LISTENING POST: Five decades rewound
‘An especially fertile period of cultural activity’
I started writing Listening Post in the early 1980s. I’m not exactly sure when the first column appeared, but it was within a few years after graduating from the University of Georgia in 1979 and moving into my first apartment, a cozy one-bedroom joint in a two-story red brick building on Peachtree Place in Midtown, a few blocks from the Stein Club. A friend of mine from college, Mitchell Feldman, had been writing “Metrognome,” a jazz column, for Creative Loafing. When Mitchell left to work for the recently elected mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young, he recommended me as his replacement to then-music editor Tony Paris. Tony and I met for lunch and Listening Post made its debut soon after.
Someday, when a proper Creative Loafing archives exists, I’ll find that first column. Until then, my personal stash of old issues, which begins in 1986 and runs through 1992, will have to suffice for the following look back at five decades of Listening Posts.
When I started writing Listening Post, Creative Loafing was a primary source of news about the city’s music scene – concert previews, calendar listings, club happenings – and reviews of the latest local, national and international recordings, which were distributed on vinyl or cassette tape. There was no internet as we know it today. There were no cellphones. Contributors like yours truly submitted copy on floppy disks hand-delivered to the office. Concert flyers stapled to telephone poles, pinned on billboards or taped on storefront windows were the equivalent of Facebook events and Instagram posts.
Rap and hip hop were just beginning to alter the contours of the mainstream music landscape. World music was opening up provincial ears to an expanding universe of rhythms, melodies and narratives. Savvy Atlanta-based club owners and concert promoters brought the greatest jazz and blues artists to town while the local community generated worthy contributors to both categories. A new generation of progressive-minded artists introduced their take on classic country and rockabilly music. Post-classical chamber ensembles and composers advanced their cause against the empire with notable success. Deeper in the mix, Atlanta became an incubator for an array of underground, DIY endeavors, which produced improvisational, post-industrial and electronic music matching anything coming out of the traditional global art centers.
I feel privileged to have witnessed an especially fertile period of cultural activity in a city determined to elevate its standing within America and the international community. For every musician, band, ensemble, orchestra, performance and festival noted in the following excerpts plucked from the Listening Post scrapbook, dozens upon dozens more were showcased back in the day.
I hope you enjoy the rewind as much as I did.
CL Apr. 12: Two recent concerts deserve mention as examples of the trend toward presenting real-live world and contemporary classical music in our “international” city. On March 12, the Atlanta Chamber Players presented The Percussion Group/Cincinnati at Emory’s Cannon Chapel…the concert included works by Mauricio Kagel, John Cage and [a work based on Chilean folk music], which featured all three PG/C members on a single marimba…On March 18, the India Society of Atlanta presented a concert by internationally acclaimed table player Zakir Hussain (formerly with John McLaughlin’s Shakti) and Hari Prasad Chaurasia, one of the living masters of the Indian flute. For two entrancing hours, the young Hussein and venerable Chaurasia…filled the Sisters Chapel on the Spelman College campus with the intoxicating sounds of traditional Indian classical music. The audience was transformed, transported to a realm of beauty and light, and for a short time, the world was a very wonderful, comfortable place to be.
CL Sep. 11: On the occasion of a 3-night stand (Sep. 11-13) by Sun Ra & the Cosmos Adventure Orchestra at the Collective Theater in Little Five Points, Listening Post remarked:
One of my favorite passages from the immense catalog of Ra [album] liner notes is on a 1961 French (Goody) reissue of a 1956 session recorded in Chicago, reputedly one of the Arkestra’s earliest such get-togethers. The excerpt…translated from the French reads:
Sun Ra, alias Le Sony’r Ra, alias Sonny Blount, is one of the most extreme phenomes that the jazz music ever knew, and also a personage so mystical that we have sometimes difficulties to keep serious (himself also).
Ra is sometimes difficult to take seriously…He once told a group of admirers who had gathered after a concert in Donaueschingen, Germany, about a family in North Carolina that was attacked by 20,000 bees. Seems the family’s name was Rose. Ra pointed out that bees get wild over roses. ‘It was the sense of humor of the Creator,’ he said.”
