Drive-In Legend

It sounds bizarre, admits rockabilly wildman Johnny Legend. “I mean, here’s a guy in California forming a band in Atlanta to play in North Carolina!”

But Legend’s experiment — originally assembled for Sleazefest in Chapel Hill — proved so successful that he’s bringing it home to Georgia. He performs this weekend during Drive-Invasion, the annual three-day festival of bands, barbecue and B-movies at Atlanta’s Starlight Six Drive-In.

Legend, who once played in rockabilly bands with a pre-X Billy Zoom, found that recruiting musicians from the Big Peach’s talented pool of retro-rockers went very smoothly.

“I’ve only been in Atlanta one and a half days in my entire life,” he chuckles, “but I have a lot of friends there.” Guitarist Rip Thrillby of the Penetrators signed on as Legend’s rhythm guitarist and was soon joined by Mark Griffiths from the Belmont Playboys on bass, Shawn Thacker from Truckadelic on drums and Johnny Knox on lead guitar.

“They learned my stuff with a vengeance,” says Legend proudly, referring to his eclectic repertoire, which includes everything from “The Naked Die Young” to the theme from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. “Johnny [Knox] is a phenomenal guitarist. No one would have guessed Sleazefest was our first show ... and that gig led to Drive-Invasion.”

No stranger to drive-in fare, Legend is a noted film collector who created the campy Sleazemania compilations for Rhino Video. “I’ll be bringing my new compilation called Teenage UFO Psycho-Sex Monster Show,” he says, “to run in between the movies.”

But Legend is most excited about performing. “No matter where I do these shows,” he says, “I get this fundamentalist biblical sexual explosion thing going. It must come from some primordial memory of seein’ Bo Diddley in the ’60s. It works like alchemy with teenage girls. I’ve discovered I can play harmonica on any part of the female anatomy.”

Johnny Legend and band perform at the Starlight Six Drive-In, Sat., Sept. 2.