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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Kool Kat of the Week: Digging Deep to Her Rockabilly Roots for a Breakthrough Album: Why It’s Worth Following Kim Lenz to Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2013 By:

Kim Lenz. Photo credit: Joseph Cutice.

Los Angeles-based rockabilly-roots musician Kim Lenz  and The Jaguars are no strangers to Atlanta, having played heard numerous times since she launched her career in 1998, but her return to Smith’s Olde Bar on Wed. August 14 is more than a little bit extra special. Her current US Tour supports a new album FOLLOW ME, due for release on Aug. 20 from Riley Records, which has received considerable advance budge beyond the roots community including from Country Music Television’s “Edge” Website.

Reflecting the impact of some recent life challenges for Kim, the new LP’s lyrics are a bit more serious and emotionally heavy and like so many great rockabilly and country women before her, a nice dose of female empowerment. The title track, “Follow Me,” is being compared to a range of amazing vocalists from Wanda Jackson to Amy Winehouse. The scarlet-tressed songstress also has some serious musical muscle behind the scenes since it’s produced by roots music icon Carl Sonny Leyland and recorded by Los Straitjackets bassist Pete Curry. In other words, despite some serious subject matter, it still puts the rock in rockabailly.

Kim has always been a mighty Kool Kat to ATLRetro, so we decided to catch up with her this week to find out more about her new songs and why you should follow her to her and The Jaguars’ Atlanta gig, which incidentally is opened by Chickens and Pigs with special guest Mark Johnson of Delta Moon.

ATLRetro: Your new album FOLLOW ME has been getting some pretty exciting advance buzz. How does it build upon your prior work and take you to the next level? 

Kim Lenz: I love American roots music and that’s what I’ve been doing via rockabilly for a number of years. My new record goes a little further into the roots and I also stretched myself as a songwriter… digging deeper into personal places.

You opted to record FOLLOW ME on vintage tube gear to two-inch tape in mono. Why stay retro when there have been such advances in recording technology?

There is a certain magic when dealing with tubes and tape and plate reverb and such. Modern technology has its place, but starting with yummy ingredients is important in my opinion.

The title track, “Follow Me,” is one amazing female empowerment anthem. I understand it comes out of a recent dark time for you, including learning that you were adopted and the death of your long-time guitarist Nick Curran last fall. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of the song and what you hope others will take from it?

Most of my life I felt like I was so tough. But the last couple years knocked me down. So far I wasn’t sure I could get back up. Music has always been the best way for me to cope with life in general.  I dealt with quite a bit of abuse growing up. This song is about taking back the real power of being a woman.

“Follow Me” is not the only song on the album that deals with life challenges. There’s a long history of female country vocalists who met hard issues head-on. Was there any one who has especially inspired you recently?

Strangely I rarely think of myself as a “female” musician. I think all artists use what they do to deal with life head-on. The ones I respect anyway. If I had to list he people who inspire me, it would be too many to print.

I take it, however, that this album is hardly a downer. You’ve said that producer Carl Sunny Leyland “took these sad songs and put a sparkle on them.” What was it like to work with him and can you expand on what you mean by that?

Carl is a genius. One of the if not the best roots musician on the planet. I brought these songs to him. He easily was able to see my vision but brought them out of the dark.

Any other songs on the album you’d like to single out for listeners to especially look out for?

We just finished making a video for “Pay Dearly.” It’s really dark and cool!

Kim Lenz. Photo credit: Joseph Cutice.

Do you and the band have anything special planned for this tour and/or your Atlanta stop?

Record digging!!!!

You’ve toured through Atlanta quite a few times over the years. Do you have any favorite must-do things when you’re here?

We usually rock out and drink too much!!!

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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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All Hail Bubba! Why You Should Swing Down to the Star Bar for the Best Rockabilly/Roots Family Reunion on the Planet Every Memorial Day Weekend

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Spike Fullerton plays an early Bubbapalooza. Clipping courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

By Eve Wynne-Warren
Contributing Writer

Bubbapolooza is a celebration of American roots music held every Memorial Day weekend at the Star Community Bar in Little 5 Points. This year marks the 22nd year that friends, fans and family have gathered together to hear some of the best rockabilly, country and rock music around, and the line-up is mighty exciting. On Friday May 24 starting at 8 p.m., hear The Belmont Playboys, Hi-Test, Ghost Riders Car Club, Blacktop Rockets, AM Gold and Slim Chance & the Convicts. Then on Saturday May 25 with doors at 4 p.m. (music at 5), the roster includes an even bigger herd of ATLRetro Kool Kats such as Caroline & the Ramblers, Cletis & His City Cousins, and Grim Rooster, plus Nashville’s The Billygoats, with Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Scorchers), Ohio’s The Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition up from Missississippi, El Capitan & The Band With No Name (surf meets Ennio Morricone!) and McPherson Struts. And that’s not to mention a triad of surf bands – Kill, Baby, Kill, The Intoxicators and The Mystery Men? – downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge.

