Kool Kat of the Week: Rod Hamdallah Plays the Blues Dark, Down and Dirty – Just the Way We Like It

Posted on: Sep 13th, 2011 By:

Photo credit: Shawn Doughtie

ATLRetro has been hearing a lot about Kool Kat of the Week Rod Hamdallah—from his fellow local musicians. Like his mentor, the sadly deceased Sean Costello, he’s been playing since very young and early gained a reputation as an Americana blues guitar prodigy. By age 17, he was sharing the stage with Sean and Dexter Romweber, as well as opening for top contemporary blues, funk, soul, rockabilly and roots performers such as Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Rosie Flores, Romweber and more. He’s only 21 now.

Anyone who’s heard Rod live—and live is the way he should be heard—talks about the dark lyrics, full-throttle energy and deep swamp passion he puts into his heavy licks. That hard-edged sound has earned him comparisons to Skip James, Captain Beefheart, Charlie Patton, Tom Waits and more recently the White Stripes. He looks the part, too—thick dark pompadour, sideburns, usually dressed in black.

This year Rod’s released a couple of singles, “Think About It” and a cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and has been playing Atlanta and touring the Southeast furiously. You can catch him next at The Five Spot on Friday, Sept. 16. We caught up with him recently to find out more about what made his influences, teaming up with drummer and frequent collaborator Gabe Pline, what he’s got planned for this gig and those recordings we’re looking forward to.

What happened at age 16 to get you, a Jersey boy into punk rock and skateboarding, so revved up about Southern blues and Americana?

I’ve always loved traditional music and was interested in what influenced punk rock. When I moved to Atlanta, live music became something I was around all the time. I watched guys like Sean Costello play around town and immediately wanted to play blues  and traditional American music.

What about Donnie McCormick and Sean Costello made them such an influence on you in the early days?

Sean was a great mentor and friend. He let me share the stage with him when others didn’t. He also turned me on to Donnie McCormick. I loved the inspiration and soul that came from them. [Editor’s note: Read a tribute by Rod to Sean Costello here.]

Rod Hamdallah and Gabe Pline. Photo credit: Scott Livignale.

How did you hook up with Gabe Pline?

Gabe and I would play together once and a while at jams and etc. He was a good person to talk to, where we could relate on music and personal pasts. I’ve always loves Gabe’s style of playing and his attitude on stage. He is definitely a big part of where I am today.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Why Brant Slay Returned to the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and More Random Ramblings about Jason Statham, Lon Chaney and Lawrence Welk

Posted on: Jul 28th, 2011 By:

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, May 1, 2011, at Devil's Pond. Left to right: Alan "Lumpy" Cowart, Brant Slay, Ben Reynolds. Photo Credit: Jason Thrasher.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss a band until you hear they’re back together again. About a month ago we caught up with Guadalcanal Diary, who reunited for two shows at AthFest and Smith’s Olde Bar. But this year’s AthFest was also notable for the triumphant return of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, another Georgia band that skated national fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and won the hearts of many—including Michael Stipe, Willie Dixon and John Keane, who produced their two albums WHITE DIRT and 8-TRACK STOMP. That affection was earned by a truly unique sound—oft dubbed “swamp rock”—that had its roots in both alt-rock and country as Ben Reynolds’ fast-paced blues guitar riffs mixed with an arsenal of home-grown and found percussion instruments played by Brant Slay including the rockin’ chair, stomp board (their invention), washboard, harmonica, cowbells and tin cans. Like so many great bands, though, the Mudd Puppies slipped away quietly and way too soon.

The rumors started back last spring with the seemingly unlikely proposition that the Mudd Puppies were suddenly back in the studio recording a song for the Jason Statham action movie THE MECHANIC. Then they showed up at South by Southwest in Austin, expanded from a duo to a trio with Alan “Lumpy” Cowart on drums. Cowart had performed with The Beggar Weeds from Jacksonville, Fla., another legendary alt-rock band also with a Stipe-produced record. Soon the Mudd Puppies were playing hometown venues such as The Melting Point and ATHFest, and we knew we weren’t hallucinating in wistful thinking any more. Thankfully they’re finally getting around to playing in Atlanta in the Buckhead Music Festival this Saturday July 30 at the 1930 Buckhead Theatre.

Brant Slay at AthFest 2011. Photo credit: Daniel Pieken.

