A Real Hillbilly Gentleman: Remembering Earl “Bubba” Maddox Before Bubbapalooza 22

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 By:

Earl "Bubba" Maddox.

By Eve Wynne-Warren
Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: If Gregory Dean Smalley was the founding father of Bubbapalooza, the annual rockabilly/roots festival every Memorial Day Weekend at Star Bar, then Earl “Bubba” Maddox, who passed away from cancer in March, had to be its lovably crazy uncle.  Earl drummed for a slew of seminal bands such as the Diggers, the Convicts and Gregory Dean and the Bubbamatics, and lately had been a character actor in movies. Events like Bubba, places like the Star Bar and the musicians who play there are at the heart of why we do ATLRetro. In this companion feature to our Bubbapalooza preview, Eve Wynne-Warren asks some of the Bubba regulars who knew Earl well for a few stories. It wasn’t hard for them to think of a few. For more about Earl, also check out the warm tribute by James Kelly (Slim Chance) that appeared in Creative Loafing here.

Earl Maddox had his own way of seeing the world and thought outside the box more than anybody you ever met. Atlanta musician, entrepreneur and Star Bar institution Billy Ratliff recalls some instances that beautifully illustrate Earl’s uniquely creative charm:

Billy Ratliff: “I met Earl in the late ‘80s at the [Euclid Avenue] Yacht Club. He was on his way out of town; he always was a bit of a gypsy. About 3 a.m., Earl said before I leave, let me show you something. So we headed out to his car, and he opened the trunk and there lay an antique cannon of some sort – something like a Gatling gun off an old ship. Did I want to buy this item? I had no need for a cannon at that point.”

Earl Maddox in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008).

That was Earl. Random bits of dreamlike appearances always with a story, an offering and a new friend; things that don’t transpire in the day-to-day lives of most. And he was down to earth and approachable. He made some of the most unlikely friends just about anywhere he went.

Billy : “One day I ran into Earl. ‘I haven’t seen you in a while, where’ve you been?’ Earl said. ‘Oh, hanging out at Webster’s studio.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘Yeah, I was fishin’ down off a dirt road down south of the airport and outta the woods came Webster.’ ‘You mean the little guy from TV?’”

Yep, that was Earl.

Earl’s free spirit took him places so unimagined and sometimes unexpected by many. I asked writer-painter and fellow free spirit/barstool philosopher Greg Theakston to share his favorite memory of Earl..

Eve: Do you remember asking my advice as a Southerner for a Southern-sounding nom de plume? I suggested the name Earl to you (ironically many years before the TV show MY NAME IS EARL). Earl Maddox was my inspiration for that answer.

Greg Theakson: I remember. My favorite memory of him was one night in the Little Vinyl Lounge [the downstairs bar in the Star Bar]. Earl jumped up and announced that he was gonna go to Hollywood and be an Actor…and by God he DID! He was what I call a real ‘Hillbilly Gentleman.’”

Earl’s film and TV appearances can be seen on his Internet Movie Data Base listing.

Faylynn Owen (the former booking agent for the Star Bar, presently found behind the bar at the Yacht Club): “My favorite memory of Earl is the last time I saw him. He came into the Yacht [and] was very excited about being in DJANGO UNCHAINED, and we just talked for a little while. Earl was always fun.”

Bassist Bill Lattner first met Earl at the first rehearsal of the Diggers. He immediately knew he’d found one helluva drummer, but more than that, a lifelong friend.

Bill Lattner: It was the [previous] drummer’s loft. He hit the drums so lightly, he may as well not have been there, couldn’t hear him at all, and I knew, the kind of band it was supposed to be, we needed somebody knocking the shit outta the kick and snare! Earl was living in NOLA, just in town visiting Greg. I told him how frustrated I was with the drummer situation. During a break, Earl said I’ll be back in a minute and came back in with a cinder block, out of his truck. He put it in front of the kick, and sat down, and gave the pedal such a whack, the block moved! The rest of the guys came back in, and Earl said, mind if I play one? So, we kicked a tune off, and there was the snare and kick, that I knew we sorely needed! He played three tunes, I think; this was the fuckin’ drummer we need!! I think we had to do one or two gigs with the other guy, to give Earl a couple weeks to move up here. And then he became my roommate, one of my best friends and a true brother, to me! I miss him every day.”

Raise a PBR to the memory of Earl “Bubba” Maddox this Friday May 24 and Saturday May 25 at Bubbapalooza 22 at the Star Bar!

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Slim’s Jukebox #4: Around the World with Slim!

Posted on: Aug 14th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

While most of my favorite music comes from right here in the deep south, I still have a real taste for the British Invasion, the one that’s been constantly going on since the early ’60s. But over the years I have also had the great joy of discovering music from many other countries and regions, so this week’s column s dedicated to what is commonly referred to as “World Music.” I’m sure I listened to lots of different things as a kid, since my dad was such a music fanatic, but my first real connection to “world music” was when I heard Ravi Shankar performing with George Harrison. It opened my ears, and my mind. So, from the corners of the globe, here’s what has been making my feet shuffle.

