Kool Kat of the Week: Whiskey Belt’s Rich DeSantis Slings Old-Time Rockin’ Classic Country at The Star Bar Every Wednesday Night With His Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza!

Posted on: Mar 2nd, 2015 By:
Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Rich DeSantis of Whiskey Belt, guitar slingin’, classic country and roots rock lovin’ wayward son and card carryin’ member of the “Redneck Underground” along with his outfit, the Honkytonk Extravaganza deliver a night of high-energy live-band classic country karaoke with a whole ‘lotta shakin’ shenanigans during his Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza event raisin’ a ruckus at The Star Bar this Wednesday, March 4 and every Wednesday night at 9pm!

Rich is no newbie to Atlanta’s ‘roots’ music underground. He’s been “channeling the Grand Ole Opry circa 1957” with his band, Whiskey Belt since 2011, has put together boot stompin’ classic country line-ups in the past as his alter ego, Slim Chickens, revvin’ it up with The Blacktop Rockets, Julea & Her Dear Johns [March 2014; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Julea Thomerson, here], Migrant Worker, The Scragglers, Wayne “The Train” Hancock and more; and plans to keep on honkytonkin’ it up with the “Redneck Underground” on a weekly basis at The Star Bar!

The Honkytonk Extravaganza include members from Whiskey Belt as well as a few rockin’ extras: Rich DeSantis (host/vocals/acoustic guitar); Johnny McGowan (lead guitar/vocals); David James (keyboard); Dave Roth (bass/vocals); Mike Hammer (drums) and Steve Stone (pedal steel). So, come on down and raise a ruckus with these fellas at the rockin’est shindig in town, Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza, Wednesday nights at The Star Bar!

ATLRetro caught up with Rich for a quick interview about Atlanta’s “Redneck Underground” and roots music scene; his weekly Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza event and his admiration for Buck Owens of The Buckaroos.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Rich, gear up for a rockin’ night with the fellas by takin’ a peek at the Slim Chickens’s Honkytonk Extravaganza songlist here and take a listen to his Spotify playlist here!

ATLRetro: We see that you’ve been stompin’ it up since 2010 and dishin’ out a whole lotta live classic country karaoke, which has been a hit at the Star Bar. Can you give us the scoop on Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza’s origins?

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams, (L-R) Johnny McGowan, Steve Stone and Rich DeSantis

Rich DeSantis: I’ve been hosting an event for years to feature roots rock music and culture called the Honkytonk Extravaganza. I would hire a couple bands and also invite some extra talent to play and encourage on-stage collaboration; it was fun and a great meeting place for people who love this music. Then, last May, Kahle Davis put a note out on FB asking if anyone had an idea for an event for every Wednesday at The Star Bar. I suggested doing live band classic country karaoke with a house band. My first call was to Johnny McGowan to play lead guitar, then David James on keys, Dave Roth on bass and Mike Hammer on drums. The first night was a success and we moved forward watching the event grow every week. In August, I added Steve Stone on pedal steel and lead guitar and that’s the band.

Atlanta has proven to have a soft spot for old-time country, rockabilly and has thrived on the sleazy nitty gritty underground music scene. What drew you to the scene and what do you think could make it even better?

The music is what drew me to that scene – with a taste for Buddy Holly, Buck Owens and Elvis, I went looking for like-minded individuals and found them at The Star Bar. That was always where the cool kids were. I was watching bands and playing in bands and learning what it meant to be in a band and The Star Bar is ground zero for the “Redneck Underground”. What we need to make it better is what you are doing – a little promotion is all we StarBar SlimChickensneed to draw more music lovers out to our little event.

Have you always been into classic country? When did you pick up your first guitar?

I’ve always loved Buck Owens but I found classic country through the rock and roll and jump blues I was playing with my old band, Slim Chickens. I began adding a high-energy George Jones or Waylon Jennings tune to our set here or there and having fun and getting a good crowd response so I began looking for other great songs. I love the high quality of musicianship in classic country. I started playing guitar at 13.
Who are your favorite classic country and vintage performers and influences?

Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Gram Parsons are folks I haven’t already mentioned. I love the space in this music as these fine players weave together their little vignettes. And I love what feels like down-home comfort mixed with the worldliness of narrators who learned their lessons the hard way.

In 2010, we see that you revved it up with The Blacktop Rockets and later with other wranglers and foot stompers (Kool Kat Julea & Her Dear Johns, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Migrant Worker and The Scragglers). If you could line-up a show of your favorite musicians (still around or not) for a helluva hootenanny, who would you choose and why?

“Hot Rod Walt” & the Psycho-Devilles are a huge part of the Atlanta roots-music scene. I would have Cicada Rhythm, Willie Heath Neal, and Ghost Riders Car Club and open up for them, that would be a fun show. I guess Elvis opening up for Hank Williams would be pretty cool too.

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams; (L-R) Johnny McGowan and Rich DeSantis

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams; (L-R) Johnny McGowan and Rich DeSantis

You’ve stated that with the help of Steve Stone (Pedal Steel and producer/engineer) Honkytonk has been recording in his studio. Any plans for an album any time soon?

Well, we are recording – we have two songs finished and are about to record a new original or two for a compilation record. Steve is incredibly talented and busy being the hottest new picker in town, so I anticipate an EP ready in the spring.

What would you say is the most requested song at the Honkytonk Extravaganza? How do you choose your song lists?

I think “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter gets a lot of play and probably “Folsom Prison Blues” too. Johnny Cash is very popular; he is a dark character and creates a bridge between rock and roll/punk rock and classic country, so nearly every music lover likes the “Man in Black”. I started with the song list from my band Whisky Belt and continue to add new songs based on my research and suggestions from the audience and band members.

What can our readers expect at your Wednesday night Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza events at The Star Bar?

Expect to watch a great country band rip through a few numbers and then invite other entertainers from the audience to sit in with us for lively versions of dusted off country and rockabilly classics. It’s a fun-filled variety show with a parade of singers and instrumentalists showing out. The audience will be dressed in style and laughing, drinking and making the scene. Expect a spotlight shining on the “Redneck Underground” circa 2015.

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams

Photo Credit: Raymond Adams, (L-R) David James (keys), Johnny McGowan (guitar), Mike Hammer (drums), Art Holliday (vocals), Rich DeSantis and Dave Roth (bass)

Any special events coming up? Special guests in the near future?

We’ve been asked by the folks at Dad’s Garage to play at the Masquerade for BaconFest 2015 on March 28. We will be bringing the Honkytonk Extravaganza out there to do 3 hours of live band karaoke in Purgatory from 2-5pm.

What’s next for you and Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza?

I’m just excited to move into the spring with the momentum we’ve gained through the winter and take the whole event to the next level in every way. I have a few new things in the works and people can follow along by joining the Facebook Group, Slim Chickens’ Honkytonk Extravaganza.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

You don’t have to sing or play to participate – most people just come to watch and have their own kind of fun.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Q: “Where can we get shirts like you guys wear?”
A: I bring 10 or 20 western shirts to the events to sell.

 

Photo Credit: Kim Koch, Front (L-R) Dave Roth, Mike Hammer, Anita Lee, Steve Stone, Johnny McGowan. Back: Rich DeSantis

All photos are courtesy of Rich DeSantis and used with permission.

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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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Giving the Female Elvis Her Due: Rosie Flores and Marti Brom Throw a Tribute to Janis Martin at Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Nov 15th, 2012 By:

We’re really excited about Rosie Flores’ and Marti Brom’s Tribute to Janis Martin Sun. Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Smith’s Olde Bar in celebration of the release of the female rockabilly legend’s long-awaited new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS. Torchy Taboo shares a sweet memory about how she discovered Janis and why you should be excited, too.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

