Kool Kat of the Week: Living a Real Life Tom T. Hall Song with Cletis Reid

Posted on: Jun 14th, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Cletis Reid.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

When I first began frequenting the Star Community Bar in L5P in the early ’90s, like so many locals, I couldn’t get enough of the amazing selection of country and rockabilly bands that were being booked there. The excitement was consistent and palpable—we were starved for “it.” Late weekend nights, we clambered for more—even demanded more. Before long it came to my attention that a notable battle-cry had developed. “Alright God-damn-it!” would holler a couple of kids from up front. They clearly had a feel for the real thing ’cause if the show was good they were there and raisin’ a ruckus. “More!!!” Young Cletis Reid knew what he wanted to hear and had no compunctions about making it known.

Now Cletis has his own band, Cletis and his City Cousins, and since they just released a new CD, CITY COUSINS MOVIN’ IN, and are playing this Fri June 15, at The Earl, ATLRetro thought it was a great time to make him Kool Kat of the Week. Make sure you get out because the 9 p.m.-starting show is a mere $10 and they’re sharing the stage with three other ATLRetro favorites, Three Bad JacksHot Rod Walt and The Psycho-DeVilles and Whiskey Dick. 

TORCHY TABOO: I know you grew up in M’retta…how’d you end up at the Star Bar yelling for encores from Redneck Underground greats?

CLETIS REID: In 1992, I saw The Blacktop Rockets play with a band called Donkey at The Roxy in Buckhead, and I basically hauled ass down this path of riches and fame. I had been listening to country music my whole life but never saw people only a little older than me play it before.

I remember The Hepburns with you and your brother Ryan—you were just kids. What was it like being a “child prodigy”? 

The Hepburns is kind of a blur simply because it went from an idea on one of those crazy Stein Club Mondays to kaput within a year, yet we recorded an EP, had heavy airplay on Album 88, did Live at WREK, had an article in The Loaf and Stomp and Stammer, and played a sold-out Point opening for Kelly Hogan. It was like being hit by a truck since, yeah, it was my first “normal” band. I thought it would always go that fast. It went out with a keg on Morgan Road in Marietta.

Photo courtesy of Cletis Reid.

So seeing bands like Backtop Rockets and The Vidalias put the country music of the 1960s and ’70s and earlier into a current and personal context for you. Was it easy to find like-minded people to play with before the Redneck Underground?

Always easy. It was easy when I started out because none of us knew what the hell we were trying to do anyway. I didn’t really develop that direction until Redneck Underground was already a term.  I never identified myself with the Redneck Underground name, just kinda got identified with it through association. I never went through the official hazing ritual with the Witches of the Ozarks. By the time the RU came around, I was surrounded by like minded people all the time. Still am.

I know what Hank III thinks of current mainstream “country’” music. I know what I think of it. What do you think of it?

First of all, I would never call it country. When you say you love country music in my circles, people know what you mean. If I say that out in the real world, people think you mean something totally different and will ask you what you think of the new Taylor Swift record. “I haven’t heard the [___], sir.” But to answer your question I think it should be “mainstreamed” up Toby Keith‘s …..[the terminology gets musically "technical" here...we'll spare the reader.]

Who was your first rockabilly band, and don’t I recall you on stand-up bass?

The first “rockabilly” band I played with was Flathead Mike and the Mercurys, which was kind of a rockabilly turned up to 11. I was just starting out on upright bass. Definitely hard to keep up with those monkeys at that time. Soon after started playing upright with Caroline and the Ramblers which was a new experience. Already established, total professionals, and more traditional in their sound. I played with them for eight years and learned a lot. Caroline has a new CD out, by the way. I’m her agent. Starting now.

Your band The Holy Smokes brought us the timeless and technical favorite “Hubble Space Telescope,” as I recall.

Hard to remember exact years, but around 2000, I started The Holy Smokes with my buddies Bill Quigley and Mark Griffiths, and a revolving door of drummers. I figured I was ready to front a band. We did a few originals and a number of covers of Sun Records-era rockabilly. That song was written for a Monday night songwriter thing at the Star Bar. I think we may have played it once with The Snakehandlers (another band I was in), but that’s about it. I didn’t have it written down and accidentally forgot it. I remember the relevant part. I guess I could always write some new crap around that.

Tell us about your current band, Cletis and his City Cousins?

After everybody moved away on me, after a couple of years I asked my buddy Johnny McGowan to help me out and it turned into Cletis and his City Cousins around 2002. It evolved into more of a ’60s or ’70s trucking vibe, which seemed like the natural order of things.

