Kool Kat of the Week: Whiskey Belt’s Rich DeSantis Slings Old-Time Rockin’ Classic Country at The Star Bar Every Wednesday Night With His Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza!

Posted on: Mar 2nd, 2015 By:
Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Rich DeSantis of Whiskey Belt, guitar slingin’, classic country and roots rock lovin’ wayward son and card carryin’ member of the “Redneck Underground” along with his outfit, the Honkytonk Extravaganza deliver a night of high-energy live-band classic country karaoke with a whole ‘lotta shakin’ shenanigans during his Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza event raisin’ a ruckus at The Star Bar this Wednesday, March 4 and every Wednesday night at 9pm!

Rich is no newbie to Atlanta’s ‘roots’ music underground. He’s been “channeling the Grand Ole Opry circa 1957” with his band, Whiskey Belt since 2011, has put together boot stompin’ classic country line-ups in the past as his alter ego, Slim Chickens, revvin’ it up with The Blacktop Rockets, Julea & Her Dear Johns [March 2014; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Julea Thomerson, here], Migrant Worker, The Scragglers, Wayne “The Train” Hancock and more; and plans to keep on honkytonkin’ it up with the “Redneck Underground” on a weekly basis at The Star Bar!

The Honkytonk Extravaganza include members from Whiskey Belt as well as a few rockin’ extras: Rich DeSantis (host/vocals/acoustic guitar); Johnny McGowan (lead guitar/vocals); David James (keyboard); Dave Roth (bass/vocals); Mike Hammer (drums) and Steve Stone (pedal steel). So, come on down and raise a ruckus with these fellas at the rockin’est shindig in town, Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza, Wednesday nights at The Star Bar!

ATLRetro caught up with Rich for a quick interview about Atlanta’s “Redneck Underground” and roots music scene; his weekly Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza event and his admiration for Buck Owens of The Buckaroos.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Rich, gear up for a rockin’ night with the fellas by takin’ a peek at the Slim Chickens’s Honkytonk Extravaganza songlist here and take a listen to his Spotify playlist here!

ATLRetro: We see that you’ve been stompin’ it up since 2010 and dishin’ out a whole lotta live classic country karaoke, which has been a hit at the Star Bar. Can you give us the scoop on Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza’s origins?

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams, (L-R) Johnny McGowan, Steve Stone and Rich DeSantis

Rich DeSantis: I’ve been hosting an event for years to feature roots rock music and culture called the Honkytonk Extravaganza. I would hire a couple bands and also invite some extra talent to play and encourage on-stage collaboration; it was fun and a great meeting place for people who love this music. Then, last May, Kahle Davis put a note out on FB asking if anyone had an idea for an event for every Wednesday at The Star Bar. I suggested doing live band classic country karaoke with a house band. My first call was to Johnny McGowan to play lead guitar, then David James on keys, Dave Roth on bass and Mike Hammer on drums. The first night was a success and we moved forward watching the event grow every week. In August, I added Steve Stone on pedal steel and lead guitar and that’s the band.

Atlanta has proven to have a soft spot for old-time country, rockabilly and has thrived on the sleazy nitty gritty underground music scene. What drew you to the scene and what do you think could make it even better?

The music is what drew me to that scene – with a taste for Buddy Holly, Buck Owens and Elvis, I went looking for like-minded individuals and found them at The Star Bar. That was always where the cool kids were. I was watching bands and playing in bands and learning what it meant to be in a band and The Star Bar is ground zero for the “Redneck Underground”. What we need to make it better is what you are doing – a little promotion is all we StarBar SlimChickensneed to draw more music lovers out to our little event.

Have you always been into classic country? When did you pick up your first guitar?

I’ve always loved Buck Owens but I found classic country through the rock and roll and jump blues I was playing with my old band, Slim Chickens. I began adding a high-energy George Jones or Waylon Jennings tune to our set here or there and having fun and getting a good crowd response so I began looking for other great songs. I love the high quality of musicianship in classic country. I started playing guitar at 13.
Who are your favorite classic country and vintage performers and influences?

Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Gram Parsons are folks I haven’t already mentioned. I love the space in this music as these fine players weave together their little vignettes. And I love what feels like down-home comfort mixed with the worldliness of narrators who learned their lessons the hard way.

In 2010, we see that you revved it up with The Blacktop Rockets and later with other wranglers and foot stompers (Kool Kat Julea & Her Dear Johns, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Migrant Worker and The Scragglers). If you could line-up a show of your favorite musicians (still around or not) for a helluva hootenanny, who would you choose and why?

“Hot Rod Walt” & the Psycho-Devilles are a huge part of the Atlanta roots-music scene. I would have Cicada Rhythm, Willie Heath Neal, and Ghost Riders Car Club and open up for them, that would be a fun show. I guess Elvis opening up for Hank Williams would be pretty cool too.

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams; (L-R) Johnny McGowan and Rich DeSantis

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams; (L-R) Johnny McGowan and Rich DeSantis

You’ve stated that with the help of Steve Stone (Pedal Steel and producer/engineer) Honkytonk has been recording in his studio. Any plans for an album any time soon?