Le Super Borgou de Parakou
THE BARIBA SOUND

Most of the music on this fine compilation originates in Benin, a small country in South Africa bordering Nigeria. Pulled from archives, a lot of this has never been heard in years, or even played outside Africa. Recorded between 1970-1976, the band was mostly led by the late Moussa Mama, who reportedly was exposed to a variety of western music by his dad. There’s a lot of ’60s pop influences heard in the 15 tracks, and the steady groove throughout is a perfect example of classic Afro-Beat. Throw in some rumba, pachanga and some “Bariba Soul,” and you have a nonstop dance party! The rhythms are incredibly infectious, and there is something celebratory about the beat that makes me smile. Unfortunately, I cannot understand a word they say, but it sounds great, has lots of energy and deserves some attention.

Paco de Lucía
EN VIVO CONCIERTOS – Live in Spain 2010

I first became familiar with legendary flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía in the ’70s, after discovering an import copy of his amazing ENTRE DOS AGUAS in the cutouts at a record store in Memphis. Hearing the lightning fast playing, the intense rhythms and the start-stop precision for the first time was transformative, and Paco became a hero in my house. He later joined forces with noted Fusion Jazz guitarists John McLaughlin (Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Larry Coryell, who was replaced by Al DiMeola (Return to Forever) in THE GUITAR TRIO. In addition to his own albums, Paco has recorded songs for films such as DON JUAN DEMARCO and more recently the beautiful soundtrack of VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Fast forward 30 years from ENTRE DOS AGUAS, and Paco’s newest release is a double live CD, featuring a nice retrospective of his own compositions, and one piece by McLaughlin. With a second guitarist, harmonica, bass and two singers, it’s a foot-stomping, mind-boggling display of incredible Spanish/flamenco virtuosity. I’m still blown away by his playing.

The Touré́ -Raichel Collective
THE TEL AVIV SESSION

The combined talents of Israeli pianist Idan Raishel and Mali guitarist Vieux Farka Touré́́ take center stage on this unique and creative endeavor. These informally recorded jam sessions emerged over an afternoon, and the amazing improvisational collection is a celebration of rich musical culture and collaboration. Vieux displays an amazing and enchanting acoustic fingerpicking style, and Idan’s gentle keyboards accentuate and complement the delicate and melodic excursions. Joined by several other players and singer Cabra Casey (born in Israel, of Ethiopian descent), the music flows like a summer brook, hypnotic, magnetic and intensely beautiful. Each track begins with a subtle chord progression and, as each player gradually integrates into the groove, becomes a fully realized entity, with stylistic touches from all over the world, blending into a thing of real beauty. This is one of the most amazing records I have heard this year.

The Chieftains
VOICE OF AGES

Continuing a tradition that has produced some of their finest albums, Ireland’s Chieftains collaborate with a number of interesting and oddly matched singers to create another entertaining package of song. With lovely ballads by Imelda May and Lisa Hannigan, a raucous shouter featuring the incredibly talented (and currently very popular) Carolina Chocolate Drops, and, of course, a few of their own instrumentals, the Chieftains prove once again that music is universal. Particularly intriguing is the heartfelt take on “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Scotsman Paulo Nutini. Critically adored artists such as the Punch Brothers, the Decemberists and Bon Iver all make more than adequate contributions. While it’s not the best of this series, there’s not a lot to complain about.

Ian Tyson
RAVEN SINGER

While including a Canadian cowboy artist in a column on “world music” might seem like a stretch, last time I checked Canada was part of the “world.” Ian Tyson first made his mark in the music world as part of the ’60s “Great Folk Scare” duo Ian & Sylvia. Their gentle harmonies and knack for covering great songs made them one of the most popular acts of the era. Tyson eventually left music and became a real cowboy for many years, but his love of singing and the discovery of many great cowboy songs pulled him back into the business, but on his own terms. Sadly, he literally destroyed his once clear voice one fateful night, and now sounds more like early Tom Waits than an old folkie. But he still sounds great IMHO (I worship at the altar of Tom Waits), and the material on RAVEN SINGER works on several levels. Tyson is believable, for one thing. Even with what sounds like some strained vocal effort, he brings the stories to life, and gives each song a real sense of authenticity. At 78 years old, Ian Tyson is still making great music, with no plans to ride off into the sunset.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Caroline Hull Engel Keeps on Ramblin’ with a New Album and CD Release Party Saturday at the Star Bar

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Full disclosure – Caroline recorded one of my songs on her new album, but I loved her music long before that happened)

It’s been a long time coming, but after almost 20 years, fans are FINALLY getting a full length album from the amazing Caroline & the Ramblers! They’ll be celebrating RED HOT MAMA with a record release party Sat. July 21 at the Star Bar, also featuring the Billygoats from Nashville, Whiskey Belt and Rockbridge Heights. Showtime is 9 p.m.

This “Red Hot Mama” 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.

We will let this week’s “Kool Kat” tell her own story…

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in performing music? Please tell us about your former bands and how they developed over time.
Caroline Hull Engel: I have been singing and performing since I was little. I performed at many school and church functions from a very young age. And then later as an adult I would sing with different friends’ bands at house parties and such, but really hadn’t found “my tribe” yet. Not until one fateful night in the early ’90s at the Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highlands where my best friend and I stumbled across a band called the Diggers. That changed everything for me. Once I saw those guys, I knew I had found “my people.”

After seeing the Diggers that night we found out when they would be playing their next gig. Turned out they were playing at a new bar called the Star Community Bar. One visit to the Star Bar and we were hooked. My friends and I started going there regularly. Night after night there were amazing roots rock bands playing rockabilly, country, hillbilly, garage, surf! We could always count on hearing great live music there. We were like kids in a candy store! It was an amazing time. 

