Kool Kats of the Week: Nashville’s Blackfoot Gypsies Are Out to Prove Rock’s Not Dead by Blastin’ Out Their Raw and Modern Twist on ‘60s and ‘70s-style Rock, Country ‘n’ Delta Blues at The 120 Tavern & Music Hall

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2015 By:

by Melanie CrewBFG logo2
Managing Editor

Nashvilles’s Blackfoot Gypsies will make a rockin’ pit stop in Atlanta during their Winter 2015 Tour, opening for old-school folk, rock ‘n’ alt-country punkers, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and fellow Nashville rocker, Warner E. Hodges of Jason & the Scorchers at The 120 Tavern & Music Hall in Marietta, this Saturday, Feb. 21 at 8 pm! If you’re looking for a fresh sound harkening back to the days of classic rock ‘n’ blues, come on down for the ruckus that will being goin’ down this Saturday night at The 120 Tavern & Music Hall!

Blackfoot Gypsies, hailing from Music City USA and formed by Matthew Paige (vocals/guitar) and Zack Murphy (drums) in 2010 have expanded into the rock outfit they are today with the addition of Dylan Whitlow (vocals/bass) and Ollie Dogg (harmonica). The band’s just a few short months shy of releasing their new LP, HANDLE IT (April 2015), put out by Nashville’s famed genre-bending, Plowboy Records! “Under My Skin,” their first single from HANDLE IT was released Jan. 2015 and will soon be made into their first music video for the LP. And if that wasn’t enough, after delving into their deep grooves and rockin’ riffs, you’ll just have to get your grimy little hands on the band’s earlier releases [2010’s EP BLACK GYPSIES – self-released; 2011’s EP DANDEE CHEESEBALL – self-released; 2012’s LP ON THE LOOSE– self-released; and 2013’s Limited 7” “The New Sounds of TransWestern” – released by Fat Elvis Records). Blackfoot Gypsies headlined the Muddy Roots Music Festival in 2013 and have shared bills with Alabama Shakes, Trampled by Turtles and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Catch ‘em while you can, because these fellas are on a rockin’ voyage with no end in sight!

ATLRetro caught up with Paige and Murphy for a quick interview about the band’s retro rock influences; their upcoming LP “Handle It”; Nashville’s music scene; and their take on the current state of Rock ‘n’ Roll!

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Paige and Murphy, why not take a peek at the Blackfoot Gypsies and their Jan. 9, 2014 live recording on Nashville’s The Written Record: Sessions at Electric Kite Studio <here> and get an earful of their news single off their soon-to-be released LP, “Under My Skin.

L-R: Matthew Paige, Dylan Whitlow, Zack Murphy, Ollie Dogg

L-R: Matthew Paige, Dylan Whitlow, Zack Murphy, Ollie Dogg

ATLRetro: So what’s the secret origin story of the Blackfoot Gypsies and how did you get your name?

Paige: The secret is a secret, so I’ll tell you a lie that may be the truth. When you’re from nowhere and you’re headed to the same place, you grab hold of all the resources you can. You hold onto your friends until they become family — generating a channel of common earthly vibrations that are streamed into a concentrated beam that transforms your world, if even for a minute, to a plane of love and understanding within our hilarious existence. The Blackfoot Gypsies are a distraction for your distractions that are distracting you from your passion. We’ve developed a unique walk as we tread down many over-walked paths, garnering us blackfeet, while our gypsy eyes are transfixed on the present. Travel till you die. Home is for the birds. Smoke on that for a while.

Murphy: We got our name from the cosmos. There are no secrets within the cosmos, only our naked truths of the origin of all nature.

You’ve listed the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Faces and MC5 among your top influences. All of these were founded in the ’60s, which it’s hard to believe is 50 years ago. Why do you think these acts and musicians have stayed relevant for so long? Are they the Beethovens of the 20th century?

Paige: They had a similar approach to living the music, not just playing it, that we do. It feels so pure. They were pushing their limits to reach the world — expressing their lives and having people connect over it. That’s all we’re really looking for after all, a genuine connection. It’s magic when it happens, and it happens around magic. Real, live music is magic.

Murphy: There’s only one Beethoven. There’s no need for any more Beethovens. The Stones, Dylan, Faces & MC5 are definitely all influences. They’ve stayed relevant because of their uniqueness. There’s no need to have another Stones, Dylan, Faces, MC5, etc… They did it right the first time. You can’t top the original. So, while they’re our influences, we aim to keep our music unique to us. There’s only one Blackfoot Gypsies, the world only needs one because nobody does us better than we do.

Dylan really evolved throughout his long career from folk to rock. His 70s work, especially “Blood on the Tracks,” is seminal to us. What’s his

L-R: Ollie Dogg, Dylan Whitlow, Matthew Paige, Zack Murphy

L-R: Ollie Dogg, Dylan Whitlow, Matthew Paige, Zack Murphy

key period (or album/song) for you and why?

Paige: The period where he transformed from trying to be someone else into just being as radically himself as he could be. He lived how we should all live our lives: copy the masters that teach you your art and then harness the power that is you, and let yourself explode.

Murphy: I don’t have a favorite. All of it is amazing, but most of all I love that he is still doin’ it and keepin’ it fresh. There’s no reason to stop, and because he hasn’t stop he’s stayed relevant; and is not a throwback act. Bob Dylan is still exciting.

We’ve talked about influences, but you also have a very fresh sound which merges roots, blues and we’ve even heard “Zeppelin.” Who else is on your key “retro” listening list? Do you think rock music still has some places to go and how do you keep your sound fresh and vibrant?

Paige: Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter. People with soul. Real rock n’ roll is just a code for truly visceral music. Soul doesn’t go out of style, and when you put a fat slab of soul on something real, and then you have it IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE! That’s as fresh as it gets. Yesterday, today AND tomorrow. I’m not sure music goes anywhere; it’s just a part of us. And, it’s fun to get excited about it.