For the erudition of the general public, why truckin’ songs?

Truckers to me have always been the cool, loner guys. I would go on vacations with my grandparents as a young kid and we would roll into this truckstop diner around foggy sun-up, and I thought all these guys were living a real life Smokey and The Bandit or Tom T. Hall song, and in a way they were. Those old truck-driving songs have a way of painting a picture of that life that I could never do in sentences. Always felt I could relate to them in a sense. Plus, all my Trapper Keepers [Marietta-speak for school notebook] had some rigs with some sweet sleepers on them. Wanted to live in one.  I got a CB for Christmas one year. My handle was “Honkey See, Honkey Do.” I guess it still is if I ever get another one.  [if?!]

The Cousins frame the talents of Johnny McGowan, and the chemistry seems perfect.

Johnny and I were friends from his early days in the Blacktop Rockets when we raised a little hell at Sleazefest ’97. When I needed somebody to play with after the great Exodus of ’02, he was a no-brainer. Even then he had some of the craziest chops in town. We would set up for hours on end in his basement and record stuff until we were plain sick of each other, and eventually it became a natural working relationship. He and I actually plan on releasing some of those early basement recordings some day. He’s the best musical mind I know, and the only guy I know who can play a Jerry Reed-type run exactly the way we need it done. Turned out we wrote well together too. It hasn’t always been sunshine and teacups, but I’ve never had a second thought about calling him up. Throw in Blake and Hammer, and I can’t imagine a more perfect band for me.

It’s been predicted that “The Man Behind the Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel” will top the charts as a single. Say something about the new CD to entice the Fans.

First off, it’s very shiny. Secondly, it’s been in the works since the Vietnam era, and finally, $10 is a small price to pay for the most staggering achievement in the annals of human endeavor. CD is called CITY COUSINS MOVIN’ IN. [Buy it or they will. Ed's note: Watch out for an ATLRetro review coming soon.]

To close, I asked Cletis the ubiquitous question, “where’d  the name ‘Cletis and the City Cousins’ come from?” But it was the top of the Ninth, and an answer nearly as dismissive as “Woman, get me a beer” told me my magic moment with the rising star was done. “I just came up with it off the top of my head as just something to call it and it ended up sticking,” he said. ” need to come up with a more exciting story for my next interview.”

Yes. Well, the truth is Cletis Reid sees himself as that guy all Southern people have in their family so the name is a straightforward description of sorts. That is, if they all had a notorious biting wit for remarks such as, “If there was any justice in this world, URBAN COWBOY would be thought of in the same way people think of CITIZEN KANE.”

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Day the Music Lives Again: Celebrating Deacon Lunchbox and Benjamin Sat. Night Jan. 28 at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 27th, 2012 By:

This Saturday night Jan. 28 at the Plaza Theatre, redneck street poet laureate Deacon Lunchbox will live again at the The Love that Won’t Shut Up Memorial Show and Screening: A celebration of the lives, loves, music and friends of Benjamin and Deacon Lunchbox.” If you say, “who?” then shame on you; it’s time to get educated and why we’re declaring Deacon our first posthumous Kool Kat.

For Atlanta’s Cabbagetown alt-music scene, the April 1992 auto accident that cut short the lives of Timothy Tyson Ruttenber, aka Deacon Lunchbox, drummer Rob Clayton and bassist Robert Hayes of the incredible Jody Grind was the Day the Music Died—as impactful as the plane crash that stole away Buddy Hollen. Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper was to a nation falling in love with rock ‘n’ roll in 1959. The Jody Grind was on the cusp of a national breakthrough and had been featured recently in Rolling Stone. Deacon Lunchbox coined the term “Redneck Underground” and had a crazy style all his own that went beyond performance artist and street poet and was, well… Cabbagetown personified and then some. The Sat. night event at the Plaza also honors Benjamin Smoke, the marvelously manic cross-dressing lead vocalist of Smoke and the Opal Foxx Quartet whose life was cut too short by hepatitis C in 1999. If you don’t know about Deacon, Benjamin and how pivotal the Cabbagetown art/music scene was back in the late 1980s/’90s, Creative Loafing wrote a great piece about it in the June 24, 2010 issue called “The Triumph and Tragedy of the Cabbagetown Sound.” The article was composed as an oral history featuring interviews with more than a dozen people who were part of that scene.

