HIGH FREQUENCIES: The Great Southeast Music Hall Reunion

Getting the gang back together one last time

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Photo credit: Tony Paris Archives
BUCKETS OF MOONBEAMS, REALLY: The beer doesn't taste as good, drinking it from this old tin now; but the memories are so sweet.

Had the Sex Pistols never played the Great Southeast Music Hall, the music venue would still hold a significant place in Atlanta’s music history. Originally a bar, restaurant and concert hall tucked into the elbow of what was then Broadview Plaza, the setting was laid back, the beer served in buckets and the living seemed easy. The hippie counter-culture that had walked the Strip — Peachtree Street between 10th and 14th Streets — had disseminated into the mainstream, and the Great Southeast Music Hall was the perfect venue for those with longhair, tank tops, wide-belled Landlubber blue jeans and a yearning for peace and harmony to gather and groove together, listen to music and share in the joys and travails of becoming adults.

The Great Southeast Music Hall was not a rock club, not in the sense of Richards and the Electric Ballroom, two other Atlanta venues of the time, both located closer to the Strip, and therefore, downtown, an area considered unsafe by some suburbanites.

This was the ‘70s remember, and downtown Atlanta was becoming a ghost town, thanks to “white flight” — the move of businesses and people to areas north of the city — past Buckhead, past Chastain Park and Sandy Springs, to areas not even defined as OTP (outside the perimeter), because, for a time, no one knew they were ITP (inside the perimeter).

Located off Piedmont Road, with Morosgo Drive to the south and Marian Road to the north, the Broadview Plaza Shopping Center was the perfect place for a music venue, especially one catering to a wider, more varied audience by focusing on folk, country, bluegrass, and blues artists and singer-songwriters. The L-shaped strip mall had plenty of free parking, thanks to the grocery stores and small department stores that were its anchor tenants, allowing the Music Hall to schedule two shows a night without audiences having to worry about where to park before the first show’s turnover.

The Great Southeast Music Hall was also close to Brookhaven where, at the time, many Atlanta musicians lived, thanks to the cheap rent and small bungalows that made up the neighborhood before urbanization and gentrification spread up Peachtree Street. It was many of those local musicians, having played smaller clubs like the Bistro and the Twelfth Gate, who performed at the Music Hall, opening for national touring acts, and, in doing so,  built large enough followings to headline the Great Southeast Music Hall on their own.

Darryl Rhoades and the Hahavishnu Orchestra, Thermos Greenwood and the Colored People, the Hampton Geese Band, the Glenn Phillips Band,  Bill Sheffield, The Fans, the Para Band, and the Dynamic Atlanta Cruis-O-Matic were just some of the Atlanta performers to have headlined at the Great Southeast Music Hall.

When the original Broadview Plaza location was forced to close, it was natural for the Music Hall to move to Brookhaven to the theater located in Cherokee Plaza. Though many of the people remained and the Music Hall did well at the new location, it wasn’t the same. Sitting on cushions on the floor was replaced with tiered movie theater seats, and the Great Southeast Music Hall’s unique experience — not unlike like lounging in your own living room while your favorite musician performed — became one of more traditional theaters and music venues. The Dekalb County police didn’t help matters, either. The Music Hall was still selling cheap beer by the buckets, so once shows started, Dekalb’s finest would set up roadblocks at the exits of the shopping center to snare any inebriated music fans who tried to make it past the lines of police cars with rotating blue lights, officers, and dogs waiting for them on Peachtree Road.

This Sunday, August 4, a reunion of Great Southeast Music Hall employees, family and friends will take place at Smith’s Olde Bar. The get together starts at 5 p.m. with everyone gathering in the downstairs bar, then moving upstairs at 7 p.m. for the music. Bill Tush will emcee the evening, welcoming both Darryl Rhoades and Thermos Greenwood to the stage for their own sets. While neither will have their respective full bands with them, surviving members of both groups will appear, aided and abetted by many familiar Atlanta musicians as guests. Farrell Roberts, who has been busy planning the event along with Sharon Powell, says the reason for hosting this one is simple. Those who were regulars are getting older, and we should celebrate the past one more time. It’s hard to argue with that.

