Kool Kat of the Week: Julea Thomerson on ‘Diesel Smoke & Dangerous Curves,’ Her Fellas, the Dear Johns and Honky-Tonkin’ it Up at the Star Bar

Posted on: Mar 10th, 2014 By:

Photo by JoLynn Still

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Julea Thomerson, guitar totin’, classic country-western music lovin’ high-energy southern gal and her Dear Johns will be causin’ a ruckus with a night of boot stompin’ rockabilly and country-western revival at The Star Bar this Friday, March 14! It’ll be a hootenanny and a half with her big rig honky-tonk ramblin’ pals, Cletis & His City Cousins [June 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Cletis Reid, here] releasing a rockin’ new CD, also featuring The Blacktop Rocketsslingin’ some revved up rockabilly to boot!

Julea is no newbie to Atlanta’s ‘roots’ music underground.  She’s been delivering her catchy vintage vocals and guitar pickin’ with a handful of Atlanta’s favorites, from Danny ‘Mudcat’Dudeck to Bill Sheffield to Nathon Nelson.  She was also a member of the all-girl, traditional country band, The Bareknuckle Betties, from 2010-2012.  After the Betties disbanded, she brought together a group of rockin’ fellas and created her current line-up of, Julea & Her Dear Johns.  The ‘Dear Johns’ are Spike Fullerton of the Ghost Riders Car Club [Feb. 2011: see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Spike, here] on guitar, Chad Vaillancourt lightin’ a fire on the upright bass and Gabe Pline on drums.  They’ve been gettin’ around town and revvin’ up Atlanta old-fashioned country and rockabilly-style at venues and events such as The Star Bar, The Earl, the Rockabilly Luau [Aug. 2013; see ATLRetro’s feature on the Rockabilly Luau here], the East Atlanta Strut and the Little Five Point Halloween Festival.  With her unique twangy vocals and boot-stompin’ kick assery, the sky’s the limit for Julea!

ATLRetro caught up with Julea for a quick interview about her love of traditional old-fashioned retro music made by trailblazin’ ladies who didn’t give a damn; her fellas, the Dear Johns; and her new weekly radio show, Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Julea, take a listen to Julea & Her Dear Johns rockin’ out at The Star Bar with their revved up tune, “Rocket Dog” in December 2013 here.

How did you find your fellas, the ‘Dear Johns’ and become a band?

We started playing together about two years ago. I was playing shows with a few different folks after my previous band broke up and this was the configuration that stuck. I’ve known Chad (upright bass) for years. He’s my best friend and he’s taught me a lot about music.  I met Spike (guitar) at shows around town and always really enjoyed talking country music with him. I met Gabe (drums) the same way, but I also enjoyed talking with him because he’s a school teacher like me.

How did you get involved in the Atlanta ‘roots’ music scene? Was it easy or did you have to ‘pay your dues’?

I got involved in the roots music scene when I started singing with Mudcat and Bill Sheffield at the Northside Tavern back in 2007. I suppose I “paid my dues” in a sense – I went to a lot of open mics, and I would go to shows and wait around until the bars were closing down and most of the patrons were gone, because it was at that point that some of the performers I would go see would let me get up on stage with them and sing a song or two.  Things happened pretty quickly when I started writing songs however.  I put a band together and recorded an album that I never released, and then there was The BareKnuckle Betties, an all female traditional country band I played with for a few years. I think folks who have gotten to know me see that I really love country western music, and that my passion for acquiring and sharing what musical knowledge I have is genuine. The roots music community in Atlanta is full of wonderful, good people who support each other, and many of them have been very encouraging to me.

If you could build a dream band to play with, who would you pick to be in it and why?

I’ve never thought about it all that much.  I’m pretty happy with the way things are these days. I suppose it wouldn’t be terrible to have Grady Martin in my band though, since he’s the greatest country western & rockabilly guitarist of all time. I don’t think I would mind playing music with him at all.  As far as folks who are alive today, I’d say Chris Scruggs, Kenny Vaughan, and Deke Dickerson are doing a fine job carrying on the tradition of country western guitar greatness.

Can you tell our readers a little about your weekly radio show?

My weekly radio hour, “Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves,” will air on AM1690 on Wednesday evenings from 7-8 pm starting April 2.  I’m so excited to be contributing to this wonderful station.  My hour will probably have a hillbilly, classic country western and rockabilly focus, just because that’s what I love the most in my heart and what I have the most of in my record collection.  But I’m also planning to cover the genres of pre-war piedmont blues, ’40s and ’50s rhythm and blues, “popcorn” and northern soul, a smidge of garage and really just everything that is good and should be played on the radio.

I’ll be playing music from both male and female performers, but I do hope to focus a spotlight on many female artists who never got the spotlight they deserved. I’m also planning to interview some trailblazing women who were making great music back when folks were telling them there was “no place for women in country music.” I have a lot of records made by folks who were just as good as Loretta Lynn or Etta James but never got the recognition they deserved. My show will focus on those women and men.

Do you have any plans for an album with your ‘Dear Johns’?

Oh, yes.  I’m studio shopping at the moment. Looking for a good engineer with a good live room and access to a tape machine who’s not afraid to do everything live.  If you are that man or woman, please get in touch with me!

Did you start playing guitar and banjo as a little girl or learn later? Any story about how you got started?

I learned guitar when I was a teenager and I’m so glad I did. My mom really wanted me to try it, but I didn’t want to at first. I almost didn’t learn to play at all because I didn’t want to cut my long nails off.  I couldn’t imagine how different my life would be if I didn’t play guitar.  I’m so glad I didn’t let my stupid nails get in the way!

