Kool Kat of the Week: Hooting, Hollyfesterin’ and Cockle-Doodle-Doom with Phil Stair of Grim Rooster

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

Phil Stair, lead vocalist/guitarist of Grim Rooster. Photo courtesy of Phil Stair.

Every year around the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley gathers some of Atlanta’s best rockabilly and neo-honkytonk talent at the Star Bar for a righteous revival called Hollyfest! This year the fifth annual tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper is on Sat. Feb. 2, so mark your calendars for  a Groundhog Day you’ll want to relive with a 14-band line-up conjuring up rock n roll deja vu that includes many groups whose members have been previous Kool Kats from Cletis Reid to Andrew & The DisapyramidsThe Stumblers to Rod Hamdallah.

Also on the playlist is Grim Rooster. While the group has only been around for a couple of years, its members include Phil Stair (lead vocals, guitar), Dylan Ross (bass) and Nate Elliscu (mandolin) and Tigerbeat Tony (drums) who have been active in the scene here for many a corn season. Boasting a diverse barnyard of influences that range from Johnny Cash to Rancid, they’ve already got more than 30 original songs under their belt and the fireball audacity to promise this about their musical menu on Facebook: “just try not to drip any tobacco juice on the floor the first time you feast your ears on this blue-plate dee-light of mother-cluckin’ foot-stompin’ fun and your jaw drops wide open!”

ATLRetro caught up with Phil to find out how Grim Rooster got hatched, what Hollyfest is all about and just what the hell is honky punk anyway?

So how and when did Grim Rooster get hatched?

Grim Rooster came about in the spring of 2011. My band Rocket 350 was on its last legs, and I was fairly bummed about it. My bass player had moved to Nashville so I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. Also our crowd had finally faded, and it  just wasn’t worth the effort of getting everyone together. At that point, my buddy Dylan asked if I had any interest in starting some sort of side project. I knew that I wanted to start either a straight punk band or do something very stripped down and roosty. Dylan wanted to play stand-up bass so it was settled. We asked one of neighbors to come play drums, and then I wrote about 20 songs for the project. I really got wrapped up in the music and was very excited to be doing something new. It had been about 15 years since I started a new band.

What’s in the name?

Grim Rooster came from a goofy brainstorming session. We wanted to use something with the word “rooster” in it, and that’s when we started coming up with ridiculous names. Obviously it’s a play on Grim Reaper, and it was meant to be funny at first, but it had a pretty good ring to it. We started coming up with crazy logos and realized we had a winner.

What the hell is honky punk?

We play honky tonk and bluegrass. We have an acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass and drums. The ferocity that we play our honk tonk is where the punk comes in. Although we have a real roosty sound, the punk rock still seems to slip in there. This is great when we play places like the Star Bar, but when we play to the bluegrass crowd, a lot of times they get a bit lost. We used to do a cover of Operation Ivy‘s song “Knowledge,” but it never seemed to go over too well even though we really honky-tonked it up.

What’s so great about three dead Retro rockers and was it really the day the music died? In other words, what do Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper mean to you personally?

The day the music died will always remind me of the terrible Ritchie Valens movie that they did in the 80s. “Not my Ritchie!!” But seriously I think out of the three, Buddy Holly was the biggest loss. He was a great songwriter, and he did a lot to help shape rock ‘n’ roll at its very beginning. I will have to say though, that I’m very happy Waylon Jennings did not get on that plane. I can only imagine how terrible this event was when it happened and what a blow to rock ‘n’ roll it was. It seems like we always lose the great ones, yet guys like Justin Bieber seem to stick around forever. As far as what they mean to me personally, I’m more of an Elvis man myself, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Grim Roosters at Twain's. Photo courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Have you played past Hollyfests? For the uninitiated, what happens at Hollyfest and makes it special? With all the Star Bar regular bands and Andy organizing, it sounds like it’s a big rockabilly/honkytonk homecoming. 

I have played many Hollyfests. One with Grim Rooster and a couple with Rocket 350. It is like a big homecoming, or more like the Atlanta rockabilly scene’s annual meeting. It’s always a great time, and its always great to see friends that I’ve hung out with for the past 20 years. It’s funny. I was sneaking into that place when I was 18, and here I am seeing the exact same folks. Something like that is rare, and I’m glad Andy and the Star bar are keeping it alive.

What will Grim Rooster be playing at Hollyfest – Holly classics or your own songs or both? Any special plans?

We are stripping down for Hollyfest because our drummer won’t be able to make it. We will be going string-band style. We are going to bluegrass up “Midnight Shift” and “True Love Ways.” Next we are going to do a slow-dance version of “Rave On.” Then, last but not least, we are going to do a Roosterized version of Weezer’s tune “Buddy Holly.”