Farrell Roberts: It was named The Great Southeast Music Hall, Emporium, and Performing Arts Exchange. It was the ’70s. It held 525 people, who all sat on cushioned benches on the floor. They drank draft beer from a 32oz. metal bucket cost $2.75. You could get your bucket refilled and take it home as a souvenir.

Katherine Gasque: I was working for ABC Records in the mid 70’s. Jimmy Buffet was on our label and I went to the Great Southeast Music Hall for the first time to see him perform. It wasn’t a packed house but I was hooked on the place. Besides cheap buckets of beer and cheap food, the Hall was iconic, with an amazing wall signed by every artist who played there, it was magic. Tickets ran $3-4 dollars and everyone could see great music, rub elbows with like minded people, play some pinball, and drink cheap beer.

Kay Citron: It started at a point somewhere between the naivety of youth and hard core psychedelics and never ended! While listening to WRAS one night back in 1976, Aubrey the late night DJ offered free tickets to the first caller. I happened to be the lucky caller. I won tickets for Thermos Greenwood and the Colored People to see their show “Orgy on the Lawn.” I was young. I had to look up “orgy” in the Websters’ Dictionary. So off I go to this strange but intriguing event that included green, blue and purple performers on stage.

T’ Wesley Dean: My brother was part of a group that was going to stage a party at the Egyptian Ballroom in the Fox Theater, which was scheduled to be demolished. I talked my brother into letting me assemble a band for the party. I approached Bruce Baxter and Steve Wofford who were performing as Fletcher and the Piedmonts. The Piedmonts specialized in roots rock ’n' roll – Jerrry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis, and early Rolling Stones. They enlisted Steve Marsh to sing and play guitar and Richy Height came along on drums. I sang and played bass. At the time Glitter Rock was threatening to be the “latest thing” and, in response, I told the Piedmonts I was going to paint myself green and call myself Thermos Greenwood. They said “OK. We’ll paint ourselves too and be colored people.” Honest to God we didn’t know any better. Our biggest influences were Saturday morning TV kiddy fare – Ramar of the Jungle, Tarzan movies, Warner Brothers cartoons, and the Coasters.  After playing a couple of successful parties we were invited by the Great Southeast Music Hall to come perform.

Sharon Powell: My first experience was when I won two tickets and an LP from WRAS for a band playing the Hall. I was NOT near the 18 year-old drinking age at the time, but, still, my friend and I, donned in our grooviest 10th street duds, picked up our tickets and LP at the door, and sauntered in like we owned the place. I met Farrell that night, and we became fast friends. I was working at Jumpin' Jack Flash Leather at the time, I think. Like a lot of us who went on to become forever attached to the Hall, I just sorta showed up and started working at whatever was needed. My first real paid gig there was when Bob Dulong asked if I would break down a bunch of boxes, and paid me for it. Next thing I knew, I was working in the box office, and getting money for it! Over the years, many of our jobs morphed to include much more than we started out doing. I ended my Hall career as a manager, box office, ticket sales, paying the bands, making sure contract rider stuff was attended, NOT being stoned, lol.

Citron: Too young to drink there (legally) but old enough to hang out and work the box office with Sharon and Chip, I returned as often as possible and basically “volunteered” to work. When there was nothing for me to do I would color in the black and white promo photos from the band bios in the office or play pinball in the lobby. The favored games, 6 Million Dollar Man and the Eight Ball machines, tried robbing Dan Baird and I of quarters, but we somehow ended up winning more free games than we had time to play. Good friendships for life. And THAT’S what I remember. Priscilla in the Emporium clothing me, Bean and Fly in the kitchen feeding me.

Powell: The Hall was and still is a huge part of my life. The political/cultural climate in the US was turbulent then as it is now.

Dean: In 1975 the war in Vietnam was over, flying on an airplane was fun, local police hadn’t been militarized, and the corporate lawyers and bean-counters had not yet ruined everything. I can remember Rex Patton and Ross Brittain played “19th Nervous Breakdown” nineteen times in a row on WIIN. It was a magic time to be in Atlanta.