Murphy: Anything visceral is on my listening list. It doesn’t have to be retro. It could be new hip hop. Rock music can always go new places. The best way to sound fresh and vibrant is to be you and not worry about the rules.

ZM, DW, DO, MP

Zack Murphy, Dylan Whitlow, Ollie Dogg, Matthew Paige

You’re touring in support of your latest album, “On the Loose.” What would you like people to know about it?

Paige: It’s a fun record, capturing a great place and time. We did all of it on 2-inch tape, so the vinyl sounds especially tasty. It’s got a good vibe and the songs lay a good base for where we plan on visiting with our next records. I’m proud of it still, and I wouldn’t change a thing on it.

Murphy: “On the Loose” is an album that I’m very proud of. Matthew and I were just gettin’ our sound and new line-up together. I think it was a great first step out into the world of album-making for us. We love playin’ these songs, but “On the Loose” has become part of the template for the live show. Come see a show. Buy an album. Get in our van…

And you’ve just scored a deal with Plowboy Records for your next LP, HANDLE IT. Tell us about that.

Paige: Plowboy Records honors the past, but in a relevant way. It was a no-brainer to go with them. Everything they stand for. I find myself saying, “Yeah, that’s right! Me too!” They’ll be putting out our next album HANDLE IT (out Apr. 14) on vinyl record and CD. We’re really excited for the world to hear it. I know a guy who makes fake platinum records, and I’m going to send one to my mom. I’m pretty sure she’ll fall for it.

Murphy: Plowboy Records are a natural fit for us. They are based in Nashville and are very much into the same stuff we are. HANDLE IT is the BFG logonext step. I’m also very proud of this album. It is a total natural evolution from our previous releases and I can’t wait to get this album out into the world. We’re playin’ the songs out live too. So, once again, come out and see the show.

Nashville is Music City and many folks think about country, but plenty of great rock bands have emerged from it. What’s it like to be a rock band in a country town right now? Any other Nashville bands we should be looking out for?

Paige: Nashville’s been the host to great musicians of all genres for a long time, although country is the popular one here. But, the cool thing about the “rock” bands here is that if you slowed them down, and mellowed them out, more often than not it’s basically country music, and I love it! I like to think of ourselves as more of an energetic, eclectic band of stray dog people. Bands I like to see in town are Margo Price, Justin Collins, Ranch Ghost; any band with soul. There’s a lot going on around here.

Murphy: Nashville has always had good rock ‘n’ roll; people are just now talking about it. Outside of the Music Row modern bro-country stuff, REAL country music is actually pretty damn similar to REAL rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t know how or why people always forget that, but we’re happy to remind them that good music is just good music, no need to read between the lines.

Show PosterDo you have anything special planned for the Atlanta stop on your tour?

Paige: We’ll be shooting a music video, for the first single off HANDLE IT. We have some of our Atlanta friends coming out to be in it with us. I’m predicting lots of fun and nudity, but who knows. I’d really like to go to Manuel’s and get glared at over a beer. We’re also looking for the best donut in town. You know the place? Let’s do it!

Murphy: We’re gonna shoot that video and tear up the town. We haven’t played with Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, but we’re pretty damn stoked to be doin’ that. I’m sure something special will happen. The most special things are rarely planned.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview but they never do and what’s the answer?

Paige: Interviewer: “Can I please buy you dinner and our new, soon-to-be, matching big bird tattoos?” Me: “Yes.”

Murphy: Interviewer: “Would you like a drink?”  Me – “Yes.”

All photos courtesy of Blackfoot Gypsies and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Genre-Bending, Vintage Rock ‘n’ Roll Slingin’, Nashville Soul Revivalist, Will Stewart of Willie and the Giant, has Rhythm, So Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Posted on: Oct 14th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/
Contributing Writer

L-R Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor, Will Stewart. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

L-R Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor, Will Stewart. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

Willie and the Giant, vintage rock ‘n’ roll slingers will be takin’ Atlanta by storm at Smith’s Olde Bar this Saturday, Oct. 18 on their tour through the South! Their newly pressed 7-inch vinyl, debuting two singles reeking of nostalgia, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and “Poor Boy,” both cut and recorded live at the ever comfy and throwback studio, Welcome to 1979, will be up for grabs! So, rock out, get a whole lotta rhythm, shake a tail feather and don’t forget to snag up a 7-inch or two! Acoustic folk and blues duo, Alex & Todd are along for the rhythmic ride, so come on down for a rockin’ retro ruckus this Saturday night at Smith’s Olde Bar!

Willie and the Giant, musical sons of Nashville and Birmingham, is made up of Will Stewart (vocals/guitar), Jon “The Giant” Poor (vocals/guitar), Grant Prettyman (bass) and Mac Kramer (drums). Not only has the group released two new singles, but a self-titled album is on the horizon for 2015, with their brand new label, Cumberland Brothers Music, run by Nick Worley, the band’s producer and engineer.The new album will be filled to the brim with an explosion of sounds with nods to American roots rock, ‘70s funk and more! Willie and the Giant, bathing in the blood, sweat and tears of vintage rock ‘n’ roll, are groovin’ to the top and have no plans to slow the momentum any time soon!

ATLRetro caught up with Stewart, for a quick interview about Willie and the Giant’s headfirst dive into rock ‘n’ roll, their new singles and record deal with Cumberland Brothers Music and their aversion to music labels and genres.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Stewart, take a listen to Willie and the Giant’s “Ain’t Gonna Wait”/”Poor Boy” single, here.

ATLRetro: Can you tell folks how you found the “Giant” and the rest of your band-mates and what brought you guys together?

Will Stewart: I moved from Birmingham to Nashville in November 2012. By coincidence, Jon Poor (“Giant”) and Mac Kramer (drums) moved from Birmingham to Nashville at the exact same time (We didn’t know each other while living in Birmingham.) They moved into a house with my then-bandmate Nick (also a Birmingham transplant), and that’s how we eventually met. The rest, as they say, is history.

