Kool Kat of the Week: Welcome to the Dirty, Dirty! Dave Weil and The Blacktop Rockets Deliver a New Album and a Night of Revved Up Tunes and Low Down Shenanigans at The Star Bar

Posted on: Apr 5th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Photo by Sloan Carroll Rainwater (Top to Bottom: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

Top to Bottom: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone. Photo by Sloan Carroll Rainwater.

Atlanta’s own Dave Weil, head honcho and lead vocals/guitar, along with his partners in crime, The Blacktop Rockets [Johnny McGowan (guitar/vocals); Dave Watkins (drums); and Steve Stone (Bass)] will be raisin’ a ruckus, Sun Records-style, at The Star Bar this Friday, April 8 at 9 p.m.! They’ll be peddlin’ their new full-length CD, “GO!” with fellow rockin’ revivalists, Rodeo Twister in tow! It’ll be a hootenanny you won’t want to miss!

Dave, raised on jazz and crooners like “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, got rebellious ‘n’ hell-bent falling head over heels for some good old rock ‘n’ roll. So in 1993, he began dishin’ out tunes and slingin’ guitar with The Blacktop Rockets, and they’ve been revvin’ it up ever since! They’ve stormed the stage with The Blasters, the late Ronnie Dawson, Southern Culture on the Skids, Reverend Horton Heat, Wanda Jackson and so many more influential hell raisers and foot stompers! BTR’s first full-length album, MAKE MINE A DOUBLE,” was released in 1999, preceded by the single “What Ya’ll Have,” in 1996. In other words, it’s high time for a new BTR release.

ATLRetro caught up with Dave Weil for a quick interview about BTR, his take on “American music,” and reviving that old-school R&B and hillbilly twang! While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Dave, get an earful of The Blacktop Rockets live at The Star Bar (Nov. 7, 2015) with “Please Don’t Touch” (Nov. 7, 2015).

ATLRetro: The Blacktop Rockets swooped in on Atlanta’s rock revival scene like a bat out of hell during the ‘90s rockabilly resurgence; a rockin’ renaissance of sorts. Can you tell our readers what it is about that genre of music that keeps you coming back for more?

Dec Fest - Photo by John Phillips (L-R: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

Dec Fest. L-R: Dave Watkins, Johnny McGowan, Dave Weil, Steve Stone. Photo by John Phillips.

Dave Weil: It’s the free-wheeling spirit of it all. The magical blending of black R&B with white hillbilly music that occurred beginning in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s, which led to what came to be called rockabilly and rock and roll. To me, it’s irresistible. When I hear it, I get a smile on my face and I just gotta move!

Any twisted tales on how you and The Blacktop Rockets get together and what’s kept you goin’ for so long?

Not really twisted, but it was a bit of a fluke. In 1993, I was doing this duo thing a la Flat Duo Jets called Sweatin’ Bullets and had a gig that the drummer couldn’t do. I had recently met David Watkins (drummer) at Frijoleros (old schoolers know) where we were both working, so I asked him to fill in and the rest is history as they say. Upright bass was added about a year later and then lead guitar. What’s kept us going is, well, all I can think is, we have to! Like Carl Perkins said, “The cat bug bit me and I’ll never be the same.”

Your sound has been described as being the “epitome of American music.” What does that mean to you? What exactly is “American music?”

“American music” is a lot of things and goes back much farther, but in terms of what I’m most familiar with and where BTR fits in, it goes back to what I said about the blending of black R&B with white hillbilly music. Twelve bar blues-based song structures with lyrics that include the tried and true themes of love and loss, regular folks telling stories, and just silly stuff like “Rock Around The Clock.” There were so many things changing in post-war America – culturally, economically, socially – and lots of those changes were reflected in the music being created then.4PAN1T

Even though the bulk of the retro rock ‘n’ roots revival pretty much died off in the late ‘90s, The Blacktop Rockets seem to have made a niche for themselves in Atlanta’s thriving sleaze-nitty-gritty redneck underground music scene. What draws you to the mischievous underbelly of Atlanta’s music scene?

That it’s the underbelly and we love underbelly. So juicy and sweet, mmm, can’t git enough of it.

Any interesting stories to tell our readers about your musical upbringing, or when you became interested in playing music?

