Kool Kat of the Week: The Waltz Dances On: Guitarist Jim Weider Rekindles Rock Legends with The Weight Band, Playing City Winery Oct. 17

Posted on: Oct 13th, 2021 By:

The Weight Band (left to right): Brian Mitchell, Michael Bram, Albert Rogers, Jim Weider (front), and Matt Zeiner. Photo by John Halpern/Courtesy of Jim Weider.

by Ray Dafrico
Contributing Writer

Heads up for fans of The Band, guitarist Jim Weider, former Atlanta resident and all around Kool Kat,
will be back in town for a show with The Weight Band at City Winery on Sunday Oct. 17 (Buy Tickets here)! ATLRetro contributing writer and fellow Kool Kat Ray Dafrico (Nightporters, Kathleen Turner Overdrive) interviewed Jim recently and got the scoop on Jim’s time in The Band, why he’s excited about The Weight Band’s Atlanta gig, and much more. Watch a teaser for the show here.

ATLRetro: Hi Jim, let me start by saying it’s a privilege to have a chance to ask you some questions on behalf of ATLRetro and especially since you are Fender Telecaster devotee as I am! I always felt the Telecaster was the working musician’s guitar. Am I correct?  

Jim Weider: Absolutely! it’s a big plank of wood, that’s tough to play, tough to bend, but it’s got its own tone

ATLRetro: That’s how I feel, so I had to get that that question out of the way first since I am a guitar player. So how are you? 

JW: I’m doing pretty good. Last night we played at Levon’s venue, Levon Helm Studios, so I’m just getting up and about. Looking forward to coming to Atlanta, I can tell you that.

ATLRetro: Cool, that sounds like it was a lot of fun. I’m sure you’ve told this story a million times, but for those not familiar with you or your background, let’s start at the beginning. If I’m correct, you saw The Band, that’s THE BAND at the Woodstock festival, and then 10 years or so later you ended up replacing Robbie Robertson as the guitar player?  How exactly did that did that happen?   

JW: Well it was, you know, I had slowly over the years met some of them. Some of them were living in Woodstock, or they all were living in Woodstock for a while. I had start playing with Levon Helm and his band when I moved back from Atlanta. I got into Levon Helm’s band and the All Stars, then we did some shows. Eventually in 1985, everybody moved back to Woodstock. Garth Hudson, Richard Manual, and Levon. Then Levon asked me to come on tour with them. We did the Crosby, Stills & Nash tour in ‘85, and I’ve was with them for 15 years. But it happened because of Levon.

ATLRetro:  Oh wow! That’s a great story! So what was it like playing alongside the likes of Levon, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and all those guys? 

JW: It was just great. They’re real down-home fellas, you know. They were always about the music. When we would finish a show when I first joined, they would record it on a cassette. When we headed out to the next show, we would drive all night and listen to the show to try to improve it. They were always about the music. They were just a great bunch of guys, and we did a lot of laughing.  

ATLRetro: Great, yeah, I’m a big fan. I’m currently reading the Robbie Robertson’s book [TESTIMONY] right now, and I just saw the recent documentary [ONCE WERE BROTHERS (1999)], so it’s good timing for me to talk about this stuff. So your current project is called The Weight Band. How did that come about and how long has that been going on?

JW:  it’s been going on since when Levon passed in 2012. I got together with Garth Hudson, Jimmy Vivino and Byron Isaacs, who’s now in The Lumineers, but we went out did a couple of gigs and called it Songs of The Band. Then Garth went off and did his thing, and Vivino went back with Conan O’Brien, so I just said, “you know what? People are enjoying hearing this music again, why don’t I go out again and play some shows?” That’s how it kind of started. I ended up writing an album for the band which is WORLD GONE MAD and calling it The Weight Band. That was our first studio album. Since then we just made a new one also, which will probably come out next January.  We have a live album out now, called  ACOUSTIC LIVE AT BIG PINK AND LEVON HELM STUDIOS. That’s kind of how it began, and it just started growing into a totally original group. We still do classic songs of The Band and our own original tunes. We have a new keyboard player named Matt Zeiner, who was with Dickey Betts, so [we] throw in an Allman Brothers tune and some [Grateful] Dead stuff, but it’s been a blast.

ATLRetro: Very cool. So you’re playing Atlanta at the City Winery on Sunday October 17. Tells us what we can expect at the show.   