There’s got to be a story behind the band’s name. Can you fill our readers in?

Photo Credit: Jack Smith

Photo Credit: Jack Smith

My height is pretty average and Jon is 6’5″ on a good day. There’s a video of us playing a show a few years back in which the camera exaggerates his height and has the opposite effect for my height. We thought it was hilarious and jokingly said, “Willie and the Giant!” When we formed the band, that name immediately came to mind as the obvious choice for the band name. We also think the “Giant” is a nice metaphor for our monster rhythm section – it could go a few different ways I suppose.

Can you tell folks a little about your debut singles, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and “Poor Boy,” released this past September?

These two tunes just go really well together. I wrote these when I first moved to Nashville in late 2012, before the formation of WATG but thought they would fit into the set we were building in the early months of the band. I was listening to a lot of songs from the early/mid-sixties Chess Records and Atlantic Records R&B catalogs and almost every song seemed to be about breaking-up or falling in/out of love. So these tunes were sort of born out of that period of listening – it’s a tip of the hat musically and lyrically to that era.   

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Jon Poor, Grant Pettyman. Photo Credit: Sarah Sellari

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Jon Poor, Grant Prettyman. Photo Credit: Sarah Sellari

Any special tricks on snagging the jazzy award-winning, The Chad Fisher Group, known for backing Greg Allman, and legendary groups, like The Temptations, The O’Jays and the Four Tops, for your debut singles?

Well, being from Birmingham, we had nothing but respect and admiration for Chad Fisher – he’s an institution in Birmingham and when we decided to use horns on these two tracks we knew immediately that we wanted Chad Fisher Horns to play and arrange the parts. 

How exciting to not only get offered a rockin’ record deal, but to be the first group to sign with the new label, Cumberland Brothers Music. Can you tell folks a little about how you were discovered?

It’s incredibly exciting and we’re all very grateful to be part of the Cumberland Brothers family. Nick Worley and I met in late 2012. We shared very similar tastes in music, so I approached him about recording some demos in early 2013. After that we continued working on other projects and some months passed. Later, I got a call one day from Nick saying that he was starting a label and wanted me to be a part of it. As a musician, it’s one of those things you always fantasize about, so when it actually happened I was just thrilled and very grateful for the opportunity.

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Grant Pettyman, Jon Poor. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Jon Poor. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

How would you, as a musician, describe your band’s sound? Willie and the Giant has been described as being like, “M. Ward fronting a Memphis soul revue,” groove rock and a vintage soul revival. Was this intentional, or did it just happen?

People are going to throw around labels and genres pretty loosely, that’s just how it is. Obviously, our first two singles are our interpretation of early American R&B, so we’ve heard the “soul” thing quite a bit (not that that’s a bad thing). That said, our forthcoming full-length and live show is a smattering (word of the day!) of American roots and rock to British invasion to 70s funk to modern indie and pop. So I’m going to stop short of labeling and just let folks listen and decide for themselves. Ultimately we want to be a band whose music is very difficult to label.

Who are some of your favorite vintage performers and influences?

I’ll just keep this pre-1965: Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, The Impressions, Solomon Burke, Elvis, James Brown, the Stones, Dylan, Sam Cooke and on and on.

Can you tell our readers a little about your upcoming debut album and when they’ll be able to snag ‘em up?

We’re actually right in the middle of mixing the full-length and hoping for an early 2015 release. But again, it’s kind of hard to describe the sound because it covers a lot of ground. We’re just so excited that this is becoming a reality and can’t wait to share it with everyone. 

L-R Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor.

L-R Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor.

What brings you southern guys even further south, way down into Atlanta?

Our bassist (Grant) is from Atlanta, so we have some roots there. I have some close friends there and we always have a hell of a time playing in Atlanta – we’re looking forward to the show next week!

Any special plans for your show at Smith’s Olde Bar this Saturday?

Nothing too crazy, just playing a ton of new tunes. We’ll also have our newly pressed 7-inch vinyl and t-shirts in tow (We accept cash and all major credit cards!)

What’s next for Willie and the Giant?

We’re going to be hitting the road as much as possible for the next two to three months, leading up to the release of the debut full-length album. Playing live is what we get off on – so that’s always going to be front and center for us as a band.

All photographs are courtesy of Will Stewart/Willie and the Giant and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: MidCentury Home for the Holidays: Persephone Phoenix Cooks Up Some Domestic Mischief with Fat Cat Cabaret

Posted on: Nov 12th, 2013 By:

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Oh, Happy Days! Fat Cat Cabaret, one of Atlanta’s newest Retro entertainment troupes, is sneaking a peek behind closed doors to home life in the post-World War  in their 1950s Burlesque Holiday Show this Saturday Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. at Andrew’s Upstairs. The sassy shenanigans set to the music of the birth era of rock n roll include iconic foods, props and include special guest and recent Kool Kat Talloolah Love, the Sweetest T in the South, as the hottest neighbor on the block, and Nashville self-proclaimed Dieselpunk Prophet of Pop Culture Big Daddy Cool, as the Ultimate Entertainer. Also on the roster are Sketch Macquinor as the comedic neighbor and bearer of all things funny; Ben Gravitt, as Jerry, your humble narrator and all-around hip cat; and another Kool Kat, Ruby le Chatte, as Jerry’s other half and the life of the party!

To find out more, we caught up with Fat Cat’s Creative Director Perspehone Phoenix, a true Kool Kat’s Meow in her own right. So yeah, we asked her a bit about her path to fabulous frivolity, too!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s the secret origin story of Persephone Phoenix?

As the Head Haunchess of Hell and the Princess of Purgatory, I emerged from a previously mundane, muggle existence, and with a fiery glory, was reborn as a creature of the dark side known as burlesque performance. I am currently an aerial instructor with Play Hard Gym and creative director for Fat Cat Cabaret, as well as freelance performer, splitting my time between performance, organization and community involvement.  An aerialist for nearly four years, I initially took burlesque classes with Syrens of the South, and after my debut combining both aerial arts and strip tease, I have not looked back. I have performed all over the Southeast and am a member of or have performed with such groups as Fat Cat Cabaret, Syrens of the South, Musee du Coeur, Cheeky BellesBible Belt Burlesque (Perry, GA), Spooky LeStrange and Her Billion Dollar Baby Dolls (New Orleans) and recently, in front of an audience of over 1000 people at DragonCon’s Glamour Geek Revue.