Rex Patton: My initial contact with the Music Hall came from working at WIIN radio. We did remote interviews with recording acts in the Emporium for a feature called “Out to Lunch.” I basically worked on air for free. No salary. I worked another job from 6 am to 2 pm and then was on WIIN with Ross Brittain from 3 to sign-off. The only money I got was $50.00 a week for doing Taco Pronto promos (“Extra hot – all the time”). The Music Hall advertised with us by way of trade-outs. They paid us in meal tickets that we could use to eat at the Emporium. So, I was there, literally, 5 or more nights a week, just to feed myself. And, after a tasty dinner – I was partial to the Martin Mullett – I could wander into the hall itself and watch whomever was onstage that night.

Citron: My life changed as I met the music lovers, the musicians, the beer drinkers and the bartenders, the lighting and sound crew...I felt so at home on the padded floor seats!

Powell: A lot of stuff happened those first couple of years. I had my "day gigs,” which included working at Garma's Custom Leather and the Old Atlanta Satchel Co. There was a sort of crossover thing that happened. Management changed, staff came and went, but we didn't go too far … lots of us came to the Hall from other local Atlanta businesses: Comes the Sun, Garma's, the Electric Ballroom, Richards. The cool thing is the community we created. It wasn't just the Hall. If Alex (Cooley, who owned the Electric Ballroom) needed us at one of his gigs, we worked it out to help, and he did the same for us. Schedules were made in the community as a whole to make sure that everyone was covered. There wasn't the cutthroat competition that seems to exist now with the businesses in town. We all worked together.

Darryl Rhoades: It’s weird to think that my last performance at the GSEMH was over 41 years ago.  It was unlike any venue I had played before or since.  I have so many great memories of the Music Hall.   

Dean: Performing at the Music Hall was always great fun. That was where we covered the stage with kudzu, and hired the little people who worked at Sid and Marty Kroft’s to harass us on stage. The audiences there were the best – they would whoop and howl when we took the stage – we did look ridiculous. I can remember traipsing along the front edge of the stage thinking, “It doesn’t matter what I do. They are going to eat it up!”  And they did. We were able to be completely free in the moment.

Rhoades: There were no limits to what we could do there including the grand entrance in our holiday shows where several friends hoisted me up on a cross while I was dressed in a Santa Claus suit and screaming in a mic “You Got the wrong guy, you got the wrong guy” as I interrupted the band doing their Holiday Inn lounge show.

Patton: The Hall was also my entry into the Atlanta music scene as a participant. We played The Hahavishnu Orchestra on WIIN and through meeting the band members, I encountered the guys who would later end up forming Cruis-O-Matic, which I would eventually join. That led to interacting with and getting to know all of the players around town.

Rhoades: During the week billed as the Steve Martin Mull show, Steve had a college date on a Thursday night so they brought in Tom Waits for that show and Martin asked if I wanted to set in so I played drums with Jonny Hibbert on sax and Keith Christopher on bass with Martin on guitar and Tom on piano.  That was one of my more pleasant memories at the Music Hall.

Roberts: And the shows that people would come see were those of artists that were "on their way up,” who would soon become household names. Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, Jim Croce, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Steve Martin, Joe Walsh, Robert Palmer, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Pure Prarie League The Sex Pistols, Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jerry Garcia & the Legion of Mary. Huey Lewis, and so many others. The legends of the Blues: B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon . The Jazz artists John McLaughlin, Weather Report, Chick Corea & Return to Forever.

Rhoades: I saw so many incredible acts including Buffalo Bob from Howdy Doody on a Saturday afternoon matinee while I was surrounded by a bunch of kids and their moms. I was there the night Lily Tomlin stopped the show to have a redneck removed when yelled for her to take her clothes off.  The music hall was all over the map in the kinds of entertainment they brought us…Ace Trucking Company, Proctor and Bergman, Bill Monroe, Roland Kirk, Steve Goodman and it didn’t seem to break the bank back then.  They even brought in a production of Hair.

Dean: I remember seeing Steve Martin, Dolly Parton, the Staple Singers, Split Enz, Doc and Merle Watson, Bill Monroe, John Prine, JJ Cale, Doug Kershaw, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Sea Level. It was endless. The Great Southeast Music Hall booked great acts!

Gasque: The Hall also allowed me to see performances of those who would become legends before they were well known: the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra, David Allen Coe, Dixie Dregs, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, the Steve Martin Mull show, John Hartford, I could go on and on, and on.