I learned banjo a few years ago when I bought one.  I’m not a “real banjo player,” but I enjoy messing around on it and I love how it’s changed the way I write music at many times.  It’s a wonderful instrument. I think everyone should have a banjo!

Who are some of your favorite vintage performers and influences?

SO many! Too many to name them all, but I’ll share a few.  I love Charline Arthur because she was so talented and she didn’t take any crap from anyone.  I love Ma Rainey because she used to start her performances inside a giant box done-up to look like a Victrola only to emerge from the box in the middle of the first song covered in gold necklaces and flashing her gold teeth.  I also love her because she could perform with a big ol’ band at minstrel shows and opera houses without a microphone.  I love Lottie Kimbrough because her voice sounds like butter and makes me teary-eyed.  I love Lorrie Collins because she is the greatest rockabilly singer of all time, and because she sang about what she wanted to no matter what kind of reputation it would give her.  I love Mimi Roman because she is a New York Jewish sharp-shooting cowgirl country western singer who toured with Ronnie Self and Goldie Hill, and also because she’s a very nice lady who has been kind enough to talk with me and has been very encouraging to me about my music. You’ll hear from all these gals and more on my radio program, “Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves.”

Any special plans for Friday’s show at The Star Bar?

I’ll be playing some new tunes with the fellas, and I’ve also worked up a fun duet with Dave Weil from The Blacktop Rockets.  Also, my pals Cletis Reid and Johnny McGowan have put together a new CD that they’ll be releasing that night. If you like truck-driving country, you’ll want to come on out and pick one up!

What’s next for Julea and Her Dear Johns?

Definitely hoping to get into the studio and record an album soon.  Hopefully we’ll keep playing cool shows and I’ll keep writing new songs.

We all know that the life of a musician can get hectic.  What do you do on a regular day when you’re just being Julea?

I teach first grade at an arts-integrated elementary school in the Atlanta area.  It can be a challenging job, but I love it so much.  I’ve taught second, third and fourth grade in the past as well.  If I’m not teaching, or playing music, or writing music, then you can probably find me at the record store.

Who are some of your favorite female local artists?

There are so many cool women in Atlanta playing really good music. Buffi Aguero (Tiger! Tiger! & The Subsonics) inspires me, as does Aileen Loy (Till Someone Loses An Eye) [March 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Aileen, here], Katy Graves and Jennifer Leavey (from Catfight!) [May 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Katy, here], Suzanne Gibboney (Tiger!Tiger!, LUST and Catfight!), Adron, Cameron Federal (Little Country Giants) Caroline Engel (Caroline & The Ramblers) [July 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Caroline, here], Lindsay Rakers, and so many more!  My friend Andy Deaver-Edmonstone (from The BareKnuckle Betties) has a great new band called the Burnt Mountain Benders that I can’t wait to hear. I’ve also gotten really into Kira Annalise‘s music here recently.  She writes amazing songs.

Can you tell us something you’d like folks to know about you that they don’t know already?

I very much prefer mono recording over stereo.  In fact, I detest the whole concept of stereo recording. I think it’s ruined many great songs.

All photographs are courtesy of Julea Thomerson and used with permission.

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The Kool Kats’ Meow: Our ATLRetro Preview of the Third Annual Rockabilly Luau!

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2013 By:

Hawaiiana Tiki Culture and Rockabilly music are two of our favorite things here at ATLRetro, so you can bet we’re looking forward to the 3rd Annual Rockabilly Luau this weekend at Atlanta-Northlake Holiday Inn.  This year, it’s expanded to two days of feativities with a kick-off night on Friday Aug. 2 starting at 6 p.m. and then a full day of fun on Sat. Aug. 3 kicking off at noon hosted by Jim Stacy and mermaid Medusirena the Fire-Eating Mermaid, with bands, vendors, tropical cocktails, a classic car show, a pin-up swimsuit contest, Hawaiian fire performers and even a mermaid! The killer line-up includes a treasure chest of ATLRetro Kool Kats of weeks past, so we thought it would be fun to reprint some highlights from their interviews to give you a taste of the fun to come.

Rockabilly Luau Founder Chris Mattox

Chris told us that he grew up on rockabilly and surf music and that the Rockabilly Luau is a labor of love. “One of my fondest childhood memories was my dad taking me to see Dick Dale at the Variety Playhouse,” he says. “A love for Polynesian culture was inevitable.” At every turn, he reminded us of his passion for fair treatment of animals and that all proceeds from the Rockabilly Luau benefit dog rescue efforts. This year the designated nonprofit is Friends To The Forlorn Pitbull Rescue. Read Chris’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Hot Rod Walt of The Psychio-Devilles (Saturday 7 p.m.)

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 Buford T. Ogletree on bass and Steve “Burnout” Barnett on drums, have generated multiple CDs, toured the US and Europe and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the Retro Revival, not to mention lighting a bass on fire at the first Rockabilly Luau in 2011.

“I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was around 12 years old,” Walt recalled. “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.”

As for his fantastic rockabilly wardrobe: “I make all my show clothes myself,” Walt said. “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!”

Read Hot Rod Walt’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Caroline Hull-Engel of Caroline and the Ramblers (Friday 7:15 p.m.)

