Hawaiiana Tiki Culture and Rockabilly music are two of our favorite things here at ATLRetro, so you can bet we’re looking forward to the 3rd Annual Rockabilly Luau this weekend at Atlanta-Northlake Holiday Inn. This year, it’s expanded to two days of feativities with a kick-off night on Friday Aug. 2 starting at 6 p.m. and then a full day of fun on Sat. Aug. 3 kicking off at noon hosted by Jim Stacy and mermaid Medusirena the Fire-Eating Mermaid, with bands, vendors, tropical cocktails, a classic car show, a pin-up swimsuit contest, Hawaiian fire performers and even a mermaid! The killer line-up includes a treasure chest of ATLRetro Kool Kats of weeks past, so we thought it would be fun to reprint some highlights from their interviews to give you a taste of the fun to come.
Rockabilly Luau Founder Chris Mattox
Chris told us that he grew up on rockabilly and surf music and that the Rockabilly Luau is a labor of love. “One of my fondest childhood memories was my dad taking me to see Dick Dale at the Variety Playhouse,” he says. “A love for Polynesian culture was inevitable.” At every turn, he reminded us of his passion for fair treatment of animals and that all proceeds from the Rockabilly Luau benefit dog rescue efforts. This year the designated nonprofit is Friends To The Forlorn Pitbull Rescue. Read Chris’s full Kool Kat interview here.
Hot Rod Walt of The Psychio-Devilles (Saturday 7 p.m.)
Hot Rod Walt, aka Walt Richards, may have roots in Jersey and Florida, but since parking in Atlanta in 2006, he’s quickly become one of Atlanta’s hardest working rockabilly/psychobilly singer/guitarists. He has 200 original songs, and his main band, the Psycho-Devilles, which also features Buford T. Ogletree on bass and Steve “Burnout” Barnett on drums, have generated multiple CDs, toured the US and Europe and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the Retro Revival, not to mention lighting a bass on fire at the first Rockabilly Luau in 2011.
“I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was around 12 years old,” Walt recalled. “I will never forget being so stoked about it and I can still smell the smell of the wood and glue and paint it was made of. I didn’t come from a musical family so having an instrument seemed very exotic as a kid. I also remember my little brother and I fighting that day and my father threatening to smash my new prized possession !! He would have done it too.”
As for his fantastic rockabilly wardrobe: “I make all my show clothes myself,” Walt said. “I have some vintage stuff that I find randomly. But I usually find a halfways cool suit at Goodwill and then customize it to a Western style or ’50s style coat. Since I am an upholstery guy, I have industrial sewing equipment and just make whatever I want. I have quite a huge collection of suits. I always want to make a new one for every show!”
Read Hot Rod Walt’s full Kool Kat interview here.
Caroline Hull-Engel of Caroline and the Ramblers (Friday 7:15 p.m.)
As interviewer James Kelly noted, “Red Hot Mama” [the title of the Ramblers' CD] Caroline Hull Engel 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.”
Caroline herself said The Ramblers, her current band, is “geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and [is] 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.”
Read Caroline’s full Kool Kat interview here.
Julea Thomerson at The Star Bar's Bubbapalooza.
Julea Thomerson of Julea and Her Dear Johns (Saturday 1 p.m.)
When we caught up with lovely Julea, she was singing and strumming (she plays banjo, acoustic guitar and rubboard) with some of the best male blues and roots musicians in the city, including Bill Sheffield, Charlie Wooton, Nathan Nelson and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck, and her main gig was with the Bareknuckle Betties. Now she’s got her own band, Julea and Her Dear Johns.
When asked why she plays country and honky tonk in the 21st century, Julea retorted, “Why not? Every form of music we listen to today is, to some extent, derivative of some sort of sound that is not from the 21st century. There is not one song you can listen to that is completely unique, not one style or genre of music that hasn’t already been reinvented hundreds of times. And that’s true for every genre, not just honky tonk. So if you’re looking at music from that angle, why play anything at all? As for me personally, I play what I play because those are the kind of songs that I write. I write those kind of songs because that’s what I listen to. And I listen to what I listen to because it’s what I connect with and enjoy. I guess you could say that country western honky tonk music is not a 21st century sound. But in my opinion, I think it’s silly to try to assign a time period to something that is timeless.”
Read Julea’s full Kool Kat interview here.
Rev. Andy Hawley. Photo courtesy of Andy Hawley.
The Right Reverend Andy of Garage 71 (Friday Kick-Off Party, 10:30 p.m.)
For almost a decade, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley has been at the pulpit of Atlanta’s rockabilly revival as the DJ of Psychobilly Freakout (now airing Mondays from 8-10 p.m. on Garage 71 Internet radio and live at area events) and also for the many ‘billy events he has organized. Andy said he became the Right Reverend a bit by accident. “It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon,” he added. “I came in to do my show at Album 88 (88.5FM) and told the DJ before my show went on I had become ordained through the Universal Life Church. Without prompting her, she ended her shift by saying, “Coming up next is Psychobilly Freakout with Reverend Andy!” Years later, Sully from daveFM would add the “Right” part to add some flourish. Now, I’m active outside the studio with my role as the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll getting folks deep fried and sanctified with the help of roots music!”