Given his outer limits and infinite spaciness, though, Ra has a pretty good handle on what he’s doing. ‘People ask me about my philosophy all the time,’ he once said. “But, it’s not a philosophy, it’s an equation. It has to do with the survival of humanity. If I don’t help people survive, I won’t have an audience.”
CL Nov. 7: What could be the most historically significant jazz concert ever produced in this city…will take place this weekend…Quantum Productions, in conjunction with the High Museum of Art and the IMAGE Film/Video Center, is sponsoring the Ed Blackwell Festival, a celebration of the life and artistry of the drummer who could be considered one of the overlooked heroes of jazz…
“Born in New Orleans in 1927, Blackwell is one of the crucial links in a chain that stretches across the history of jazz from progenitors like Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory and King Oliver to modern day purveyors, such as David Murray, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman…Blackwell, along with Coleman and his contemporaries, represent the quantum leap, that last bit of energy needed to launch jazz into its next, higher orbit, signaling a cultural revolution, which remains the dominant force in the music to date.”
The 3-day festival included workshops and concerts featuring Blackwell, who was on dialysis at the time, with members of the original Ornette Coleman Quartet and Quintet including Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman.
CL Dec 5: Moto’s restaurant near Emory has been the scene of some great local music recently – free of charge. The last several weeks’ worth of shows…have included performance by The Incredible Thing Band featuring Klimchak, Philip Dupy and Rob Rushin; Bruce Hampton with Stained Trains; rock fave Michelle Malone; the Chowder Shouters in a rare, restrained set; and the jazz combo Bazooka Ants…This Saturday night at Moto’s, Tinnitus, Atlanta’s longest-lived, free form, electro-acoustic, musical industrial complex, will be celebrating the release of their latest cassette, Dieu Reconnaitra Les Siens (Fort/Da). Not only is the concert free, but everyone attending will be given a copy of the cassette.
CL Dec. 12: Bobby McFerrin is back in town this week. McFerrin last was seen around these parts walking off stage in disgust at Chastain Park amphitheater during a Jazz Flavors Night concert in August. Seems the audience was more interested in exchanging Saab stories and setting up tables of brie and Inglenook than in listening to what the 37-year-old singer was doing. So, he split, gave back his fee and changed agents. Guitarist Stanley Jordan, who was also on the bill, refused to finish his set for the same reason.
CL March 5: He’s been called the Jimi Hendrix of the electric piano by more than one pundit. He plays a Yamaha CP-70B baby grand piano into which are inserted things like alligator clips, small bolts, bits of wood, a comb, a guitar slide and his own gingers. He calls his music “Maximum Electric Piano” and that’s a pretty fair description of what Roger Miller [Mission of Burma, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic] will be playing March 5 at the Metroplex. Saturday’s show is also notable because it marks the final performance by local heroes 86.
CL Oct. 29: In art, as in particle physics, attempts to locate, isolate and analyzes forces and sources behind a particular movement ore process in a particular time at a specific place often end up fundamentally altering the phenomenon under investigation. As soon as somebody says, “Hey, check this out. This is the coolest thing around,” whatever it is you’re checking out ceases to be cool…Therefore, it is with some trepidation that I draw the attention of the general public to an evening of music, film and poetry scheduled for this Wednesday at The White Dot on Ponce de Leon.
Wednesday’s lineup features some of the coolest, funniest, most self-consciously insane performers in Atlanta: Deacon Lunchbox, the “Mad Poet of Ponce de Leon”; the musical group, An Evening with the Garbagemen; and filmmaker Neil Fried. The work these guys and gals are doing deserves to be seen and heard by a broader audience, say, by anybody who thinks David Letterman is a genius...the avantists of the ’80s are destined to be the designer heroes of the 21st century, so come on down to The White Dot while the gettin’s good, and you can tell your grandkids you were into the new thing before the new thing made it to MTV.
CL Jan. 7: Quote of the Week award goes to Anthony Braxton who contributed the following zinger to Forces in Motion, British jazzcrit Graham Lock’s book-length examination of the saxophonist-composer: “I don’t try to make unpopular records. I’m not against people buying my records or me being rich. I’d love to be a billionaire shipping tycoon. But I have to do what I believe in. I would rather like my music and people hate it, than for them to like it and me hate it.”