One beautiful spring afternoon in the early ‘90s, I went to visit my friend “Rockabilly Kim” on her horse farm in East Atlanta. Entering her home was like stepping back in time, and she always had a wonderful new find to show me or a great piece of vintage clothing she’d picked up to add to her vast collection. This afternoon the find was a clutch of 45 records which she immediately began playing for me. When she played a song called “My Boy Elvis” for me, I jumped up and chirped, “Who is this Kim?!” She quickly gave me one of her patented “don’t you know anything” glances and replied, “Janis Martin! You know, the female Elvis!” Embarrassed at my ignorance, I feigned in-the-know, “Oh yeah, right.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “a FEMALE Elvis? How’d I miss this fascinating bit of historical feminism?” Hold on, rewind. At the tender age of 9, I saw my first Elvis movie, KING CREOLE (1958) with Carolyn Jones and Walter Matthau. Of course, I was an instant fanatic. But at 9 years old, not yet sure why girls like boys, what really hooked me was Elvis’s character’s swagger – how he did as pleased and sang about it, how he waltzed into the five-and-dime, picked up a cheap guitar and got everybody’s attention. He was cool and fearless, and I wanted to be like that – to walk into the drug store on Main Street in Tucker, GA and sing my heart out!

Back to the horse farm. A few years after I’d first heard Janis Martin, I had started performing in a retro style and had an occasion to dance in a show built around celebrating Elvis’s birthday. I knew I needed a great rockabilly song but something different from the Elvis standards the rest of the show would be filled with, so I called Kim. “I’ve got the perfect thing for you!” She loaned me a mixed tape of the vintage female greats. I immediately zeroed in on Janis Martin’s song called “Drugstore Rock ‘n Roll.”

The Female Elvis singing “it’s real gone man!” about the Drugstore?! I flashed on the five-and-dime scene in KING CREOLE where he sang “Lover Doll” so sweet. But I wanted something revved-up, and the Janis Martin song had that in spades – released on the B-side of “Will You Willyum” in 1956 when Janis was a mere 15 years old. She had been billed as the female Elvis because of her onstage hip-shakin’. If that’s not fearless, I don’t know what is.

Janis’ career lost momentum in 1958 when her label, RCA dropped her because she’d gotten pregnant when her GI husband she’d eloped with was on leave. Pretty wild stuff in the ‘50s.  Like ‘50s pin-up icon Bettie Page, she lived by her own rules.

Since my introduction to her music in the ‘90s, Janis has come to be one my favorites. I was lucky enough to see Rosie Flores in the mid ‘90s as well as a rare Atlanta show with Marti Brom. I’ve added both to my list of female rockabilly greats. This pair performing a show to celebrate the new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS, that Rosie recorded with Janis Martin in 2007, should prove quite memorable.

Find out more about Janis Martin in her own words in THE JANIS MARTIN STORY, in full on Youtube here

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Kool Kat of the Week: Caroline Hull Engel Keeps on Ramblin’ with a New Album and CD Release Party Saturday at the Star Bar

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Full disclosure – Caroline recorded one of my songs on her new album, but I loved her music long before that happened)

It’s been a long time coming, but after almost 20 years, fans are FINALLY getting a full length album from the amazing Caroline & the Ramblers! They’ll be celebrating RED HOT MAMA with a record release party Sat. July 21 at the Star Bar, also featuring the Billygoats from Nashville, Whiskey Belt and Rockbridge Heights. Showtime is 9 p.m.

This “Red Hot Mama” 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.

We will let this week’s “Kool Kat” tell her own story…

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in performing music? Please tell us about your former bands and how they developed over time.
Caroline Hull Engel: I have been singing and performing since I was little. I performed at many school and church functions from a very young age. And then later as an adult I would sing with different friends’ bands at house parties and such, but really hadn’t found “my tribe” yet. Not until one fateful night in the early ’90s at the Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highlands where my best friend and I stumbled across a band called the Diggers. That changed everything for me. Once I saw those guys, I knew I had found “my people.”

After seeing the Diggers that night we found out when they would be playing their next gig. Turned out they were playing at a new bar called the Star Community Bar. One visit to the Star Bar and we were hooked. My friends and I started going there regularly. Night after night there were amazing roots rock bands playing rockabilly, country, hillbilly, garage, surf! We could always count on hearing great live music there. We were like kids in a candy store! It was an amazing time.