What about Fat Cat Cabaret?! The troupe is relatively new to the burlesque/variety/Retro scene in Atlanta. What sets it apart?

One of the things that initially attracted me to this group was that, unlike many other troupes whom I have worked with, Fat Cat attempts to tell a story with their productions. Each number is thoughtfully placed, with consideration being given to how it advances the story, explains the characters, or provides more era-related background for the audience. Using costumes, music and dialogue, you will follow a central character through a semi-period-accurate environment, and will be entertained the whole way through. It’s an intellectually challenging project, and it really takes burlesque/variety productions to a new level in my opinion.

The ‘50s is the heart of all we love at ATLRetro. What does that decade personally mean to you? What are your personal favorite things about it?

I have a penchant for A Line skirts, crinolines and short gloves. For someone who is often wearing little to no clothing, I have never felt more feminine, sexy and empowered than I did wearing these pieces. I see the ladies fashions from this decade as the delicate veil over what was the rising sexual revolution.

The show follows Jerry, the narrator, through adventures of 1950s home life. Is it a play or a series of burlesque vignettes? Why home life and not, say, the birth of rock n roll or haute couture?

It is both a play and a series of burlesque/variety vignettes. Each number is played out by characters who are in some way related to Jerry: a neighbor, a friend, a coworker, family member. The production tightly organized to bring continuity to the storyline and to entertain the audience.

As Jerry was a character first introduced in Fat Cat’s Holiday Show last year and this is a continuation of his storyline, home life was the natural subject to explore in this show, since the characters naturally fit as members of his community. But that doesn’t mean that other ’50s concepts aren’t touched on in this show.

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Will it be the ‘50s through the lens of the present day or is Fat Cat trying to create something contemporary to the time in humor, etc.? Or a combo of both? If the latter, then how did you research? What was most challenging?

Since the ’50s wasn’t a particularly sexually liberated era, and there will be copious dirty jokes and sexual humor, the production will not be entirely period accurate. However, using music, costumes and dialogue, we attempt to immerse the audience in a comical cross-section of 50’s home life. Research was conducted on music which fits the time, phrasing and subjects for comedy which were true to the era. The most challenging aspect of this show, which continues to be challenging, is sloughing off modern terminology and incorporating antiquated phrases. Since we’re adlibbing quite a bit, it’s likely a struggle that our audience will find comical.

Can you tease us a little about what you are doing yourself in the show?

Lets just say that relationships can be very messy. Especially when there’s food around..

What else is happening? We’ve heard there will vendors, a period deejay after the show and drink specials?

The fantastic artists of 2the9’s Retro and Jezebel Blue handmade jewelry will be hawking their unique wares at our show.  Also Deep Eddy Vodka will be on special, and DJ Huda Hudia will be spinning modern tunes into the wee hours of the morning.  The party doesn’t stop after the show is over, so we encourage everyone to stick around and enjoy the fantastic venue!

Photo courtesy of Persephone Phoenix.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The team creating this show are some of the most talented, professional, creative folks I have ever had the joy of working with. They are committed to bringing this shared vision to life, and have made personal sacrifices to devote the time necessary to make it happen. I am grateful for that, and can’t wait to show the audience all of our hard work.

Also, I took over creative directorship from my predecessor, who I count amongst one of my best friends. The theme and concept of this show was very much dependent upon her inspiration, and I’m thankful to have worked with her on this and previous projects.

What’s next for Persephone Phoenix and Fat Cat Cabaret?

Well, I have recently devoted my entire professional life to art and artistic endeavors, so I look forward to seeing where that will take me. The transition from a full-time professional muggle career to freelance artist is an intimidating one. However, I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an amazing community with lots of opportunities and support.  I am hopeful to travel some for performance, volunteer more in the performance community, and continue building my aerial student base.

As for Fat Cat Cabaret, we will begin formulating our next show, to be revealed early next year. All of the players in Fat Cat will no doubt be seen around the Atlanta community, so keep your eyes and ears out!

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Down At The Well Of Wishes: Slim Chance Celebrates Jon Byrd’s Return to Atlanta With a New Album and Hopefully a Dream Come True

Posted on: Dec 6th, 2011 By:

By Slim Chance (James Kelly)
Contributing Blogger

Jon Byrd celebrates the release of DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES at Kavarna in Oakhurst on Saturday Dec. 10. Slim Chance & the Convicts play at 8PM. $6. Facebook Event Link.

Chasing your dreams can be a long, arduous, and often frustrating journey, which usually ends in regret and disillusionment. But perseverance, and commitment, and dedication can often fuel that desire into fruition. Last month, as I sat in Nashville’s hallowed Station Inn, surrounded by a few old acquaintances and a room full of strangers, I watched my dear friend Jon Byrd take the stage to a rousing reception as he celebrated the release of his second solo album DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES. It was a project two years in the making, and the payoff was evident in the maturity of the songs, the catch of the hooks, and the look of sheer pleasure on the faces of all in attendance. But truthfully, this dream was hatched many years ago, and I got to see it take shape.  From his early days playing guitar in local Southern “alternative” bands like the Primitons and the Windbreakers, Jon searched far and wide for his musical footprint, and he ultimately found it in country music.

In the late ‘80s, I lived right behind Jon and his girlfriend (at the time) in Little Five Points, and there is no doubt the sounds of Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard blasting from my stereo made their way up to their windows. Compound that with the rowdy, scattered and musically schizophrenic practice sessions of my own band, Slim Chance & the Convicts, it was inevitable that curiosity took over, and we became friends and collaborators. Jon eventually joined the Convicts full time, and through our shared fascination and mutual exploration of the roots of country music he developed a unique and crafty lead guitar style, steeped in traditional twang, but with a twist here and there.