There used to be a bumper sticker adorning the rear of many an Atlanta vehicle that read, “The Star Bar, where things go Twang in the night.” The gracious booking agents who have worked the offices there over the years have, as any live venue does, varied the types of bands and shows offered since the doors opened on Halloween, 1991. However, few other Atlanta venues have been so inclined to offer as much Roots Americana as the Star. It’s not what you’d think of a swank place to “be seen”; it’s a Honky Tonk. People come there for the music. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you didn’t have to be a certain age, race or one of the “beautiful people” to feel at home there…just love the music. That is the essence of Bubbapolooza, which was founded by Cabbagetown songwriter/guitarist Gregory Dean Smalley. Since Greg passed away from AIDS in the mid-1990s, every Bubba has been dedicated to him and the Boones Farm toast to his legacy is always an emotional moment. This year’s event also pays tribute to the memory of Earl Maddox, another Bubba godfather who passed away from cancer last year. Earl drummed for a slew of bands such as the Diggers, the Convicts and Gregory Dean and the Bubbamatics, and lately had been a character actor in movies. [Ed. note: read a companion story about Earl here and check out our 20th anniversary retrospective for some more history.].

This year ATLRetro decided to catch up with some Star Bar regular suspects, musicians and fans to give those “Bubba virgins” an idea of what it’s all about.

“My goal for this year’s booking of Bubbapalooza was to have a few more regional and national acts to go along with our great regulars and keep the spirit of the event alive,” says Bryan Malone, who does the booking for the Star Bar. “We have more touring acts this year than in the past few years. With Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jason Ringenberg and Jimbo Mathus, I feel we’ve done that.

One of the things that makes this event special is that it is a chance for some of the older fans to come out,” he adds. “Bubbapalooza is almost like a Star Bar family reunion. It’s the one time of year that we see faces and groups from the days of the club’s inception having a great time and enjoying great music.  It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “Happy Bubba” throughout the course of the weekend. This year as always, we donate a portion of the proceeds to the family of Gregory Dean Smalley who created Bubbapalooza. But this past year we lost an old friend when Earl Maddox passed, so we will also be doing something special in honor of him and his family. The whole thing is a family reunion with great friends and great music. There ain’t much else like it anywhere. Happy Bubba!”

Richard “Spike” Fullerton currently plays with Ghost Riders Car Club, on the Friday Bubba playlist, and in the first few Bubbas, with the HotPoint Rangers and later Kingsized, or so he thinks. “My memories are pretty dim,” Spike admits. “The first one, as I barely recall, was very much about humor and the feeling that Atlanta had a pretty good crop of young players in a genre that was on the way back. In the few years I’d been here the rockabilly/country scene had been evolving out of second rate clubs and into better venues. It felt like a sort of coming-out party that our music was vibrant enough to have a club to call our own. The Star Bar really became something vaguely akin to The Ace or Dingwalls in London, where our group just would naturally go there first and check who’s on the marquee later. I really feel fortunate to have had that moment in my musical career. One of my very first gigs back after work had kept me away was with the Ghost Riders Car Club at Bubbapalooza. It’s a very gratifying experience to come back to old friends in a familiar place, and find you’ve still got something to say to each other, musically and spiritually. I thoroughly enjoy the festival and what it has come to mean, to me anyway. I hope to play many more.”

I then asked drummer Mike Hammer to relate what might be his favorite year of playing the event. He said he had not been to every Bubba, but to most of them. “I became good friends with Greg Smalley back in those days,” Mike recalls. “My memory of a great gig was ‘94 or ’95, I think. [Ed. note: Mike was playing with Caroline and the Ramblers then]. The Lost Continentals were the next to last band, and the headliner was to be Scott Miller and his band, the Viceroys. At the last minute, we were told they could not make it for some reason, so we had the stage for the rest of the night. I think we even had Ben Friedman from Cigar Store [Indians] up with Amy Pike singing something. It turned into a wild show and the place was packed. I think it really pushed the Lost Continentals’ rep over the top here in town.”

The Billygoats play Bubbapalooza 20. Photo credit: Al Laipple.

I remember that. Those Bubba pickin’ party/encore sets are definitely some of my favorite memories. Mike will be at the drums with Cletis and the City Cousins on this year’s line-up. I asked Clete, who just may have been at every Bubbapolooza (even some only known to fans in an alternate universe), the same question. Alas there was a Braves game on and I got no reply. I will be sure to ask him in the middle of his set at the show.

