Kool Kat of the Week: Still Swanky After All These Years: Amy Pike Jazzes It Up With the Bonaventure Quartet at Oakland Cemetery, Fernbank and Across the Street from the Clermont Lounge

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2013 By:

 

Amy Pike and the Bonaventure Quartet Find Some Swell Songs in the Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge. Photo Credit: David Murray

The Bonaventure Quartet will be jazzing up both the annual Tunes from the Tombs festival at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery on Sat. June 8 and Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX the night before on Fri. June 7. So it just seemed like a natural to spotlight vocalist Amy Pike as Kool Kat of the Week.

Amy is quite simply the Cat’s Pajamas. She was one of the pioneers of the Retro/Swing Revival in Atlanta as lead singer and principal songwriter for The Lost Continentals in the 1990s. Songs from their album MOONSHINE AND MARTINIS, like “Swanky Bars and Fine Cigars,” got national radio airplay, and the band won 14 Best of Atlanta Swing awards, including Best Wig. Amy also always seemed to have a knack for finding the best and most swanky vintage dresses which she wore like nobody could. She’s sung for Ford commercials, and also fronted honky-tonk group, Amy Pike and the Last Cold Beer, which won Creative Loafing’s Best of Atlanta in the country music category in 2001.

Amy Pike was a sharp dresser with The Lost Continentals. Photo courtesy of Amy Pike.

With the Bonaventure Quartet, Amy’s a little more Boheme in that the eight-member jazz ensemble (yes, we said eight), particularly owes its origins to a mutual love of Django Reinhardt, the great French gypsy guitarist. She also runs Kitsch Fabric and Craft, a groovy vintage and vintage-inspired materials shop in Asheville, NC. ATLRetro caught up with her recently to find out more about her early musical roots, swinging youth, life with the Bonaventure Quartet, their new CD funded by a Kickstarter campaign, SONGS FROM THE LOST AND FOUND AT THE CLERMONT LOUNGE, and more. We’re happy to report that though Amy may have lost her Continentals, but she hasn’t loss her sass and swank. We don’t know if she ever smokes a fine cigar any more, but she’s still our favorite candidate for the musical equivalent of Dorothy Parker.

ATLRetro: Let’s start with Tunes from the Tombs. Some folks might think it creepy to come hear live music in a cemetery. Tell us why they’re wrong.

Amy Pike-Taylor: Well, frankly, it is a little creepy. I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I will handle the zombie apocalypse. So if you find yourself getting nervous at the show, come on over to our stage, we will be fully prepared for any problems that may arise.

Do you have any special plans for the Bonaventure Quartet’s performance this Saturday?

We will be doing a set of all original jazz tunes. That is a pretty rare thing these days. We are so lucky to have Charles Williams as our band leader! He is an amazing writer as well as guitarist. He can also spit a watermelon seed pretty darn far.

What music did you listen to growing up? Can you name a few of the performers who meant the most to you back then and who introduced you to them?

When I was about 7 years old, our house was robbed and the crooks took all the records except for Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Simon and Garfunkel and a compilation of belly dancing music. That was it for music in my household as a kid. If you need more explanation of my strange musical tastes or why I like to listen to the same records over and over, I may have to refer you to my therapist.

The Lost Continentals was a groundbreaking force in getting the Retro/swing/lounge revival started in Atlanta. Can you talk a little bit about that side of the music scene back then. Did you think you were being a bit daring by performing hits, old and new, that harkened back to a previous era?

Well, I am not sure I thought about it that deeply at the time. I just wanted to see people dress up and dance together, maybe even touching each other, for a change. I had been in the punk scene for so long I was ready for some romance. And I admit I got a perverse satisfaction out of seeing skin heads dancing to “Up a Lazy River,” which I grew up hearing on THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.

The Bonaventure Quartet's first CD, THE SECRET SEDUCTION OF THE GRAND POMPADOUR.

You always had the best vintage dresses back then. Where did you find them?

As with all good collectibles, they came to me in various ways. I used to make the guys go to thrift shops when we were on the road. I always had the best luck in Florida and Ohio. They seemed to enjoy it, too, sort of broke up the monotony of the road.

How did the Bonaventure Quartet get started, why the name, and how long have you been playing together?