As for the origins of “Psychobilly Freakout,” he told us “This name (and song) encapsulated the theme for what I wanted my show to become. Honestly, it came down to naming it this or “Rockabilly Rebel,” after a Hillbilly Hellcats song. The program director for Album 88 wanted to differentiate my show from the country show, so I went with the Freakout. The first time I interviewed Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), I told him I had named my show after one of his songs. He told me, “You better make it live up to the name,” and I think I have, eight years going.”
Read Rev. Andy’s full Kool Kat interview here
Mon Cherie. Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.
Mon Cherie (Hostess, Friday Night Kick-Off Party)
When we Kool Katted Atlanta’s hostess with the mostest Mon Cherie, she was resurrecting notorious nightclub The Chamber for one more dark and delightful night, but she’s also the divine visionary behind the Rockabilly Lounge, burlesque shows and an amazing array of other Retro-inspired activities here. We asked her what started her love of all things vintage and she told us: “When I was a little girl, my Aunt Peggy from the hills of Pennsylvania used to let me and my sisters listen to her 45 records on her portable record player. This is the beginning of my fondness for Elvis, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran,Hank Williams and Ritchie Valens et al. I have always loved the trends of the ’40s, ’50s & ’60s – Rockabilly Lounge was just my way of putting it all together.” As to her secret to success: “I have an ability to share a smile, so when I put one on your face, it puts two on mine.”
Read Mon Cherie’s Full Kool Kat interview here.
Chris Hamer. Photo courtesy of Chris Hamer.
Monsterific Comics Artist Chris Hamer (Vendors Row)
The Rockabilly Luau’s vendors’ alley is always full of fantastic finds from carved tikis to floral hair styling accessories to carved Cthulhu tiki mugs, but one of our favorites has to be the man who put a monster in your thrift store painting, Chris Hamer of Urbnpop Studio. When we caught up with him, he was about to do a Tom Waits-themed art show, and this is what he said about his approach to using found pieces in his works: “This show was a bit how I do my thrift store pieces, but I did the shopping at antique stores instead. I would travel around to different stores with a song in mind, walk around, do a lot of staring at stuff, and buy it [if I had] the feeling that I could make it work. When you listen to Tom Waits, or even see a photo of him, there is this nostalgic, romantic quality to him. I feel that with his music, he does not fit into this new polished sound that is on the radio or popular with a wide audience. It’s almost like his fans are antiques or vintage themselves. By no means am I calling them old, but you just do not hear people talking about him as much as you do a mainstream band or singer. I did not want to just simply make a wooden box or buy some canvas for the art, I wanted to take the vintage old soul approach with the art. So each piece has some sort of lost antique or discarded feel to it. One piece that will stand out the most in the show is for the song “Old 55.” I used an original pre-‘50s Ford truck door for my canvas to paint on. It’s all rusty and looks like time forgot all about it. I love it.”
Read Chris Hamer’s full Kool Kat interview here.
Medusirena. Photo courtesy of Medusirena.
Medusirena (Saturday, 8:15 p.m.)
And last but not least it’s true, there will be a mermaid and she knows how to play with fire! One of the last luau’s most alluring acts was aquatic dance by Medusirena, also known as Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid, from Fort Lauderdale, FL., and we’re happy to say she’s back. She wasn’t an official ATLRetro Kool Kat, but we did interview her for last year’s preview to find out a little more about this self-described “zany Uncanny Exoticat-Aquaticat,” whose passion is to recreate vintage aquatic dance for today’s audiences.
“Well, there was never a time I “became” a “mermaid,” to tell you the truth,” Marina told ATLRetro. “I can say that I learned how to free dive at a very early age – 3 – in the West Indies and have always maintained a strong connection with aquatic movement art. That, together with training in Polynesian and Eastern dances, it was a natural fit. I was inspired by marine animal movement and performers and showpeople ranging from Esther Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ricou Browning, Annette Kellerman, Iris Chacón and even Freddie Mercury, with a touch of Bruce Lee. My goal is to not only to return aquatic performances to people’s consciousness, but to help educate and encourage the art form for future generations. Retro-tainment if you will.”
Read our full interview with Medusirena here.
And that’s just our Kool Kats sos far. Everyone on the Rockabilly Luau playlist is a sure-fire contender for a future Kool Kat. Here’s the full performance schedule, but keep in mind, as we said, they’ll be a lot more going, especially on Saturday, including vendors, classic cars, cocktails and food.
Friday Night Line-up:
6:00-7:00 The Monterreys
7:00-7:15 Daisy Day
7:15-8:00 Caroline & The Ramblers
8:15-9:00 Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Pre-Qualifier
9:00-9:45 The Mystery Men?
9:45-10:30 Forged Creations Fire Performers
10:30 -? Hotel guests only kickoff party! Hosted by Mon Cherie, Garage 71 and Bachelor Pad Magazine!
12:00 Gates open!
1:00-2:00 Julea and her Dear Johns
2:00-3:00 Gemini 13
2:30-3:30 “Taste of the Islands” part 1
3:00-4:00 Davina & the Harlots
4:15:-5:15 The Intoxicators
5:30-6:00 Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders
6:00-6:45 Bikini Tiki Luau Pin-up Swimsuit Contest Finals “Taste of the Islands” part 2
7:00-8:00 Hot Rod Walt & The Psycho Devilles
9:00-9:30 Hawaiian Performance by Aloha Islanders, Fire Knife dancer
9:30 Kat Chaffin & Woven Pines