Faylynn Owen, bartender at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, booked the bands for the Star Bar in the early years, and damned, if she didn’t do great job of it, too. I asked her what year stood out in her mind. Drive by Truckers is probably the most now famous band to play Bubba,” Faye Lynn says. “I don’t really have a favorite memory of Bubba. I loved them all.”

This year’s Bubbapolooza is headlined by the one and only Jason of Americana Roots Rock royalty Jason and the Scorchers, backed by The Billygoats, one of my all-time favorite Star Bar bands, also from Nashville. I asked them how many Bubbapoloozas they’d played. “I can only say that, even though I know that we played Bubba may more times than this, we only remember the last three – ’cause we were sober.”

There you have it. Come early; there’s real good Bar-B-Q on the patio courtesy of Slope’s BBQ. And try to plan on coming both nights; choosing which night to be there is too hard. Bryan Malone booked the line-up this year and I gotta give him extra credit for doing a fine job and setting the ticket price so it’s easy to come both nights ($10 Friday/ $15 Saturday). Wear something comfortable and think about cabbing there and home if you like to have a drink with your “Twang.” If you’ve been before, find me and give me a hug. If it’s new to you, come join the friends and family, and we’ll raise a toast together to Greg Smalley, Earl Maddox and George Jones. I bet you’ll come back next year.

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Their Day in Sun Records: David Elkins Walks the Line as Johnny Cash with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Posted on: Mar 12th, 2013 By:

The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Paul Natkin)

A fateful winter day when four of rock and country’s greatest sang together is recreated in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, the hit musical which plays the Fox Theatre from March 12-17 as part of the Broadway in Atlanta series. The extraordinary recording session on Dec. 4, 1956, included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash and was presided over by legendary Sun Records owner/producer Sam Phillips. Among the rock hits recorded that night were “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more.

The family of Johnny Cash, in a twist of fate and coincidence, moved to Memphis in the early 1950s. One day he worked up his gumption to show up at Sun and ask Sam for a recording contract. Sam wasn’t interested in the gospel songs that were Johnny’s first love and was rumored to suggest he “go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell.” Johnny says that anecdote didn’t happen, but he did switch to rockabilly, Sam took him on, and he recorded early hits such as “Hey Porter,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and ‘Walk the Line” at Sun. He actually became Sun’s best selling artist and the first to complete an LP.

To find out more about MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET and Johnny Cash’s Sun years, we caught up with David Elkins, who plays Johnny in the national tour company.

David Elkins as Johnny Cash in The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Paul Natkin)

How did you get the part of Johnny Cash?

I answered an open call audition inNew York City. Yes, I was going in solely for the role of Johnny.  I couldn’t begin to do those other guys justice. But I knew what I sounded like when I sang, and I just thought, “I can do that.” I love Johnny and his story. I respect his life’s journey and what he stood for, so it’s a real honor to try and bring a glimpse of that, one slice of time in his life, and share that with people everyday.

Some people may be less familiar with Johnny Cash’s relationship with Sun Records than with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. What will audiences learn about him in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET that they may not know?

Johnny Cash was there at Sun, but he left for Columbia Records, which is one of the dramatic story points in the show. He wanted to record a gospel album, and Mr. Phillips didn’t want to record it. He didn’t think the kids would buy it, but Columbia said they  would record it. It’s true that when most people think of Johnny, it’s more the “Man in Black” Johnny Cash of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and later AMERICAN RECORDINGS even, with [producer] Rick Rubin. That’s maybe why the Sun Records years don’t stick out as much today to some.

How did you approach playing Johnny Cash?

Instead of tackling the icon and trying to bring all that to the stage in less than two hours, I approached him as a 24-year-old kid from Arkansas who grew up picking cotton. My grandmother grew up 200 miles north of where Johnny was born [in Kingsland], so I heard all sorts of stories about picking cotton, working in the fields, and looking out for rattlesnakes. I thought of those folks who I have met. It made [Johnny’s early life] immediately tangible for me.

What are your favorite songs in the musical?

I really like our Quartet numbers. We do “Down By the Riverside” and “Peace in My Valley.” Those are pretty magical moments when we get to harmonize. And personally I love watching the other guys do their thing. I get to be on stage and watch them. Everybody I work with is so talented. I really love doing “Walk the Line,” too. People really open up to it. The first song I do is “Folsom Prison Blues,” and that song always gets a great reaction. After one show, I talked to a navy midshipman who used to listen to Johnny Cash all the time. He said, while I was singing, he closed his eyes and thought of his friends. I thought that was very genuine and from the heart. Things like that are very special.

I did a show in Durham, NC, and Johnny Cash’s nephew and his family met me after the show. He said that someone had told him he should go see the show. He said he figured that the other guys will be pretty good, but “nobody sounds like my uncle Johnny…but you nailed it.” That was such a blessing to me and a real confirmation of what we are trying to do.

Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis, James Barry as Carl Perkins, Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley and David Elkins as Johnny Cash in The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Paul Natkin)

Do you have any ritual for getting in character?

My warm-up consists of singing along to the HYMNS BY JOHNNY CASH album that he recorded shortly after he left Sun. I also watched old videos of his appearances on TV shows such as TOWN HALL PARTY and THE TEX RITTER SHOW and other clips of that era. It is not an impersonation, but I try to channel the feel of those shows. I think about what makes Johnny such a dynamic performer, so earnest and direct with his delivery. He really made each song his own. He was a storyteller. When he covered other people’s songs, he attached an earnestness, just a storyteller’s sensibility to every song. And there’s always that danger, that unpredictability under the surface that I think people are drawn to.

What will audiences be most surprised by?

I think audiences will be surprised by the undeniable impact this one man, Sam Phillips, had on the birth of rock n roll. He really had a gift for pulling new sounds out of young artists, and he recognized the racial barriers in music and helped to knock those down. He’s one of the few people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that wasn’t a musician. The show really is an ode to Sam Phillips. He really anchors the whole story. The script [by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux] was based on GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT: SUN RECORDS AND THE BIRTH OF ROCK N ROLL by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins. You can really feel the respect and love the authors have for Sam. It’s interesting to listen to the music of that time. If you listen to what they would have heard on the radio, then you can better understand why what they did at Sun was so revolutionary.

Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips in The National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

In MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, you’ve had the pleasure of performing in a lot of vintage theaters before getting to our Fabulous Fox. Any favorites?

A great part of the tour has been seeing beautiful old theaters. One of the cast members, Katie Barton, who is the understudy for Elvis’s girlfriend Dyanne, is from Atlanta and she told me the Fox is beautiful. There was Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY, where Duke Ellington performed and KING KONG played. I liked the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia. It wasn’t the most beautiful and the boards were a bit creaky, but it takes you back in time a bit and it felt great to be right in the middle of the city. The [former] Hippodrome [ now the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center] in Baltimore was also very impressive and a lot of fun to play in.

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Kool Kat of the Week: It Ain’t Rockabilly If You Don’t Have the Right Pair of Shoes; Talking Smart, Sassy and Southern with Miss Mason of Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge

Posted on: Feb 6th, 2013 By:

Every other month for more than five years – that’s half a decade – Atlanta’s Retro hostess with the mostest Mon Cherie gathers her friends and throws a Rockabilly Lounge at The Masquerade. And we’re tickled pink that her Valentine’s Lounge this Saturday Feb. 9 features a bunch of Kool Kat alums. First off, Mon Cherie is one. Then shake rattlin and rollin’ will be one of our favorite Atlanta bands The Stumblers, featuring Kool Kat Keith Martin. The Sweetheart Burlesque Show includes performances by Stormy Knight and the magic of Chad Sanborn, not to mention Scarlett PageHada Pixie, and debuting for the first time anywhere: Sunshine Divine. Wear your jitterbug’ shoes because The Right Reverend Andy will be spinning swing, rockabilly and psychobilly favorites. And that’s not to mention the Ragin’ Raffle and vendors aplenty to help you find that perfect gift for your Retro-lovin’ Valentine. Doors are at 9 p.m. but it’s no exaggeration to say the fun always runs well past midnight, making it just about the best way to get a bang out of 10 bucks.

In the midst of all this Koolness, we realized there’s one kool kitty we hadn’t gotten to profile yet, the Rockabilly Lounge’s gorgeous, charming and dangerously clever emcee, Miss Mason. Not wanting to get stung by Cupid’s arrow in our rear, we decided we’d better remedy that situation right quick.

ATLRetro: Why Miss Mason? 

Miss Mason: It’s my maiden name. Incidentally it’s also the name I was often referred to when I was at trouble at school. Went like this: THEM: “Do you think you’re being funny, Miss Mason?” ME: “I KNOW I’m bein’ funny.”

Miss Mason and the Right Reverend Andy Hawley. Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie.

How did you get the nickname “The Mouth of the South”?

Ha, that one is courtesy of my parents, as I had – have! – the proclivity for talking when I shouldn’t, talking back, talking loud. Seemed a perfect fit for a tag line for a big-mouthed shit-talker!

To us, emceeing seems like an absolute art. How much of what you do is pre-scripted and how much is improvised?

I don’t fancy myself much of an artist. I’m just not afraid of crowds, not afraid to talk in front of one. As for scripting, information about the artists is something I collect so they can get a proper introduction. The artists work very hard at building their brand, and the last thing I want to do is mess that up. Sometimes they have developed intros to use for each performance, but there are plenty of artists who trust me to come up with something silly and fun. As time goes by and we all get to know each other better, the introductions get more and more clever. I rather enjoy it, and I hope it endears the artists to me.  So a little is scripted, but for the most part I just get up there and roll with the punches.