Well, we are recording – we have two songs finished and are about to record a new original or two for a compilation record. Steve is incredibly talented and busy being the hottest new picker in town, so I anticipate an EP ready in the spring.

What would you say is the most requested song at the Honkytonk Extravaganza? How do you choose your song lists?

I think “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter gets a lot of play and probably “Folsom Prison Blues” too. Johnny Cash is very popular; he is a dark character and creates a bridge between rock and roll/punk rock and classic country, so nearly every music lover likes the “Man in Black”. I started with the song list from my band Whisky Belt and continue to add new songs based on my research and suggestions from the audience and band members.

What can our readers expect at your Wednesday night Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza events at The Star Bar?

Expect to watch a great country band rip through a few numbers and then invite other entertainers from the audience to sit in with us for lively versions of dusted off country and rockabilly classics. It’s a fun-filled variety show with a parade of singers and instrumentalists showing out. The audience will be dressed in style and laughing, drinking and making the scene. Expect a spotlight shining on the “Redneck Underground” circa 2015.

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams, (L-R) David James (keys), Johnny McGowan (guitar), Mike Hammer (drums), Art Holliday (vocals), Rich DeSantis and Dave Roth (bass)

Any special events coming up? Special guests in the near future?

We’ve been asked by the folks at Dad’s Garage to play at the Masquerade for BaconFest 2015 on March 28. We will be bringing the Honkytonk Extravaganza out there to do 3 hours of live band karaoke in Purgatory from 2-5pm.

What’s next for you and Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza?

I’m just excited to move into the spring with the momentum we’ve gained through the winter and take the whole event to the next level in every way. I have a few new things in the works and people can follow along by joining the Facebook Group, Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza.

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

You don’t have to sing or play to participate – most people just come to watch and have their own kind of fun.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Q: “Where can we get shirts like you guys wear?”
A: I bring 10 or 20 western shirts to the events to sell.

 

Photo Credit: Kim Koch, Front (L-R) Dave Roth, Mike Hammer, Anita Lee, Steve Stone, Johnny McGowan. Back: Rich DeSantis

All photos are courtesy of Rich DeSantis and used with permission.

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Old Enough To Drink: Bubbapalooza Turns 21! Remembering Gregory Dean Smalley

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Note: all photos of Gregory Dean Smalley are courtesy of James Kelly)

In Atlanta’s Redneck Underground, Memorial Day weekend means one thing: BUBBAPALOOZA! For 21 years, the Star Bar has hosted a wild and wooly hootenanny of great Southern music and fun. This year’s event takes place on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26, with 21 bands representing a vast array of rootsy musical styles (for a complete schedule, scroll down to the end of this article!).

Some of us have been there since the very first event, but over time things have changed; bands have come and gone and familiar old faces faded away, pulled by grown up jobs, family obligations or the need to preserve their livers. But like any great music scene, new folks step in to fill the void, and this year promises to be as good as it gets. It seems that no matter what crappy genre of music is being adored by the mainstream, traditional country, rockabilly, surf and roots rock continue to maintain a high profile in L5P. A mix of the old, the new and the unknown makes each band’s set a celebration of the diverse musical legacy established so many years ago by the late Gregory Dean Smalley.

A will o’ the wisp of a man, Smalley had a vision that has continued on, and is now entering its third decade of existence. Smalley was a journeyman musician, with temporary stints in just about every band he booked at Bubbapalooza. He was as charming as he was infuriating, able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with just about anyone on just about any subject, and a mind full of the dirtiest jokes you ever heard. While so many of the newcomers weren’t even of drinking age when Smalley died in 1996 from AIDS-related illness, each year the long-term attendees make an effort to remind everyone of his contributions to our music scene, and to keep his memory alive for old and new fans alike. But sadly, many people never got to meet him, listen to his witty and usually offensive tirades, or hear his amazing guitar playing.

During the last year of his life, Greg spent a lot of time at my house, sitting in an easy chair and watching Nascar, picking guitars, shooting the breeze, or napping for a hour or so. As the AIDS virus ravaged him, he had a medical port for injecting his prescribed drugs, and often dosed while in that chair. About six months after he died, I was walking through the living room when I noticed something under the chair that had not been there before. It was an empty syringe that had just fallen from the chair that day, one of Greg’s medications he had injected while in my home. The day it fell was September 3, Greg’s birthday. His way of saying “Hey, remember me?” As if I needed a reminder. He was unforgettable, and is still around in spirit, and every Memorial Day weekend, he smiles upon his family and friends as we celebrate his legacy.

