Kathleen Turner Overdrive gets back in gear

It was a hard decision to make back then, says Tim Nielsen, remembering his 1994 departure from Kathleen Turner Overdrive, the Atlanta band he founded in 1993 and recently reformed. “I quite possibly made a huge mistake when I chose to go with Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ instead.”

At that time, KTO was widely considered the city’s best rock group - a reputation solidified by their self-titled ‘94 CD. Combining the raw power of ’70s punk with catchy songwriting and the effective use of strong all-male backing vocals, the band was viscerally exciting and musically credible.

It was also a magnet for bad luck. Never completely the same without Nielsen (despite several superb replacements), KTO endured constant misfortune - injuries, arrests, trouble with venues - climaxing in a van crash which kept frontman Ray Dafrico in court for years and convinced Dave Johnson (now in Beautiful) to quit. Their situation became so bad that the band’s T-shirts depicted a black cat, poised under a ladder with a broken mirror and the number 13.

Reduced to a trio when guitarist Mac Carter left town, KTO played their final show in late ‘96. Their second album remained unreleased, and they seemed destined to live on only in Internet lists of silly band names, sandwiched between the Dead Sea Squirrels and Shirley Temple of Doom.

“But at end of the millennium,” says Nielsen, “things changed. Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ pretty much called it quits, Mac’s back in town and Dave’s still hungry. Ray’s doing Kickstand - and cutting an album with Donal Jones - but he’s in. Ray’s always been rock star material, but has never had the chance to be one.”

That chance is coming. In a dramatic turnaround of KTO’s luck, the group - which had already been discussing a reunion - got a high-profile mention in the movie High Fidelity and received invitations to perform at both Music Midtown and the upcoming Atlantis Conference. They’ve even set up a website at www.kathleenturneroverdrive.com.

“KTO’s got me a lot more excited than DNC ever has,” Nielsen concludes. “I’m even excited about trying to get a record deal again.”

Kathleen Turner Overdrive performs Fri., April 21 at the Cotton Club.