JW: Yeah, it’s an early show at [8 PM, doors 6:30 PM]? My old buddy from Atlanta, Tommy Talton, is going to open the show and do a short set, then we’re going to come on and we’ll bring him up. I used to play in Atlanta for many years in the late ’70s, and I had a band called Full Tilt. It was with Richard Bell from Janis Joplin‘s group, Wet Willie’s drummer T.K Lively, Stan Robertson on bass. So I have a lot of friends down there, and we’re gonna have a blast! I’m looking forward to hitting Atlanta again.

ATLRetro: Actually that was going to be my next question! You must have read my mind. I was doing my research and saw that you did a lot of session work here in Atlanta a while back? 

JW: That’s awesome. Well, what first brought me to Atlanta was Axis Recording Studio. My buddy Robert Lee got me to come down as a songwriter that was involved with at that studio. I was on staff with Harvey Brooks on bass and Richard Bell. We all lived in Atlanta and recorded for people at the studio, and then at night I’d had a band, several bands really. One of them was with Jerome Olds, who’s a great singer, and then after that was Full Tilt. We used to play the Harvest Moon, Moonshadow Saloon for four sets a night, five nights a week, a month at each place. Man, that’s how you get tight!

ATLRetro: Yeah, I used to go to the Moonshadow. I met B.B. King there once. I was about 17, I think, and he was actually sitting backstage by himself. We talked for half an hour or so. He was such a nice guy, and he gave me his autograph. That was a cool club. 

JW:  Yeah, it really was. The Agora Ballroom? Those are the good old Atlanta days and I’m looking forward to coming down there. The band has got five vocalists and everybody sings. It’s the best harmony that I’ve been in since The Band.  It’s a pretty amazing bunch of guys I got with me. We even cover some Dead tunes and our own originals from THE WORLD GONE MAD album. It’s gonna be a blast, with classics from The Band of course.

The Weight Band (left to right): Matt Zeiner, Michael Bram, Albert Rogers, Jim Weider (front), and Brian Mitchell. Photo by John Halpern/Courtesy of Jim Weider.

ATLRetro: I heard you jammed with Keith Richards and Scotty Moore. Those are two pretty heavyweight guitar players I must say! I’ve met Keith before, and he was exactly like I hoped he would be, so that made me really happy, but I didn’t get to jam or anything. How did that come about? 

JW: I was producing Paul Burlison, the rockabilly guitarist, and at the same time we were cutting a track with the band for the ALL THE KING’S MEN album with Scott[y] Moore and DJ Fontana, and Keith was invited up as a guest to play with the band. So that’s how I that all happened you know, and so we cut a track and had a party.

ATLRetro Now that sounds like a lot of fun!  

JW: It was!

ATLRetro: Speaking of Keith, do you use a lot of different or open tunings with The Weight songs or The Band’s songs?  

JW: No, it’s pretty straightforward. If I’m playing slide, sometimes I’ll do an open E or open G, but yeah, not too much, just regular things for the most part.

ATLRetro: You were actually born in Woodstock, New York, correct?  

JW: Yeah

ATLRetro: What was it like growing up there? 

JW: It was nice. I mean it’s up in the country so you bring your fishing pool to school,  then after school, you can go fishing in the Esopus River, which runs right along side it and also a reservoir’s there. There’s great music in Woodstock. You see, everybody lived here at that time, so you could see everybody jamming in the bars. When they weren’t on the road, they would be out jamming because they were all in their early 30s, late 20s, so they all wanted to play when they were off the road. Buzzy Feiten and Paul Butterfield, from the Butterfield Blues Band, they were all jamming at the clubs. Charles Mingus. Everybody would be coming up playing. Back then, music was everywhere, and people really supported music. I hope that happens in Atlanta these days .

ATLRetro: Yeah, it’s been hard, That was part of my my next question. With Covid, it must feel great to get out there and play after the lockdowns and the general chaos we’ve been living through the last four or five years, six years.  How’s the tour been so far and are you out for a long time?  

JW: No, we go on and off, you know. We go out for a week and then come back, then do a weekend here and there. We have a big Midwestern tour coming up in November, but we’re not really hitting it that hard. I mean it’s tough out there now with Covid. People who are vaccinated come out and, if you feel uncomfortable, wear a mask, you know, but as long as you’re vaccinated and you wear a mask, go out and enjoy live music and have a couple of drinks. And enjoy yourself!

ATL Retro: Exactly.  I actually went and saw the The Monkees, or well, two of The Monkees, last night, and it was actually really good. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was is Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz [The Monkees Farewell Tour] and I had a good time. I haven’t been out to see a band in like two years .  

JW: All right! Well you gotta come out and catch us!