The social media as we know it today never existed during Greg’s lifetime, and there is no telling what he would have thought of all the Twittering, Facebooking, blogging and what-not that goes on. ATLRetro tossed a request for a personal comment out into the web-o-net regarding our old pal Gregory Dean, and here’s a sample of the (printable) responses we got:

A natural-born entrepreneur, raconteur and spirited musician, Greg hustled and humped his way through life with unbridled exuberance, which carried anyone in the vicinity along for what often turned out to be a wildly memorable ride.Doug Deloach

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest, sweet, and bravest guys I ever knew, and he had a fantastic ear for music – playing it as well as putting together great shows! I miss him a lot.Katy Graves

Greg Smalley was a funny, wirey little dude that could play the shit out of the guitar!Annie Hamm

The first time I met Greg – in Columbia, SC – he tried to pick a fight with me, the ‘college-rock’ dude… a year or so later, he was an important part of the band.Walter Czachowski

Thoroughly Southern in manner and mind.Ian Shipp

Greg was quite strange (not a bad thing, I am also!), and he gave John Grant and me (Dos Hombres) a chance to play at Bubbapalooza, so how could I dislike the man!?Elliott Michaels

One of the most rewarding guitar repair clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Seeing Greg on stage tearing it up on his Les Paul Special made me feel like his NASCAR crew. Being in a band with him was just as rewarding. I’m sure he’s up in heaven telling other deceased rock star guitar players how to play their trademark licks.Bryan Lilje

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.Wher he played with The Chant for the first time, he knew all the guitar parts, including the little riffs in the background to sweeten things up. He put everything into what ever he was doing. I miss him so much. He made my life a better place to be.Jim Johnson

Funny, unaffected, kind human being!Sean Bourne

Greg wouldn’t just wave or nod from across the bar. He’d always come over for a chat. Still deeply missed and finding his way into many conversations today. And there was the whole guitar giant thing.Thom Heckel

One determined person who really didn’t care what anyone else thought.Faylynn Owen

Greg was completely fearless about being himself all the time, extremely good and incredibly awful, and if you could recognize and accept that, you could be his friend, and that was a very rewarding experience.Tim Lathrop

Played “breaking my heart while I’m drinking her beer” before it was finished on his couch on Franklin Rd. Long cigarettes and intelligent music.Philip Buchanan

Not a lot of pretense with Greg. I recall he labeled effects pedals “SHIT” and “MORE SHIT.”Al Shelton

He was only ever nice to me. Good to me especially on stage, which is 90% of my interaction with him. Generous, encouraging, and a fearless gamer. I learned a lot about not caring what people think: a difficult and priceless lesson for this Southern mama’s boy.Jon Byrd

No matter what Greg went into everything with a smile on his face, and a joke at the end of his tongue. If you were offended then wait for the next one.John Thomason

Greg Smalley was everything I love about the south. – Steve Pilon

Bubbapalooza #21 Line-up:

FRIDAY MAY 25
DOORS 7PM/$8

12am: THE BAREKNUCKLE BETTIES
11pm: BLACKTOP ROCKETS
10pm: GHOST RIDERS CAR CLUB
9pm: UNCLE DADDY & THE KISSIN COUSINS
8pm: SLIM CHANCE & THE CONVICTS

in the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:30: SUICIDE DOORS
11:30: JUNIOR, DOLAN & CASH

SATURDAY MAY 26
DOORS 4PM/$10

12:30: THE MYSTERY MEN?
11:30: THE KENTUCKY BRIDGEBURNERS
10:45: AM GOLD
10:00: CLETIS & HIS CITY COUSINS
9:15: SONORAMIC COMMANDO
8:45: DUSTY BOOZE & THE BABY HATERS
7:45: THE MIDWAY CHARMERS
6:45: J.J. & THE HUSTLERS
5:45: THE SKYLARKS
4:45: CHICKENS & PIGS
4:15: THE SERENADERS

In the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:45: ATOMIC BOOGIE
9:45: THE WHEEL KNOCKERS
7:00: ALICK GERARD & THEDIXIE LIMITED

To find out more about the history of Bubbapalooza, check out last year’s interview with Bryan Malone and Ted Weldon, Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20.I try to keep the dose of Ativan, which I order at ativanshop.com the same as it was prescribed.

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Retro Review: HANG AROUND by Sonoramic Commando

Posted on: Apr 25th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

Sonoramic Commando
HANG AROUND
Sonoramic Records

Atlanta has had a rich and thriving country/rockabilly/roots music community for over 25 years, and while the bigtime glory days of the storied Redneck Underground may fade a bit, there are still plenty of talented bands making good music that fits in the genre. On HANG AROUND, their second album, Sonoramic Commando exhibit significant maturity and a strong command of their eclectic style. Over 18 quick tracks (clocking in under 50 minutes), the boys cover most of the musical bases well, including the rockin’ groove of “Gina L.,”  the sweet honky tonk “Pony” and the surfy sultry “The Stalker.” Lead singer-bassist Rodney Bell, guitarist Chad Proctor, and drummer Matt Spaugh cut the record over a three-day stretch, and the rawness of the “live in the studio” recording effectively captures their energy and intensity.

Other than support on two tracks by pedal steel player Bill Fleming, the boys pretty much did this one by themselves, and manage to create a full and well balanced sound.Chad’s guitar rings loud and clear, Matt’s backbeats keep the rhythm rolling, and Rodney’s confident vocals deliver the quirky material with harmonic accompaniment from his cohorts. The band wrote 16 of the 18 tracks, and received some help with the words for a couple of tunes from Commando Emeritus John McLean and the Bluejays’ Jay Murphree. All in all, a fine piece of work, and an excellent representation of Atlanta’s roots rock community.

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