The Plaza event includes screenings of the short film, LAWRENCE OF LAWRENCEVILLE HIGHWAY by Neil Fried, which starred Deacon, and the documentary BENJAMIN SMOKE (2000) by Jem Cohen and Pete Sillen, as well as an amazing line-up of Atlanta independent music scene  veterans who were collaborators and friends with Deacon and Benjamin including Smoke That City, Debbey Richardson, Slim Chance and many others. The Jody Grind’s lead vocalist Kelly Hogan even is coming down from Chicago. And you know the Deacon Lunchbox set by Jim Stacy (AM Gold, Grand Moff Tarkin, GreasePaint, LaBrea Stompers, Pallookaville, Starlight Drive-In, etc.) will be something to behold. We hope the rumors are true  that he’ll be doing a choice selection of Deacon’s signature Atlanta-inspired numbers such as “Omni Beer” and “Lewis Grizzard, I’m Calling You Out!” Amazingly this whole crazy shindig is just $10, with proceeds supporting the nonprofit Plaza. Think about dropping a little extra at the door, though, because independent cinemas like the Plaza are having a really rough time right now and we don’t want to be singing about the Day the Movies Died in Atlanta, too. As Deacon would say, “Brown bag it Ladies and Gents!”

ATLRetro asked Jim Stacy to share a few personal memories of Deacon, one Kool Kat that Cabbagetown and Atlanta lost way too soon. If you have any stories to share about Deacon, drop us a line at atlretro@gmail.com and we’ll add them to this feature, too. Hope to see you Saturday at the Plaza when the South may not rise again, but Cabbagetown sure will.

ATLRetro: In your opinion, what was special about Deacon Lunchbox?

Jim Stacy: For me he was like an older brother or uncle. He was, for sure, one of my heroes. He was the first time I had seen someone craft a persona that was more than just a performance foil. He was Tim, but Deacon was larger than Tim. Deacon could be more outspoken because he was a character. Now that’s not to say that Deacon wasn’t Tim and Tim wasn’t Deacon; it’s just Deacon amplified whatever Tim needed to say. I was really influenced by this process. I’ve spent my career inventing persona after persona to do the same thing. I think being able to provide a voice from a Character rather than “a Guy” allows for much more concise points to be made, in a shorter time, with no questions. It works like this: Here’s this guy on stage, he looks like this, he said this, he did this, this is what I think about what he just did and said.

Deacon, it was almost a cartoon of Tim. Though he looked and acted like Tim, when he put on the “Deacon” persona, the audience didn’t have to get to know the performer, they only needed to get to know Deacon, listen to what he said and then viscerally react. That all can happen through a Character. It’s no different than Alice Cooper or Ziggy Stardust. I just didn’t know it could be done by regular people.

Do you have a favorite memory/story about Deacon?

I have tons, but the most special is not really the most fun. Deacon called me either before or after the last show the day they were killed. He always started the conversation with, “FUCK YOU!” I don’t remember when. He called asking if I wanted to do another Psycholympics with him at the old Cotton Club. Told me we’d talk more after he got home. It was sometime later I got the call Robert, Robert and Deacon had been killed.

I still have a random dream where an old dial phone will ring and I’ll pick it up and someone will yell “FUCK YOU!” out of it.

Before the wreck, during Desert Storm I, he called me, telling me I had been drafted and hadn’t shown up at my induction. Told me that a car would be pulling up to “Get your pansy ass ready to serve your Country.” He had me convinced for 15 minutes I was going in the Army that night.

What will you be doing Sat. night at The Love That Won’t Shut Up Memorial?

I’ll be doing a few Deacon numbers as Deacon on some of Deacon’s props. It will be a pale substitute for the real thing. Pale indeed.

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Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20

Posted on: May 26th, 2011 By:

Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend may be a lot bigger and more famous, but down home here in Atlanta, the heartland of the Redneck Underground, we have our own mighty fine shindig called Bubbapalooza. Like all good and crazy ideas, it started with a man with a dream. Gregory Dean Smalley was a prolific guitarist and songwriter who settled in Cabbagetown and used to play in one band or another practically every night in Atlanta and Athens bars and clubs until he succumbed to AIDS in the mid-‘90s.