ATLRetro caught up with Brant recently and he was kind enough to fill us all in on the band’s back story (for those of you who missed the Mudd Puppies the first time around), what he and Ben were up to when they went away, what brought the duo back to playing together, how Lumpy got involved, and miscellaneous other tasty tidbits from Mudd Puppies mythology.

For the young’uns, how did you, Ben and Lumpy get together and start the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies?
Well, Ben and I met in Athens back in the mid-’80s. We were both in art school and looking to vent a little creative energy. We had parties at my house on Barber Street, and everyone invited had to either bring an instrument or play the pots and pans. It sounded horrible, but we had a great time. Ben was learning the guitar, and I was singing and stomping. The harmonicas, found percussion and actual stomp board came later. We simply clicked and usually were the last two at the party still playing. That’s pretty much the inception of The Chickasaw Mudd Puppies.

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies at South By Southwest.

We later met the greatest band to ever come out of Florida, The Beggar Weeds, and Alan “Lumpy” Cowart was their drummer. We toured with the Weeds quite a bit, and Alan was gracious enough to sit in and play with us for an occasional tour. We all hit it off, and the coolest thing that came from that meeting of the bands was that we made some incredible lifelong pals. Many years later, we crawled out of the ground like some 19-year cicada ready to make music again, and it was truly fate that Lumpy become the third member of the Mudd Pups. It’s evolution.

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A Little Band Where Old Friends Play: Nat King Coal Miners

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2011 By:

So many of Atlanta’s best bands got their start when musicians known for other ventures just happened to get together and jam. That synergy has happened again with Nat King Coal Miners to the good fortune of the Atlanta music scene who will get to enjoy one of their first public performances at the Star Bar this Wed. June 22.

The recently formed jazz trio sports three musicians well known locally for years for their involvement in many iconic jazz, swing and blues groups. Spike Fullerton (guitar) most recently has been playing with Ghost Riders Car Club (see ATLRetro’s Feb. 2 Kool Kat piece on him and that band here), but his many other credits include being a founding member of Kingsized. Matt Wauchope (piano) is now with Blair Crimmins and the Hookers toured and recorded with the late, great blues guitarist Sean Costello, giving him the chance to perform with music legends such as Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton and Elvis Costello. Veteran blues bassist Dave Roth is now with Burnt Bacon, but also performed with Sean Costello.

ATLRetro caught up with Spike to get the scoop on how the new venture got started, the Nat King Cole connection, what Ray Charles has to do with it, and why he’s bringing out the Big Girl…

Spike Fullerton playing with Ghost Riders Car Club. Photo courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

All three of you are seasoned musicians well-known in Atlanta for your previous misadventures? Why/how did you decide to get together to form a 1940s/’50s jazz trio?
The late lamented Glenwood in EAV had a terrific Sunday night jam session. I had played with Dave there a couple of times, and Matt turned up one night. We knocked out a couple of standards on the spot and that was it. Both of those guys are so good, you know it in about 16 bars. Dave Roth has both perfect pitch and relative pitch, and big-time chops to go with it; Matt Wauchope, who also plays piano with Blair Crimmins and the Hookers can just knock that Harlem stride style out as well. It’s both humbling and a real pleasure to play with such enormously talented musicians

Why the name Nat King Coal Miners and do you play Nat King Cole classics?
I happened to mention (original King Cole Trio guitarist) Oscar Moore as a big influence on me, and it turned out Matt and Dave already had this project going. Matt and I had both done long stints in Kingsized—I was a founding member years ago—so we had a large pool of common standards to choose from, as well as a shared sense of humor about the material. The language of jazz is pretty similar across genres—it’s just deciding which accent you want to speak with. The King Cole sensibility of strong rhythm, heavy swing, and clever lyrical and musical interplay was a natural.

Who are some other influences on the band’s sound and will you be playing just covers of jazz greats or originals, too?
The three of us are huge fans of the 50s R&B style of Ray Charles—we do a lot of things in that genre as well. It can go from utter melancholy to swingin’ like mad, and just has the most delightful sense of rhythm. We’ll do the odd original, perhaps a Waits cover, all sorts of stuff. Source material is important, but I think we are more concerned with the articulation rather than recreating the original records. So some things may sound more original than they really are and vice versa.

Spike's Big Girl.