Jon Byrd plays at Red Beet Records in East Nashville. Photo Credit: Stacy Huckeba

Jon always listened to the nuances, and picked up a few tricks while creating his own. And the man can sing. His run with the Convicts resulted in three well-received albums, more incredible shows than we can remember, and a stellar reputation. Stints with other Atlanta acts like Greta Lee and The Ratchet Set proved that Jon was a consummate picker, and his newfound love of real country music was his foundation for all these years. But in Atlanta, it’s really easy to be a big fish in the little pond of the Redneck Underground, and Jon had other plans. He relocated to Nashville, where all of a sudden he found himself on the fringes of a very polarized world, quite different from what he was used to in Atlanta.

The musical pilgrimage to Nashville is a well-worn tale; some make it, most don’t. Those shooting for “the big time” often go home empty-handed, but those who hold their ground often find their niche. Jon struggled for several years in the talent overloaded town, playing pick-up gigs when he could get them, sitting in when he had the chance, and ingratiating himself into the very tight and somewhat insular social scene on “other side of Nashville.” Making friends and connections, he worked hard, and in the 10 years he has been in Music City, he gradually nurtured and shaped a deeply respected place within the alt. country music scene, mostly centered in East Nashville.

Jon released his first solo album BYRD’S AUTO PARTS in 2007, and immediately people who were not already familiar with his work took notice. Joined by a crew of musicians pretty much in the same place he was professionally, the record was done on a shoestring budget, and with a lot of help from his friends. It was good enough and respected enough to motivate a second release, which again became a pure labor of love. Juggling a full-time job, frequent gigs and basic survival, Jon somehow pulled his support group together one more time, and with a fancier studio, the production expertise of the popular R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Webb Wilder, Allison Moorer, etc.), and a lot of favors from his talented friends, DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES has finally arrived.

Jon Byrd. Photo Credit: Michael Pittman.

Is this country music? Well, yes and no. It’s not what radio programmers call “country music” today, but it is the kind of country music you hear when you listen to a Dan Penn record, or a Willie Nelson album. It is music from the heart and soul, full of songs about real things that matter to everyone. The dark imagery of the opener, “In A Chest Of Skin And Bone,” co-written with Jon’s Nashville drinking buddy Butch Primm (an amazing songwriter as well), sets the tone for a journey through emotional valleys and caverns. The poignant and beautiful melody and harmonies on “When It Starts To Rain” enhance the rich metaphorical lyrics, and drive the message of solitary pain over missed opportunities straight into the listener’s mind. Each of the nine tracks is a defining moment, whether a reflection on Jon’s roots in “Alabama Asphalt,” or a sweet eulogy for for a favorite watering hole in “A Fond Farewell”.

Recorded at Ocean Way Studio, Jon’s friends are all over the place. Former Los Straitjackets drummer Jimmy Lester handles most of the percussion, the keyboards are courtesy of Georgia native Adam Wright, whose lovely and incredibly talented wife Shannon Wright also adds harmony vocals. The pedal steel is shared by Newnan boy Alex McCollough (who also mastered the record) and the incredible Pat Severs, who works with Bill Anderson and the Everly Brothers. Ed Atkins of the Derailers adds some bass, along with Duane Blevins. And when Jon isn’t playing lead guitar, that is handled well by Milan Miller.

So who will hear this great record? With no big publicity machine behind it, that relies on word of mouth, website reviews and indie radio DJs to create a groundswell. Jon just returned from a successful solo European tour, and is a participant on a Grammy®-nominated album, I LOVE…TOM T. HALL’S SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW . Those are sure to increase his exposure. But regardless of the challenge of commercial success, Jon has accomplished many of the goals he set out to achieve when he left Atlanta, and we are all very proud of his amazing work. Sometimes wishes come true, and Jon Byrd deserves it.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Let Her Entertain You: Fonda Lingue Teases Us With a Snow-Glamorous Fan Dance and Embarks on a Grand European Tour

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2011 By:

Fonda Lingue. Photo credit: Rah Benton.

Place a wide ostrich feather fan in the hand of Fonda Lingue, and she’ll tease you with an act that captures the classic beauty of vintage  Sally Rand. She’s mastered “Let Me Entertain You,” the signature striptease number of Gypsy Rose Lee, and she’s even developing a tribute to Lili St. Cyr. But as you watch her graceful moves that recapture the glamour of burlesque’s golden era, chances are it may take you a while to realize Fonda’s ultimate tease. While burlesque has its share of boys, Fonda is one of the very few who dances as a woman and not just that, but as the awards and accolades she’s accrued in just a few years of professional performance in the field attest, with all the skill and sex appeal of today’s top female burlesque revival performers.

Atlanta’s burlesque scene has had its share of rising stars, but when we heard that Fonda was heading to Europe to compete against some of the best international performers for the prestigious Milan Burlesque Awardas well as a whirlwind performance tour through England, France and Italy, we knew it was high time to declare her Kool Kat of the Week. This Fri. Dec. 2, she’ll also be one of the Snow Queens of Burlesque in Santa Baby, a special wintry holiday edition of Mon Cherie‘s Va-Va Voom series at The Shelter featuring special guest celebrity emcee Devin Liquor and Stormy KnightBiloxi BrownKatherine LasheScarlett Page and more of Atlanta’s best dancers. Then on Sat. Dec. 17, she’ll be performing in the Syrens of the South-produced Tits for Toys for Tots show at The Five Spot. Headlined by burlesque legend Gabriella Maze, returning after almost 30 years, that holiday-themed spectacular features a glitzy all-star line-up of local performers including Talloolah Love, Katherine Lashe, Ruby Redmayne, Kittie Katrina, Kisa Von Teasa and Lola Lesoleil.

