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.

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Weekend Update, July 15-17, 2011

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2011 By:

Friday, July 15

Veteran rock/Texas country singer-songwriter Steve Earle & the Dukes play the Atlanta Botanical Garden, while R&B performer and former Gap member Charlie Wilson is at Classic ChastainRandy Travis celebrates 25 years of “genuine country” at Cobb Energy Centre. Catch an IMAX movie and learn to salsa dance with Salsambo Dance Studio at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX. Vocalist Julie Dexter performs at Friday Jazz at The High Museum of Art from 5-10 p.m. Visit the galleries through the evening and enjoy food and cocktails. And the Plaza Theatre dishes out a Full Moon Midnight Encore of 1981 John Landis classic horror flick AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Read our Retro Review by veteran FANGORIA writer Philip Nutman here.

Saturday July 16

It’ll be honkytonk heaven at Star Bar with Shovels & RopeBareKnuckle Betties and bassist Joel Hamilton.  I hear there’ll be some table dancin’ going in, but for the full foot-stompin’ scoop, read our exclusive sneak preview with Kool Kat of the Week Julea Thomerson of the Betties here.

Also playing today at the Yaarab Shrine Center are the Atlanta Rollergirls. At 5 p.m., the Dirty South Derby Girlstake on Brewcity Bruisers, and at 7:30 p.m. it’s the Denim Demons vs. Apocalypstix. Help Daniel Timms, who was in a motorcycle accident, and Sussi “Chevy” Shavers, who was in a moped accident, recover from some serious medical bills at the Bone Breakers Ball at Elliott Street Pub and Deli. Performers include boylesque/burlesque beauties Fonda Lingue and Ruby Redmayne, and there’s a silent auction of cool art, tattoos, pin-up photography and more. Andrew and the Disapyramids stir up the surf at 529 Club with FishHawk and Winter Ransom. In case you missed our Extra Kool Kat of the Week feature with guitarist Joshua Longino, you can still catch it here. Two Atlanta classics, Michelle Malone and Col. Bruce Hampton are at Eddie’s Attic and The Five Spot. Fedora Blues performs at Fat Matt’s Rib ShackHolliday Brothers blues it up at Hottie Hawg’s. And, of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

The Serenaders.

Sunday July 17

The Serenaders serve up a retrobilly “dunch” gig between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. At Eddie’s Attic, groove to Grammy Award-winning drummer Yonrico Scott‘s Band and legendary New Orleans mojo soul performer Coco Robicheaux.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, July 11-17, 2011

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2011 By:

Monday July 11

From 3 PM on, savor tropical sounds and libations, as well as a Polynesian dinner during Mai Tai Monday at Smith’s Olde BarKingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier is Monday night’s celebrity bartender at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong ParlorNorthside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday July 12

It’s a full moon movie Tuesday as two 35 mm classics featuring creatures on the prowl return to the big screens of Atlanta two most Retro cinemas. Elizabeth Taylor slinks like A CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Read Dean Treadway‘s review of the 1958 film based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same title, also starring Paul Newman and Burl Ives here, and be sure to be there by 7 p.m. for the Mighty Mo‘ organ singalong, cartoon and vintage newsreel. Then at 9:30 p.m. at The Plaza, Splatter Cinema presents AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the 1981 John Landis-directed cult favorite that introduced audiences to the full-body monster transformation with special make-up effects. Read Philip Nutman‘s review here.

Sultry and sexy ’80s torch-singer Sade performs with John Legend at Philips Arena. Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. JT Speed plays the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday  July 13

Sade plays a second night with John Legend at Philips Arena. Vocalist Boz Scaggs sings American classics from Gershwin to Rodgers and Hart at Classic Chastain with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. Deacon Brandon Reeves bring the blues to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck blues it down at Northside Tavernrespectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday  July 14

The Craigger White Band bring back the spirit of ’70s rock at Kathmandu Restaurant & Grill in Clarkston. All Thursday shows at the Vietnamese restaurant are free and all-ages. Go Retro-Polynesian to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologneat Aurum LoungeBreeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe features Hunger Valley Boys.

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