After that I was getting to know some of the bands and other regulars at the Star Bar, and one night I got up and sang a Patsy Cline song at an open mike night. This guy came running out after me as I was leaving the bar and he introduced himself as James, aka Slim Chance of Slim Chance and the Convicts. He asked if I would be interested in singing at a Patsy Cline tribute show he was putting together. I knew it was time to start my own band. Trail of Tears was primarily a country band with a hint of rockabilly. We did a lot of Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee covers – and a great Pogues song called “Haunted.”

Then I formed a new band called the Ramblers. This new band was geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and was heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda Jackson, Janis 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.

Having lived in Atlanta all your life, what are your observations and impressions of the local roots music scene?
Like a lot of things in life, there are ebbs and flows, genres of music that are more popular at one time or another, and that is no exception for the local roots music scene. I think for Atlanta – the roots music scene was probably at its height from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s with a few of the original players maintaining a presence all the way through, but it definitely slacked off in the mid 2000s. Bands break up, people move, and some people aren’t with us anymore. There have always been bands and players who have consistently performed over the years, but there seems to be a resurgence as of late of some new roots rock bands. It is exciting to see this happening!

Who are some of your favorite local and national artists, and why?
JD McPherson’s SIGNS & SIGNIFIERS has not left my CD player since I got it a couple of months ago. Before that was The Bellfuries’ JUST PLAIN LONESOME. Both are truly fabulous records. My all-time favorite touring band is Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. I love how how pure they are and how they stick to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. “No fuss, no fanfare,” as my husband would say. They don’t try to conform to popular conventions; they just do their thing and they do it really well.

I’m very lucky to be in Atlanta where there are so many great local bands of varying styles – like Tiger, Tiger, Anna Kramer and the Lost Cause, Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Serenaders, Villain Family and Ghost Riders Car Club (GRCC), but everyone who knows me knows that my favorite local band is The Blacktop Rockets. BTR doesn’t play as frequently as they used to,  but it is always a thrill to hear them live. They are the best!

What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of making this new CD?
Time and money – but doesn’t that seems to be a challenge regarding a lot of things in life?

Since it was recorded, you have made some major changes in the band. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The original players on the CD THE RAMBLERSChad Proctor, Matt Spaugh and Rodney Bell and I – are not currently playing together. They are very busy with family commitments, other music opportunities and their own band. They are amazing musicians, and they did such a fabulous job on the record. It is unfortunate that we could not promote the CD together as a group, but the timing wasn’t right for it. Everyone is going in different directions and I wish them all the very best. 

For many months I have been working with new “Ramblers”: Danny Arana – guitar/vocals; Big Joel G – bass/vocals; and Mike Z – drums. The new line-up is awesome! We are having a great time, and they seem to really dig this new sound we are creating. Danny’s harmonies will absolutely blow you away! This new chapter of the Ramblers has turned out better than I could have hoped for.

How do you go about selecting songs to perform? What is it that pulls you to cover a tune?
I’ve been listening to “old school” country and rockabilly since I was a little kid. My Dad had an old jukebox, and I would play it for hours and hours. A lot of the 45s he had on the jukebox like Gene Vincent, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and the Beatles were influential in the kind of music I play today. I listen to a lot of compilations of stuff from the ’40s and ’50s, too, and I keep lists of potential covers. I am all about things that are vocally appealing to me and either move me emotionally or make me want to get up and dance. I just know a cover song that will work for us when I hear it.

How interested/involved in music and performance are your two lovely daughters, Ava Bonner and Ella?
We get performances on a daily basis at our house. My prediction is that I have one future Vocal Star and one future Rock Star! The joke is that in a few years they will form a band with some of our other musician friends’ children, and then we’ll be the ones in the audience!

What would be your “dream gig”?
Nationally I would have to say the real dream gig would be to play at the Ryman in Nashville. To perform on the stage where so many of my musical heroes have played would be amazing! Locally I think it would be really cool to play Chastain Park and open for someone like Chris Isaak, Loretta Lynn or Brian Setzer. Of course, it would be great to open for my hero Wanda Jackson again!

What are your plans for the band now that the album is completed and released?
We have several shows on the calendar to promote the CD and are working on more for the Fall. Currently we are playing our CD Release party at the Star Bar on Saturday July 21, a show at Twain’s in Decatur on Thursday August 2, a live in-store at Decatur CD on Friday August 10 and a show at Big Tex Cantina in Decatur on Friday August 24. We also plan to play a few out of town shows this fall and winter. You can find out more about our music and show dates on our ReverbNation page.

You do a benefit every year for people with Down’s syndrome. How did you get involved in that, and why? When is the next one, and who is the featured artist?
Yes, I have two different childhood friends whose children were born with Down syndrome, and I started this to honor these beautiful kids and to help each of them with their effort to raise money for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta’s yearly Buddy Walk. This all started in 2010 with a show called “A Tribute.” Each year I pick a musical legend to honor, and I ask local bands to do a few songs by that artist. The first year we did Patsy Cline, and last year to coincide with his 80th birthday we did an evening of George Jones’ music. This year we will do a tribute to Ray Price! This year’s show will be on Saturday October 13 at the Star Bar.

RED HOT MAMA can be purchased on www.cdbaby.com and locally at Decatur CD. All photographs are courtesy of Caroline and the Ramblers.