CL May 26: The other day, I was talking to Bruce Hampton, perennial icon of musical iconoclasm, about the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the 40-something mandola (bass mandolin) master’s latest band of restless youth. Stabilized, for the moment, at six pieces, the Unit has been lining up and mowing down local fans and audiences along the southeast chittlin’ circuit with chilling regularity. Slated next month for their first major East Coast tour, with stops including DC and New York, Atlanta’s finest avant-country rock ‘n’ roll blues band is on the verge of – well, who knows what?
“They’re all good listeners, and that’s the key,” said Hampton, a.k.a the Colonel. “Anybody can play, but the real secret to putting a band together is finding a bunch of musicians willing to listen to what’s going on.”
CL Jun. 3: This year, it’s going to be shouted louder and more often than ever before: The 1989 Atlanta Jazz Series is the biggest, most ambitious jazz festival in the city’s history. The good news is, you can believe the hype or how does Sun Ra opening for Miles Davis grab you? Or how about an all-New Orleans day featuring the World Saxophone Quartet and Wynton Marsalis?
CL Nov. 19: Too often the attention focused upon jazz concentrates on the music’s most visible elements: the superstar soloist, the baddest big band, the most daring and unusual innovator. But there are plenty of folks in the music whose contributions are not as spectacular as the exploits of the latest saxophone savior or bandleader from outer space, yet are just as vital to the advancement of the art form. Such is the case with pianist-composer Carla Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, who will perform at Emory’s Cannon Chapel this Saturday evening.
CL Dec. 23: A major hip hop alert goes out this week to area rap fans: Jive/RCA recording artist Schoolly D is playing the Cotton Club Wednesday night, Dec. 10. Anybody who’s heard Schoolly’s new record, Am I Black Enough for You?, knows that the Philadelphia native (a/k/a Jesse B. Weaver) is one of the bona fide talents on the fresh funk scene, a tough, streetwise rapper with a strong rhyming style and no-sellout attitude.
Rap is as much a mixing/studio showcase as it is a vocal gymnastics exhibition. Mixmaster DJ Code Money handles Schoolly’s rhythmic propulsion system, an asphalt ambience of steel-sharp percussion, subwoofer bass tracks, and cold-cut samples of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Richard Pryor and Mr. Spock, among others.
CL Jun. 9: In the late 1930s, the “King Biscuit Time” radio program began broadcasting from the makeshift studios of KFFA in the Floyd Truck Lines warehouse in Helena, Miss. The noontime program featured bluesmen such as Robert Lockwood, James “Peck” Curtis and Rice Miller. During breaks between songs, the musicians would extol the virtues of the show’s sponsor, King Biscuit Flour. (”Light as air! White as snow! The perfect flour for all your baking!”). Miller became the blues’ first bona fide media star, known across the country as “Sonny Boy,” the smiling face on sacks of King Biscuit’s Sonny Boy Meal.
Fast forward to 1990. For the third straight year, Benson & Hedges is sponsoring Benson & Hedges Blues, a week-long series of concerts featuring more than two dozen artists performing at a variety of venues around town. The centerpiece of this year’s festival is a blues bonanza at the Lakewood Amphitheater on Friday, June 15, featuring B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Cocker, Dr. John & the Wild Creations and Irma Thomas.
CL Jun. 29: In case you haven’t noticed, this rap thing is getting serious. Gwinnett County police officials goose-stepping to the beat of self-appointed censors. Gestapo-style stormtroopers harassing record shop owners in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Legislators from Maine to Missouri signing off on bills to curb the First amendment. Pretty soon, officials will be calling for able-bodied rednecks from Forsyth County to gather ‘round the Five Points MARTA station to tar and feather suspected Luke (2 Live Crew) Skyywalker wannabes.
Welcome to America, land of the thought police, home of the culture bullies. “Welcome,” as Chuck D, chief rapper of Public enemy, would say, “to the Terrordome.”
