A Little Band Where Old Friends Play: Nat King Coal Miners

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2011 By:

So many of Atlanta’s best bands got their start when musicians known for other ventures just happened to get together and jam. That synergy has happened again with Nat King Coal Miners to the good fortune of the Atlanta music scene who will get to enjoy one of their first public performances at the Star Bar this Wed. June 22.

The recently formed jazz trio sports three musicians well known locally for years for their involvement in many iconic jazz, swing and blues groups. Spike Fullerton (guitar) most recently has been playing with Ghost Riders Car Club (see ATLRetro’s Feb. 2 Kool Kat piece on him and that band here), but his many other credits include being a founding member of Kingsized. Matt Wauchope (piano) is now with Blair Crimmins and the Hookers toured and recorded with the late, great blues guitarist Sean Costello, giving him the chance to perform with music legends such as Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton and Elvis Costello. Veteran blues bassist Dave Roth is now with Burnt Bacon, but also performed with Sean Costello.

ATLRetro caught up with Spike to get the scoop on how the new venture got started, the Nat King Cole connection, what Ray Charles has to do with it, and why he’s bringing out the Big Girl…

Spike Fullerton playing with Ghost Riders Car Club. Photo courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

All three of you are seasoned musicians well-known in Atlanta for your previous misadventures? Why/how did you decide to get together to form a 1940s/’50s jazz trio?
The late lamented Glenwood in EAV had a terrific Sunday night jam session. I had played with Dave there a couple of times, and Matt turned up one night. We knocked out a couple of standards on the spot and that was it. Both of those guys are so good, you know it in about 16 bars. Dave Roth has both perfect pitch and relative pitch, and big-time chops to go with it; Matt Wauchope, who also plays piano with Blair Crimmins and the Hookers can just knock that Harlem stride style out as well. It’s both humbling and a real pleasure to play with such enormously talented musicians

Why the name Nat King Coal Miners and do you play Nat King Cole classics?
I happened to mention (original King Cole Trio guitarist) Oscar Moore as a big influence on me, and it turned out Matt and Dave already had this project going. Matt and I had both done long stints in Kingsized—I was a founding member years ago—so we had a large pool of common standards to choose from, as well as a shared sense of humor about the material. The language of jazz is pretty similar across genres—it’s just deciding which accent you want to speak with. The King Cole sensibility of strong rhythm, heavy swing, and clever lyrical and musical interplay was a natural.

Who are some other influences on the band’s sound and will you be playing just covers of jazz greats or originals, too?
The three of us are huge fans of the 50s R&B style of Ray Charles—we do a lot of things in that genre as well. It can go from utter melancholy to swingin’ like mad, and just has the most delightful sense of rhythm. We’ll do the odd original, perhaps a Waits cover, all sorts of stuff. Source material is important, but I think we are more concerned with the articulation rather than recreating the original records. So some things may sound more original than they really are and vice versa.

Spike's Big Girl.

Any special plans for the Star Bar gig this week?
Our good friend the Rockin’ Gator, legendary friend to the Atlanta music scene, will be on hand to tape some of the proceedings so everyone who turns up gets a little digital immortality as a side dish. For you guitar geeks out there, I’ll be bringing out a very special instrument from my collection to play for the evening. I had retired it for over a decade, but I love this style, and this group so much, I’m going to bring out The Big Girl (an extremely rare 1949 Gibson archtop), along with a period amplifier for the show.

Where else will the Nat King Coal Miners be playing soon and any plans for a recording?
We are booked for the Summer Shade Fest [Aug 27-28] in Grant Park and have recurring gigs at Blind Willie’s and hopefully the Star Bar going forward.

The Ghost Riders Car Club set had the most heartwarming moment at Bubbapalooza when you guys started pulling Mama Smalley and other Star Bar regulars onstage for an audience singalong to The Diggers‘ “She’s Breakin’ My Heart (While I’m Drinkin’ Her Beer)” Can you share some of the specialness of that moment with anyone who missed the show.
As you may know, I was on the bill at Bubbapalooza I. [Founder] Greg [Smalley] was a colleague of mine on the scene, and we played many a show at many a forgotten venue. It speaks to his impact on the community that after all this time. We should all be remembered so long, and so fondly.

Love your band logo – what’s the story on that?
It’s actually a real King Cole Trio album cover from the 40s. The postmodern sense of motion and optimism, and use of negative space and color, sort of dovetail with what we try to do as a group.

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