 

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Slim’s Jukebox: Willie Nelson, Mercyland, Todd Snider, Chelle Rose & Darrell Scott

Posted on: Jun 5th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

There is so much great music coming out these days, and I will try to keep you posted on what I am listening to the most. This week’s column is a mix of legends, newbies, and a very nice compilation of sorta gospel songs. A lot of these are on small or independent labels, and don’t get the sort of publicity push that the horrible commercial radio crap has, so please spread the word if any of these hit your sweet spot.

Willie Nelson
HEROES
Legacy Recordings

Willie Nelson is my hero. He can pretty much do no wrong, and I do not know a soul who doesn’t appreciate his work. HEROES is a collection of duets and more, featuring his old pals Merle Haggard, on a rerecording of “A Horse Called Music,” and Ray Price on the classic “Cold War With You.” There’s a slew of cuts with Willie’s kid Lucas, and their voices are so similar it’s spooky. There are a few oddities here, but they work in Willie’s own peculiar way. The almost novelty song “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” includes a few lines from Kris Kristofferson, hardcore honkytonker Jamey Johnson, and… Snoop Dogg? Yep, that Snoop. There’s a really nice take on Tom Waits’ “Come On Up To The House” with Sheryl Crow and son Lucas, but the show-stopper is Willie’s stunning version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” I’m not a Coldplay fan by any definition, but in Willie’s hands, this is a jewel.

[ Editor's Note: Willie Nelson plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre with Jamey Johnson on Fri. June 15. Tickets here.]

Various Artists
MERCYLAND: HYMNS FOR THE REST OF US
Mercyland Records

Nashville is an interesting place. There are so many small music communities that have little or no relation to the mainstream industry, and what comes out of these enclaves inevitably is so much better than the major label drivel. One borderline fringe group consists of several really talented studio musicians and writers, who fit more into the “Americana” mold than anywhere else. And interestingly, most of them are Christians. Not the type that sit in pews every Sunday and listen to the good word, then treat people like crap the rest of the week, but Christians who are comfortable enough with their faith to be respectful and tolerant of others with different beliefs. They live it instead of simply talk it. Phil Madeira pulled a group of like-minded artists together and has constructed a wonderful collection of tunes that take a much different perspective on faith and spirituality than your usual “Gospel” record. From Buddy Miller’s plaintive “I Believe In You” to the very traditional “Lights In The Sun” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, each song provides a unique and ultimately entertaining discourse on some aspect of faith. Atlanta’s own Shawn Mullins scores with “Give God The Blues,” and Madeira’s title track is a captivating slow groove. Even this card-carrying atheist felt a little spark of something, mostly respect.

Todd Snider
AGNOSTIC HYMNS & STONER FABLES
Aimless Records

A joker with a dark side, Todd Snider has been making provocative and polarizing music for over two decades, and on AGNOSTIC HYMNS, he takes a bit of a step out of his unusually wide comfort zones. Snider’s been on both major and indie labels, while never compromising the type of music he makes for anyone.  Over the years he has always had a fine backup band on deck, and the records always sounded really clean and neat in spite of his sometimes bizarre lyrics and stories. Well, this time around Snider sounds like he is backed up by a hillbilly punk band, with crashy drums, raw electric guitars and slightly dissonant harmony vocals. It’s all very primitive and deceptively simple sounding, but lyrically this is some of his roughest work. Life has been tough for everyone for the past few years, and obviously for Snider as well.  His provocative observations on life, love and the state of affairs in the world can be a bit depressing, if they weren’t so entertaining. Throw in a few bouncy acoustic tracks, crank it up, and appreciate Todd.

[Editor’s Note: Todd Snider performs at Variety Playhouse on Wed. June 13. ]

Chelle Rose
GHOST OF BROWDER HOLLER
Lil’ Damsel Records

After making a few ripples in the underground Nashville scene a decade ago, the bluesy-voiced Chelle Rose disappeared into motherhood for a few years, only to be recently rediscovered by the legendary Ray WylieHubbard, who produced this fine album. The original tunes on GHOST OF BROWDER HOLLER perfectly channel Rose’s Smoky Mountain heritage, and anybody who covers Julie Miller’s “I Need You” is OK in my book. Rose is bit grittier than Miller’s girlish sound, and gives the song a rock hard edge that works on all levels. Hubbard’s production (and the accompaniment of some of Texas’ finest) provide Rose with the perfect canvas, and even with 10 years of cobwebs and dust to knock off, she still has it.

Darrell Scott
LONG RIDE HOME
Full Light Records

A near-perfect songwriter, Darrell Scott has penned monster hits for people like the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and both Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Lucky for us, he keeps the really good ones for himself. With the freedom to do whatever he wants, Scott decided to do a straight-up country record, and on this 16-track jewel, he nails it to the wall. Joined by a band of Nashville studio legends – Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano,  drummer Kenny Malone, along with steel player Lloyd Green and harmonica master Charlie McCoy, Scott delivers an amazing collection of rich classic country tunes, not a clunker in the bunch. His duet with Guy Clark on “Out In The Parking Lot” actually improves on Guy’s original recording, and “You’re Everything I Want Love To Be” is a love song as country as it gets. Scott has a clear and comforting voice, a way with words, and has once again made a truly great album.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Drinking In The Graveyard: Lauren Staley Morrow of Whiskey Gentry Talks About Playing Tunes From the Tombs

Posted on: May 17th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

For the last couple of years Cabbagetown’s Whiskey Gentry has been blazing a trail across the Deep South, gathering a massive number of rabid fans wherever they play. Their cranked up “Pogues go to old time Nashville” style is addicting and infectious, and their live shows are memorable parties. With one excellent album under their belts, the band is currently planning a three-night stint at Smith’s Olde Bar on July 12, 13 and 14 to record a live album. But before that we get the chance to hear them a few blocks from home at the second annual Tunes From The Tombs festival this weekend. The two-day event (Sat. May 19 and Sun. May 20) is a benefit for the Oakland Cemetery and features a ton of great local, regional and national acts on several stages throughout the amazing and historic cemetery. The music starts around 11 a.m. and lasts until dusk. Tickets are $10 each day, or $15 for both days.