ATLRetro: Oh, yes, definitely, I will be there. Is there anything else you want to add? 

JW:  I’ll just say, you know, come out, come out, and have some fun. Don’t be afraid. We’re going to have a great time, and you’ll get to hear some new tunes, some Dead, some Allman Brothers, and I got a guy who played with The Allman Brothers, two of them now. Tommy Tulston is opening up the show. So come on out and have some fun on Sunday October 17!

ATLRetro: Excellent. Thanks, Jim. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to ATLRetro. It was great to chat with you, and I’m looking forward to seeing the show! 

Contributing Writer Ray Dafrico is a guitarist, singer/songwriter and founding member of The Nightporters and Kathleen Turner Overdrive. Check out his Kool Kat interview here.

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RETRO REVIEW: THE QUIET ONE: Have You Seen the Bass Player Standing in the Shadows?

Posted on: Jul 5th, 2019 By:

By Ray Dafrico
Contributing Writer

THE QUIET ONE (2019); Dir. Oliver Murray; Documentary about Bill Wyman featuring Eric Clapton, Bob Geldof, Andrew Oldham, Glyn Johns; Opens Friday, July 5 at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

Upfront, a disclaimer of sorts, I am a huge Rolling Stones fan. As a rock and roll musician myself, I believe them to be archetypal band, from the quintessential, charismatic front man Mick Jagger; the effortlessly cool, eternal Keith Richards; to the diverse, multitalented abilities of Brian Jones, Mick Taylor and Ron Wood. Ultimately however the band was always at its heart a rhythm and blues band, with its foundation in the rhythm section of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, the subject of a new documentary THE QUIET ONE.

The film, directed by Oliver Murray, features commentary from Eric Clapton, Bob Geldof, Andrew Oldham, Glyn Johns and others. Wyman was the Stone who never received the attention that some of his bandmates did,  but amongst musicians, he is considered one of the world’s best bass players. Non-musicians and casual fans probably don’t know that much about him as he was content to stand stoic and mysteriously to the side and back of the stage, being the glue, holding down a machine firing on all cylinders. As Wyman himself says in the film: “We could blown any band off a stage.”

The film begins with Wyman recalling his earliest memories. Born as Bill Perks on October 24, 1936, Wyman recalls the bombings during World War II and how deeply this experience affected him. He could remember classmates suddenly not showing up for school after a bombing raid due to the fact that they had been killed.  The film then reveals Wyman’s relationship, or rather lack of one, with his parents. He was alienated from them and felt closest with his grandmother through whom he discovered collecting and documenting things—something that Wyman, along with photography and music, would continue to do extensively for the rest of his life.  He would become the unofficial archivist for The Rolling Stones, and part of this film’s attraction is its unseen footage from Wyman’s own collection. The death of his grandmother when Wyman was still a child devastated him. His father then pulled him out of school and forced him to work as a bet collector in a local pub. Not unlike a Dickens novel, you feel the pain of this childhood.

Bill Wyman in the Studio. Photo credit: Bent Rej Photography. Used with permission.

Tired of living in dangerous working class Penge, England, Wyman, then still named Bill Perks (which he hated), joined the British armed forces in the late 1950s and ended up stationed in Germany where he discovered rock and roll via Armed Forces Radio and records which American GIs had. He also befriended a man named “Gordon Lee Wyman,” who Wyman describes as “quite a character.” Young Bill Perks was impressed enough to change his name legally to Bill Wyman. Soon after, and under the spell of rock ’n’ roll, Wyman modified his first bass by hand and started his first band The Cliftons.

Upon his return to England he went to an audition that a friend had told him about that would lead to Wyman joining the soon-to-be Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World. At this point, Wyman’s life accelerates at warp speed—constant touring, fame, riots, rebellion, arrests, sex, and, for most of the band, drugs. Wyman never had any interest in the latter. However, he does describe smoking a joint that was laced with animal tranquilizer and said, “ I don’t need this.”

The Rolling Stones on tour in North America. Photo credit: Bob Bonis Archives Inc./Promotone. Used with permission.

The 1960s were a cultural phenomenon, and The Rolling Stones were front and center. Although the Stones were reaching incredible artistic heights at the time, authorities targeted the band as a threat to society. “It was really us vs. them” is how Wyman describes it, and he then goes on to talk about the deterioration and eventual death of bands founder Brian Jones, in 1969.  Despite a momentous concert in London’s Hyde Park and a very successful US tour, the dark times would continue later that year at the free concert at Altamont, California, where a man was stabbed to death directly in front of the stage while they played. Wyman says he doesn’t like to talk about it because it was so horrible.