While Greg’s physical presence may have passed away, his no-holds-barred musical soul still burns brightly every Memorial Day weekend at the Star Bar. It’s hard to believe that Bubbapalooza is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and yet to anyone who’s been in the Atlanta scene for any amount of time, it seems impossible to imagine that there ever

Ghost Riders Car Club

was a time when it didn’t happened. On Friday May 27 (doors at 7 PM) and Saturday May 28 (doors at 3 PM), feast on BBQ, knock down a PBR, see some of the city’s most lovingly restored pre-‘70s hot-rods and rock and ramble to 20 rockabilly, Redneck Underground, cowpunk, surf and county-inspired bands, as well as have a chance to win prizes from Little 5 Points retailers in a raffle and have your 20th anniversary picture taken at the PBR Photo Booth.

ATLRetro caught up with Star Bar Booking Agent Bryan Malone (The Forty-Fives) and Ted Weldon (Truckadelic, Ghost Riders Car Club) for a sneak preview.

Bubbapalooza 20 is dedicated to Gregory Dean Smalley who founded the first Bubbapalooza and raffle proceeds go to his family. For those who haven’t been in Atlanta that long, can you briefly recap who he was and how Bubbapalooza got started and got its name?

Blacktop Rockets

Greg Smalley came down from Cedartown GA. in the ‘80s and was a founding member of The Grease Guns, The Diggers and The Bubbamatics and played with The Chant, Blacktop Rockets, Slim Chance & the Convicts & who else?

He played with Amy Pike, Kelly Hogan and several more. God, everyone from those days. But, yeah, Bubbapalooza was his bastard love child from the early days of 1991. It started as a festival to showcase the Redneck Underground which was a bunch of bands from the Atlanta/Athens area and even North Carolina. Plus it was to celebrate the early Star Bar’s trailer trash extravaganza of bad ideas & all things southern. It was a great excuse to have a show where all your friends play a bunch of rowdy songs & drink all night.

There’s more bands than we could even mention that have played Bubba, but here are a few: Southern Culture on the Skids, Deacon Lunchbox, Drive-By Truckers (they have a song about Greg Smalley called “The Living Bubba”), Kevn Kinney, Dex Romweber, BR-549, The Delta Angels, Kingsized, Truckadelic, Charlie Pickett, Redneck Greece Delux, Slim Chance & the Convicts, The Belmont Playboys, Greasepaint, Rocket 350. This list could go on and on.

Every year seems like a big family reunion for Atlanta’s rockabilly/Redneck Underground/old Star Bar scene crowd. Having hit a milestone 20th year this year, do you think it’ll be even more so?

 

A ton of the bands that are playing this year were actually onstage during the first Bubbapalooza, so yeah it is most definitely a homecoming. There will be a lot of friends and family all weekend and the kind of familiar faces that you only see at certain shows or in some cases just this one time of year. Even Mama Smalley will be here also to oversee the proceedings.

Are you doing anything special for the 20th year?

Hahahaha. The big thing is we’re still doing it 20 years later. That’s pretty crazy. It’s unbelievable having a get-together like this that’s lasted that long. It kind of says something about the crowd that was here at the very beginning, as well as all those who’ve joined in over the years. You can count on three things these days: Death, taxes & Bubbapalooza. Hahaha.

But, yeah, we have 20 bands this year, enough bands for a three-day festival. It’s gonna be a great mix of the regulars like the Blacktop Rockets, Caroline & the Ramblers, The Billygoats, plus a whole bunch of newcomers this year like Bareknuckle Betties & Uncle Daddy & the Kissin Cousins, Midway Charmers & some crazy surf from the Disasternauts, too. There’s so much music we’re even having bands downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge and tons of stuff on the back patio as well.

[Web-based radio station] Garage 71 is hosting a pre-1970 hot rod car show on Saturday. We’re expecting 20 or 30 entries for that. Oh, yeah, and there’ll be free Slope’s BBQ Saturday afternoon. Haha. It’s just gonna be a big old helping of Bubba hyjinks.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Redneck Cruise-In Hot Rod Show?

The car show will be hosted by Garage71. All the cars and motorcycles will be pre-1970. That will be Saturday afternoon starting at 5 PM. There’ll be some cool stuff down here for sure. There’s a trophy, too, I hear, so someone will drive out a winner of something to brag about. Not sure what the trophy looks like, but I’m sure it’ll come with something greasy like a bucket of chicken. Anything’s possible.

Uncle Daddy & the Kissin' Cousins

Expect a healthy dose of good country music, rockabilly, country-punk, southern rock, surf bands, hot rods, BBQ and a whole lot of good times and cold beer. You don’t necessarily have to drink PBR but it sure helps. Helps with most things really. Ha.

This is the kind of event that could really only happen at the Star Bar though, and it’ll be full of people who like good country and rockabilly music and are ready to let loose for Memorial Day weekend. Every year someone comes up and says ”Happy Bubba” and makes a toast. It’s down-home stuff.