With the Whiskey Gentry closing out the event Sunday night at 6 p.m., ATLRetro.com decided that  lovely and talented lead singer Lauren Staley Morrow would be  a mighty swell Kool Kat Of The Week! Following a busy weekend on the road, Miss Lauren was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in music, and when did you ultimately consider yourself a professional singer?

Music was always a big deal in my household as a child. None of my immediate family are musicians, but they are all avid fans. I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 14 and started officially writing songs then. Unfortunately, I spent the next six years trying to hide the fact that I could sing from everyone. I was always so nervous that I would only play my music to a very select group of friends in my bedroom closet so my parents wouldn’t hear. I moved to England to study abroad when I was 20 years old and played my first open mic there. After that, I was hooked to performing live. I don’t do drugs or jump out of planes or anything like that, so I get my adrenaline rush from performing in front of people. Despite all that, I don’t know if I consider myself a professional singer just yet! I’ve always thought that once I was able to make a full-time living from music, then I would consider myself a professional. I’m not there just yet – but soon!

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

Who are some of your most important musical influences, and why do you consider them so essential?

Gosh, my musical influences are all over the place and keep evolving through the years. U2 is my favorite band of all time, and I loved Britpop when I was in high school. When I moved to England, I was so homesick for the South that I started listening to a lot of alt-country, Americana, and old country. I also started reading a lot of Southern folk literature and listening to Child Ballads (written tunes that influenced old-time and Appalachian music). That was really when I felt my Southern roots started working their way into my songwriting.

What do you think brought about the vast difference between the type of country music you play, and what is heard on commercial radio?

Currently, I think there is a great divide between those of us who want to honor a more traditional type of country music versus the amount of that which is played on commercial radio. Thankfully, I feel like people are ready to embrace country acts that aren’t so commercial but have the ability to cross over into the mainstream without losing their integrity. I was very encouraged to see acts like The Civil Wars, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons rise to success this past year. Even the Zac Brown Band, who is very successful in commercial country markets, stay true their sound without writing about “honky-tonk badonkadonks” and “red solo cups.” I think that’s an encouraging sign for those of us who want to honor the country genre that’s inspired us without looking like a bunch of hacks trying to make a dollar on CMT.

Please tell us a bit about the members of the Whiskey Gentry, and how you found them. Why do you think this lineup “clicks” so well?

The Whiskey Gentry really began when I met my husband, Jason. We knew we both wanted to play music together, and we assembled the rest of the players in the group. Jason was in punk bands with Price Cannon (drums) and Sammy Griffin (bass), and we found Chesley Lowe (banjo) through a good friend. The five of us were the core band for a long time aside from a few hired guns along the way. Last year, we were introduced to Michael Smith who plays mandolin, and we finally met a fiddle player, Rurik Nunan. We also met Waylon Elsberry who plays harmonica and lap steel and can write one hell of a tune. Having spent the last few months on the road every weekend, I feel like we’ve finally found the band line-up we want forever – all of these guys are like my extended family. Like any family, we have our issues and disagreements. But at the end of the day, we all understand, respect and love each other immensely.

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

How did the Whiskey Gentry develop such a rabid and large fan base? What do you think is the most interesting aspect of your audience?

Initially, I think it helped that we all played in relatively successful local bands before forming The Whiskey Gentry, and we all had large social networks who, through word of mouth, told friends about our band. Over the years, I think we have made a name for ourselves through our live shows. I’ll meet people who will say, “I saw you guys last month and now I’ve brought 10 friends!” It’s a loyalty that has carried us from show to show and town to town. I think the most interesting aspect of our audience is how diverse it is – I don’t feel like there is any certain group that responds better to us than others. We have fun when we play, and I think people like to see that energy, regardless of background and musical tastes.

What do you see as the greatest attribute of the Atlanta music scene? What do you think is the greatest need in the local music scene?

I think one of the best things about the Atlanta music scene is that we have a lot of really great venues run by really great people who are willing to help up-and-coming acts get gigs in the city. We would have never been able to get a start in this town if it weren’t for a few concert promoters and venue booking agents who took a chance on us, and now, we have great relationships with those people and they continue to help us to this day. As for a need, I’ve been really excited to see Music Midtown making its comeback the past two years. Other cities around us have huge music festivals that not only draw in loads of revenue for their respective cities, but the festivals also help people pay attention to that town for music. Atlanta has a lot to offer musically that’s not just hip-hop or rap, and I just hope the city continues to show that.

The Whiskey Gentry put out a great debut album, so why record a live album at this point, instead of a second studio album?

I’m very proud of PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, and I think it does a great job of capturing our live sound. Having said that, however, I do feel like there is something undeniable about coming to one of our shows. It’s a party. People are screaming and dancing and singing the words, and we want to display that through a live recording. Also, as musicians, I think the live shows really showcase the musical abilities of the people in the band. We feed off of the energy from the crowds, and it just makes everyone play so well. Also, the live record will not take the place of a second album – we plan on releasing our second record next year, and the live album will be sold in coordination with that.

Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming Tunes From the Tombs show that you are willing to share with us? We know y’all love to whip out the odd cover tunes…

Ha! Who knows what we’ll come up with – we learned “Sabotage” in the van home from Virginia two days after MCA died and played it at show that evening. We love a good cover tune.

If you could book a “dream gig” who would you have on the bill with the Whiskey Gentry, and why?

This is tough. We all come from so many different musicial influences that I would want to honor all of them at our dream gig. Here’s the line-up: U2, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch all signing three-part harmony to every song, Social Distortion, Flatt & Scruggs (you said dream gig!), Gram Parsons (dreaming…again), Weird Al Yankovic, a comedy hour with Louis CK, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Bad Religion and OutKast.

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Slim’s Juke Box: JD McPherson, Moot Davis, Amelia White, Gene Watson, Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 By:

by James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

Welcome to the first edition of Slim’s Juke Box. Our goal is to spread the word about recent, new and upcoming CD releases that may appeal to the average ATLRetro.com reader. Every few weeks we will be presenting a summary of five or so albums that are spending time in my disc drive. There will be various country, Americana, deep soul and assorted roots rock artists, plus whatever else floats my boat, as I have a pretty wide range of musical interests. You can also expect a few words on worthy re-issues. Hopefully you will read about something that strikes your fancy, and check it out.

JD McPherson
SIGNS AND SIGNIFIERS
Hi-Style Records

I’m embarrassed to say that this dude somehow went under my radar for the last couple of years, but one listen to this great new release and I was hooked! Mining the caves of classic R&B, rockabilly, and jump blues, McPherson fits in somewhere between Big Sandy and James Hunter. From the deep groove of opening track “Northside Gal,” through the Sun Session sounding “Fire Bug,” and the evocative moody ramble  in “A Gentle Awakening,” McPherson and the band get it right on every point. Jeremy Sutton nails the bass lines, and drummer Alex Hall keeps things moving.  I can’t pick a favorite song; it’s all good!

Moot Davis
MAN ABOUT TOWN
Highway Kind Records

New Jersey native Moot Davis was originally a rocker, but his discovery of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and other classic country artists led him down a different path. After a couple of albums that went nowhere but on the critic’s “Best Of” lists, he took some time off. A stint in Austin and now Nashville has rekindled the twang, and “MAN ABOUT TOWN is a fine collection of new tunes from a real deal honky tonker. Chris Scruggs’ sweet steel intro on “Rags To Rhinestones” sets the bar high, and Davis keeps the caliber up from start to finish. It’s not hard to do with Kenny Vaughn on lead guitar and production, and the fine duet with Elizabeth Cook on “Crazy In Love With You” recalls George & Tammy. This is the kind of stuff that’s simply too country for country radio anymore.

Amelia White
BEAUTIFUL AND WILD
Self-Released

It takes a lot of guts to try and make a living as a musician, and while Amelia White is willing to take on the arduous and often unrewarded task, the big question is why hasn’t she gotten more attention? With her fifth album, White proves she has the chops to stand alongside some of Americana’s finest. With a smooth syrupy voice (BETTER than Lucinda. There, I said it) and a penchant for rich emotional lyrics, White’s introspective songs capture a side of life that few people get an opportunity to experience.  She goes far beyond the formulaic singer-songwriter shtick, with sitars, deep percussion and drifting melodies that keep you guessing.  While Music City pushes the likes of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, real talented people like Amelia White grind it out on the road, making music worth listening to.

Gene Watson
BEST OF THE BEST: 25 GREATEST HITS
Fourteen Carat Music

Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s there were some awesome country tunes on top of the charts. It was a time when commercial country was finding a balance between the traditional style and the obtuse pop influences brought about by Chet Atkins and Billy Sherrill. Texas roadhouse singer Gene Watson had a string of hits during that era, and managed to toe the line between pop and country (with an emphasis on the country). On this career retrospective, Watson re-records 25 of his signature tunes, some were chart toppers and some were deep album cuts, but they are all pretty dang good. Well, the schmaltzy “Paper Rosie” may not be as intense as the classic “Should I Go Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)” or his best known opus “Farewell Party,” but it’s fun stuff nevertheless. Watson had a stellar chart history, and a recent bout with cancer has not affected his amazing voice. It’s good to see and hear the old timers keeping it real.

The Hobart Brothers + Lil’ Sis Hobart
AT LEAST WE HAVE EACH OTHER

Supergroups come in many forms, but a supergroup consisting of indie artists Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnson and Susan Cowsill bring a whole new perspective to the concept. Recorded over various dates, the trio got together in Austin, and a musical harmonic convergence occurred. Susan, yes, from THOSE Cowsills, is one of the most talented songwriters in the business, with an ear for catchy hooks and a great voice. Graham has been a mainstay in the Austin scene for years, and even though his solo works is amazing he may be best known for the True Believers, with Alejandro Escovedo. Johnson is an amazing songwriter, but virtually uncategorizable. Combined, the talents of all three result in one of the most listenable, infecting, and entertaining albums of the year. Each member brings something unique to the mix, and it works on every level. Great stuff, trust me.