As interviewer James Kelly noted, “Red Hot Mama” [the title of the Ramblers’ CD] Caroline Hull Engel is well known to the folks who frequent the Redneck Underground and rockabilly shows in town as one of the best singers around. She was even selected as Creative Loafing’s “Best Female Vocalist” in 2009. Keeping the spirit of the classic ’50s and early ’60s alive is her goal, and with an amazing mix of terrific original tunes and classy covers, Caroline & the Ramblers never disappoint.”

Caroline herself said The Ramblers, her current band, is “geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and [is] heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda JacksonJanis Martin and Gene Vincent with some torchy stuff mixed in. I had gone through a tumultuous relationship and breakup which gave me a lot of inspiration to write some songs that are finally ending up on my new record. Probably the best example of this time in my life is the song “Wasn’t Ready for the Heartache,” which is on the new record. Of course, a little time passing and meeting the love of my life – my husband Robert – helped a lot, too! In 1999 at the first Drive Invasion, I changed the name of the band to Caroline & the Ramblers. We’ve been playing as C&R ever since. There have been some lineup changes over the past 15 years, but I have been very fortunate to play with some of the best players in Atlanta.”

Read Caroline’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Julea Thomerson at The Star Bar's Bubbapalooza.

Julea Thomerson of Julea and Her Dear Johns (Saturday 1 p.m.)

When we caught up with lovely Julea, she was singing and strumming (she plays banjo, acoustic guitar and rubboard) with some of the best male blues and roots musicians in the city, including Bill SheffieldCharlie WootonNathan Nelson and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeckand her main gig was with the Bareknuckle Betties. Now she’s got her own band, Julea and Her Dear Johns.

When asked why she plays country and honky tonk in the 21st century, Julea retorted, “Why not? Every form of music we listen to today is, to some extent, derivative of some sort of sound that is not from the 21st century. There is not one song you can listen to that is completely unique, not one style or genre of music that hasn’t already been reinvented hundreds of times. And that’s true for every genre, not just honky tonk. So if you’re looking at music from that angle, why play anything at all? As for me personally, I play what I play because those are the kind of songs that I write. I write those kind of songs because that’s what I listen to. And I listen to what I listen to because it’s what I connect with and enjoy. I guess you could say that country western honky tonk music is not a 21st century sound. But in my opinion, I think it’s silly to try to assign a time period to something that is timeless.”

Read Julea’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Rev. Andy Hawley. Photo courtesy of Andy Hawley.

The Right Reverend Andy of Garage 71 (Friday Kick-Off Party, 10:30 p.m.)

For almost a decade, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley has been at the pulpit of Atlanta’s rockabilly revival as the DJ of Psychobilly Freakout (now airing Mondays from 8-10 p.m. on Garage 71 Internet radio and live at area events) and also for the many ‘billy events he has organized. Andy said he became the Right Reverend a bit by accident. “It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon,” he added.  “I came in to do my show at Album 88 (88.5FM) and told the DJ before my show went on I had become ordained through the Universal Life Church. Without prompting her, she ended her shift by saying, “Coming up next is Psychobilly Freakout with Reverend Andy!” Years later, Sully from daveFM would add the “Right” part to add some flourish. Now, I’m active outside the studio with my role as the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll getting folks deep fried and sanctified with the help of roots music!”

As for the origins of “Psychobilly Freakout,” he told us “This name (and song) encapsulated the theme for what I wanted my show to become. Honestly, it came down to naming it this or “Rockabilly Rebel,” after a Hillbilly Hellcats song. The program director for Album 88 wanted to differentiate my show from the country show, so I went with the Freakout. The first time I interviewed Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), I told him I had named my show after one of his songs. He told me, “You better make it live up to the name,” and I think I have, eight years going.”

Read Rev. Andy’s full Kool Kat interview here.

 

Mon Cherie. Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Mon Cherie (Hostess, Friday Night Kick-Off Party)

When we Kool Katted Atlanta’s hostess with the mostest Mon Cherie, she was resurrecting notorious nightclub The Chamber for one more dark and delightful night, but she’s also the divine visionary behind the Rockabilly Lounge, burlesque shows and an amazing array of other Retro-inspired activities here. We asked her what started her love of all things vintage and she told us: “When I was a little girl, my Aunt Peggy from the hills of Pennsylvania used to let me and my sisters listen to her 45 records on her portable record player. This is the beginning of my fondness for ElvisJohnny CashEddie Cochran,Hank Williams and Ritchie Valens et al. I have always loved the trends of the ’40s, ’50s & ’60s – Rockabilly Lounge was just my way of putting it all together.” As to her secret to success: “I have an ability to share a smile, so when I put one on your face, it puts two on mine.”

Read Mon Cherie’s Full Kool Kat interview here.

Chris Hamer. Photo courtesy of Chris Hamer.

 

Monsterific Comics Artist Chris Hamer (Vendors Row)

The Rockabilly Luau’s vendors’ alley is always full of fantastic finds from carved tikis to floral hair styling accessories to carved Cthulhu tiki mugs, but one of our favorites has to be the man who put a monster in your thrift store painting, Chris Hamer of Urbnpop Studio. When we caught up with him, he was about to do a Tom Waits-themed art show, and this is what he said about his approach to using found pieces in his works: “This show was a bit how I do my thrift store pieces, but I did the shopping at antique stores instead. I would travel around to different stores with a song in mind, walk around, do a lot of staring at stuff, and buy it [if I had] the feeling that I could make it work. When you listen to Tom Waits, or even see a photo of him, there is this nostalgic, romantic quality to him. I feel that with his music, he does not fit into this new polished sound that is on the radio or popular with a wide audience. It’s almost like his fans are antiques or vintage themselves. By no means am I calling them old, but you just do not hear people talking about him as much as you do a mainstream band or singer. I did not want to just simply make a wooden box or buy some canvas for the art, I wanted to take the vintage old soul approach with the art. So each piece has some sort of lost antique or discarded feel to it. One piece that will stand out the most in the show is for the song “Old 55.” I used an original pre-‘50s Ford truck door for my canvas to paint on. It’s all rusty and looks like time forgot all about it. I love it.”

