Hot Rod Walt takes a ride on Paul "Stubbs" Diffin's bass. Photo courtesy of Hot Rod Walt.
Hot Rod Walt, aka Walt Richards, may have roots in Jersey and Florida, but since parking in Atlanta in 2006, he’s quickly become one of Atlanta’s hardest working rockabilly/psychobilly singer/guitarists. He has 200 original songs, and his main band, the Psycho-DeVilles, which also features Paul “Stubbs” Diffin (Blue Cats, Big Six) on bass and Steve “Burnout” Barnett on drums, have been racing ever since 2002 when they crashed OUT OF THE GARAGE AND ONTO THE STREET, the title of one of their four CDs. Their three other recordings have equally in-your-face titles: PSYCHO CADILLAC, SUPERCHARGER and NIGHT PROWLER. They’ve toured the US and Europe and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the Retro Revival.
Left to right: Paul, Walt and drummer Steve "Burnout" Barnett.
Speaking of speed, in just the past two weeks, Stubbs literally lit his stand-up bass on fire at Rockabilly Luau (June 18; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on founders Chris Mattox and Jessica Vega here), and the band also shook up the Dixie Tavern in Marietta last Saturday. This weekend, they’re playing the Star Bar with Los Meesfits, Whiskey Belt and singer/songwriter Gail Linda Lewis—yup that’s Jerry Lee Lewis’s younger sister though she’s not riding any coattails (just ask Van Morrison). On Sunday, acoustic side project The Hot Rod Walt Trio heads outside the perimeter to play Brookstock at Wings and Brews in Jackson. Then they’re in-town at The Five Spot with The Seranaders on Thurs. July 7, and on Sat. July 9, they swing back to the Jailhouse Brewing Company in Hampton.
Pink and Blue Cadillacs from Hot Rod Walt's collection.
When Hot Rod Walt isn’t singing and strumming, true to his name, he hand-stripes and rebuilds custom cars and motorcycles and has accumulated a fantastic fleet of vintage wheels. That talent has earned him TV spots on Discovery Channel’s AUCTION KINGS, auctioning off his 1960 pink Cadillac, and CAFÉ RACER, which also included a band profile, on Velocity.
ATLRetro asked Hot Rod Walt to slow down long enough for a quick interview about guitars, automobiles and this week’s Star Bar show…
How old were you when you first picked up a guitar and what mischief did you make?
I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was around 12 years old. I will never forget being so stoked about it and I can still smell the smell of the wood and glue and paint it was made of. I didn’t come from a musical family so having an instrument seemed very exotic as a kid. I also remember my little brother and I fighting that day and my father threatening to smash my new prized possession !! (He would have done it too).
Hot Rod Walt doesn't miss a beat while Paul sets his bass on fire again.
Then a friend of the family got me an old Teisco electric with a chrome pick guard and that was it………. I was a rock star !
Why rockabilly/psychobilly, and how did you get started singing songs about hot rod cars and mean women?
I have been writing songs since I was able to write. I still have my first song I wrote in pencil as a very small child. In high school, I had some bands and always did my original songs with them. But at about 23 years old, I had moved to Florida and started an acoustic duo called Acoustic Boulevard. We had 85 original songs, no covers. Put out a nice album that did pretty good. I did that for about eight years. Then we put those 85 songs on the shelf, put on electric guitars and wrote 50 or so new songs and started an alternative type band called Slick Riddle. We put out three albums and had a great following in Florida.
Now to finally answer your question—I always loved rockabilly. My parents had given me all their Elvis 45s when I was a kid and I played them on my Fisher Price record player. I about wore them out!! I still have those records today in my 1962 Seeburg Jukebox. When the Stray Cats came out, I was very excited. I used to follow a band out of New Jersey called the Razorbacks. However it wasn’t till years later that one of my customers introduced me to The Reverend Horton Heat and Social Distortion. This is when things started to really change for me. I started digging and found this huge underground of music I never knew existed.
So I started the Psycho-DeVilles as a side project. It shortly became my only band and it skyrocketed. I figured that you can age gracefully playing rockabilly and that I can play this music till I’m dead.
I do write about hot rod cars and mean women. I have had over 100 hot rod cars through the years and I have known a few real meanies. Bangin’ gears in a ’32 is inspirational. So is divorce…
Have you played with Linda Gail Lewis before? If yes, when and where, and what’s she like? If no, are you and the band excited about the opportunity?