ATLRetro caught up with Fonda to find out what flamed her passion for classic burlesque and to see what we could tease out of her about her December performances and that upcoming European tour!

ATLRetro: Before you became a classic burlesque performer, you were a ballet dancer and female impersonator for 20 years. How did you get started in burlesque and what captivated you to embrace recreating the golden era of burlesque?

Fonda Lingue: I got started in burlesque when Devin Liquor and I had a show at The Stage Door in Tucker called “The Dirty South Dukes and Dolls Show.” It was primarily a drag king show, and I was the only “female” in the show. I never wanted to do traditional drag acts of just standing there and lipsyncing to popular songs so I would create these dance numbers to use all of my talents. I did a number to “Let Me Entertain You” from GYPSY where I did the first part as the young Gypsy, then ran off the stage, quickly changed and became Gypsy in her striptease years and stripped down to pasties and panties. The audience loved it! I began adding those numbers more and more into my act and was asked by The Lady Miss Vagina Jenkins to participate in one of her burlesque shows. That was the start.

Fonda Lingue. Photo credit: Derek Jackson.

As far as the Golden Era of Burlesque, I am a purist, almost to an OCD extent. I figure if I am going to do it, I am going to do it right and do it accurately. I have studied videos, read books—I am reading GILDED LILI [about] the life of Lili St. Cyr right now—and talked to legends, and to me, that time was the height of what burlesque used to be. You were a star back then and you were paid well to do your craft. You were taken care of and respected for what you did as an artist. I love the glamour, and I love the social aspects of the burlesque scene. I also think it is important to keep that part of our history alive. Right now there is a more contemporary approach to burlesque throughout the country, and my goal is to keep classic burlesque alive. There is room for both and many performers do both styles. For me, it is a preference, and I think it suits my movement style and my look.

It strikes me that the burlesque world is very open-minded and embracing, but did you have any challenges as a boylesque performer among your fellow performers or with audiences?

I can’t believe how well I have been received in the burlesque world. Much more than in the drag world. I am one of only a few males that perform as a woman. In fact, I know of no one else who does what I do. That’s not saying there isn’t someone, I just don’t know of anybody. I am different in that my goal is to fool the audience until the final reveal, then they realize I am a man. Really, I am the definition of the word “Burlesque.” I love to challenge people’s sensibilities and prove to them that they can enjoy my performances from an entertainment standpoint and not necessarily a sexual one. I also like the fact that I may challenge their sexual tendencies as well. The only real problem I have is when I apply to a festival or competition, they don’t always know where to put me. They want me, but they just don’t know if I am to be placed with the boys or the girls. In the Great Southern Exposure pageant last year, I won King of Burlesque. Some other competition might place me as a female. If it is not a competition, there is no problem.  I don’t care myself where I go, i just want to be able to perform.

Who are a few of the performers—both classic and from the contemporary burlesque revival—who most inspire you?

Lili St. Cyr is my absolute favorite. I have been compared to her in my performances, and I take that as the highest compliment. I have been inspired the most by Kisa Von Teasa, Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish and Michelle L’Amour. Each of them inspire me in different ways.

You’ve won quite a few honors in just a few years in the profession, including King of Burlesque in the Great Southern Exposure Burlesque Competition. Do you feel that ballet and drag experience gave you a leg up, so to speak?

Drag not so much. I would like to say that it had, but I have to be honest. Other queens told me my make-up was wrong, my numbers weren’t current, and they all tried to “correct” me. Even my partner at the time tried to change my make-up. It was only when I went back to following my own instincts that I got any recognition. Plus, it’s all too political in Atlanta, but that is another interview!

Ballet has definitely helped me with my burlesque career. I would not have the carriage and vocabulary I have if it weren’t for my experience as a ballet dancer. Also my ability to portray different characters can be attributed to my ballet training. In ballet, you have to convey the story to your audience through your movements. Your voice is your body. It’s the same in burlesque. Burlesque is just another form of dance. People argue with me on that, but aren’t we called burlesque DANCERS?

Without giving away too much, what can you tease us with about your performance in this Friday’s winter-themed Va-Va-Voom?

Well, I have been asked to do a fan dance by Mon Cherie herself, so that I will do. It will be set to classical music, it will be very sparkly—of course—and I hope it will be very beautiful!

You’ve done a lot of performances at Mon Cherie’s events, including the Rockabilly Lounge. She’s really gone a long way towards making burlesque a regular activity in Atlanta and nurturing so many performers. Can you talk a bit about Mon Cherie’s impact on the local burlesque scene and why folks should come out to her events?

Well, Mon Cherie has done a lot for me personally as far as my performing here in Atlanta. She has allowed me to perform in front of audiences that I didn’t know if they were going to like me or hate me. Fortunately they have all been favorable experiences, and I have opened some peoples eyes through her. Mon brings in performers from all over the south and also tries to give “Newbies”—that’s a term I have learned through my dealings overseas—a chance to perform as well.

Money is tight these days, and there are not a lot of outlets for burlesque performers right now. I am very lucky I perform as much as I do. She has had a HUGE impact on Atlanta’s burlesque scene in that she makes it possible for us to work consistently. Just about every independent burlesque performer in Atlanta has graced her stages at one time or another. I admire the fact that she tries to keep us employed and often reaps no benefits herself. I know her day will come. You can’t give of yourself like she does and not be rewarded somehow. Her events are professional, she has high standards, and the atmosphere is that of those early years of burlesque when it was just as social as it was performance. I always feel like I have stepped back in time!

We just heard the exciting news that you’re about to set off on a European tour. Where are you going and what acts are you taking on the road?

Right now I am going to London, Rome, Paris, and I am still waiting confirmation on Milan. There are other things in the works but not confirmed. I am taking six acts with me! Am I crazy? Yes! I am performing three nights inParis, and they want two numbers each night! I am taking “Zip Strip” (the act I won Great Southern Exposure with) my “funny fan dance,” “Cry Me A River” (my signature piece), “Moon Indigo” (a new act that is in rehearsals now), “Lili,” my tribute to Lili St. Cyr (in rehearsal now, especially created for this tour) and another new number that I have chosen the music but haven’t started yet.