Read Chris Hamer’s full Kool Kat interview here.

Medusirena. Photo courtesy of Medusirena.

Medusirena (Saturday, 8:15 p.m.)

And last but not least it’s true, there will be a mermaid and she knows how to play with fire! One of the last luau’s most alluring acts was aquatic dance by Medusirena, also known as Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaidfrom Fort Lauderdale, FL., and we’re happy to say she’s back. She wasn’t an official ATLRetro Kool Kat, but we did interview her for last year’s preview to find out a little more about this self-described “zany Uncanny Exoticat-Aquaticat,” whose passion is to recreate vintage aquatic dance for today’s audiences.

“Well, there was never a time I “became” a “mermaid,” to tell you the truth,” Marina told ATLRetro. “I can say that  I learned how to free dive at a very early age – 3 – in the West Indies and have always maintained a strong connection with aquatic movement art. That, together with training in Polynesian and Eastern dances, it was a natural fit.  I was inspired by marine animal movement and performers and showpeople ranging from Esther Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ricou Browning, Annette Kellerman, Iris Chacón and even Freddie Mercury, with a touch of Bruce Lee. My goal is to not only to return aquatic performances to people’s consciousness, but to help educate and encourage the art form for future generations. Retro-tainment if you will.”

Read our full interview with Medusirena here.

And that’s just our Kool Kats sos far. Everyone on the Rockabilly Luau playlist is a sure-fire contender for a future Kool Kat. Here’s the full performance schedule, but keep in mind, as we said, they’ll be a lot more going, especially on Saturday, including vendors, classic cars, cocktails and food.

Friday Night Line-up:

6:00-7:00 The Monterreys
7:00-7:15 Daisy Day
7:15-8:00 Caroline & The Ramblers
8:15-9:00 Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Pre-Qualifier
9:00-9:45 The Mystery Men?
9:45-10:30 Forged Creations Fire Performers
10:30 -? Hotel guests only kickoff party! Hosted by Mon Cherie, Garage 71 and Bachelor Pad Magazine!

Saturday Line-up:
12:00 Gates open!
1:00-2:00 Julea and her Dear Johns
2:00-3:00 Gemini 13
2:30-3:30 “Taste of the Islands” part 1
3:00-4:00 Davina & the Harlots
4:15:-5:15  The Intoxicators
5:30-6:00  Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders
6:00-6:45  Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Contest Finals “Taste of the Islands” part 2
7:00-8:00  Hot Rod Walt & The Psycho Devilles
8:15-8:45 Medusirena
9:00-9:30 Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders, Fire Knife dancer
9:30 Kat Chaffin & Woven Pines

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Kool Kat of the Week: Hele mei hoohiwahiwa means “Come celebrate” with Calu Cordeiro at the Rockabilly Luau and Mai Tai Tahitian Tuesdays at Dark Horse Tavern

Posted on: Aug 2nd, 2012 By:

Tiki Cocktail Goddess Calu Cordeira. Photo courtesy of Calu Cordeira.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

From Tiki-inspired dance to tattoo arts, this week’s Kool Kat Calu Cordeiro is a well-established and highly sought-after talent in Atlanta’s retro-style nightlife. We talked to her about many things Tiki including the upcoming Rockabilly Luau on Saturday Aug. 4 at the Holiday Inn Northlake (check out our full preview here). To those unfamiliar with Polynesian pop culture, it may seem like more glibly appropriated ethnic flavor – patio torches and grocery store Mai Tai mix. But to a true-blue Tiki lover like Calu, it’s a smoldering yet soul-soothing treat for all the senses. We share a deep adoration for the beauty of these cultures popularized in mainland America in the mid-20th century, so I asked about some of the ways she works to bring to Atlanta the instant vacation that Tiki events offer so easily.

Aloha! Tell our ALTRetro readers, when did you first become a Tiki-phile? What drew you to the genre?

I have always loved all things Tiki. I guess it comes from my mum and step-dad. Trader Vic’s was their fave restaurant. My first Trader Vic’s experience was in London at around 7ish. I was hooked.

I was lucky enough to have cocktails with your mother on one of her visits. It’s clear where you inherited your beauty and charm. You’ve been actively nurturing the Poly-pop scene from behind the bar here in Atlanta for a while; give us the scoop on your current Mai Tai Tahitian Tuesdays?

Mai Tai Tiki nights are something I invented for myself to make my bartending week more pleasurable [and] bring a li’l bit of the beach to ATL bars. I have been doing this for over 10 years and will take it with me wherever I go. It now resides at the Dark Horse Tavern in the Virginia Highlands – Mai Tai Tahitan Tuesdays, 9 p.m.-Drunk.

Photo courtesy of Calu Cordeira.

I’m looking forward to your cocktails pool side this weekend. What are you looking forward to most about the Rockabilly Luau.

I am so excited to bring my drinks to the Rockabilly Luau. I just love making people drunk with my luscious libations. Well, that certainly works out nicely, ha, ha, ha.