That was the introduction to an interview with Chuck D published in advance of a concert at The Masquerade. We broached many subjects ranging from misogyny and the glamorization of gangs to Lewis Farrakhan and the First Amendment. At one point, I asked, “Whose decision was it to bleep out ‘the N-word’ in ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’?” Chuck D replied, “That was CBS. They wanted to get that record on the radio. I didn’t care about getting it on the radio. I wanted it to be underground. We fought about it for months. Finally, I said, ‘Fuck it, bleep it.” I wanted to get the record out and so did they, but they wanted to be able to promote it.”
CL Aug. 11: For The Jody Grind’s first “national” tour, I arranged for members of the band to call and leave a verbal “tour diary” on my telephone answering machine (remember those things, kids?). Here are a few entries from the recordings.
Richmond, Virginia – Friday, 2 a.m. (Atlanta time). Bill Taft, The Jody Grind’s official spokesperson and lead axe-handler, intones into the telephone: ‘The highlight of our trip so far has been our visit to Jim’s Clip & Dip, a hair salon in Athens.’ In an apparent attempt to match the tattoos, which two band members, Taft and bassist Robert Hayes, received while in Los Angeles (a colorful Cleveland Indian on the shoulder for Bill, a striking forearm-length standup bass for Robert), Kelly Hogan-Murray, the Grind’s chief crooner, has had an inscription razored into the nape of her neck underneath her ponytail.
“’Jim Stacy, the owner [of the shop] did it’ says Kelly. ‘I needed a secret weapon on my neck for air conditioning purposes…’Nike’ didn’t seem appropriate and neither did ‘Fila.’” She eventually settled on ‘Some Pig,’ inspired by Wilbur the Pig, a character in the story ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ Adds the brunette songstress, “I realize that with someone of my, uh, physique, ‘Some Pig’ is a little risky to get inscribed on the nape of one’s neck. But it’s my own private crewcut and it looks pretty cool right now, looks like a spider might have done it.”
Kansas City, Kansas – Thursday, 3 a.m. “We’re at a LaQuinta Inn trying to decide which movie to watch on the cable television [a relatively rare hotel luxury back then, DD],” says Taft. “Kelly, what are the options?” Kelly reads from the hotel’s TV guide: The Erotic Adventures of The Three Musketeers, Love in Hong Kong, Simply Irresistible, Sahara Heat and Black Pussy Thief. Rob wants to watch Black Pussy Thief. Joe [Washington] the Sound Man votes for Women in Chains, although it wasn’t mentioned. Everyone else is laughing too hard to talk.
Bloomington, Indiana – Saturday, 1:30 a.m. From Bill: “Several days ago, I was in Minneapolis at a Polish piano bar listening to a woman with a 30-foot bouffant playing ‘Margaritaville.’ Tonight, we’re in Bloomington. We were only here an hour when a gentleman, bearded and bespectacled, with curly hair and wearing a William Burroughs t-shirt, came up to us and said, ‘Hey, you guys are from Atlanta. Do you Doug DeLoach?’”
CL Oct. 13: They’re gooey, acidic, and you certainly wouldn’t call them fresh. Still, Bad Egg Salad isn’t quite as unpalatable as the band’s name suggests. For starters, you might be into the Groundhogs meeting Miracle Room or The Doors jamming with The Jesus Lizard. Deep fuzz guitar and hard flat drums. Screech applique and desperate lyrical exhalation. Take a look at what lurks beneath the garage as Sean Byrne (vocals), Patter Eck (drums), Greg Salad (guitar) and Nathaniel Greene (bass) celebrate the release of their self-titled, self-produced Mullethead cassette engineered by Brian King, at The Masquerade. Opening act is Itchy Brain, a new group fronted by former 86 bassist Max Koshewa.
CL May 12: Laurie Anderson’s April 29 show at the Roxy in Buckhead was a minor revelation and a mighty pleasant surprise. I’d all but given up on the girl in recent years, in the wake of her epic United States, finding her subsequent output plagued by excessive cuteness and lack of groove. But this Roxy show, in support of her latest recording, Strange Angels, was something else…Later that night, I wandered over to The Point where Eugene Chadbourne was blasting the audience with round after round of full metal acid guitar dementia…Meanwhile, just across the Little Five Points plaza, the Pillowtexans were playing their farewell gig to a packed house at the Pub [where] The Opal Foxx Quartet, augmented by a couple of special guests, had jumpstarted the evening.
