Kool Kat of the Week: Rod Hamdallah Plays the Blues Dark, Down and Dirty – Just the Way We Like It

Posted on: Sep 13th, 2011 By:

Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie

ATLRetro has been hearing a lot about Kool Kat of the Week Rod Hamdallah—from his fellow local musicians. Like his mentor, the sadly deceased Sean Costello, he’s been playing since very young and early gained a reputation as an Americana blues guitar prodigy. By age 17, he was sharing the stage with Sean and Dexter Romweber, as well as opening for top contemporary blues, funk, soul, rockabilly and roots performers such as Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Rosie Flores, Romweber and more. He’s only 21 now.

Anyone who’s heard Rod live—and live is the way he should be heard—talks about the dark lyrics, full-throttle energy and deep swamp passion he puts into his heavy licks. That hard-edged sound has earned him comparisons to Skip James, Captain Beefheart, Charlie Patton, Tom Waits and more recently the White Stripes. He looks the part, too—thick dark pompadour, sideburns, usually dressed in black.

This year Rod’s released a couple of singles, “Think About It” and a cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and has been playing Atlanta and touring the Southeast furiously. You can catch him next at The Five Spot on Friday, Sept. 16. We caught up with him recently to find out more about what made his influences, teaming up with drummer and frequent collaborator Gabe Pline, what he’s got planned for this gig and those recordings we’re looking forward to.

What happened at age 16 to get you, a Jersey boy into punk rock and skateboarding, so revved up about Southern blues and Americana?

I’ve always loved traditional music and was interested in what influenced punk rock. When I moved to Atlanta, live music became something I was around all the time. I watched guys like Sean Costello play around town and immediately wanted to play blues  and traditional American music.

What about Donnie McCormick and Sean Costello made them such an influence on you in the early days?

Sean was a great mentor and friend. He let me share the stage with him when others didn’t. He also turned me on to Donnie McCormick. I loved the inspiration and soul that came from them. [Editor’s note: Read a tribute by Rod to Sean Costello here.]

Rod Hamdallah and Gabe Pline. Photo credit: Scott Livignale.

How did you hook up with Gabe Pline?

Gabe and I would play together once and a while at jams and etc. He was a good person to talk to, where we could relate on music and personal pasts. I’ve always loves Gabe’s style of playing and his attitude on stage. He is definitely a big part of where I am today.

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Singing the Blues for One of Our Own: A Tribute to Sean Costello, Part 3 by Rod Hamdallah

Posted on: Aug 19th, 2011 By:

Sean Costello, by Rod Hamdallah.

Sean Costello‘s impact on the blues scene in Atlanta and beyond stretched across generations of musicians, and even inspired a young Rod Hamdallah to switch from punk rock to garage blues and Americana roots. On the day of the first of two Blue Waltz: A Benefit for the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Disorder concerts at Smith’s Olde Bar, Rod remembers what Sean meant to him…

Sean Costello quickly became someone I wanted to be friends with as well as play music with. I was 17 years old, sneaking into bars with a friend when we stopped into Northside Tavern. My friend introduced me to Sean; he asked if I played an instrument. I was a punk rock drummer at the time so we started talking about influential rock and roll bands. I had no intention of playing guitar until I saw Sean live. I loved the blues but didn’t know too much about it. Sean would turn me on to the greats such as Robert Johnson, Skip James and the Chicago legends.

I was always too intimidated to play around him and play on stage with him. I would sit to the side of the stage and watch him the whole night. I felt a comfort from him that I couldn’t get from other players. He knew where I was in life personally and helped me want to become someone. His friendship and lessons has taken me a long way. He will always be the reason.

Blue Waltz for The Sean Costello Memorial Fund features the following performers:

Friday, August 19: Opening set by Moontower, The Last Waltz Ensemble with special guests including Jon Liebman, Ike Stubblefield, Rev. Jeff Mosier, David Blackmon, Mudcat, Joe McGuinness, Rod Hamdallah, Nelson Nolen, Aaron Trubic (Sean Costello Band), Greg Baba (King Johnson), andGreg Hester. Purchase Friday tickets here.

Saturday August 20: Opening set by: Turtle Folk, The Last Waltz Ensemblewith special guests including Jon Liebman, Ike Stubblefield, Richie Jones (Donna Hopkins Band), Preston Holcomb (The Grapes), Daniel Hutchens (Bloodkin), Charlie Wooton (Zydefunk), Will & Lee Haraway (The Sundogs), Lee Schwartz (Outformation), Justin Brogdon, Randy Chapman, Skye Paige, Jessica Sheridan and more. Purchase Saturday tickets here.