You and I have been talking about setting up a cocktail class with the famous Tiki mixologist and author Beachbum Berry in Oct. Are you still game?

I would be honored to take any class pointers from Beachbum Berry, so yes!

I first met the Beach Bum at the world famous Mai-Kai [in Fort Lauderdale, FL], during the Hukilau, the East coast’s big annual Tiki festival. Are you up for a Tiki field trip to South Florida for next years festival and afternoons sipping Mutinies & Rum Barrels in the Molokai Bar

The Hukilau!.Next year! It’s OOOOn!

You have some gorgeous skin art.

I started getting tattooed at 23 – and just from there went full force.

When did you decide to get on the other side of the machine?

I’m kind of at a stopping point [getting tattooed] except for fun things here and there and getting existing stuff finished, so now I like tattooing others. It’s just another medium of art for me.

What other talents have you that we haven’t seen yet? Are there Tiki mugs and carvings I don’t know about?

I love to paint, carve, sculpt, glue, sew, whatever. I love a challenge .

So what should we look for next from you?

My new love is hot yoga and at some point want to get certified for that – Hottikiyoga – watch out, ha,ha.

So as happy-hour called to us, she on her side of the bar and I on mine, I said Mahalo and settled back with a lovely rum concoction and let that little vacation in a glass wash in like the tide.  Hope to see you all by the pool!

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Fire-Eating Mermaids, Cocktails and Guitars, Oh, My! Getting Revved & Ready for the Second Annual Rockabilly Luau

Posted on: Jul 30th, 2012 By:

Atlanta will say aloha to the Second Annual Rockabilly Luau this Sat. Aug. 4 from noon to 10 p.m. by the pool at the Holiday Inn Northlake, which has been undergoing renovations for a tiki cabana look. The first Rockabilly Luau last summer at Masquerade Music Park featured a great line-up of bands, burlesque and Polynesian performers and vendors. But after this long hot summer and before the Mayan calendar ends, this year’s event is themed The End of Summer, End of the World Luau! And ATLRetro is excited that cofounder Chris Mattox decided to relocate it to a more watery location, allowing us to pretend we have escaped to the paradise of the Hawaiian Islands and some added entertainment opportunities including aquatic dance by Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (also known as MeduSirena) from Fort Lauderdale, FL. Plus the incomparable Calu Cordeiro, mixologist for Mai Tai Tahitian Tuesdays at Dark Horse Tavern, will be supervising the cocktails – a must for any Retro-Polynesian-themed event. Again all proceeds go to two animal rescue charities, Friends to the Forlorn and Shelter Angels 

True to its name, Rockabilly Luau combines two Retro styles – tiki and rockabilly, with a healthy dose of surf. Back again are ATLRetro favorites The Rebel Surfers from Nashville (12:30-1:30), Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho Devilles (4:15-5:15) and  Daikaiju (1:45-2:45), who unfortunately got rained out last year. El Capitan & Thee Scallywags (5:30-6:30) also are on the bill, as well as a Polynesian Show (3-4 and 7:15-8:15),  a tropical bathing suit fashion show by Waterbabies (6:45-7), Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (8:30-9), and culminating in a Volcano Sacrifice Burlesque Show starting at 9:15. Co-hosts are Marina and the Right Rev. Andy, DJ of Psychobilly Freakout on Garage 71, Atlanta’s top rockabilly music radio source and the main stage sponsor.

More features include a fire knife performance, a vintage car cruise-in, live tiki carving, real kalua pork and other Polynesian fare, hula hoop performances by Hoop Essence, Poi performances by Sinder and Incendia and tons of vendors located on Tiki Row (including ATLRetro! We’ll be bringing plenty of T-shirts featuring our exclusive logo by DerekArt, hair flower art, Hula girl tote bags and more Hawaiiana and Retro items).

Marina, the Fire-Eating Mermaid. Photo courtesy of Marina.

ATLRetro caught up with Marina, a self-described “zany Uncanny Exoticat-Aquaticat,” to find out a little more about what it’s like to be a mermaid, why she was drawn to recreating vintage aquatic dance for today’s audiences, her Retro dance influences ranging from Esther Williams to Bruce Lee, and what she has planned for the Rockabilly Luau.

ATLRetro: How did you become a mermaid?

Marina: Well, there was never a time I “became” a “mermaid,” to tell you the truth. I can say that  I learned how to free dive at a very early age – 3 – in the West Indies and have always maintained a strong connection with aquatic movement art. That, together with training in Polynesian and Eastern dances, it was a natural fit.  I was inspired by marine animal movement and performers and showpeople ranging from Esther Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ricou Browning, Annette Kellerman, Iris Chacón and even Freddie Mercury, with a touch of Bruce Lee. My goal is to not only to return aquatic performances to people’s consciousness, but to help educate and encourage the art form for future generations. Retro-tainment if you will.

What attracts you to mermaids and do you have a favorite mermaid of screen or fiction?

The mermaid [is a] combination of two enviornments – the aquatic & the terrestrial – [and] everyone sees it in a different and personal manner. I perform often without fins, and love it just as much. It pays homage to those first aquatic performers.

The “mermaid” is what most people connect with, and as seems to have become quite popular recently, it’s what most people expect. I make it a point, however, not to appear “realistic,” instead opting for the image of a woman in a “fishtail cocktail dress.” I feel it best addresses the genre I wish to represent.

Marina recreates the aquatic dance made famous by the incomparable Esther Williams. Photo courtesy of Marina.

