look up the definition of ‘Rock & Roll’ in a dictionary, there should only be a picture of Keith Richards there. He is Rock & Roll, and what better character could anybody want to portray then Keith?! Lots of people think Keith is not a very good guitar player, but he finished in the #10 spot in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time. I think it’s easy to take him for granted as he is not flashy or incredibly fast or a very innovative kead player. However he is the riff-master. There are only a handful of guitarists that you can identify by their tone, and Keith’s tone is one of those. It doesn’t take more than a few notes to identify a Rolling Stones song on the radio. I try really hard to reproduce the subtleties of his tone by using his tunings, instruments, attack and, of course, dressing up like him and moving around like him.
What’s next for you and the Jagged Stones in terms of gigs? Any recordings?
Recordings are not something I have given much thought to, but Skip has been in the studio recently recording some corporate stuff that needed some Jagger-like vocals. We love playing live and thrive at auditoriums and festivals. Skip has a knack of working a big stage and reaching a big crowd. In addition to the HOTR show, we are really looking forward to our New Years Eve show at The Strand.
What do you do when you are not a Jagged Stone?
Besides sleeping? For fun, I like to take long walks in dimly lit cemetaries. Seriously I enjoy the jam scene around Atlanta, and have a day job that keeps me pretty busy. The joke I have is that I am an “Antique Consultant,” which has its origin in women giving me the usual interrogation to assess my datability quotient:
Woman: What’s your name?
Woman: What do you do?
Me (over loud music): IT Consulting,
Woman, yelling: Wow that’s so interesting. Have you ever been on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW???
Me: No, not antiques. IT like computers.
Woman: Oh ok, cya.
So I learned to just go with the antiques and say I speacialize in Queen Anne chairs, and the interrogation proceeds a few more questions, before the woman leaves.