(Click here for part 1 by Dr. Paul Linden and here for part 2 by Jon Liebman.)

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Singing the Blues for One of Our Own: A Tribute to Sean Costello, Part 2 by Jon Liebman

Posted on: Aug 18th, 2011 By:

In part 2 of our homage to Sean Costello on the eve of the two-night Blue Waltz tribute show Fri. Aug. 19 and Sat. Aug. 20 at Smith’s Olde Bar, Jon Liebman of The Electromatics shares his memories of a consummate blues man and good friend…

How do you put a best friend in perspective? Sean was my brother, my confidant, a musical partner.  We played countless gigs together over our friendship which began in the mid -‘90s when Sean and I were both still teenagers. He always wore a smile (at least for his fans) and was always willing to talk to musicians no matter what skill level they had. I could probably write a book about escapades on and off stage that I keep for myself as a constant reminder of my best friend.

Sean Costello played with The Last Waltz for the last time on April 4, 2008. Photo credit: Vincent Tseng.

After years of playing shows together, we played our last one a week before he died with The Last Waltz Ensemble at Smith’s Older Bar.  We had argued about something, as friends do, and not spoken in a week or two before the show. When Sean came into Smith’s, we smiled, gave a hug, and went on to play that show with an unreal energy and vigor. We would not share the stage again.

That’s why what we are doing this weekend is so fitting.  Supporting his foundation and music is supporting his legacy.

Blue Waltz for The Sean Costello Memorial Fund features the following performers:

Friday, August 19: Opening set by Moontower, The Last Waltz Ensemble with special guests including Jon Liebman, Ike Stubblefield, Rev. Jeff Mosier, David Blackmon, Mudcat, Joe McGuinness, Rod Hamdallah, Nelson Nolen, Aaron Trubic (Sean Costello Band), Greg Baba (King Johnson), andGreg Hester. Purchase Friday tickets here.

Saturday August 20: Opening set by: Turtle Folk, The Last Waltz Ensemble with special guests including Jon Liebman, Ike Stubblefield, Richie Jones (Donna Hopkins Band), Preston Holcomb (The Grapes), Daniel Hutchens (Bloodkin), Charlie Wooton (Zydefunk), Will & Lee Haraway (The Sundogs), Lee Schwartz (Outformation), Justin Brogdon, Randy Chapman, Skye Paige, Jessica Sheridan and more. Purchase Saturday tickets here.

(Click here for part 1 by Dr. Paul Linden.)

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Singing the Blues for One of Our Own: A Tribute to Sean Costello, Part 1 by Dr. Paul Linden

Posted on: Aug 17th, 2011 By:

A big part of ATLRetro’s mission is to make sure that you know about all the cool vintage-inspired activities happening in Atlanta. But equally important to us is providing a place where history can be preserved, including the impact of the talented people no longer with us but without whom this vibrant entertainment scene might not be so rich today. Both of these goals intersect in Blue Waltz: A Benefit for the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Disorder for two nights, Fri. Aug. 19 and Sat. Aug. 20 at Smith’s Olde Bar, when The Last Waltz Ensemble will headline accompanied by an amazing roster of the city’s finest blues and rock musicians taking the stage to celebrate the life of a blues prodigy tragically cut short and raise money to help others with a serious condition.

ATLRetro asked three of the performers to share a few words about Sean Costello, and we’ll be running one of these tributes every day between now and Friday. First up is pianist and harmonica player Dr. Paul Linden, who played with Sean from 1995 to 2002, opening for such greats as BB King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Delbert McClinton and Bonnie Raitt. He currently tours with Big Al and the Heavyweights, a contemporary blues, zydeco and rock n roll band out of Louisiana, and is an assistant professor in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Recording Industry Program.

Sean Costello’s legacy hangs over the Atlanta music scene in a loving embrace, bringing together young and old, black and white, traditional and contemporary music lovers in the same way his music did. Sean’s live performance came to a premature conclusion in the late winter of 2008, but in the 15 years that preceded that, friends, family and fellow musicians were treated to an astonishing artistic development.

His early years (from about 11-14 yrs old) were spent in the shed, playing along to traditional blues and jazz albums and sitting in with local blues players. He exploded onto the national scene in 1995 winning the international blues competition for solo acoustic act – a victory that garnered him his first record deal producing CALL THE COPS, a Memphis-based management deal and tour dates from the Mississippi Delta through the Florida panhandle. Sean expanded his horizons teaming up with New-Englander Susan Tedeschi at the Springing the Blues Fest in Jacksonville, FL. The dates became more plentiful, the rooms larger and cities further apart.

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

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2011 By:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spike's Big Girl.

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

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

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

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

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