The 1970s saw the Stones having to flee the U.K for France because they were so far in debt and British taxes were so high. Wyman dreaded leaving and recalls the madness of recording EXILE ON MAIN STREET in the basement of Keith Richard’s villa in Villefranche-sur-mer. What he would discover was he really liked France and struck up friendships with the likes of Marc Chagall and James Baldwin. Wyman would end up keeping a home there to this day. The Stones continued to tour and record throughout the ’70s, but Wyman felt the need to express himself creatively and was the first member of the band to release a solo LP, MONKEY GRIP, in 1974, followed by “STONE ALONE” in 1976. While these records were mostly just side projects for Wyman, he scored a worldwide hit in 1981 with the song “(Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star.”

Production Still – Bill Wyman working in his archive. Photo credit: Luke Varley. Copyright: The Quiet Ones Ltd./Promotone. Used with Permission.

While he never fell for drugs, sex, however, was Wyman’s vice, and he explains that his loneliness was probably the cause of  it. Hearing  this in context with his childhood, it is easy to imagine how he could feel this way. Combined with the isolation that fame can bring, it is also easy to understand when Wyman states that it was “sometimes very difficult to keep one’s sanity.” He was first married in the late 1950s to Diane Cory, and they had a child, Stephen from the marriage. When the couple divorced, he felt his son should stay with his mother as he was constantly working and touring. He later found that his son was miserable, sick, and not even being fed. He won custody, and Stephen lived with him from then on. Swedish model Astrid Lundstrom was Wyman’s companion throughout most of the 1970s.

The Rolling Stones were never a band without controversy and Wyman would receive his share when he fell in love with and then married 18-year-old Mandy Smith on June 2, 1989. The tabloids had a field day. In the film Wyman, who was 51 at the time, reflects upon what a mistake it was. He would later go on to meet and marry his current wife, Suzanne Accosta in April 1993. Wyman officially left The Rolling Stones in January 1993 after the very successful STEEL WHEELS comeback tour. He says wanted to leave on a high note and felt that was the time. Wyman talks of his life after The Stones playing with his band The Rhythm Kings, and in the film’s conclusion he tells a wonderful story about a meeting with Ray Charles.

A line from the film that struck me was Wyman saying that all of his heroes were “the little guys.” Director Oliver Murray successfully takes us through Wyman’s journey of a somewhat reluctant rock star’s life. THE QUIET ONE is a surprisingly touching film that speaks from the heart and one which I would highly recommend regardless if you are a Rolling Stones fan or not.

Contributing Writer Ray Dafrico is a guitarist, singer/songwriter and founding member of The Nightporters and Kathleen Turner Overdrive.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But Ray Dafrico Likes It

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2015 By:

raydafricoDon’t expect any S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T choruses at the Ray City Rollers‘ gig on July 24 at Steve’s Live Music. Not only is it Friday but Ray Dafrico‘s latest band owes more to The Kinks, The Who and The Stones, although despite his many years toughed out in a black leather jacket, he does admit an affection for the bubblegum rock of the ’60s and ’70s.

Ray is no stranger to Atlanta’s music scene. The last time we talked to the singer/songwriter/guitarist, he’d finished up a documentary,THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS, about the early 1980s legendary Atlanta punk-alternative band which he cofounded. Born in New York City, Ray’s family moved around a lot, finally ending up in Roswell. Suburban boredom nurtured a restless among high school friends/musicians which spawned The Nightporters. They moved intown to Pershing Point, a now-demolished decrepit apartment building where Atlanta’s punk rock scene lodged and practiced, got their start at the notorious Blue Rat Gallery and became regulars at 688. They then proceeded to tour widely, including many New York gigs and opening for myriad alt-rock headliners from The Replacements, who became friends and slept on Ray’s floor, to The Clash‘s riotous concert at The Fox Theatre. This Friday’s show will reunite Dafrico with Nightporters drummer Paul Lenz, who has joined the Rollers and also has drummed for Drivin’ N Cryin’. Ray also played in Kathleen Turner Overdrive.

In other words, Ray’s one Kool Kat of the Week that’s way, way overdue. Because that was then and this is now, we concentrated on his current band, but we couldn’t resist the urge to ask him about what’s spinning on his turntable. Yeah, turntable.

ATLRetro: Your new band is the Ray City Rollers. What’s your secret origin story?