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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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Kool Kat of the Week: The Day the Music Lives Again: Celebrating Deacon Lunchbox and Benjamin Sat. Night Jan. 28 at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 27th, 2012 By:

This Saturday night Jan. 28 at the Plaza Theatre, redneck street poet laureate Deacon Lunchbox will live again at the The Love that Won’t Shut Up Memorial Show and Screening: A celebration of the lives, loves, music and friends of Benjamin and Deacon Lunchbox.” If you say, “who?” then shame on you; it’s time to get educated and why we’re declaring Deacon our first posthumous Kool Kat.

For Atlanta’s Cabbagetown alt-music scene, the April 1992 auto accident that cut short the lives of Timothy Tyson Ruttenber, aka Deacon Lunchbox, drummer Rob Clayton and bassist Robert Hayes of the incredible Jody Grind was the Day the Music Died—as impactful as the plane crash that stole away Buddy Hollen. Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper was to a nation falling in love with rock ‘n’ roll in 1959. The Jody Grind was on the cusp of a national breakthrough and had been featured recently in Rolling Stone. Deacon Lunchbox coined the term “Redneck Underground” and had a crazy style all his own that went beyond performance artist and street poet and was, well… Cabbagetown personified and then some. The Sat. night event at the Plaza also honors Benjamin Smoke, the marvelously manic cross-dressing lead vocalist of Smoke and the Opal Foxx Quartet whose life was cut too short by hepatitis C in 1999. If you don’t know about Deacon, Benjamin and how pivotal the Cabbagetown art/music scene was back in the late 1980s/’90s, Creative Loafing wrote a great piece about it in the June 24, 2010 issue called “The Triumph and Tragedy of the Cabbagetown Sound.” The article was composed as an oral history featuring interviews with more than a dozen people who were part of that scene.

The Plaza event includes screenings of the short film, LAWRENCE OF LAWRENCEVILLE HIGHWAY by Neil Fried, which starred Deacon, and the documentary BENJAMIN SMOKE (2000) by Jem Cohen and Pete Sillen, as well as an amazing line-up of Atlanta independent music scene  veterans who were collaborators and friends with Deacon and Benjamin including Smoke That City, Debbey Richardson, Slim Chance and many others. The Jody Grind’s lead vocalist Kelly Hogan even is coming down from Chicago. And you know the Deacon Lunchbox set by Jim Stacy (AM Gold, Grand Moff Tarkin, GreasePaint, LaBrea Stompers, Pallookaville, Starlight Drive-In, etc.) will be something to behold. We hope the rumors are true  that he’ll be doing a choice selection of Deacon’s signature Atlanta-inspired numbers such as “Omni Beer” and “Lewis Grizzard, I’m Calling You Out!” Amazingly this whole crazy shindig is just $10, with proceeds supporting the nonprofit Plaza. Think about dropping a little extra at the door, though, because independent cinemas like the Plaza are having a really rough time right now and we don’t want to be singing about the Day the Movies Died in Atlanta, too. As Deacon would say, “Brown bag it Ladies and Gents!”

ATLRetro asked Jim Stacy to share a few personal memories of Deacon, one Kool Kat that Cabbagetown and Atlanta lost way too soon. If you have any stories to share about Deacon, drop us a line at atlretro@gmail.com and we’ll add them to this feature, too. Hope to see you Saturday at the Plaza when the South may not rise again, but Cabbagetown sure will.

ATLRetro: In your opinion, what was special about Deacon Lunchbox?

Jim Stacy: For me he was like an older brother or uncle. He was, for sure, one of my heroes. He was the first time I had seen someone craft a persona that was more than just a performance foil. He was Tim, but Deacon was larger than Tim. Deacon could be more outspoken because he was a character. Now that’s not to say that Deacon wasn’t Tim and Tim wasn’t Deacon; it’s just Deacon amplified whatever Tim needed to say. I was really influenced by this process. I’ve spent my career inventing persona after persona to do the same thing. I think being able to provide a voice from a Character rather than “a Guy” allows for much more concise points to be made, in a shorter time, with no questions. It works like this: Here’s this guy on stage, he looks like this, he said this, he did this, this is what I think about what he just did and said.

Deacon, it was almost a cartoon of Tim. Though he looked and acted like Tim, when he put on the “Deacon” persona, the audience didn’t have to get to know the performer, they only needed to get to know Deacon, listen to what he said and then viscerally react. That all can happen through a Character. It’s no different than Alice Cooper or Ziggy Stardust. I just didn’t know it could be done by regular people.

Do you have a favorite memory/story about Deacon?

I have tons, but the most special is not really the most fun. Deacon called me either before or after the last show the day they were killed. He always started the conversation with, “FUCK YOU!” I don’t remember when. He called asking if I wanted to do another Psycholympics with him at the old Cotton Club. Told me we’d talk more after he got home. It was sometime later I got the call Robert, Robert and Deacon had been killed.

I still have a random dream where an old dial phone will ring and I’ll pick it up and someone will yell “FUCK YOU!” out of it.

Before the wreck, during Desert Storm I, he called me, telling me I had been drafted and hadn’t shown up at my induction. Told me that a car would be pulling up to “Get your pansy ass ready to serve your Country.” He had me convinced for 15 minutes I was going in the Army that night.

What will you be doing Sat. night at The Love That Won’t Shut Up Memorial?