Roberts: It was a time when all the groups would be booked for three, four, five nights in a row. So we would get to hang out and get to know them. I remember taking Tom Waits to Underground Atlanta. He loved it! Tom played maybe 10 times at the Hall. I remember going bowling at the Express Lanes on Monroe Circle with Steve Martin and Martin Mull, I remember going to breakfast at the long-gone Steak & Egg with Captain Beefheart & Phillip (Fly) Stone ….

Patton: The Hall hosted the most eclectic shows in town.  I’m sure everyone will mention the Martin/Mull show. But the acts ran the gamut from Gino Vanelli, Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody, The B-52’s and Fairport Convention to Billy Crystal, Jimmy Buffett, Weather Report, Keith Jarrett and Doctor Hook.

Roberts: I remember all of the great jams, most of all, the night B.B. King was playing, and Eric Clapton & Diana Ross came to the show, got onstage and proceeded to tear the roof off the place for about an hour.

Patton: The absolute best show I ever saw there was the night B. B. King headlined with The Nighthawks opening. They were contracted for two shows and both sold out. But there were so many people outside after the second show, that a third was negotiated and performed. And, during King’s set, B.B.called harp player, Mark Wenner and guitarist, Jimmy Thackery from the Nighthawks up on stage to jam. After Thackery finished his solo, B.B. turned to him and bowed. To this day, I think that was the proudest moment in Jimmy’s life.

Roberts: I remember another magical night, the bill was B.B. King, and the Nighthawks. And Gregg Allman joined them for a couple of nights. The most soulful and sweaty shows in my 46-year career!

Patton: The most memorable shows? The Knobz, a band from North Carolina who played the “Punk Festival” at the Hall. The climax of their act came during their final number, “Disco Chainsaw,” when the lead singer sawed off his artificial leg with, yes, a gas-powered chainsaw.  Game over. Follow that, bitches!

Rhoades: I have to mention the appearance by the Sex Pistols, when I sat in with the opening act, Cruise-O-Matic. It was an intentionally strange billing with Cruise-O-Matic, known as a 60’s party band, that would guarantee to get a reaction from the crowd — and it did. I was brought up to sing a song written by myself and Rex Patton, “Boot In Your Face,” which was a spoof on the Ramones. The song was captured on film and eventually made it’s way into the Sex Pistol’s documentary, D.O.A., which is almost unwatchable for me but still, it’s history. I still have the magazine, National Examiner, which has a picture of me wearing a shirt I had spray painted with the words, “Kill Me.” In the article they superimposed a picture of Linda Ronstadt and the caption “America’s Sweetheart next to Punk bearing message on shirt that most true music fans would love to fulfill.” I’m damn proud of that one.

Patton: The Sex Pistols, as much for the hoopla as anything else. With Cruis-O-Matic being their opening act, I was privy to all the backstage intrigue as well as the Us vs. Them dynamic that pervaded the Hall while we played our overlong (not our fault — nobody could find Sid) set. Most importantly, I met my future wife then, as she was going through the crucible of the Sex Pistols being the act she had to promote on her first week on the job as “Claudia Sickeler – PR Director for the Great Southeast Music Hall.”

Citron: We could all reminisce about our favorite shows, John Prine, David Grisman, Doc and Merle, Jimmy Buffet, Leo Kotke, Ravi Shankar, John Hartford, Mac McAnally, Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris, Janis Ian, Phoebe Snow, Johnathan Edwards, Crystal Gayle, Darryl Rhoades and the Hahavishnu Orchestra, B.B. King, Sun Ra, Muddy Waters,Tom Waits, Jerry Jeff Walker, NRBQ, David Bromberg, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Sex Pistols, Steve Martin and Martin Mull, Jean Luc-Ponty, Asleep at the Wheel … but the real memories are of the hearts of the folks who ran the Hall. Gail (Bast), Robin (Conant), Ursula (Alexander), Claudia (Sickeler), Glenn (Allison), Chip (Abernathy), Doreen (Cochran), Farrell, Ron (Matthews), David (Manion), Sharon, Alun (Vontillus), Jack (Tarver), Brad (Moss) — insert a myriad of names here — the relationships that formed and have lasted the test of time. And, that night with Tommy Dean on stage singing away about “Chocolate City” and wondering ”who gave the monkey a gun,” I met my first husband on the back row — and we brought three wonderful children into the world (not that night, that happened quite a few years later). So, yes, the Music Hall changed my life.