Any special plans for the Star Bar gig this week?
Our good friend the Rockin’ Gator, legendary friend to the Atlanta music scene, will be on hand to tape some of the proceedings so everyone who turns up gets a little digital immortality as a side dish. For you guitar geeks out there, I’ll be bringing out a very special instrument from my collection to play for the evening. I had retired it for over a decade, but I love this style, and this group so much, I’m going to bring out The Big Girl (an extremely rare 1949 Gibson archtop), along with a period amplifier for the show.

Where else will the Nat King Coal Miners be playing soon and any plans for a recording?
We are booked for the Summer Shade Fest [Aug 27-28] in Grant Park and have recurring gigs at Blind Willie’s and hopefully the Star Bar going forward.

The Ghost Riders Car Club set had the most heartwarming moment at Bubbapalooza when you guys started pulling Mama Smalley and other Star Bar regulars onstage for an audience singalong to The Diggers‘ “She’s Breakin’ My Heart (While I’m Drinkin’ Her Beer)” Can you share some of the specialness of that moment with anyone who missed the show.
As you may know, I was on the bill at Bubbapalooza I. [Founder] Greg [Smalley] was a colleague of mine on the scene, and we played many a show at many a forgotten venue. It speaks to his impact on the community that after all this time. We should all be remembered so long, and so fondly.

Love your band logo – what’s the story on that?
It’s actually a real King Cole Trio album cover from the 40s. The postmodern sense of motion and optimism, and use of negative space and color, sort of dovetail with what we try to do as a group.

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Weekend Update, April 1-3, 2013

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2011 By:
Sorry not to get this post until Saturday this week. Away this weekend and was more challenged than expected finding wifi yesterday–maybe that was the April Fool’s joke on me! Hopefully you got a chance to read This Week in Retro Atlanta, and didn’t miss any of the cool events Friday night. If you didn’t get to Chris Hamer’s BIG IN JAPAN opening party, you should still hit Octane to see the exhibit which runs through April 30. Also, new in the update: another rare chance to see DEATH RACE 2000 on the big screen at the Plaza Theatre, if you missed last week’s Splatterday Night Live.

Friday, April 1

Terribly talented artist Chris Hamer recycles Tom Waits with the solo art show, BIG IN JAPAN, at Octane Coffee Bar & Lounge, opening night party from 7 to 11 PM. Works inspired by Waits songs will be on display until April 30, but isn’t it more fun to see them with Blast-Off Burlesque and other surprises. Read more about Chris and how Waits helped conjure some personal monsters in this week’s Kool Kat. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of THE LAST ROCK ‘N ROLL DOCUMENTARY and support an Atlanta retro treasure at tonight’s Plaza Theatre Foundation fundraiser with tickets just a bargain one buck. Film Love‘s Yoko Ono: Reality Dreams short film series part 4 is Flux Fly Body Music at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center. A highlight is the enigmatic FLY, “a collaboration with John Lennon, which features the human body as landscape, with an improvised vocal soundtrack – one of Ono’s most engaging musical works.” Curated by last week’s Kool Kat Andy Ditzler.

Swing dance to Joe Gransden‘s big band at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX. New band Please Pleaserock Me teaches Beatle-ologoy at Eddie’s Attic.

Saturday March 12

Classic train fans and their kids will dig Caboose Days this weekend from 10 AM to 5 PM at the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth featuring train rides in restored cabooses, oodles of kids’ activities and a chance to tour and see 90 pieces of retired railway equipment, including vintage steam engines, a private car once used by President Warren G. Harding and much more.

Get down to a Spring Soul Party with The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle at Star Bar. The fabulous Talloolah Love presents her Thank You/Vegas or Bust Party starting at 10 PM at Bart Webb Studios in Avondale. Drink Love Shots, dance to DJ Doctor Q‘s fine tunes and enjoy live performances, all to thank everyone who voted for her to nab a prestigious performance spot at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend next month. Watch for an exclusive report by Love on the Southern Fried Burlesque Fest soo.

Don’t miss another rare chance to see one of the craziest, best black comedy cult movies of all time DEATH RACE 2000 at the Plaza Theatre at 9:30 p.m. Come on! David Carradine as a race car driver called Frankenstein! ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL’s Mary WoronovSly Stallone! And everyone in America is road kill. Read why Mark Arson thinks it’s a better ’70s SF/action flick than STAR WARS here.