Sonoramic Commando

What’s the craziest, funnest thing that’s ever happened at a Bubbapalooza?

One of the funnest things that happens every year is when the stage is packed with about 40 people for a drunken rousing rendition of “She’s Breakin My Heart While I’m Drinkin’ Her Beer”—the old Diggers tune. It’s always brings down the house and is quite a moment.

What question did I not ask you that I should have and what’s the answer?

What’s a bad idea that became a tradition? Boone’s Farm Saturday.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Time-Traveling with Torchy Taboo to the Roots of the Neo-Burlesque Revival in Atlanta

Posted on: Mar 10th, 2011 By:

Ask anyone in Atlanta’s neo-burlesque scene who started it here, and one name inevitably comes up— Eve “Torchy Taboo” Warren. She’s been dubbed the “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” and nothing seems more natural than her hosting the Dirty South Burlesque Showcase, a late-night cabaret on Saturday night for some of the best regional performers, one of several star-studded performance events at this weekend’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest [read ATLRetro’s preview here].

With all the burlesque troupes and production companies performing here now, it’s hard to imagine that just 16 years ago, none of that existed. While Atlanta was home to one of the nation’s largest collections of adult entertainment venues, those venues had long ago left behind any appreciation of the art of the tease. Among all the stagnant bump and grind for big bucks, however, one dancer had a dream.

This red-haired 5-foot-nothing Rita Hayworth lookalike never had been an ordinary stripper. When she wasn’t dancing, she was vagabonding across Europe, performing at drag shows at The Sports Page, studying art history, sipping Polynesian cocktails, waxing poetically about corndogs and jitterbugging to rockabilly bands at the Star Bar. That’s how I met her in 1995 through my friend “Go-Go” Max Bernardi, another Star Bar regular and a singer, painter and performance artist whose artwork and acts were often seen at 800 East, an Inman Park warehouse that at the time was a haven for the city’s alternative creative scene.

The cast of Go-Go and Torchy's Taboo Revue including Eve "Torchy Taboo" Warren, "Go-Go Max" Bernardi, Wanda Baker, Tim Monteith, Ivy Godiva, Dave Olsen and the Queen Bee. Photo credit: April Stevens

Together, Eve and Max cooked up this crazy idea to put on a tribute to the burlesque variety shows of the mid-20th century which they would come to call GO-GO AND TORCHY’S TABOO REVUE. It took place at the Catch City Club, next to Center Stage in Midtown, on October 14-15, 1995, and included many top players in Atlanta’s burgeoning rockabilly, lounge and performance art scene. Useless Playboys former front man “Big Mike” Geier even returned to Atlanta from Richmond, Va., to emcee. Later on he’d found some band called Kingsized and perform with a neo-burlesque company called Dames Aflame, which incidentally also was founded by Torchy Taboo. Another reason why it’s only fittin’ that Big Mike will be hosting and the Dames Aflame are special guests at the FreeRange Burlesque Show Friday night at Southern Fried.

“Go-Go” Max Bernardi clowns in her cowboy boots before her Taboo Revue opening number as Cleopatra.

Kelly Hogan (The Jody Grind, Rock*A*Teens), Wanda Baker (Bleu Velveeta) and Dave Olsen (Atlanta rockabilly swing icons The Lost Continentals) sang solo numbers, and almost every number was performed live by a seven-member lounge band, featuring Olson and other members of The Lost Continentals. Dashing up-and-coming illusionist, Christopher Tracy, provided magic, and Ivy Godiva, the weekly guest star of the then-infamous Go-Go Rama dances at the Star Bar, delivered laughs as his ravishingly redneck assistant, as well as a red-hot striptease to a revved-up rockabilly version of Dion and the Belmonts’ “Ruby Baby.” Puppeteer Tim Monteith boogied woogied as all three Andrews Sisters; he still regularly performs at Syrens of the South and other local shows and is competing in the first annual Southern Fried Burlesque Pageant earlier on Saturday night. In an artistic interlude, modern dancers Anik Keuller and Sonya Sconiers re-interpreted the Greek myth of Persephone without removing a stitch. And a certain ATLRetro writer/editor danced and sang as a 1920s art deco Bumble Bee Queen, with Bee-ettes “Saasha Foo” Wilson, hostess to many of 800 East’s zany variety shows, and her friend and fellow disco dancer Faith Farley.

Read the rest of this entry »

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