How did you start playing guitar, and were your first rock influences the classics or were you more of a punk rock boy or a metal-head?

I started playing guitar in 7th grade but quit when I got a Nintendo for my birthday. I stupidly put it down, but hell, I was 12. I picked it back up when I was 19 because I wanted to be in a band and I realized that no one wanted just a singer. I started by trying to play along to punk rock records. It took a few years to start getting the rockabilly licks down.  When I finally did, I started Rocket 350.

I would say punk rock boy and metal head, or maybe just a lot of classic rock. I love Guns n Roses and the Ramones, what can I say?! I knew about the classics, but I didn’t start seeking out different genres till high school. I originally got into roots music through ska. That scene used to be huge in Atlanta, and there were a ton of shows. That pushed me to seek out rockabilly, and then I was hooked on that for many years. Through all of it though, I would have to say punk rock is by far my favorite music. That is probably my biggest influence. Then there’s a lot of old school country and just plain rock ‘n’ roll thrown in there.

What other bands have you played with?

Rocket 350 has been my main band; that lasted from 1997 to 2011. We went on four US tours and played hundreds of regional shows. We recorded five albums. I have yet to release our last record. Also I did fill in for my buddy’s metal band Grayson Manor once. That was fun as hell, but not exactly a good fit.

Other than Hollyfest, what’s your most memorable, fun, crazy or satisfying Grim Rooster gig? 

We enjoy playing an outdoor venue in Alpharetta called Matilda’s. Everyone calls it the poor man’s Chastain. They have roots music outside every Saturday during the summer. You play on the porch of an old house, and everyone brings their own food and beer. It’s all ages, so all of our families can make it out to the show. Those so far have been my favorite gigs, and they always draw a huge crowd. Just a really great vibe when we play there and a lot of interaction from the crowd. At the end of the day, we do this for fun so when you can get people out and involved, it makes it worth it.

The Grim Roosters shake up Matilda's. Photo Courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Do you have a day-job?

I do, but I don’t want to ruin the illusion. Ha, yes in real life, I have a wife and two kids and live in the burbs. I work as a financial advisor, so me playing music has become a way for me to release a ton of stress. If it wasn’t for the release of playing music, I would probably be in the looney bin. I was very lucky to have been able to play music for a living and go nuts. In my late 20s, the writing was on the wall. I realized I wanted other things.

What’s next for Grim Rooster?

Just trying to find more gigs. If you know of any, let me know. We do have a big one on Feb. 6 at Smith’s Olde Bar. We are opening up for Corb Lund, and we are super excited about it. We will be playing our usual set of originals with a couple covers thrown in. Should be a great night of honky tonk.

Also, Grim Rooster is on Facebook if anyone wants to check us out. We have a three-song demo up there for everyone to listen to and download.

 

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Extra Kool Kat of the Week: How a Few Too Many Drinks and a Holy Trinity of Johnnies Led to Keith Martin Stumbling Down into The Basement This Friday

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2011 By:

At Bubbapalooza at the Star Bar back in May, Torchy Taboo told me that she was really digging this new rockabilly band called The Stumblers. Now I know Torchy well enough to know she doesn’t mess around with her rockabilly, but when this quartet hit the stage in those ace cowboy shirts and started playing, let’s just say they weren’t stumblin’. Not that would expect anything klutzy coming from a line-up like vocalist/rhythm guitarist Keith Martin (Brandy, Car Thieves, Pickman’s Model), David Stuart (Hallows Eve) on lead guitar, veteran drummer Robbie Whelan and prolific English bassist Paul Diffin (recently The Psycho-DeVilles and Linda Gail Lewis, but also London acts The Big Six, Sugar Ray Ford and The Hotshots, and The Blue Cats).

While Keith and David have punk and metal band roots, sometimes your first love is your greatest one and for them, it was the southern roots music of the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Ask the boys what they play, and they’ll tell you that they are a four-piece traditional country band. Later that night I cornered Keith in the stairwell heading down to The Little Vinyl Lounge to ask when he’d be up for an interview, and he suggested a downstairs gig Friday July 22 with Vermont country-Goddamned-music band JP Harris & the Tough Choices at The Basement underneath Graveyard Tavern.

The Stumblers front man Keith Martin. Photo Credit: Scott Lowden.

Needless to say, it’s two months later and that show is now this week. Lucky for ATLRetro readers, Keith still was more than happy to take a break from honkytonkin’ to divulge the origin story of The Stumblers, give a crash lesson in the history of “hillbilly jump,” talk about their pronounced predilection for dive bars and share some shopping tips on finding cowboy shirts as cool as theirs.