I’ll be doing a few Deacon numbers as Deacon on some of Deacon’s props. It will be a pale substitute for the real thing. Pale indeed.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Down At The Well Of Wishes: Slim Chance Celebrates Jon Byrd’s Return to Atlanta With a New Album and Hopefully a Dream Come True

Posted on: Dec 6th, 2011 By:

By Slim Chance (James Kelly)
Contributing Blogger

Jon Byrd celebrates the release of DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES at Kavarna in Oakhurst on Saturday Dec. 10. Slim Chance & the Convicts play at 8PM. $6. Facebook Event Link.

Chasing your dreams can be a long, arduous, and often frustrating journey, which usually ends in regret and disillusionment. But perseverance, and commitment, and dedication can often fuel that desire into fruition. Last month, as I sat in Nashville’s hallowed Station Inn, surrounded by a few old acquaintances and a room full of strangers, I watched my dear friend Jon Byrd take the stage to a rousing reception as he celebrated the release of his second solo album DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES. It was a project two years in the making, and the payoff was evident in the maturity of the songs, the catch of the hooks, and the look of sheer pleasure on the faces of all in attendance. But truthfully, this dream was hatched many years ago, and I got to see it take shape.  From his early days playing guitar in local Southern “alternative” bands like the Primitons and the Windbreakers, Jon searched far and wide for his musical footprint, and he ultimately found it in country music.

In the late ‘80s, I lived right behind Jon and his girlfriend (at the time) in Little Five Points, and there is no doubt the sounds of Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard blasting from my stereo made their way up to their windows. Compound that with the rowdy, scattered and musically schizophrenic practice sessions of my own band, Slim Chance & the Convicts, it was inevitable that curiosity took over, and we became friends and collaborators. Jon eventually joined the Convicts full time, and through our shared fascination and mutual exploration of the roots of country music he developed a unique and crafty lead guitar style, steeped in traditional twang, but with a twist here and there.

Jon Byrd plays at Red Beet Records in East Nashville. Photo Credit: Stacy Huckeba

Jon always listened to the nuances, and picked up a few tricks while creating his own. And the man can sing. His run with the Convicts resulted in three well-received albums, more incredible shows than we can remember, and a stellar reputation. Stints with other Atlanta acts like Greta Lee and The Ratchet Set proved that Jon was a consummate picker, and his newfound love of real country music was his foundation for all these years. But in Atlanta, it’s really easy to be a big fish in the little pond of the Redneck Underground, and Jon had other plans. He relocated to Nashville, where all of a sudden he found himself on the fringes of a very polarized world, quite different from what he was used to in Atlanta.

The musical pilgrimage to Nashville is a well-worn tale; some make it, most don’t. Those shooting for “the big time” often go home empty-handed, but those who hold their ground often find their niche. Jon struggled for several years in the talent overloaded town, playing pick-up gigs when he could get them, sitting in when he had the chance, and ingratiating himself into the very tight and somewhat insular social scene on “other side of Nashville.” Making friends and connections, he worked hard, and in the 10 years he has been in Music City, he gradually nurtured and shaped a deeply respected place within the alt. country music scene, mostly centered in East Nashville.

Jon released his first solo album BYRD’S AUTO PARTS in 2007, and immediately people who were not already familiar with his work took notice. Joined by a crew of musicians pretty much in the same place he was professionally, the record was done on a shoestring budget, and with a lot of help from his friends. It was good enough and respected enough to motivate a second release, which again became a pure labor of love. Juggling a full-time job, frequent gigs and basic survival, Jon somehow pulled his support group together one more time, and with a fancier studio, the production expertise of the popular R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Webb Wilder, Allison Moorer, etc.), and a lot of favors from his talented friends, DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES has finally arrived.

Jon Byrd. Photo Credit: Michael Pittman.

Is this country music? Well, yes and no. It’s not what radio programmers call “country music” today, but it is the kind of country music you hear when you listen to a Dan Penn record, or a Willie Nelson album. It is music from the heart and soul, full of songs about real things that matter to everyone. The dark imagery of the opener, “In A Chest Of Skin And Bone,” co-written with Jon’s Nashville drinking buddy Butch Primm (an amazing songwriter as well), sets the tone for a journey through emotional valleys and caverns. The poignant and beautiful melody and harmonies on “When It Starts To Rain” enhance the rich metaphorical lyrics, and drive the message of solitary pain over missed opportunities straight into the listener’s mind. Each of the nine tracks is a defining moment, whether a reflection on Jon’s roots in “Alabama Asphalt,” or a sweet eulogy for for a favorite watering hole in “A Fond Farewell”.

Recorded at Ocean Way Studio, Jon’s friends are all over the place. Former Los Straitjackets drummer Jimmy Lester handles most of the percussion, the keyboards are courtesy of Georgia native Adam Wright, whose lovely and incredibly talented wife Shannon Wright also adds harmony vocals. The pedal steel is shared by Newnan boy Alex McCollough (who also mastered the record) and the incredible Pat Severs, who works with Bill Anderson and the Everly Brothers. Ed Atkins of the Derailers adds some bass, along with Duane Blevins. And when Jon isn’t playing lead guitar, that is handled well by Milan Miller.

So who will hear this great record? With no big publicity machine behind it, that relies on word of mouth, website reviews and indie radio DJs to create a groundswell. Jon just returned from a successful solo European tour, and is a participant on a Grammy®-nominated album, I LOVE…TOM T. HALL’S SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW . Those are sure to increase his exposure. But regardless of the challenge of commercial success, Jon has accomplished many of the goals he set out to achieve when he left Atlanta, and we are all very proud of his amazing work. Sometimes wishes come true, and Jon Byrd deserves it.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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