What do you love most about emceeing?

That’s easy: I love to make people laugh.

How did you get your start performing?

A little over five years ago I attended a birthday party for my friend’s son and Mon Cherie was there. She was just about to give birth to Rockabilly Lounge and asked if I’d like to be one of her Burlesque Beauties and give out Jell-O shots. Not long after our first Rockabilly Lounge, Mon Cherie asked if I’d introduce the band. I mentioned that I was surprised she wasn’t doing it on account of her history of being on stage and performing at The Chamber, and she said, “Believe it or not, I’m kinda shy!” – which cracks me up that THE Kitten With A Whip of Atlanta was too shy to say a few words on the mic! She tickles me like that. Anyhow, I did get up and intro the band, and she liked it, so the next time there were band intros, burlesque intros and much more. It was a happy accident. The rest is history.

How did you meet Mon Cherie and how long have you been collaborating with her?

I was introduced to Mon Cherie by Phil Solomon (AntiHeroes, Impotent Sea Snakes) for the first time at The Chamber in the early 90s. She had just come off stage. She was thrilling to watch. And I mean RAWR! We met again maybe a year or so later when she and Philip were touring with Impotent Sea Snakes in Miami. But it wasn’t until six years ago that we became reacquainted at a kid’s birthday party. There we were, grown up. HAHAHAHAHA! I’m kidding. We’re never growing up.

What’s so special about Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge and especially about this month’s Valentine-themed event?

Well, first off, there is something special about a promoter who puts her heart and soul in her work, and that is bound to translate into a great show. And this month’s edition features The Stumblers! Aaaaaand we have fresh meat debuting in the burlesque set! Aaaaaand I’m wearing my favorite red heels! I’m excited. Can we go there now?

What’s the best pair of shoes you’ve bought lately, where did you buy them, and why did you just have to have them?

Oh,man, I’ve been a good girl lately with the shoe shopping, but the last pair I bought are a fierce pair of black leather ankle booties with an architectural heel and a zipper up the back. Once I found them, it was love, and when it’s love I don’t care about the price. They’re absolutely more fetish/rock than they are anything, but I am that girl, too. Sigh, I love shoes. I have a closet full.

Miss Mason shows off her favorite pair of rocket red Betsey Johnson Mary Janes. Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie.

What’s your favorite cocktail and who in Atlanta makes it the best?

Oooooh, my favorite cocktail? That’s like asking which pair of shoes is my favorite pair!!!!  I love so many. Damn. Honestly my favorite cocktail, The Pink Lady, is made by meeeeeeee. It’s Smooth Ambler Spirits Gin and Cherry Limeade. But then I have vodka moods, SoCo moods, and I’m always in the mood for a frosty PBR.

What do you do when you aren’t being the fabulous hostess of Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge? 

When I’m not on stage, I’m a wife to The Mister and a mom to The Boy – who’s got a big old case of The Show Biz bug! – and puppet to Lily and Ginger, better known as Puggy Goodness, LLC . We love entertaining at Chateau Mason! I love to make a wicked cocktail, bake anything under the sun, make weird ice creams, and especially enjoy creating things with bacon, cayenne, Nutella, and/or bourbon. Ask around.  My skills are that of local legend! I’m a fledgling cyclist. I’ve committed to riding two centuries (that’s 100 miles! eek!) this year. Oh! And sometimes I hoop! I love to hoop!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Hooting, Hollyfesterin’ and Cockle-Doodle-Doom with Phil Stair of Grim Rooster

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

Phil Stair, lead vocalist/guitarist of Grim Rooster. Photo courtesy of Phil Stair.

Every year around the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley gathers some of Atlanta’s best rockabilly and neo-honkytonk talent at the Star Bar for a righteous revival called Hollyfest! This year the fifth annual tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper is on Sat. Feb. 2, so mark your calendars for  a Groundhog Day you’ll want to relive with a 14-band line-up conjuring up rock n roll deja vu that includes many groups whose members have been previous Kool Kats from Cletis Reid to Andrew & The DisapyramidsThe Stumblers to Rod Hamdallah.

Also on the playlist is Grim Rooster. While the group has only been around for a couple of years, its members include Phil Stair (lead vocals, guitar), Dylan Ross (bass) and Nate Elliscu (mandolin) and Tigerbeat Tony (drums) who have been active in the scene here for many a corn season. Boasting a diverse barnyard of influences that range from Johnny Cash to Rancid, they’ve already got more than 30 original songs under their belt and the fireball audacity to promise this about their musical menu on Facebook: “just try not to drip any tobacco juice on the floor the first time you feast your ears on this blue-plate dee-light of mother-cluckin’ foot-stompin’ fun and your jaw drops wide open!”