Ray Dafrico: Well, my solo bands have kind of been like the same band with different people. I have this pet peeve that you have to change the band name if someone leaves unlike most people who fight to keep using a name even though it’s not really the same band like So and So starring but only one of the original members. In my mind, I’m a purist not a tourist, so my bands, Shades of Shame, Kickstand, Soulfinger, etc., are really one band with different names. The Ray City Rollers were named so because I was going to just call it Ray Dafrico like a solo act with a band. But nobody can pronounce my last name right, so in the tradition of Kathleen Turner Overdrive – another band name I thought up – I just created some goofy name that I thought was hilarious. The only problem is people think it’s some kind of tribute band! I’ve actually had people say to me,”oh yeah, I remember you guys,”  and I have to say, no, it’s not the BAY City Rollers! Sometimes I don’t say anything to make them think I’m some rock star or something.

Ray Cirty Rollers copy 2So how important were the Bay City Rollers to your life?

I actually saw The Rollers in 1976. I thought they were great. I think I was the only guy there not wearing tartan and screaming. (laughs) Everybody says S-a-t-u-r, which I loved but “Money Honey” and “Rock and Roll Love Letter” were right up there. Woody had a punky shag and played a Telecaster, so what’s not to like? Not sure if a lot of people know The Ramones were also influenced by them and were trying to sound like them.

OK, really, you’re known for punk rock but you talk a lot about The Kinks, The Who, The Stones. Why the staying power for those bands for you? Was it a moment in time or are there any bands out there today who come close?

Well, after The Partridge Family and Bay City Rollers, those were the bands that I really go into. They took it up a level, quite a few levels actually. The combination of songs, image and raw energy by those ’60s English bands kinda defines Rock ‘n’ Roll to me. I was always an Anglophile even as a little kid. I used to watch THE THUNDERBIRDS, CAPTAIN SCARLET and THE DOUBLE DECKERS, so the bands were an extension of that, I think. Then I saw QUADROPHENIA and became a Mod when I was 17. Once you’re a Mod, you’re a Mod for life. I was into punk rock but always hated hardcore and all that Oi/Mohawk crap. Punk to me was ’70s style which was more like a Powerpop/Chuck Berry kinda thing.

Ray Double zero011As far as new bands, I try not to be a crotchety old man and say “all new music is crap” – which I do say from time to time (laughs) – but it is difficult to find music that really moves me. Fountains of Wayne are one of those bands. I like The Wonder StuffSpiritualized, Beth Orton, The Strypes, JET, The Mooney Suzuki, April March, Black Joe Lewis, etc. I’m pretty open-minded so I like all kinds of styles of music, but at the same time I know what I like when I hear it and instantly know when I don’t like it. Occasionally something will grow on me over time like any new Stones record. I won’t like it when it comes out, and then five years later it’s one of my faves!

How does the Ray City Rollers differ from your previous bands like The Nightporters and Kathleen Turner Overdrive? Do you have a musical manifesto?

Well, I was co-writer in the Porters and wrote half the songs in KTO. But with The Rollers and my other bands, it’s more focused and closer to how I hear the music in my head and I have more say as to how  to make it happen. My musical manifesto is a quote from Mike Campbell: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”!

Ray City Rollers’ first album BABYLON BLUES (released in 2014) got a warm critical reception. Are you working on any new songs? A new album?

Yeah, it did. We didn’t press that many, although we’ve just made more. The feedback it received was great. It got a lot of online airplay, not sure about who else was playing it on the radio. I think it’s the best recording I’ve done so far, and I’m my worst critic so that’s saying something! I have a backlog of about three CDs worth of material, so I am always writing, but it’s difficult because you have to show the songs to the people who are playing with you. So they are new songs to them, but for me they feel ancient. When I play with new people, it’s great because I am reminded of how good they are, and they change depending on who I am playing them with.

raycity1You have been doing some covers also, at least at past gigs. What criteria do you have for the covers you play?

 I like to do obscure covers to test to see if people know its a cover or not. (laughs) I just do ones that I think are cool and are fairly easy to learn. We were doing stuff like “Come on Down to My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son and “Things Get Better” by Eddie Floyd. I really love Stax/Volt soul stuff and bubblegum pop

You’ve been touring a bit–California last year and you were recently in NC. Good to see you back in Atlanta. Any special plans for your gig the Steve’s Live Music?