The Psycho-DeVilles played the big [Viva Las Vegas] Rockabilly Weekender in Vegas this past April, and Linda Gail was on the bill as well with Jerry Lee. She really tore it up, a great performer and a very sweet lady. Turns out that my bass player Paul Diffin did some recording with her when he lived in San Diego and they are friends. In fact, they now both live in Acworth, Ga. So I put her on this bill with us at the Star Bar July 2nd. It’s gonna be a blast!!
You certainly play with an energy that rivals Jerry Lee Lewis, though he’s burning up a keyboard and you a guitar. Did Jerry Lee Lewis influence your sound and staging?
I love playing with energy !! I was heavily influenced by all the Sun Records performers. But I really do it because I want people to be entertained and come back for more and wait to see what we might do next. Give people something to look at “and” something to listen to. I don’t like to go out to see a motionless band so I refuse to be one.
Do you and the band have anything special planned for this Saturday’s show?
We have nothing super special that we will be doing but I think the entire event will be very special. The Los Meesfits are from Athens, Ga.. They are a salsa-styled Misfits cover band and lots of fun. Whiskey Belt is a guy/girl honky tonk duo with one of Atlanta best guitar players, Rich DeSantis. Of course, Linda Gail with a special appearance by her daughter Annie Marie Dolan. And then us… and you never know what might happen at the Star Bar!!
What did you think about the Rockabilly Luau and how’d you like to see that evolve? Other than Bubbapalooza, I don’t think I’d heard such a great line-up of so many quality local and regional Retro-inspired musicians in Atlanta this year—that is, before the monsoon hit.
The Luau was a great event. The folks that put it together really did a top notch job organizing and running it. Real pros for sure. We are really looking forward to next year’s event and we are already booked!! And yes, there were some great bands on the bill. I think that next year there are some real big surprises in store for us. Stay tuned.
You certainly play a diverse selection of locations—both in and out of the perimeter. What’s different between playing the Star Bar or the Five Spot and those suburban and out of the big city locations?
We do play a lot of shows—75-100 shows a year all over the country and beyond!! We even played Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium and Holland in 2010. I am now booking a Euro tour for Sept. 2012. We love playing all gigs, the concert type venues where there is a rockabilly scene, and the honkytonk biker bars outside the perimeter. We just do our best to keep the people there all night till the bitter end. I would rather play music than do anything else. I’m pretty sure my bandmates feel the same way.
How many vintage hot rods do you own now, what are they, and what are you working on right now?
I have always kept many cars on the road, usually 10-15. I currently have a ’32 Ford Roadster, ’32 Ford 3 window, ’34 Ford 5 window, ’51 Merc coupe, ’51 Merc Convertible, ’36 Plymouth coupe, ’64 Falcon convertible to name a few—and several more and motorcycles, too! I am currently doing the upholstery in a ’51 Plymouth Slantback that I chopped the top on last year for a customer. Red and black tuck and roll.
I seem to recall that you customize your guitars, too?
Yes. I am a Pinstriper. I pinstripe cars, guitars and bikes almost every single day. I am flying to California to the Fender Custom Shop and hand striping 10 special edition Hot Rod Walt Pinstriped Gretsch Guitars. Pretty cool !!
You have one fantastic rockabilly wardrobe—especially your jackets. What’s your favorite place to shop for clothes in Atlanta?
I make all my show clothes myself. I have some vintage stuff that I find randomly. But I usually find a halfways cool suit at Goodwill and then customize it to a Western style or ’50s style coat. Since I am an upholstery guy, I have industrial sewing equipment and just make whatever I want. I have quite a huge collection of suits. I always want to make a new one for every show!
Any other news you’d like to share about you or the Psycho-DeVilles—more upcoming gigs? Next new recording?
The Psycho-DeVilles are very busy and are always adding shows to our schedule. I also have a side project called the Hot Rod Walt Trio, where I play mostly acoustic stuff. Be sure and go to our official Website to keep up to date on all the latest: http://www.psychodevilles.com
We are also going back in the studio again to make our fifth Psycho-DeVille record. I have written 15 new songs for it. Actually a few of them are some tunes that I wrote many years ago that never got recorded. We hope to have a new album out by fall. We also have some more TV shows coming out this year. Stay tuned to CAFE RACER TV for my “haircut episode” on Discovery HDTheater.
What question do you wish someone would ask you, but they never do, and what is the answer?
I just want to say thanks to all our loyal friends out there. And want to thank Atlanta for being such a great place to play music ! I especially want to thank Steve and Paul and Roland for their great musicianship and loyalty.