ATLRetro caught up with Phil to find out how Grim Rooster got hatched, what Hollyfest is all about and just what the hell is honky punk anyway?

So how and when did Grim Rooster get hatched?

Grim Rooster came about in the spring of 2011. My band Rocket 350 was on its last legs, and I was fairly bummed about it. My bass player had moved to Nashville so I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. Also our crowd had finally faded, and it  just wasn’t worth the effort of getting everyone together. At that point, my buddy Dylan asked if I had any interest in starting some sort of side project. I knew that I wanted to start either a straight punk band or do something very stripped down and roosty. Dylan wanted to play stand-up bass so it was settled. We asked one of neighbors to come play drums, and then I wrote about 20 songs for the project. I really got wrapped up in the music and was very excited to be doing something new. It had been about 15 years since I started a new band.

What’s in the name?

Grim Rooster came from a goofy brainstorming session. We wanted to use something with the word “rooster” in it, and that’s when we started coming up with ridiculous names. Obviously it’s a play on Grim Reaper, and it was meant to be funny at first, but it had a pretty good ring to it. We started coming up with crazy logos and realized we had a winner.

What the hell is honky punk?

We play honky tonk and bluegrass. We have an acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass and drums. The ferocity that we play our honk tonk is where the punk comes in. Although we have a real roosty sound, the punk rock still seems to slip in there. This is great when we play places like the Star Bar, but when we play to the bluegrass crowd, a lot of times they get a bit lost. We used to do a cover of Operation Ivy‘s song “Knowledge,” but it never seemed to go over too well even though we really honky-tonked it up.

What’s so great about three dead Retro rockers and was it really the day the music died? In other words, what do Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper mean to you personally?

The day the music died will always remind me of the terrible Ritchie Valens movie that they did in the 80s. “Not my Ritchie!!” But seriously I think out of the three, Buddy Holly was the biggest loss. He was a great songwriter, and he did a lot to help shape rock ‘n’ roll at its very beginning. I will have to say though, that I’m very happy Waylon Jennings did not get on that plane. I can only imagine how terrible this event was when it happened and what a blow to rock ‘n’ roll it was. It seems like we always lose the great ones, yet guys like Justin Bieber seem to stick around forever. As far as what they mean to me personally, I’m more of an Elvis man myself, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Grim Roosters at Twain's. Photo courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Have you played past Hollyfests? For the uninitiated, what happens at Hollyfest and makes it special? With all the Star Bar regular bands and Andy organizing, it sounds like it’s a big rockabilly/honkytonk homecoming. 

I have played many Hollyfests. One with Grim Rooster and a couple with Rocket 350. It is like a big homecoming, or more like the Atlanta rockabilly scene’s annual meeting. It’s always a great time, and its always great to see friends that I’ve hung out with for the past 20 years. It’s funny. I was sneaking into that place when I was 18, and here I am seeing the exact same folks. Something like that is rare, and I’m glad Andy and the Star bar are keeping it alive.

What will Grim Rooster be playing at Hollyfest – Holly classics or your own songs or both? Any special plans?

We are stripping down for Hollyfest because our drummer won’t be able to make it. We will be going string-band style. We are going to bluegrass up “Midnight Shift” and “True Love Ways.” Next we are going to do a slow-dance version of “Rave On.” Then, last but not least, we are going to do a Roosterized version of Weezer’s tune “Buddy Holly.”

How did you start playing guitar, and were your first rock influences the classics or were you more of a punk rock boy or a metal-head?

I started playing guitar in 7th grade but quit when I got a Nintendo for my birthday. I stupidly put it down, but hell, I was 12. I picked it back up when I was 19 because I wanted to be in a band and I realized that no one wanted just a singer. I started by trying to play along to punk rock records. It took a few years to start getting the rockabilly licks down.  When I finally did, I started Rocket 350.

I would say punk rock boy and metal head, or maybe just a lot of classic rock. I love Guns n Roses and the Ramones, what can I say?! I knew about the classics, but I didn’t start seeking out different genres till high school. I originally got into roots music through ska. That scene used to be huge in Atlanta, and there were a ton of shows. That pushed me to seek out rockabilly, and then I was hooked on that for many years. Through all of it though, I would have to say punk rock is by far my favorite music. That is probably my biggest influence. Then there’s a lot of old school country and just plain rock ‘n’ roll thrown in there.

What other bands have you played with?

Rocket 350 has been my main band; that lasted from 1997 to 2011. We went on four US tours and played hundreds of regional shows. We recorded five albums. I have yet to release our last record. Also I did fill in for my buddy’s metal band Grayson Manor once. That was fun as hell, but not exactly a good fit.