As for my favorite “mermaid” in film, it has to be the great Esther Williams. If you are referring to the “tailed” variety, it’s got to be SHE CREATURE (2001 remake). She was dangerous, and that really was great – she should make you nervous! The original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is also a fave. Love him to chummy bits.

Can you give readers a quick taste of what you have planned for Rockabilly Luau?

As for what I’ve got planned, all I’ll say is that it will be a loving nod to the golden age of tourism entertainment – a bit of swimming, a bit of fire, a lot of humor. I sincerely hope everyone enjoys it. It is a terrific honor to be a part of such a terrific event and for such a noble cause.

Tickets for the Rockabilly Luau are $15 in advance (available here) and $20 at the gate.

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All Good Dogs Go to El Dia De Los Perrios: A Canine-Themed Day of the Dead Supports Animal Charities This Saturday in East Atlanta

Posted on: Oct 14th, 2011 By:

With Halloween right around the corner, the Kool Kats behind the Rockabilly Luau are taking Mexico’s DAY OF THE DEAD and giving it literally to the dogs to raise money for three animal rescue charities on Sat. Oct. 15. EL DIA DE LOS PERROS a free family-friendly public festival features Mexican-themed games, food, craft vendors, a costume contest (for both humans and dogs), kids craft and activity area, and a mariachi band from noon to 5 p.m. at 559 Flat Shoals Ave. (30316), the same open meadow that hosts the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market.

You don’t have to dress up, but ATLRetro agrees with Ink for Paws cofounder and event organizer Chris Mattox that you’ll have more of a treat of a time if you do. “Any costume (for people or dogs) is acceptable, but we’re most fond of ‘sugar skull’ faces,” he says. “Women can dress in Mexican tunics which are often embroidered, or they can wear Mexican flamenco dress. Men can wear Quechquémitl, which is similar to a festive poncho. Anything is welcome, but the more elaborate the better.”

The vendors’ market isn’t vintage per se or dog and Day of the Dead-themed exclusively, but being full of handmade items, it’ll definitely take you back in time. Chris says there’ll be dolls, hats, blankets, baskets and crafts of all kinds, as well as a groovy Dia de Los Perros-themed raffle. “For those diehard Dia de Los Muertos fans, we have some amazing items up for grabs,” he adds.

Be sure to bring the kids for bouncy village, piñata, face-painting, puppets, and a crafts corner, too. “Kids can purchase a slab of tickets and play all day,” Chris says, which he compares to Chucky Cheese—but with a much more creative twist. Indeed, we’d much rather think about kids learning about a different culture’s take on Halloween and playing with skulls, though.

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Let Them Eat Cupcakes! The Sugar Dolls Bake Up a Scrumptious Saturday in L5P!

Posted on: Oct 5th, 2011 By:

When ATLRetro heard that The Sugar Dolls were throwing their 2nd Annual Day of the Cupcake party on Saturday Oct. 8, we couldn’t think of a more delicious way to officially kick off our latest weekly feature, the Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club. While a holiday just for this Retro sweet sounds scrumptious enough, this quintet of beautiful bakers (Alexis Gorsuch, Lena Kotler, Crystal Chambers-Goggin, Jessika Cutts and Kelli Graham) has cooked up an entire day of activities, starting from noon to 7 p.m. at Sacred Heart Tattoo in Little Five Points and then continuing late into the night at Java Lords ($5 cover; proceeds to Atlanta Bully Rescue). They’ve tempted you with everything from boobalicious chocolate confections to flaming strawberries at Blast-Off Burlesque shows, Mon Cherie spectaculars, Rockabilly Luau, but Saturday will be all about celebrating the cupcake through activities, art and music. You’ll lick your lips for cupcake-inspired games, a Sugar Skull decorating room so you’ll be all set for the Day of the Dead, tasty tattoos, live bands (including Six Shot RevivalThe Sneaky Hand and The Claymores), karaoke, burlesque, pin-up hair-styling with Cherry Dame, a pin-up contest and, of course, cupcakes!

In fact, the idea of spending a day celebrating this timeless treat made us so hungry that we asked the Sugar Dolls if they’d be so sweet as to add ATLRetro to the menu as a sponsor. We’re thrilled to say that we passed their taste test, especially since we’ll be serving up a tasty new look at the end of this week, courtesy of Derek Art, too. That it’s Anya99’s birthday two days later is just icing on the cake, and she really loves icing, so while you’re dropping by for cupcakes, be sure to say hi. We’ll also be selling our first batch of ATLRetro T-shirts, so if you dig what we’re doing, consider buying one and supporting our humble efforts to keep Retro Atlanta alive.

With an all-day event, it’s sometimes hard to know when’s the best time to show up, so we asked Alexis to clue us in on all that’s cooking on Saturday. Of course, we couldn’t resist a few questions about the perennial appeal of the cupcake and the secret recipe behind the Sugar Dolls’ secret origin and success.

For a while, cupcakes seemed to have a bad reputation as being cheap alternatives instead of a real cake and mostly just for kids, but lately this quintessentially Retro treat is not just back in style, but as The Sugar Dolls have shown, can come in all sorts of creative flavors, even in adult versions such flaming with a drop of liqueur. What do you think accounts for their comeback?