Yeah, Steve’s will be Paul’s first Atlanta show with us and his birthday! We will also have Dave Biemiller on keyboards. I’ve been looking forever for a good keyboard player and I think I’ve found him. My songs are written with keys in mind, and the sound I’ve been trying to get for The Rollers is original with textures a la The Small Faces, The Attractions and The Band. The funny thing is Dave is my daughter’s boyfriend’s Dad. It’s small world after all. Maybe we should cover that.

nightportersThe Nightporters reunited for a benefit concert for Kat Peters last winter at The Star Bar. What’s it like playing with Paul again and any plans for another reunion show?

Playing with Paul is great. It’s like riding a bike with us. Telepathic in fact because the Nightporters played so much back then. We were also Michelle Malone‘s rhyhm section in the first Drag The River. Paul’s style and and energy has added a lot to the band. The other thing is we understand each others’ jokes and sense of humor and that is important. The door is always open for Porters shows, we had a good time and sounded great at the benefit, so if something comes up and schedules permit, we could do more shows.

Are you up to anything else? Solo projects? Any more film work to follow-up on your Nightporters documentary?

I always have multiple creative things going on but try to focus on one thing at a time. I need to revisit The Porters movie and do an edit and distribution at some point. I’m always doing photography, film/video stuff  and always thinking about doing solo acoustic shows, but I prefer with a band so I tend to talk more about that than actually doing it! Another thing I’ve been considering is DJing or doing a radio or podcast show.

rayd-laundryWhat are you listening to right now?

Well, Julie London on youtube; she’s a sultry dish! I have an addiction to thrift stores and try my best not to go to them, but wind up going in and buying a stack of LPs. Currently on my turntable: Soundtracks to THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), LADY IN CEMENT (1968) and THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. TV series, The Osmonds’ PHASE IIITHE COUNTRY SIDE OF JIM REEVES, Mott the Hoople‘s first, Richard Pryor, BAD LUCK STREAK IN DANCING SCHOOL by Warren Zevon and GERRI MULLIGAN MEETS STAN GETZ. 

Facebook Event Page for Friday July 24 show here

All photographs are courtesy of Ray Dafrico and used with permission.

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Tell It Like It Is: Ray Dafrico Remembers a Special Time in the Atlanta Music Scene and a Band Named the Nightporters

Posted on: Jun 11th, 2013 By:

In late April, when THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS premiered at The Plaza Theatre, it wasn’t your typical movie screening but a reunion. The crowd was mostly in their 40s and 50s. Many of these folks had families and didn’t stay out late any more. But that didn’t mean they never did and some still had the leather jackets to show for it. When they come out in Atlanta, you know you’re in for a special evening.

If you are old enough to have been part of the early ’80s nascent punk/new wave scene that revolved around the now-legendary 688 Club, you remember a handful of local bands that stood out. You never missed any of their shows, and they played all the time. Perhaps the coolest and most memorable of these bands was The Nightporters. That’s not to say they never had any crappy drunken gigs. They had plenty, but when they were at their best, they were as good as any band that topped the college alternative charts and many that made it big when real punk had faded into a careless memory.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Ray Dafrico started with some raw found footage of the Nightporters performing, mostly at the Blue Rat Gallery, a notorious art space in the now-demolished Pershing Point Apartments which was ground zero for housing starving punk rockers back in the day. To that, he added interviews with band members and other key members of the scene such as Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Rick Richards (Georgia Satellites). The end result is a time capsule not just of a band but of the clubs and people that made that period in Atlanta rock history so unique and a frozen moment in time when it seemed like music not just mattered but meant…well…everything.

With the movie now available on DVD, ATLRetro recently sat down with Ray to find out more about the genesis of this home-grown rockumentary, as well as what was so special, as the subtitle states, about “a time, a place and a band.”

ATLRetro: How did the idea of a Nightporters documentary get started?

Ray Dafrico: I got hold of some early footage a couple of years ago by a guy named James Farmer, who was one of the Blue Rat’s artists. There was footage of us that I had never seen. I thought it was really amazing and somebody should make a film and add some interviews. I didn’t know anyone else that would do it so I took it upon myself to start making it.

There really seemed to be a special quality about the early ‘80s music scene in Atlanta. What do you think made that time so special?

I just think it was creative and kind of more innocent in a way. Maybe it was because we were so young that it all seemed new and fresh. Punk rock was fairly new. I was into music, but it seemed inaccessible. With punk rock, you could prove you could do stuff yourself. Once we started doing that, we had a small circle of people that just started growing. Atlanta was really small at the time. There were maybe 10 bands and everyone knew each other. Everybody pulled for each other for the most part and would come to each other’s shows. There was some competition between bands that played in midtown and bands that mostly played like in Buckhead, but eventually we got friendly with most of the bands in town. Nowadays it seems so competitive. There are so many bands. It seems like everybody’s out for themselves.