Patton: Being there so often, I came to know everyone who worked there. Names popping into my head right now are Glenn, Gail, Doreen, Chip, Alun, Farrell, Mary, Phyllis, Brad, Ron, David, Carolyn, Betsy, Wiz. I know there are more and I’m sure other people will come up with them. Above and beyond the great musical experiences, the Hall was like a clubhouse, where we all ate together, drank together, got high together, saw shows together, hooked up and broke up. It was, basically, a funky shrine, where a bunch of like-minded people were busy being in their 20’s.

Powell: The staff at the Hall wasn't just staff … we were and many still are like family. We did (and often still do) help each other...helping each other move, painting parties, rides, checking on each other when we didn't show, lending/giving money, going to court when someone got busted, lol..now go fund me pages and helping hands when someone needs dentures, or help with the rent.

Gasque: It was small, it was friendly, and over time I met people who worked there that I am friends with today, Doreen Cochran, Sharon Powell, and Kay Vontillius. I distinctly remember the night I met Brad Moss, a part of management who was also involved in bringing the first U.S. performance of the Sex Pistols (a horrible performance however), because he and I became fast friends and years later would be married for 22 years until his death. The Music Hall gave me one of the greatest loves of my life.

Powell: I loved our Brookhaven community, and our connection to each other and the Hall. I loved our mutual commitment to making sure the show went on...even through the times of no/late paychecks, we would show up. We always showed up! When we had to move the Hall, we worked together to load it out, and worked just as hard to load back in at Cherokee Plaza.

Patton: I saw sets of some of the best music I had ever or would ever hear. And, when I walked out the front door of the Hall to go home – it was daylight. Magic.

Citron: What a great home away from home the GSEMH became for me.

Roberts: You had to be there.

Powell: I found the "I Have Been to the Great Southeast Music Hall" facebook page by total accident. I was living in the mountains, and was just surfing the net. I came upon the page, and noticed a couple of errors. Of course I contacted the page owner and talked to her about it. She and I became friends, and she made me an administrator. She was only 4 years-old when she used to go to the Hall because her mom loved it so much. Shannon Williamson created the page for her mom. Her mom is still with us, but. Shannon died last year. Shannon's dad was a Vietnam vet affected by Agent Orange. It’s thought that Shannon's lifelong illness was a result ... and it took her young life. This, to me, is sort of an example of the intrinsic interweaving of the culture of the day, the Hall, and our continued community

Powell: People often ask which was my favorite show. The truth is, I didn't actually see many of them. Just like all the other staff (unless you were actually in the room) we were working the door, the record store, the jewelry store, the emporium, the office....I always made time to check out Arlo Guthrie and John Hartford. I loved those guys' music, and as human beings. Fitting that the last show we ever did was Arlo at Cherokee Plaza. He knew our dire straits, and did all he could to help us stay open. He even penned a singalong tune for the occasion about "saving the old Music Hall"...We didn’t, but, I like to think that Shannon did, though, because...here we are.

Dean: For the reunion I’ll be with Steve Wofford. We will miss Charles Wolff and Bruce Baxter who have both split the orb. Steve Marsh is unable to make it from Denver. Bob Elsey and Jody Worrell will play guitars and Anne Boston will help with vocals. We will be focused less on visuals and more on recreating the music, like “Who Gave The Monkey A Gun,” “Nina of the Nile,” “Living In The Heart Of Chocolate City,” “I’ve Got Rubber Brain Cells In My Head,” and other thoughtful fare.

Rhoades: My appearance will be musical ,but I will also be performing some pieces from my standup show. I’m appearing at the Music Hall celebration with friends that I have recorded with and played live with for years, plus I will bring out special guests to sit in on a few songs. The material will give a nod to the Hahavishnu Orchestra, The Men from Glad, songs from several of my other CDs plus two unreleased songs, including one I wrote for this event.

Dean: Darryl Rhoades and the Hahavishnu Orchestra and Thermos Greenwood and the Colored People played many of the same venues but we have never performed back to back sets on the same stage. This is a first — and it promises to be fun!

Rhoades: I never had the opportunity to share the bill with Thermos Greenwood when we were both playing the Hall. This will be a special night, and likely, will never be repeated.

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