Is it true that Ruby Redmayne is coming with you?

We are working on that! If she does, she will accompany me on part of my trip only. She is my best friend, and she wants to be there to celebrate with me and to help me backstage. And who wouldn’t want to go to Europe?! We can make a great time out of walking through the grocery store, so I know we will have fun. I hope it works out that she can go because I would love to share this experience with her. She has done so much for me to keep me motivated and help me get things done. I have booked this whole tour on my own—researched my own contacts, pursued producers and corresponded with all of them. It has turned into almost a full-time job, and Ruby has been invaluable in helping me get things accomplished! She needs to reap the benefits of her hard work as well! It’s not easy keeping me motivated!

It’s hard to make a living as a burlesque performer here in the US, but you’ve said that the situation is easier in Europe. I was struck, for example, at the huge burlesque scene in London—there’s so much going on that there’s even a “burlesque map.” Would you ever consider relocating to Europe?

Absolutely! In fact, that is my intention when I go over there. I am not sure where I want to live yet. Most likely it will be the UK or Paris. I want to see if it will be possible to make a living at being a burlesque artist. From what I have been told, there are not many male performers in Paris and none that perform as a woman.  The London burlesque scene has exploded. Europeans treat their Artists like Artists. And they pay them what they are worth. I have worked since I was 12 years old and never stopped. I loved my career as a ballet dancer, don’t get me wrong, but I was never a star. I was, and still am, well-known but I want more. I know it sounds cliche but that is what I want. I feel that I am on a path right now, and this is where it is leading. I have had a rough year. My relationship ended, and the day before I was to move into my new apartment I was in a car accident that has left me with some physical problems.  Everything bad that has happened has happened for a reason and has led to this tour. Far be it from me to stop listening now!

Do you have any other performances scheduled in Atlanta during the holiday season?

Yes, on December 17, I will be doing my “Suzy Snowflake” number at Syrens of the South’s Tits For Toys for Tots at the Five Spot in Little Five Points. I have also been asked to perform again at The Pond in Nashville with Ruby Redmayne for their annual New Year’s Eve Party.

You feel passionately about teaching burlesque as well. Can you talk a little bit about why even accomplished performers can benefit from classes to keep up their craft?

Your body is an instrument and it needs to be maintained. Regular movement classes keep you supple and in shape. They also keep your mind working. You are a dancer, and a dancer needs to take class at least a couple of time a week. I try to do my own class everyday. You owe it to your audience to be in the best shape both mentally and physically. The only way to do that is through constant training. People argue this with me, but the performers that do this are the ones getting the jobs and keeping them. You can always learn something from someone else. That is why I try to take as many classes as I can when someone new comes in to town or I go to a burlesque festival. It is always nice to hear someone else’s perspective on the same thing—especially someone that makes their living doing it! Ninety-nine percent of the time you get something out of it.

Finally, if I recall correctly, you recently purchased an amazing, beautiful headdress from Miss Torchy Taboo. Have you worn it yet in an act or what plans do you have for it?

I have not worn it yet. Rumor has it that I did wear it for a photo shoot, but that is not true. That beautiful piece of art will hopefully make it’s debut if I am accepted into the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival here in Atlanta the week before I go to Europe. If not, you will have to come to Europe to see it! I will be applying to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. Torchy and I both agree it needs to end up there. “Moon Indigo” is the music I have selected for the number. I have designed my costume with a kind of Erte feel to it, and I have matched the fabric to the headpiece. It includes a fur wrap, and it will be made of dupioni silk! My costume is being constructed by Cat Harrison, a big Steampunk costume designer, so my corset will be especially awesome. I am using vintage beads combined with non-vintage Swarovski crystals. Costuming my body is not easy because I have to create body parts and curves that I just don’t have. My hat is off to her and she is doing a great job!

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The Rebel Surfers Are Ready to Rockabilly Luau: Happy Talkin’ with Guitarist Pete Jamestone

Posted on: Jun 16th, 2011 By:

This Saturday’s Rockabilly Luau (noon-8 PM at The Masquerade Music Park) promises an island paradise of musical entertainment from Atlanta bands such as Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho DeVilles, The Atomic Rockets, Pelvis Breastlies, The Mystery Men? and C.N. i. Cow to eclectic regional acts such as Alabama’s Japanese-monster-inspired band Daikaiju and Asheville’s The Go Devils. One band you may know a little less about because they’re new and from Nashville is The Rebel Surfers. But ATLRetro is guessing if you don’t, your ignorance won’t last very long. Like this week’s Kool Kats, Luau founders Chris Mattox and Jessica Vega, guitarist Pete Jamestone and Manda Lou are a dynamic duo of seasoned musicians who mean to cause some mighty fine trouble in the Retro music scene.

The Rebel Surfers Peter Jameson, Manda Lou and new drummer Vera Herten.

Both aren’t Music City natives but they were raised in music. Pete hails from Motor City, where he was a producer, writer and guitarist for such seminal rock and punk acts as Nikki And The Corvettes (Bomp Records), The Motor City Rockers ( The Romantics’ original incarnation), The Original House Of Blues Allstars (Boston) and Nick Kane (The Mavericks), as well as sessions with Rockin’ Ronnie Weiser and Ray Campi (Rollin’ Rock Records), Susan Tedeschi, Annie Rains, Ronnie Earl and Was (Not Was). Manda Lou (sax, bass guitar and lead vocals) comes from the Big Apple and led her own rockabilly band in Nashville which has included Johnny G. d’Artenay and Harry Fontana. Manda Lou also toured Europe with the American Music Abroad Empire Tour and played sax with Pete in Nashville’s Soul Reputations.