The Nightporters definitely had that punk rock spirit, but you had other influences, too. 

We were influenced by punk rock, and we kind of sounded like punk rock, but the Sex Pistols just proved that you could go against the system and the corporate  music of the 1970s. But the thing that brought the Nightporters together was more the ‘60s punk bands. Originally the Rolling Stones, but we really liked the more obscure bands that had one-hit wonders like The Count Five. So you’re right, we weren’t directly the late ‘70s kind of punk rock. We were sort influenced by it, but it was an enabling thing than anything else. Our sound was sort of garage mod rock with elements of glam, folk, country, ska and reggae.

How important was 688?

Very important at the time. They just booked some amazing bands. At first, we were underage and we couldn’t get in. It was the same with the Agora Ballroom. It was like we would go down there every weekend and try to get in. There was this long-haired guy at the door. He would call us “weekend anarchists” and kick us out. We tried to see the Plasmatics and all these bands. Finally he let us in to see the Ramones. We had borrowed fake IDs from Marines that didn’t look anything like us. By coming down and trying to get in there for six months, we earned our way in. But yeah, there were [a few] other clubs to go to, like The Bistro, Moonshadow, Metroplex and Rumors, but 688 had the great bands, $1.50 beer  and a lot of cool diverse people would go there. We used to go to this place every Sunday called Margaritaville on Spring and 14th St. We were there so much we talked them into letting us play and turned it into our own club. It soon turned into its own little scene.

Part of it was the clubs, like 688, were more into promoting local music. They were as creative as the bands and at least more willing to experiment. I know [clubs] are about making money because they took a lot of ours, but it just seemed more laidback. They were having fun just like the bands were. It seemed that way anyway.

When did the Nightporters first get together and perform?

We were still in high school, I think, in 1981-82. I was going to say this in the movie, but it was a big deal for us to get from the suburbs to downtown Atlanta. We thought playing Tuesday nights at the Bistro was success. We had started at high school parties playing our punk rock/’60s songs. We would play to rednecks and jocks, and they were always trying to beat us up. Tim [Neilson] and Andy [Browne] and I were all transplanted Yankees, and there was still a lot of hostility towards outsiders in Atlanta especially in the suburbs.We got really tough because we were always having to mentally and physically fight with these people. We thought by the time we got to the cool new wave/punk clubs that we had made it. Anything beyond that was easy for us. I think that kind of shows because we were a really rough band. We earned that.

Can you talk a little about the Blue Rat?

Well, we all lived in the Pershing Point Apartments at 17th and Peachtree Street, that are all torn down now. Andy and I had an apartment there. We didn’t know anybody initially. It was across from the art school I was going to. I dropped out of art school like every good rock guitarist and pursue the Nightporters full time. We were so poor we lived off of hefty bags of popcorn because we knew someone that worked at a movie theatre. It was that and egg rolls from the Chinese grocery on the corner. We rehearsed in our kitchen which we didn’t dare eat in as there were giant cockroaches everywhere! It wasn’t a matter of time before we met two guys named Clark Brown and Chick Lockerman. They were the artists who set up the Blue Rat Gallery in their apartment. They asked us to play one of their openings. A huge crowd came out to see us of really crazy and eclectic people. Like Andy said in the movie, it was like Andy Warhol’s Factory. There were tons of drugs and everyone was just crazy and doing whatever they wanted.

So we became kind of the house band at the Blue Rat. We would rather play there than a club because it was more fun. We didn’t even charge any money.

How well, or should we say “shitty,” were you paid back in those days?

Once we got better known, we started playing colleges. That’s where the money was. We actually had contracts, not that that means a whole lot. Sometimes people would stiff us even with a contract, but we could get $1000 to play a college frat or something. Even when we were fairly well known, there was one incident in south Georgia where the club owner pulled a gun on us and refused to pay us. I had driven straight back from California to play that show! It showed my dedication, but maybe my stupidity, too. We never made any significant money, partly because we never got a record deal.

But the Nightporters toured a lot, including a lot of gigs in New York.

Yeah, we toured a lot. We went to the northeast a lot and played New York all the time and Boston. We opened for all kinds of people, like Bo Diddley.

Do you have a favorite performer or band you opened for?