After that I was getting to know some of the bands and other regulars at the Star Bar, and one night I got up and sang a Patsy Cline song at an open mike night. This guy came running out after me as I was leaving the bar and he introduced himself as James, aka Slim Chance of Slim Chance and the Convicts. He asked if I would be interested in singing at a Patsy Cline tribute show he was putting together. I knew it was time to start my own band. Trail of Tears was primarily a country band with a hint of rockabilly. We did a lot of Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee covers – and a great Pogues song called “Haunted.”

Then I formed a new band called the Ramblers. This new band was geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and was 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.

Having lived in Atlanta all your life, what are your observations and impressions of the local roots music scene?
Like a lot of things in life, there are ebbs and flows, genres of music that are more popular at one time or another, and that is no exception for the local roots music scene. I think for Atlanta – the roots music scene was probably at its height from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s with a few of the original players maintaining a presence all the way through, but it definitely slacked off in the mid 2000s. Bands break up, people move, and some people aren’t with us anymore. There have always been bands and players who have consistently performed over the years, but there seems to be a resurgence as of late of some new roots rock bands. It is exciting to see this happening!

Who are some of your favorite local and national artists, and why?
JD McPherson’s SIGNS & SIGNIFIERS has not left my CD player since I got it a couple of months ago. Before that was The Bellfuries’ JUST PLAIN LONESOME. Both are truly fabulous records. My all-time favorite touring band is Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. I love how how pure they are and how they stick to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. “No fuss, no fanfare,” as my husband would say. They don’t try to conform to popular conventions; they just do their thing and they do it really well.

I’m very lucky to be in Atlanta where there are so many great local bands of varying styles – like Tiger, Tiger, Anna Kramer and the Lost Cause, Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Serenaders, Villain Family and Ghost Riders Car Club (GRCC), but everyone who knows me knows that my favorite local band is The Blacktop Rockets. BTR doesn’t play as frequently as they used to,  but it is always a thrill to hear them live. They are the best!

What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of making this new CD?
Time and money – but doesn’t that seems to be a challenge regarding a lot of things in life?

Since it was recorded, you have made some major changes in the band. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The original players on the CD THE RAMBLERSChad Proctor, Matt Spaugh and Rodney Bell and I – are not currently playing together. They are very busy with family commitments, other music opportunities and their own band. They are amazing musicians, and they did such a fabulous job on the record. It is unfortunate that we could not promote the CD together as a group, but the timing wasn’t right for it. Everyone is going in different directions and I wish them all the very best.

For many months I have been working with new “Ramblers”: Danny Arana – guitar/vocals; Big Joel G – bass/vocals; and Mike Z – drums. The new line-up is awesome! We are having a great time, and they seem to really dig this new sound we are creating. Danny’s harmonies will absolutely blow you away! This new chapter of the Ramblers has turned out better than I could have hoped for.

How do you go about selecting songs to perform? What is it that pulls you to cover a tune?
I’ve been listening to “old school” country and rockabilly since I was a little kid. My Dad had an old jukebox, and I would play it for hours and hours. A lot of the 45s he had on the jukebox like Gene Vincent, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and the Beatles were influential in the kind of music I play today. I listen to a lot of compilations of stuff from the ’40s and ’50s, too, and I keep lists of potential covers. I am all about things that are vocally appealing to me and either move me emotionally or make me want to get up and dance. I just know a cover song that will work for us when I hear it.

How interested/involved in music and performance are your two lovely daughters, Ava Bonner and Ella?
We get performances on a daily basis at our house. My prediction is that I have one future Vocal Star and one future Rock Star! The joke is that in a few years they will form a band with some of our other musician friends’ children, and then we’ll be the ones in the audience!

What would be your “dream gig”?
Nationally I would have to say the real dream gig would be to play at the Ryman in Nashville. To perform on the stage where so many of my musical heroes have played would be amazing! Locally I think it would be really cool to play Chastain Park and open for someone like Chris Isaak, Loretta Lynn or Brian Setzer. Of course, it would be great to open for my hero Wanda Jackson again!

