Photo courtesy of Guadalcanal Diary.
I see life like a mirror
And I see life so much clearer
We move so quickly
Who knows where the time goes
Where does this road lead?
No one knows, no one knows
-Excerpted lyrics from “Litany” by Guadalcanal Diary (2 x 4, 1987)
Back in the early ‘80s when alt-rock was still called post-punk or new wave and relegated to the ghetto of college radio, Athens seemed to grab all the cutting edge music glory in Georgia. While many music critics liked to insist Guadalcanal Diary came from that scene (their first LP was on Danny Beard’s DB Records, which while based in Atlanta, was known for breaking out The B-52s), the band actually hailed from Marietta, proving something much more innovative than the Big Chicken could hatch out of what’s often thought of as Atlanta’s most white-bread suburb.
It doesn’t seem like it could possibly have been three decades ago when they first got together to play a friend’s backyard wedding, but it’s mighty good to hear that Guadalcanal Diary, who broke up in 1987, are back and performing live, if only for two shows. The first was at AthFest last weekend, and rumor has it that the second at Smith’s Olde Bar is already sold out. Yeah, it seems like there are plenty of folks who miss hearing the voodoo jangly twang with an offbeat sense of humor of “Watusi Rodeo”—the name of their first EP released in 1983 (Entertainment on Disk) and later a song on the WALKING IN THE SHADOW OF THE BIG MAN LP (1984) released on DB Records and produced by Don Dixon (REM, Smithereens). Back then MTV’s CUTTING EDGE, the go-to late night show for progressive content, named the video for “Watusi Rodeo” its video of the year. They’d go on to cut three more albums, and even after they broke up, thankfully they’d occasionally reunite every once in a while for a show and even cut a live CD, GUADALCANAL DIARY AT YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY, in 1998.
In more recent years, lead singer/guitarist Murray Attaway recorded a memorable solo album, IN THRALL, and lately he’s been performing again with Guadalcanal Diary guitarist and oft co-composer Jeff Walls in Bomber City. Walls has popped up in a variety of bands including Hillbilly Frankenstein, Dash Rip Rock, Southern Culture on the Skids, Man or Astro-Man? and The Woggles. ATLRetro caught up with Murray to find out why Guadalcanal Diary decided to regroup this summer and what’s ahead for him, Walls and the band…
You were one of the bands that converted me to a whole different way of looking at music, listening to WRAS in the early 1980s. It’s great to hear you guys playing again. What inspired you to bring the band back this summer?
That is very kind of you. The advent of social networking had a hand in the reunion. I had quite a number of music people, promoters and such contact me over the last few years asking if I had plans to do any more music. This led directly to Jeff and I starting Bomber City. As 2011 drew near, Jeff, Rhett, John and I began to discuss the possibility of doing a few Guadal shows to commemorate our 30th anniversary. And here we are.
Is it the whole original line-up—you, Jeff Walls, John Poe, Rhett Crowe?
Yes, we’d never consider it otherwise.
For those too young to remember, briefly how did Guadalcanal Diary get started and why the name?
Jeff and I had been writing songs together on and off for years, and we wanted to play them live. We both had been in a band called Strictly American with Rhett’s brother Curtis Crowe of Pylon, and John and Jeff were in a couple of bands together as well, The Motive and The Rooms. Rhett and I were a couple at the time and she wanted to learn to play bass, which Jeff taught her. The original idea involved doing a number of Civil War ballads all rocked up, but, thankfully, our originals sunk that idea. The name, taken from the Richard Tregaskis novel, seemed ambiguous enough to work creatively under. Plus, it sounds like water.
Who were your early influences? In an old Spin interview, you mention XTC, Bowie, Velvet Underground, Roxy Music but also old country like George Jones?
Yes, there are quite a few older country artists I like: Hank Sr., Johnny Horton, Buck Owens. Big list. Also Yes, Tull, Eno, Beatles, Stones, Miles Davis, Wynonie Harris. This could take days…
“Watusi Rodeo” is your best-known song, but what’s your personal favorite and why?
I like that song. I also like “Litany,” “Trail of Tears,” “Ghost on the Road,” “Vista” and “Pretty Is As Pretty Does.” “Litany” came along at a very happy time in my life, and I think the song reflects it. I hope.
In an interview from 1993, you were asked whether you had any regrets about breaking up in 1989 but you said that while you were possibly poised for the kind of mainstream success that Soul Asylum had, you were happy the band didn’t push it until you were burnt out and no longer friends. How do you feel about that now, or are you sick of answering that question?
Did the interviewer ask me specifically about Soul Asylum? I was only peripherally aware of them, so I’d be surprised to know that I compared Guadal to them. I am still happy that things turned out the way that they did. I don’t like the idea of comparing one group’s success to another’s. Guadalcanal Diary’s original goal was to be able to headline 688 on a Friday night. We went a little further, happily. I’m pleased with the body of work we left. I’m even more pleased that we are still good friends.
You’re often more associated with Athens than Marietta. Was the gig at AthFest a bit of a coming home?
Yes indeed. No matter how much we may have bitched early on about differentiating between us and Athens, Athens became Guadalcanal Diary’s home. So Athfest was great, certainly a homecoming.
Any special plans for the Smith’s Olde Bar show?
Yes, to top the performance at Athfest.
When will we hear Guadalcanal Diary live again or a new recording?
No plans, but either is possible.
What’s up with Bomber City and are you collaborating with Jeff on anything else?
After a personnel change last year, we’ve been rehearsing steadily and are ready to play live again. First show is July 30 at The Melting Point in Athens.
Are you up to any more solo work or anything else musically right now?
Between Guadal and Bomber City, and a startup company that I’m a partner in, my hands are full. Jeff’s the one who’s in four bands at a time, plus producing. I think he takes lots of vitamins.
What’s your favorite Atlanta used record store and why?
Wax n’ Facts. Danny Beard put out our first LP, and he’s also a relative by marriage. Plus great selection.
What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do, and what’s the answer?
I wish someone would ask me why I like peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches. Because they’re crunchy, sweet and sour.