Maybe it’s that diverse background that makes them so ready to rebel against the idea of riding the wave of any particular rock genre. Don’t call them simply surf or rockabilly or psychobilly or surfabilly or any label. Or better call them all of that all of once and quite a bit more (see Pete’s thoughts on being boxed below). They’re also more than a little excited about the Rockabilly Luau. ATLRetro decided to sit down with Pete and get a sneak preview of what tiki-philes can expect when the Rebel Surfers come to town.

How did a Journey Man Detroit Guitarist and a New York Rockabilly Sax Kitten end up in Nashville?

Well I was on my way to LA and Nashville got in the way, and it just made sense to stay. Manda Lou moved here from upstate NY to play music. Eventually we crossed paths, followed the Muse, and it all took shape

The Rebel Surfers play The Mercy Lounge in Nashville.

You’ve worked as a producer, writer and guitarist for a lot of big names in Detroit. Is there a different flavor to the music scene in Nashville and what do you like about it?

Detroit is down and dirty where you play every note as if your life depended on it because it does and it has always been that way. Nashville is full of great musicians of all kinds. The unique and like minds seem to organically find each other and make something cool! I’m so lucky to be from the Motor City. It defines everything I do

What’s the origin story behind the Rebel Surfers?

The Rebel Surfers evolved from a recording project into a live act over the last year or so, The name just made more sense than some of the bad ones people come up with!

Your Facebook page describes your sound as “Rock and Roll, Surf, Rockabilly, Spy, Blues, Garage, Instro, Spaghetti, Hot Rod, Exotic, Fuzz, Tropical, Instrumental”? That’s like all my favorite Retro rock music styles meshed together into one happy sound, but is it challenging when you try to describe your sound?

Well, it’s pretty easy to wear our influences on our sleeves, We just love all the “kool” music and culture so much it’s impossible to limit ourselves. So we just go with it. People have to put things in boxes. You just can’t worry about it. You just have to do your thing. Happy Sound. I like that!

I just had the pleasure of interviewing Dick Dale last week for ATLRetro (read it here). How much of an influence is he on your music, and have you had a chance to catch him on his current tour?

Interviewing him must have been something. No, our hearts are sad as we will not get the pleasure of seeing Mister Dick Dale on this tour. Being a card-carrying Fender Man, The Stratocaster, Fender Reverb, Amps—all of it, he truly invented a timeless art form with the tools Leo gave him. His influence is beyond measure, as a performer, musician and human being. In fact, Manda Lou wants to marry him!

Any special plans for the Rockabilly Luau?

We now have our new permanent drummer Vera Herten. We did our first big show with her last week with Los Straitjackets, and we are just reborn as a stripped-down, lean machine. She was the true missing link we have been searching for. We have to pull out all the stops at the Rockabilly Luau as we will be following opener Daikaiju who will just destroy the place. Atlanta, here we come. We can’t wait!

Are you and/or Manda tiki collectors, and if yes, what do you love about vintage Hawaiiana?

We are mostly collectors of musical instruments and vintage clothes, but everything inspires us. Right now we are all living in Tiki World!

When I visit Nashville and want to hear great music like yours, where should I go?

There is some amazing rockabilly on Sundays down on Lower Broad at Robert’s Western World with The Chris Casello Trio. Layla’s, The Basement, The FooBar Too and The Mercy Lounge are my favorites!

What do you and Manda like to do when you’re not performing?

We are always working on something. Right now it’s putting the finishing touches on our first full proper all-original studio album. It should be out around the end of August just before we go on our East Coast tour, You can preview much of it on Reverb Nation and Facebook, as well as see our videos. Our “Live Bootleg” Limited Edition CD will be available at the Luau. Thanks!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Enjoying the Ride With Antsy McClain

Posted on: Apr 21st, 2011 By:

The zany font, the pompadour, the Jerry Lee Lewis moves and the video from Hawaii complete with ukulele crooning “It’s a way cool world that we’re living in.” Then something about “a fun-loving trailer park femme fatale.” ATLRetro barely took a glance at unhitched.com, the Website of Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, playing at Red Light Café on Saturday April 23, before we knew we’d found the unquestionable Kool Kat of this week.

From Route 66 to the Athens Highway, musicians have been eulogizing America’s obsession with being “on the road again” since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. But for Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, the meaning of life literally is as close as an silver metallic Airstream, fueled by a passion for making people happy and a keenly observant sense of humor. A modern minstrel mixing rockabilly, country, R&B and swing, McClain ousted an award-winning career as an illustrator and designer to follow his bliss about a decade ago, first trying the conventional route with a Nashville record deal and then taking the driver’s seat to produce, art design and merchandise his work on his own.

That decision to drive his own destiny was a risk that paid off for the self-employed father of five.  His quirky and original “Enjoy the Ride” music quickly attracted a legion of fans who call themselves Flamingoheads, after the quintessential American lawn ornament, and the attention of such music pros as Willie Nelson, David Wilcox, Tommy Emmanuel and Lindsey Buckingham. The latter two have even guested on some of Antsy’s albums. Oh and if you aren’t convinced yet, music critics have likened him to Doctors Hook and Demento, and his song titles include “Primer Gray Impala,” “Wreck of the Bookmobile” and “It Ain’t Home Til You Take the Wheels Off.” For more reasons, why you aren’t a real Retro American if you miss this Saturday’s show, here’s Antsy…

How did you come up with the idea of staging your live shows from a small, fictitious trailer park called Pine View Heights? You grew up in a mobile home, right?

It was the early ’90s, and Sammy Kershaw‘s “She’s the Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” was a big hit on country radio. That song—masterfully written by one of Nashville’s underdog songwriters and one of my favorites, Dennis Linde—was everywhere that summer. The lyric, “he’s the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench” just floored me, rhyming with park bench. The lyrics are funny, but they’re also good, tight poetry, and I admire that.

Well, I had written a few songs along the same lines and was just starting to try my hand at performing. I was also familiar with Garrison Keillor‘s fictitious Lake Wobegon and tried meshing all the influences together. Seeing that so many artists take themselves so seriously, I wanted to be the antidote to that in Nashville and beyond.

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