Better Than The Beatles pays tribute to the Fab Four at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno.

Sunday March 27

Caboose Days continue at Southeastern Railway MuseumChickens and Pigs serves up blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl.

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Kool Kat of the Week: God May Be Away on Business But Artist Chris Hamer is Tempted by Tom Waits

Posted on: Mar 30th, 2011 By:

BIG IN JAPAN, a solo art exhibition by Chris Hamer of works inspired by Tom Waits. Octane Coffee. April 1-30. Opening reception featuring special guests Blast-Off Burlesque, Fri. April 1, 7-10 PM.

The first time I met Chris Hamer was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Monster Bash one summer at the Starlight Drive-In. As usual, the heat was broiling, but Hamer’s tent afforded not just welcome shelter from the heat but a jaw-dropping assortment of those ugly kitschy landscapes that are usually condemned to thrift stores and yard sales. Except looming by that tree, standing next to Jesus or rising out of the lake was a monster with one big bug-eye. Had I discovered Godzilla Americana?

Most of Hamer’s creatures, however, aren’t menacing but surprisingly friendly-looking, even shy and a bit gangly like they’re more nervous about meeting humans than you should be about them. In other words, the grinning red-bearded artist in a baseball cap not only has a comic sensibility and a talent for recycling found objects into something unexpected, but no worries about his art being dubbed “low brow” and even gloriously geeky. Even “Urbnpop,” the handle for his studio/company, sounds just right. Soon I realized I was running into him at all my favorite urban pop-culture hangouts—artist festival markets, H.C. Warner’s Alcove Gallery, Atlanta Rollergirls matches, comics conventions and even in Orlando at the Spooky Empire horror con.

All of that raises no doubt that Hamer is one quintessential Kool Kat. But when he announced that he was doing a solo art show dedicated to Tom Waits called BIG IN JAPAN at Octane Coffee in west Midtown, with Blast-Off Burlesque performing at the opening party on April Fools Day, it was a no-brainer that ATLRetro had to unearth the missing link between the pop-culture monsters and one of America’s more enigmatic gravelly-voiced rock singer-songwriters. 

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, March 28-April 3, 2011

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2011 By:

Here’s your weekly guide to where and why to get out…

Monday March 28

Francine Reed belts out some beautiful blues every other Monday at Cafe Circa. Northside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday March 29

Cathy Whitlock, author of DESIGNS ON FILM: A CENTURY OF HOLLYWOOD ART DIRECTION, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the masterful set design of GONE WITH THE WIND at the Margaret Mitchell House at 7 PM as part of the GONE WITH THE WIND 75th Anniversary Celebration. Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Fedora Blues plays Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch the official grand opening of Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday March 30

It’s TNT, Tommy Lee and Tammy Renee in a knockdown funky drag-out “Keytar Loser Leave Grudge Match” vs. Lust at Star Bar. TNT perform hits from the ’70s to today but are especially known for their fun takes on ’70s and ’80s funkilicious, R&B and disco favorites like Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition.” Cabaret theatrics meet post-punk adult-themed rawk in Lust, featuring another pair of powerhouse vocalists Susanne Gibboney and Blast-Off Burlesque‘s “Barbilicious” Hays.

At The Earl, New Zealand’s Surf City takes inspiration from surf music, Jesus and Mary Chain (originally “Kill Surf City” after that band’s song) and Velvet Underground. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side DoorThe Hollidays and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck bring on the blues at Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack and Northside Tavern respectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM. Cover band ’80s Band of Destiny is in the Atlanta Room at Smith’s Olde Bar.

Thursday March 31

'64 MV Agusta 500cc is one of 11 vintage and contemporary Italian motorcycles on display at MoDA. Photo courtesy of Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Drink some wine and enjoy a gallery tour of PASSIONE ITALIANA: DESIGN OF THE ITALIAN MOTORCYCLE by previous Kool Kat curator Joe Remling during MODA‘s first Thursday night Drink in Design from 6-8 PM. Murphreesboro, Tenn. alt-country band The Only Sons plays Kathmandu Kitchen and Grill, formerly Pho Truc in Clarkston from 8-10 PM. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’sJoe Gransden jazzes up Tantra now on Thursdays. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum Lounge.  Breeze Kings and Chicken Shack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.

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