We had some good times with Cheetah Chrome and the Dead Boys. Jason and the Scorchers were always fun. We played with The Replacements a lot, but there was a lot of tension there because we were so similar that it was like a competition. They were fun to watch, but they had their good nights and their drunken nights similar to us. Opening for The Clash was fun, even if Mick [Jones], my favorite in the band, wasn’t in the band at the time.

Was that the time when the Clash played the Fox Theatre and there was a riot on Peachtree?

That was actually the time before that the Clash played Atlanta. But I was in the riot. We were in the front row. When we came out, there was literally a riot starting. Chris Wood of The Restraints was in the front with an American flag protesting their communist views or some crap. Somehow a fight started and police cars came from every direction. Everyone was so amped up from the Clash show that they were literally fighting with the cops. It was a blast. It was kind of scary, but it didn’t last long.

We played with them a year or two after that. I had gone to Nashville and met Joe Strummer and got us the show. I just gave them a demo tape because I knew they got local bands to open. We got the show a day or two later.

How close did the Nightporters come to cutting a full LP and getting a recording contract with a record label?

We did make a few records, but we never made a whole album. We did two singles on our own and an EP on Safety Net Records called OUTSIDE, LOOKING IN [1986]. We had a lot of material, but we didn’t have a vehicle to release stuff. Andy and I would go up to record company offices in Manhattan, and they would just look at our clothes like “you’re not Scritti Politti or Duran Duran or whatever was selling then.” They didn’t know what to make of us. We were just way too real for a big label to consider investing in us. That’s my theory anyway.

How hard was it to assemble everyone whom you interviewed in the movie?

The hardest person was our drummer, who I never did get in the movie. It was easier to get Peter Buck from R.E.M. than our drummer. Other than that, I just told people to come down to The Majestic [Diner]. I asked a series of five questions and listened to whatever anyone had to say. The idea for the movie was to try and make it a cross between a Jim Jarmusch-type film like CIGARETTES AND COFFEE or something and a little bit of Spinal Tap and The Rutles. I was trying to keep it real, but light-hearted and funny because that was the way the Nightporters were. On one hand, we really took things very seriously. On the other hand, we didn’t take it serious at all. It wasn’t too hard. The most difficult part for me was editing the four hours of footage.

Do you consider the cut you showed at The Plaza the final cut, or will you still be editing some more?

I wanted to tell the whole story. That’s why it’s two hours long, but some people said it could have been shorter. It’s hard for me because it’s so personal. I think I had to include certain parts, and I guess if I’m going to get it distributed, I am going to have to cut it to half the time. I’m kind of dreading that because by now I’ve seen it so many times.

Are there any outtakes or a blooper reel that could be extras for a commercial DVD?

Yes, there is enough for a blooper reel, which is way funnier than the movie.  I kept interrupting everyone during the interviews saying things like, “I remember that”! It took a long time to cut all that out of the film. So I learned to just keep my mouth shut. It’s my first movie, and I had a lot of fun just doing it. That’s the best part – trying to shoot things 10 times because you’re laughing so hard.

Do you have any regrets that the band didn’t go further on a national scale?

Yes, I definitely regret us not staying together longer. I think we could have been huge, seeing what happened with the Black Crowes after us. Our songs are a lot more original and catchier. They have a lot more hooks. Like I said, we were a real kind of band that fought a lot, and we had a lot of problems. It was extremely difficult to get through even the three or four years together that we were.

Any chance of another Nightporters reunion?

Oh, yeah. Maybe. Definitely maybe. But I don’t really know. That’s not up to me—one person out of the four—to say. Andy and I have talked about it. We both have our own lives now and live in different cities, which makes it all the more difficult. We had enough trouble agreeing on things when we lived in the same apartment. We’re working on it, but sometimes I think we have two different visions of what the band could be.

Plus we all have KIDS! Mine is 18 now so I have a bit of free time, but Andy has two little ones.

What else are you up to? 

I still write tons of songs. I don’t always do a lot with them, but I’m always writing them. I have been playing under my own name with different musicians—whoever is available. That’s the thing now. I’m 49. It’s not like I’m 20 anymore so it’s hard to pull people together for any reason, much less to do a show. All those years of rocking out have really done a number on us as well; we’re now paying the price. We survived but are not by any means very healthy!  I’ve been working on this movie for the past year. Actually I’d like to make more films. I like editing. It puts all the things I like such as art and photography—I do photography—all in one form. I’m trying to juggle all those things really and start playing out again soon.

DVD Copies of THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS are available for purchase for $15, payable directly to Ray Dafrico’s PayPal account at Rockandrollray@yahoo.com and eventually also will be available through Ray’s ReverbNation store link.

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