Other than Hollyfest, what’s your most memorable, fun, crazy or satisfying Grim Rooster gig? 

We enjoy playing an outdoor venue in Alpharetta called Matilda’s. Everyone calls it the poor man’s Chastain. They have roots music outside every Saturday during the summer. You play on the porch of an old house, and everyone brings their own food and beer. It’s all ages, so all of our families can make it out to the show. Those so far have been my favorite gigs, and they always draw a huge crowd. Just a really great vibe when we play there and a lot of interaction from the crowd. At the end of the day, we do this for fun so when you can get people out and involved, it makes it worth it.

The Grim Roosters shake up Matilda's. Photo Courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Do you have a day-job?

I do, but I don’t want to ruin the illusion. Ha, yes in real life, I have a wife and two kids and live in the burbs. I work as a financial advisor, so me playing music has become a way for me to release a ton of stress. If it wasn’t for the release of playing music, I would probably be in the looney bin. I was very lucky to have been able to play music for a living and go nuts. In my late 20s, the writing was on the wall. I realized I wanted other things.

What’s next for Grim Rooster?

Just trying to find more gigs. If you know of any, let me know. We do have a big one on Feb. 6 at Smith’s Olde Bar. We are opening up for Corb Lund, and we are super excited about it. We will be playing our usual set of originals with a couple covers thrown in. Should be a great night of honky tonk.

Also, Grim Rooster is on Facebook if anyone wants to check us out. We have a three-song demo up there for everyone to listen to and download.

 

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Giving the Female Elvis Her Due: Rosie Flores and Marti Brom Throw a Tribute to Janis Martin at Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Nov 15th, 2012 By:

We’re really excited about Rosie Flores’ and Marti Brom’s Tribute to Janis Martin Sun. Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Smith’s Olde Bar in celebration of the release of the female rockabilly legend’s long-awaited new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS. Torchy Taboo shares a sweet memory about how she discovered Janis and why you should be excited, too.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

One beautiful spring afternoon in the early ‘90s, I went to visit my friend “Rockabilly Kim” on her horse farm in East Atlanta. Entering her home was like stepping back in time, and she always had a wonderful new find to show me or a great piece of vintage clothing she’d picked up to add to her vast collection. This afternoon the find was a clutch of 45 records which she immediately began playing for me. When she played a song called “My Boy Elvis” for me, I jumped up and chirped, “Who is this Kim?!” She quickly gave me one of her patented “don’t you know anything” glances and replied, “Janis Martin! You know, the female Elvis!” Embarrassed at my ignorance, I feigned in-the-know, “Oh yeah, right.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “a FEMALE Elvis? How’d I miss this fascinating bit of historical feminism?” Hold on, rewind. At the tender age of 9, I saw my first Elvis movie, KING CREOLE (1958) with Carolyn Jones and Walter Matthau. Of course, I was an instant fanatic. But at 9 years old, not yet sure why girls like boys, what really hooked me was Elvis’s character’s swagger – how he did as pleased and sang about it, how he waltzed into the five-and-dime, picked up a cheap guitar and got everybody’s attention. He was cool and fearless, and I wanted to be like that – to walk into the drug store on Main Street in Tucker, GA and sing my heart out!

Back to the horse farm. A few years after I’d first heard Janis Martin, I had started performing in a retro style and had an occasion to dance in a show built around celebrating Elvis’s birthday. I knew I needed a great rockabilly song but something different from the Elvis standards the rest of the show would be filled with, so I called Kim. “I’ve got the perfect thing for you!” She loaned me a mixed tape of the vintage female greats. I immediately zeroed in on Janis Martin’s song called “Drugstore Rock ‘n Roll.”

The Female Elvis singing “it’s real gone man!” about the Drugstore?! I flashed on the five-and-dime scene in KING CREOLE where he sang “Lover Doll” so sweet. But I wanted something revved-up, and the Janis Martin song had that in spades – released on the B-side of “Will You Willyum” in 1956 when Janis was a mere 15 years old. She had been billed as the female Elvis because of her onstage hip-shakin’. If that’s not fearless, I don’t know what is.

Janis’ career lost momentum in 1958 when her label, RCA dropped her because she’d gotten pregnant when her GI husband she’d eloped with was on leave. Pretty wild stuff in the ‘50s.  Like ‘50s pin-up icon Bettie Page, she lived by her own rules.

Since my introduction to her music in the ‘90s, Janis has come to be one my favorites. I was lucky enough to see Rosie Flores in the mid ‘90s as well as a rare Atlanta show with Marti Brom. I’ve added both to my list of female rockabilly greats. This pair performing a show to celebrate the new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS, that Rosie recorded with Janis Martin in 2007, should prove quite memorable.