My Dad was a musician – a damn good sax and clarinet player, but could find his way around any instrument. There was always music in the house. He was mostly a jazzer who listened to and played a lot of swing. He was also a big fan of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We didn’t exactly see eye to eye back when I got into rock and roll, but he rolled his eyes and tried to tolerate it. I got into guitar like lots of my peers, from listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and other Brit bands. Through buying those bands’ records and reading the writing credits, I learned about the great American bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James. Later on in the late ‘70s I did a similar thing when I heard the Robert Gordon/Link Wray records. I started digging deep into Rockabilly music and found Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and, of course, the legendary Sun Records material.

Photo by Jeff Shipman (L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone. Photo by Jeff Shipman.

We see that you’ve shared the stage with The Blasters, the late Ronnie Dawson; opened for Southern Culture on the Skids and Reverend Horton Heat; and backed the “First Lady of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson and so many more! Can you tell our readers what it’s like getting to fire it up with all those movers and shakers?

Those opening spots have been some really fun shows. I feel like BTR truly deserves to be on those stages and we can bring it as well as anyone. As far as being the backing band for the legends, it’s a tremendous honor and kind of like living a dream! It’s definitely a set where you really, really want to be on your “A” game and not make any clams! Sure don’t want to get a dirty look from Wanda, ha!

You released your first album (full-length) MAKE MINE A DOUBLE in 1999, making that one long 17-year itch! Why did it take so long to get to GO, and how can our readers get their grubby little hands on a copy?!

We actually put out “What’ll Ya’ll Have” in 1996, so this is our third album. We also did a Christmas 45rpm and recorded songs here and there for compilations, but 17 years between actual full length releases is a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? I’m not sure what took so long other than I suppose the time was finally right.  You can buy one at the show on Friday, of course, plus it’s on CD Baby, iTunes and perhaps other online places. The commerce section of our website <here> is under construction now, although it might be running by show time.

If you had to choose your top three musical influences, who would they be and why?

The Star Bar: Photo Credit by Sloan Carroll Rainwater (L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

The Star Bar: Photo Credit by Sloan Carroll Rainwater (L-R: Johnny McGowan, Dave Watkins, Dave Weil, Steve Stone)

I think it’s really hard to pinpoint influences per se, but I can tell you who I am always happy to hear on my stereo or anyone else’s. No particular order and I’m leaving plenty of others off – Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Ronnie Dawson, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry…you get the picture.

What can ATLRetro readers expect to experience at your honkytonkin’ hootenanny and CD Release Party, April 8, at The Star Bar?

The Blacktop Rockets still pack a punch in our live show like very few acts you will see. We have a great time doing what we do and it shows. The current BTR line up is sounding better than ever. Drummer David Watkins and I are into our third decade playing together so it’s a pretty special connection there. Anyone who has heard him play knows he’s one of the top drummers in Atlanta and beyond. He can bash ’em or lay back, but he always knows exactly the right part to play for our songs.

Many of your readers know lead guitarist Johnny McGowan from not just this band, but several other cool projects he’s involved with. Johnny plays with so much fire and creativity, plus amazing technical ability that he’s constantly blowing minds and making jaws drop, including mine! Johnny joined BTR around 1996, then left for a bit around 2000, but has been the guy now since around 2009. On stage, there is no one I’ve had this much fun with. It’s just a hoot because we have little musical inside jokes and he’ll play something goofy or weird and then shoot me a quick look like, “Did ya hear that one?” and then crack up laughing.

The new guy is Steve Stone on bass. He’s another very accomplished multi-instrument player who has been a lot of fun getting to know and assimilated into the band. I love playing music with these guys and I consider myself fortunate to share the stage with such outstanding players! Plus our pals, the excellent band Rodeo Twister are opening the show!

6What’s next for The Blacktop Rockets?

A lot more gigs this year than we’ve done the past several and probably another album or at least EP in the fall.

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about you or the band?

I think you will really dig the new record! We’re still doing some straight-up rockabilly, but there’s more to it in terms of the songwriting. This was the first time Johnny and I collaborated and we figured out we can write really well together. We simply let the songs be what they were going to be and didn’t try to put them in a specific box like rockabilly or swing or country. If I had to say what that sounds like, I guess I’d have to nod towards The Blasters or Rockpile. We’ve added electric bass on stuff where we used to use upright only, and that gives it a feel that I think reflects well on the newer songs especially. In addition to playing guitars all over the recording, Johnny produced the album and did a knock-out job. One of the things he did that I’m most happy with was to bring in friends to play some different instruments on a few songs. There’s piano, sax, trumpet and steel guitar that are added here and there that are really nice touches.

And last, but not least, what question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

For here or to go? The answer is always GO! 

Photos provided by Dave Weil/The Blacktop Rockets and used with permission.

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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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