What are your plans for the band now that the album is completed and released?
We have several shows on the calendar to promote the CD and are working on more for the Fall. Currently we are playing our CD Release party at the Star Bar on Saturday July 21, a show at Twain’s in Decatur on Thursday August 2, a live in-store at Decatur CD on Friday August 10 and a show at Big Tex Cantina in Decatur on Friday August 24. We also plan to play a few out of town shows this fall and winter. You can find out more about our music and show dates on our ReverbNation page.

You do a benefit every year for people with Down’s syndrome. How did you get involved in that, and why? When is the next one, and who is the featured artist?
Yes, I have two different childhood friends whose children were born with Down syndrome, and I started this to honor these beautiful kids and to help each of them with their effort to raise money for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta’s yearly Buddy Walk. This all started in 2010 with a show called “A Tribute.” Each year I pick a musical legend to honor, and I ask local bands to do a few songs by that artist. The first year we did Patsy Cline, and last year to coincide with his 80th birthday we did an evening of George Jones’ music. This year we will do a tribute to Ray Price! This year’s show will be on Saturday October 13 at the Star Bar.

RED HOT MAMA can be purchased on www.cdbaby.com and locally at Decatur CD. All photographs are courtesy of Caroline and the Ramblers.

 

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Old Enough To Drink: Bubbapalooza Turns 21! Remembering Gregory Dean Smalley

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Note: all photos of Gregory Dean Smalley are courtesy of James Kelly)

In Atlanta’s Redneck Underground, Memorial Day weekend means one thing: BUBBAPALOOZA! For 21 years, the Star Bar has hosted a wild and wooly hootenanny of great Southern music and fun. This year’s event takes place on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26, with 21 bands representing a vast array of rootsy musical styles (for a complete schedule, scroll down to the end of this article!).

Some of us have been there since the very first event, but over time things have changed; bands have come and gone and familiar old faces faded away, pulled by grown up jobs, family obligations or the need to preserve their livers. But like any great music scene, new folks step in to fill the void, and this year promises to be as good as it gets. It seems that no matter what crappy genre of music is being adored by the mainstream, traditional country, rockabilly, surf and roots rock continue to maintain a high profile in L5P. A mix of the old, the new and the unknown makes each band’s set a celebration of the diverse musical legacy established so many years ago by the late Gregory Dean Smalley.

A will o’ the wisp of a man, Smalley had a vision that has continued on, and is now entering its third decade of existence. Smalley was a journeyman musician, with temporary stints in just about every band he booked at Bubbapalooza. He was as charming as he was infuriating, able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with just about anyone on just about any subject, and a mind full of the dirtiest jokes you ever heard. While so many of the newcomers weren’t even of drinking age when Smalley died in 1996 from AIDS-related illness, each year the long-term attendees make an effort to remind everyone of his contributions to our music scene, and to keep his memory alive for old and new fans alike. But sadly, many people never got to meet him, listen to his witty and usually offensive tirades, or hear his amazing guitar playing.

During the last year of his life, Greg spent a lot of time at my house, sitting in an easy chair and watching Nascar, picking guitars, shooting the breeze, or napping for a hour or so. As the AIDS virus ravaged him, he had a medical port for injecting his prescribed drugs, and often dosed while in that chair. About six months after he died, I was walking through the living room when I noticed something under the chair that had not been there before. It was an empty syringe that had just fallen from the chair that day, one of Greg’s medications he had injected while in my home. The day it fell was September 3, Greg’s birthday. His way of saying “Hey, remember me?” As if I needed a reminder. He was unforgettable, and is still around in spirit, and every Memorial Day weekend, he smiles upon his family and friends as we celebrate his legacy.