How and when did you fine fellas get together?

Robbie and I have been friends for years but had never played together. We started back in 2007 to work on what would become The Stumblers. The first go at it was great, but soon life began to kickus in the teeth with a series of personnel issues. Our bassist took a job in Florida, our lead player had to quit for personal reasons, and to top it off, Robbie was called up and deployed to Iraq. The night he shipped out, I promised Robbie that I wasn’t giving up, and that by the time he came back I would have the players we needed to keep the band alive.

During this time my other old friend David Stuart decided to come out of semi-retirement and try his formidable hand at country music. I gave him a few reference songs and he took off like a bat out of hell. My friend Mike Bourne of Atlanta Boogie told me I should “Call Paul Diffin; he lives and breathes the stuff you’re doing.” After looking up Paul on the Internet, and realizing that he was the bassist for some of my favorite English bands, I immediately called him. Two minutes into our first get-together with this new line up, I knew we had a magical combination. Continue reading “Extra Kool Kat of the Week: How a Few Too Many Drinks and a Holy Trinity of Johnnies Led to Keith Martin Stumbling Down into The Basement This Friday” »

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Weekend Update, Feb. 24-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 24th, 2011 By:

As I said at the start of the week, there are some tough choices this weekend, and a few additions not included in This Week to make it even harder. Whatever you choose, hope you have a ravishingly Retro good time!

Thursday Feb. 24

The Atlanta Opera presents the opening night of George Gershwin’s PORGY & BESS, a American folk opera about two lovers struggling to find happiness in Charleston’s Catfish Row. Find out more about the production at the Cobb Energy Centre which runs through March 6, in KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK spotlighting Costume Coordinator Joanna Schmink.

Good grief, CB’s an adolescent now, his little sister’s a goth, his ex-girlfriend’s in a mental hospital for setting too many fires, his friends are all drunk, and when his dog dies from rabies after killing a “little yellow bird,” he starts to question the existence of an afterlife.That’s the wacked-out premise of DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD, a black comedy inspired by the popular PEANUTS comic strip and performed by the new Fabrefaction Theatre Company, which premieres today and runs through March 13.

ATLRetro will finally be joining the Last Of The Red Hot Truc-ers as Ghost Riders Car Club celebrates Vietnamese New Year with classic ’50s honkytonk and rockabilly for the last of their February Thursday night free gigs at Pho Truc in Clarkston. For a sneak peek, read Feb. 1 ’s KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK with guitarist Spike Fullerton. Listen 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. And Breeze Kings bring on the blues at Northside Tavern.

Friday Feb. 25

Get back to rock’s rockabilly, country and Western swing roots with Big Sandy & His Flyrite Boys, with special guests Caroline & the Ramblers and The Stumblers, at Star Bar. It’s a soulful night at Highland Inn Ballroom with The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle and George Hughley with Johnny & the Lakewood 5. The Nick Longo Band jazzes up Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis & IMAX. And go really retro with a futuristic twist at AnachroCon, a three-day steampunk convention, which kicks off today in grande style with The Gaslamp Gala, a concert extravaganza organized and presented by The Artifice Club‘s Dr. Q, at 7 PM. Performers include The Ghosts Project with Nathaniel Johnstone (Abney Park) and Play it with Moxie, a ballroom jazz band. Admission is included in your AnachroCon membership, with VIP seating available for $5.  All festivities are at the Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, 4386 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. Continue reading “Weekend Update, Feb. 24-27, 2011” »

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, Feb. 21-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2011 By:

It’s a veritable luau feast for Retro activities in Atlanta this week, and ATLRetro has some tough decisions about what to do, especially on Saturday night.

Monday Feb. 21

Joe Gransden & his smokin’ 16-piece orchestra present another Big Band Night of jazz at Café 290, featuring Sinatra, Bennett, Basie and Joe’s originals.

Tuesday Feb. 22

The current incarnation of seminal progressive rockers The Church play their haunting melodies not just under the Milky Way but at Variety Playhouse. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are at Symphony Hall. Or if you live on the east side, swing dance to the Atlanta-New York Connection at the unlikely location of Northlake Mall’s Food Garden starting at 6 PM. Then head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM.

Wednesday Feb. 23

“If Elvis had been a woman, he probably would have sounded just like Kim Lenz,” says Rolling Stone. Decide for yourself when the scarlet-haired rockabilly queen brings her fiery voice to the Star Bar with her band The Jaguars. And if the night weren’t rockin’ enough, local faves Atomic Rockets and Junior, Dolan & Cash are also on the bill. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM.

Continue reading “This Week in Retro Atlanta, Feb. 21-27, 2011” »

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