Trends in fashion loop around so many years and I have been told on numerous occasion, it is due to nostalgia. “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” By Coco Chanel.  So what is more nostalgia than food, needless to say sweets? You nailed it on the head with the fact that cupcakes are Retro, but aside from that they have given us a sweet and simple way to step back to the past yet enjoy where we are and look forward to the future! I love how some of our sweets take me back to being a little girl, but the same cupcakes are the most elegant wedding display or engaging party favor. So much diversity in these simply amazing treats and people are really starting to recognize the possibilities and fun at reasonable budget. So honestly it is a nice handful of things that has really allowed these sweet cuppies to bloom into their own world.

We can’t think of a better name for a cupcake company than The Sugar Dolls. How did you gals get together and what made you start baking?

Thank you, we are pretty fond of the name too! Well, baking is such a sweet family tradition for so many folks, and all of the Dolls have some great memories and continue to make them together and with our families. We all met at different walks in our life but seem to have come together to make something bigger than ourselves. We want to share our love and experiences with you, and baking is the sweetest outlet to share those things and give in the many ways we would like.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Hanging Ten with Wayne Foster at the 5th Annual Clarkston Surf Fest

Posted on: Sep 21st, 2011 By:

“Surfing is very much like making love. It always feels good, no matter how many times you’ve done it,” legendary ‘60s surfer Paul Strauch once famously declared. This Saturday’s Clarkston Surf Fest 2011 is too far inland for attendees to ride any waves literally, but with 10 of the Southeast’s top surf bands playing from noon into night, it’s sure to satisfy any lover of the fast-strumming oceanic music genre. The fifth annual event, held Sat. Sept. 24 in the playing field of the Clarkston Community Center, features local faves The Mystery Men?, The Surge!Stratogeezer and El Fossil, as well as regional favorites Daikaiju(AL), Aqualads (NC), The Intoxicators (FL), The Necronomikids (AL), Kill, Baby…Kill (AL) and The Monterreys (NC). Best of all, it’s FREE and family-friendly, so you even can introduce the kids to some great music without shelling out big bucks.

The idea of a surf music festival in Clarkston, at first glance, sounds both improbable and absolutely awesome. But then we never expected Thursday night concerts by some of Atlanta’s best retrobilly/Redneck underground bands at an Asian restaurant (Kathmandu, formerly Pho Truc) in Clarkston either. That got us thinking there must be some pretty cool folks hanging ten in what’s not often dubbed Atlanta’s hippest suburb. Turns out Clarkston Surf Fest co-founder Wayne Foster doesn’t actually live there any more, but this beach party has become a labor of love for him and everyone else involved and losing a few good surf music friends has just inflamed his passion even more.

Seems like there must be a great story about how the Clarkston Surf Fest got started?
I guess it was 2004 or 2005 when my friend Randy Duke asked me to go to a surf music show at Under The Couch over at Georgia Tech. It was a band called The Penetrators. I figured with a name like that what could be bad? Wow! what a show. These guys were like modern day 1960s secret agents of rock. In between sets Randy introduced me to John McCorvey AKA “Eddie Katcher” who plays guitar in a band called The Surge! The three of us talked about how cool the music is and wouldn’t it be great if a bunch of surf bands could get together for an all-day show somewhere. Well, a light bulb went off in my head…… I was a freelance sound guy with a big PA. I also lived in Clarkston and was serving on the city council.

In 2006, I made arrangements to use the historic Woman’s Club cottage, and John lined up as many surf bands as he could. It was one of those Our Gang “hey, let’s put on a show right here in the barn” kind of events. Local advertising agency, MLT Creative, designed and printed our signs for free after I told owner, Billy Mitchell, about our plan. He’s a surf music fan. Stratogeezer, Big Ray & The Futuras, The Broken Spokes, El Capitan, The Penetrators and The Surge! played that first Surf Fest. What an experience. The Clarkston Community Center then offered us a bigger venue.

I understand this year is both special and bittersweet to you after the passing of your good friend and festival co-founder Randy Duke, as well as Spanky Twangler of the Penetrators. Can you talk a little about what both contributed to this festival and what you have planned to honor them.

We didn’t have Surf Fest in 2010 because of some personal issues in my life that were beyond my control. My best friend Randy Duke’s health had been deteriorating for some time. He passed away right around the time Surf Fest would have been going on. My girlfriend and I had also just bought a new house 30 miles away from Clarkston. I was apprehensive about doing Surf Fest again since I no longer live in Clarkston and am not involved in city government. I want to honor Randy and Spanky by not letting Surf Fest fade away. Both of these remarkable men were super musicians and both were instrumental in turning me on to the surf genre.

This year’s 10-band line-up is pretty incredible including not just some great local surf bands but terrific bands from across the region. Who’s new this year and how did you decide who would play this year?

The Monterreys, Kill, Baby… Kill!, The Intoxicators!, Aqualads, and El Fossil will be at Surf Fest for the first time. We decided who would play this year by finding bands willing to drive hundreds of miles to sleep on my vinyl couch, eat cold pizza, drink cheep beer, and work for gas money. There’s a lot of great surf bands out there and not enough venues for them to play. I wish we could have 30 bands and play all weekend! ………. (need more sponsors, need bigger venue)…… end of subliminal message.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Taking A High-Speed Ride with Hot Rod Walt of the Psycho-DeVilles to the Star Bar and Beyond

Posted on: Jun 29th, 2011 By:

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.

