by Melanie Crew
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?
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 need 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.
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.
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.
All photos are courtesy of Rich DeSantis and used with permission.