The social media as we know it today never existed during Greg’s lifetime, and there is no telling what he would have thought of all the Twittering, Facebooking, blogging and what-not that goes on. ATLRetro tossed a request for a personal comment out into the web-o-net regarding our old pal Gregory Dean, and here’s a sample of the (printable) responses we got:

A natural-born entrepreneur, raconteur and spirited musician, Greg hustled and humped his way through life with unbridled exuberance, which carried anyone in the vicinity along for what often turned out to be a wildly memorable ride.Doug Deloach

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest, sweet, and bravest guys I ever knew, and he had a fantastic ear for music – playing it as well as putting together great shows! I miss him a lot.Katy Graves

Greg Smalley was a funny, wirey little dude that could play the shit out of the guitar!Annie Hamm

The first time I met Greg – in Columbia, SC – he tried to pick a fight with me, the ‘college-rock’ dude… a year or so later, he was an important part of the band.Walter Czachowski

Thoroughly Southern in manner and mind.Ian Shipp

Greg was quite strange (not a bad thing, I am also!), and he gave John Grant and me (Dos Hombres) a chance to play at Bubbapalooza, so how could I dislike the man!?Elliott Michaels

One of the most rewarding guitar repair clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Seeing Greg on stage tearing it up on his Les Paul Special made me feel like his NASCAR crew. Being in a band with him was just as rewarding. I’m sure he’s up in heaven telling other deceased rock star guitar players how to play their trademark licks.Bryan Lilje

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.Wher he played with The Chant for the first time, he knew all the guitar parts, including the little riffs in the background to sweeten things up. He put everything into what ever he was doing. I miss him so much. He made my life a better place to be.Jim Johnson

Funny, unaffected, kind human being!Sean Bourne

Greg wouldn’t just wave or nod from across the bar. He’d always come over for a chat. Still deeply missed and finding his way into many conversations today. And there was the whole guitar giant thing.Thom Heckel

One determined person who really didn’t care what anyone else thought.Faylynn Owen

Greg was completely fearless about being himself all the time, extremely good and incredibly awful, and if you could recognize and accept that, you could be his friend, and that was a very rewarding experience.Tim Lathrop

Played “breaking my heart while I’m drinking her beer” before it was finished on his couch on Franklin Rd. Long cigarettes and intelligent music.Philip Buchanan

Not a lot of pretense with Greg. I recall he labeled effects pedals “SHIT” and “MORE SHIT.”Al Shelton

He was only ever nice to me. Good to me especially on stage, which is 90% of my interaction with him. Generous, encouraging, and a fearless gamer. I learned a lot about not caring what people think: a difficult and priceless lesson for this Southern mama’s boy.Jon Byrd

No matter what Greg went into everything with a smile on his face, and a joke at the end of his tongue. If you were offended then wait for the next one.John Thomason

Greg Smalley was everything I love about the south. – Steve Pilon

Bubbapalooza #21 Line-up:

FRIDAY MAY 25
DOORS 7PM/$8

12am: THE BAREKNUCKLE BETTIES
11pm: BLACKTOP ROCKETS
10pm: GHOST RIDERS CAR CLUB
9pm: UNCLE DADDY & THE KISSIN COUSINS
8pm: SLIM CHANCE & THE CONVICTS

in the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:30: SUICIDE DOORS
11:30: JUNIOR, DOLAN & CASH

SATURDAY MAY 26
DOORS 4PM/$10

12:30: THE MYSTERY MEN?
11:30: THE KENTUCKY BRIDGEBURNERS
10:45: AM GOLD
10:00: CLETIS & HIS CITY COUSINS
9:15: SONORAMIC COMMANDO
8:45: DUSTY BOOZE & THE BABY HATERS
7:45: THE MIDWAY CHARMERS
6:45: J.J. & THE HUSTLERS
5:45: THE SKYLARKS
4:45: CHICKENS & PIGS
4:15: THE SERENADERS

In the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:45: ATOMIC BOOGIE
9:45: THE WHEEL KNOCKERS
7:00: ALICK GERARD & THEDIXIE LIMITED

To find out more about the history of Bubbapalooza, check out last year’s interview with Bryan Malone and Ted Weldon, Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20.I try to keep the dose of Ativan, which I order at ativanshop.com the same as it was prescribed.

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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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