I met Charles when he filled in as a guitarist for The Lost Continentals. We have been performing together for around 13 years. At that time, Charles lived on Bonaventure Avenue right across the street from the parking lot to the Clermont Lounge. I can’t tell you how many times we sat on his porch in the wee hours after a gig, playing music and watching the show from that parking lot.

How did a quartet end up with eight members?

Fission.

Tell us about the latest CD, SONGS FROM THE LOST AND FOUND AT THE CLERMONT LOUNGE. We can guess why the Clermont, but what did it mean to the band personally and what do you think the Clermont means to Atlanta?

Well, it was born on that screened porch across from the lounge. We always had the best ideas on that porch at around 2 a.m. We could often be heard by passersby saying, “This is the best idea we’ve ever had!” There may have been some adult beverages were involved.

Wasn’t it originally announced for last year? Did it just take longer to get it right?

It just kept growing! At first, it was the one song, then it was a full blown musical! Charles and his lovely wife Lynne Dale have been working on it together for a while now. The album is sort of Bonaventure’s version of songs from the musical “Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge.”

The musical is about a young woman who comes to the city with dreams of being an artist, a painter actually. Surprisingly, that is not as easy as you think and she ends up at the Clermont.

Anything else you’d like to share about the CD?

Amy Pike before she lost it with the Continentals. Photo courtesy of Amy Pike.

I think you guys will be amazed to hear how lush this recording is. There are so great musicians involved in this project. And as I said earlier, how many original Atlanta jazz bands are there?

Where is the Bonaventure Quartet playing next and do you have any other future musical plans you’d like to share with ATLRetro readers?

Looks like we will be playing Steve’s Live Music in Roswell on July 20. That show will be our CD release party and will involve most of the musicians on the album.

Finally, before we go, you’ve also got a store in Asheville called Kitsch Fabric and Craft which sounds like a perfect fit for our readers. Briefly how did you get started doing that, and do you sell vintage fabrics or reproductions or both?

You know it’s funny; it all started because of those vintage dresses I used to wear. I got frustrated because the old fabrics wouldn’t hold up very well, so I decided to learn to sew so that I could make vintage styles with new fabrics. That little idea turned into a raging obsession with fabrics and making things. Now I have a whole store full of amazing fabric and teach others how to sew daily on vintage sewing machines. Check it out at www.kitschfabrics.com

The Bonaventure Quartet at the Clermont Lounge. Photo Credit: David Murray.

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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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This Week in Retro Atlanta, May 16-22, 2011

Posted on: May 17th, 2011 By:

Monday May 16

Andrew & the Disapyramids

Swing to Joe Gransden, trumpet player extraordinaire, and his 16-piece orchestra and special guest Jazz Tenor sax great Skip Lane this week during Big Band Night at Cafe 290 on the first and third Monday of every month. Andrew & the Disapyramids bring back the best of surf, doo wop, Mod, soul, sock hop and all types of retro rock ‘n’ roll during a free gig at Noni’s Bar & Deli tonight. Read the Kool Kat feature on band-member Joshua Longino here. Find out if Kingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier will croon a tune or two for tips as Monday night’s celebrity bartender at newly opened Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Parlor. Northside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday May 17

The Age of Aquarius rises again as HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical opens a weeklong run through May 22 at the 1929 Fabulous Fox Theatre. The legendary hippie rock opera follows a group of hopeful free-spirited young people as they explore sexual identity, challenge racism, experiment with drugs and burn their draft cards. This production won a 2009 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.

Find out and see the winners of the 2011 Mid-Century Modern Georgia Photo Contest, during a reception at Gallery See in the Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta, Building C at 1600 Peachtree Street. Photos depict buildings or sites in the state that are part of the design movement that lasted from the 1930s-1970s, and attendees also will have a last chance to view the exhibition, “Capturing an Icon: Ezra Stoller and Modern Architecture,” featuring works by the celebrated American architecture photographer.

Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. 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 May 18

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard TavernFrankie’s Blues Mission and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck bring on the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Northside Tavern respectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday May 19

Iconic ’80s alternative and psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips play The Tabernacle. 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. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum Lounge. Breeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe features Bluebilly Grit.

Read the rest of this entry »

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