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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 Kats of the Week: Chris Mattox’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll and Jessica Vega’s a little bit tiki—the perfect potion for a Rockabilly Luau

Posted on: Jun 15th, 2011 By:

If you, like ATLRetro, are depressed you missed the 10th anniversary Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last weekend, a little tiki treasure is coming here to lift your spirits. Say aloha to the Rockabilly Luau, this Saturday June 18 at the Masquerade Music Park, an all-afternoon (noon to 8 PM) celebration of two of the main fuels of the Retro revival—‘50s/’60s inspired music (rockabilly, psychobilly, surf, lounge) and the Hawaiiana subculture of cocktails, tiki art, hula and a nostalgic longing for island paradise that had its heyday from the 1920s-60s.

For a first-time event, the band line-up is a stellar round-up of some of Atlanta and the Southeast’s top Retro-inspired talent including Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho Devilles, Daikaiju (Huntsville, AL), The Mystery Men?, The Go Devils (Asheville, NC), Rebel Surfers (Nashville, TN), C.N.i. COW, Atomic Rockets and the lovely Pelvis Breastlies, as well as Nashville’s hula-hooping Spinderellas and burlesque troupes Blast-Off Burlesque, Dames Aflame and Davina and the Harlots. Hosts are Tyler Atomic (Atomic Rockets, Built for Speed on WRAS 88.5 FM) and lovely nationally acclaimed Retro pin-up model Ashley Croft. But Rockabilly Luau is more than just another all-day concert, true to the luau spirit, attendees will be greeted with leis,  feast on island food (including the prerequisite kalua pig), sip tropical cocktails, watch live tiki carving, have a chance to purchase tiki memorabilia, and be treated to performances by authentic Polynesian dancers and fire dancers. A variety of contests (see below), body-painting and a pre-1968 car show top off the festivities which will benefit two local animal rescue charities, Friends to the Forlorn Pitbull Rescue and Shelter Angels Pitbull Rescue.

The creators of the Rockabilly Luau are Chris Mattox, who works for Frazier Harley-Davidson, and Jessica Vega, a Polynesian college student and manager of a clothing boutique. ATLRetro recently caught up with Chris for a preview.

How did each of you come to love rockabilly and tiki/Polynesian culture respectively, and what about each appeals to you personally?

Jessica Vega makes a blue friend on a Mai Tai Monday at Smith's Olde Bar.

I grew up on rockabilly and surf music. One of my fondest childhood memories was my dad taking me to see Dick Dale at the Variety Playhouse. A love for Polynesian culture was inevitable. Jess is Polynesian, and for her, an appreciation of her culture came first. She grew into the music and tiki culture as an offshoot of that.

How did you come up with the idea for the Rockabilly Luau?

Jessica, who’s Polynesian, mentioned that while there are all kind of Polynesian events in California and Florida, there aren’t [m]any here. I thought that was a real shame given the number of great surf bands and “tiki-philes” there are in the south. We decided to put together the Luau and give any proceeds to Shelter Angels Pitbull Rescue and Friends to the Forlorn Pitbull Rescue.

How is Rockabilly Luau different from other music festivals?

Blast-Off Burlesque

The Luau is different in a number of ways. First, we made a concerted effort to include people who were working to keep Polynesian culture alive. Second, as the Website states, this is a hangover you can feel good about; 100% of the ticket price goes directly to the charities.

You’ve got an amazing entertainment line-up from bands to burlesque. When you started approaching folks, did you feel there was a real hunger for an event like this?

Yes! People kept saying, “I’ve been waiting for somebody to do this!” It was really encouraging—not to mention, the whole shebang is for charity.

Can you tell me a little about the bands. What style does each play?

From the top, Hot Rod Walt and The Psycho Devilles are a psychobilly band, Daikaiju is a Japanese-inspired surf band, The Mystery Men? are a surfabilly band, The Go Devils are a psychobilly/surf/swing band, The Rebel Surfers are a rockabilly/surf/blues band, C.N.i. Cow is a rockabilly/surf/punk/metal band, The Atomic Rockets are a rockabilly band, and The Pelvis Breastlies are an all-female Elvis Tribute band.

Will you be serving mai tais and other exotic cocktails?

We will be serving exotic cocktails—Mai Tais, etc. They just won’t be served in coconuts. We have to save SOMETHING for next year. However, umbrellas are included.

What kinds of Hawaiian foods will be on the menu?

Hawaiian BBQ, veggie fried rice, smoothies, fruit lemonade, kalua pork…I’m making myself hungry.

I understand there will be contests, too. Can you give a little taste about what’s planned in that regard?

We have a hula hoop contest, a Hawaiian pin-up swimsuit contest and an ugliest Hawaiian shirt contest. You can’t say we don’t have a sense of humor.

Is the show all ages? What is the charge for parking?

The car show is all ages, and the parking is free of charge.

How did you pick the charities for this event? Do you have a special love for pitbulls?

We already knew both charities through our work at Ink for Paws, Inc. [a nonprofit organization founded by Mattox and Vega]. We knew they were both one-person charities and sorely underfunded. As for pit bulls, I own one and I think they get a bad rap. Both of these charities are trying to reshape hearts and minds about pitbulls.

Jax P. Snugglebear.

Can you tell us a little about your pit bull? What’s his name and what’s he like?

My pit bull looks like your typical, post-apocalyptic, vicious junkyard dog. His name is Jax P. Snugglebear. He’s the biggest lapdog you’ve ever seen. He’s about as dangerous  as a fluffy pillow. Unless you’re a squirrel. Then he’s like Chuck Norris’ mean older brother.

Do you hope to make this a regular, perhaps annual event?

Most definitely. The response we got was overwhelming. The Rockabilly Luau will definitely be an annual event.

Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door and can be purchased here.

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