CL Apr. 26: Whole lotta saxes going on at Klang this weekend. Borbetomagus blows in on Friday for a one-night stand. Borbetomagus throws up high density, high intensity, totally improvised ramparts of sound. Their music is seldom easy and rarely cute – just like life…bring your industrial strength earplugs.
The Chameleon Club in Buckhead is hosting an evening of subversive sounds on Tuesday. Opening is Atlanta’s own I See the Moon, which counts among its members the dynamic dueling DJs from WREK’s “Destroy All Music,” Glen Thrasher and Ellen McGrail.
CL Aug. 17: Decisions, decisions. Ice-T’s in town for the Lollapalooza Festival. Fela Kuti & his Egypt 80 crew are at The Masquerade Saturday night. Then there’s a couple of serious jazzbos on the sked: Eddie Gomez at Spivey Hall and Frank Morgan at the Variety Playhouse, both, unfortunately, performing on the same night as Fela.
CL Sep 11: This Saturday, Sep. `14, Slim Chance & the Convicts will host the third annual Slimmy Awards at the Austin Avenue Buffet. The show will include a dance contest, as well as the dispensation of the highly coveted Slimmys in a variety of categories including Redneck of the Year, Honky Tonk Angel of the Year, NASCAR Fan of the Year and the Elvis Award. Jenny B., Deacon Lunchbox, Mark David and a posse of guest stars will be on hand for the gala event. This’ll be the Convict first official Buffet gig since Slimstock in June and also marks the official debut of guitarist Jon Byrd, who replaces Tim Lee, who moved into an air-conditioned, cable-ready, single-wide trailer outside of Oxford, Mississippi with his wife Susan a few weeks ago.
CL Dec. 7: Jimmie Dale Gilmore at the Cotton Club? The Flatlander co-founder playing the midtown rockhounders’ Radio City Music Hall? Even just a few years ago, who would have predicted it? Yet, this Friday, Dec. 6, it’ll be here. The west Texas-bred pre-apocalyptic poetry. The existential vibes for neo-structuralist honky-tonkers. The bittersweet spirit of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, Sr. Twangy electric steel. Railroad rhythms, Ballads as soft as prairie winds and a drawl and cadence that’s lonesome cowboy right.
CL Feb. 22: Opening for The Jody Grind is Donkey, a band that, in many ways, is like the B-side of the headliner act. Like The Jody Grind, Donkey kicks out a party mix of smoky bar tunes, funky blues ballads, swing era spinoffs and jazzed up rock jams. Lead crooner Todd Ferster brings to mind Jody Grind torcher Kelly Hogan injected with an extra helping (make that an extra truckload) of testosterone, sliding through songs with a slouchy cool attitude and preening like a Las Vegas lounge act.
A new acoustic anti-folk thing is percolating around town. Two of the avatars of this modest movement, Grady Cousins and FLAP, have shows coming up in the next two weeks. Grady’s recent solo set at Purgatory opening for Eugene Chadbourne bolstered previous impressions that his is one of the most unusual and courageous talents in this city. A one-man harmonica choir, rebel poet, mystic, comic and troubadour, Cousins mines the maelstrom of his own mind to create songs steeped in edgy experience and emotional release.
FLAP played to a packed house at Tortillas recently in a concert celebrating the release of Guitarded, a self-distributed cassette produced and engineered by Joe Whittaker. FLAP is Matt Miller and Andy Hopkins, two Emory University seniors who somehow have managed to integrate speedmetal, flatpicking, Django Reinhardt and King Crimson into an irresistible ball of acoustic energy.
CL Mar. 7: No Walls is playing The Point every Wednesday during March. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear one of our finest, shamefully unheralded bands. Thick clouds of acid-metal-jazz-funk, subsonic groove twisting percussion, lurid bass guitar, Kip’s siren voice. No Walls contain a joyous fusion of sound and song. — CL —