Find out more about Janis Martin in her own words in THE JANIS MARTIN STORY, in full on Youtube here

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Kool Kat of the Week: Getting Ready for a Rockabilly Rumble in Little 5 Points with Right Reverend Andy

Posted on: Aug 9th, 2012 By:

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. This Saturday August 10, he’s hosting a Rumble in Little 5 Points at the Star Bar, long the temple of Atlanta’s rockabilly/psychobilly scene, with a great line-up headlined by Hi-Test and including Sonoramic CommandoAtomic BoogieJunior, Dolan & Cash and Grim Rooster, so we thought it’s high time we declare the minister of one of our favorite Retro musical styles Kool Kat of the Week

ATLRetro: What’s so special about Hi-Test and why does their return warrant a Rumble?

Rev Andy: Hi-Test is one of those bands that any other band would have a hard time following. Their music is in-your-face and when you listen it goes straight to your core. They put on one hell of a stage show and all four guys are incredibly talented musicians! If you’ve never seen Hi-Test, then you’re truly missing out.

What else is happening at The Rumble?

A: We’re also having an unofficial CD release for Sonoramic Commando’s new album HANG AROUND [Ed. note: Read Slim’s Retro Review here], and you need to come early to catch the new punk country band Grim Rooster!

How did you discover rockabilly/psychobilly? And was there a key turning point when you decided to devote your life to keeping these Retro music styles alive?

I grew up with parents who listened to Elvis, Cash and all those old cats from the Sun Records days. When I hit high school, I stopped listening and began buying heavy metal albums. Toward my late twenties, I migrated back to what I grew up on and eventually went to my first local rockabilly show, which featured Sonoramic Commando. When I had the chance to start a ‘billy radio show, I grabbed the bull by the horns.

How did you become a Right Reverend?

It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon. 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!

Why Psychobilly Freakout?

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.

For the uninitiated, what makes a great rockabilly and/or psychobilly band?

The band should capture your attention with their sound and stage presence. It may add to the stereotype, but they need to be dressed the part – no loafers on stage! A great rockabilly band should be sonically sound, know and love their songs, and avoid being “shoegazers” on stage. If someone wants to start a band, go watch and listen to Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Billy Lee Riley, and figure out how their music speaks to you. Turn that sound into your own. Little Richard once told me, “Everything has already been done. You just have to pick something up and figure out how to make it your own.”

How long have you been doing your Monday night shows on Garage 71?

Last month marks three years on Garage 71, but my show has been around much longer. I started it on Album 88 in August of 2004, so the show has now been around 8 years! It had a brief stint on WREK (91.1FM) and as a podcast. No matter what, this is my show and I’m sure the name will be associated with me for years to come.

What are a few bands and performers who are exciting you now?

I’m really digging the sound of JD McPherson [Ed. note: Read our Retro Review of JD’s latest album here]. Holy crap, this guy has captured the classic essence of rockabilly and jump blues, and he’s very exciting to watch perform! Check out King Sickabilly & His Full Moon Boys if you’re into Johnny Cash. His songs, even toned down, speak volumes. Exploring the past I’ve recently acquired a love for The Queers and The Cult. I don’t know how I let those two bands stay under my radar for so long. And if you don’t own any, go buy some Lone Wolf OMB and Ronnie Dawson right now!

You DJ regularly at Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge (bimonthly at Masquerade), her new Mad Lib-Ations (Thursdays at Corner Tavern in L5P)and many other of her events. How did you both meet each other and why do you enjoy working with her so much?

I believe a mutual friend had us meet a few years ago. When she began working on her first Rockabilly Lounge, said friend told her her event wouldn’t be complete without getting me involved. Since then, she and I have worked together on many events and you’re guaranteed a good time! If you can’t enjoy yourself at one of our shows, then you should be flogged.

What’s next for the Right Reverend Andy, i.e. what should our readers mark their calendars for?

I have a few more events in the works before the end of the year. I’m working on bringing Hillbilly Casino back to Atlanta, a Rocket 350 reunion, and one of the musicians I mentioned in this article will be playing Atlanta in November (his manager asked I not discuss details). I’m also collaborating on a book about rockabilly lifestyle from the past 60 years – this is in the very early stages. I’m lending my voice to the Left 4 Dead 2 video game – you’ll find me voicing multiple characters in some upcoming downloadable content! I’m a geek at heart, so hearing my voice in a video game is pretty darn cool! You’ll also find my own Website launching in the next couple of weeks so people can keep track of my new and ongoing projects.

Until the Website launches, keep up with Reverend Andy at rightrevandy.blogspot.com and twitter.com/revandy. All photos are courtesy of Andy Hawley.

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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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