Papa Jack Couch arrived on Atlanta’s music scene like a ghost — a man from another era, out of time and out of place, with a body of songs that demanded to be heard.
In 2018, he released his debut album, Meriwether via his own MIle One Records. A year later, he released his second album, Witness Tree, backed by a cast of Atlanta’s finest musicians.
At 70 years old, Papa Jack had suddenly reached a disarming high point as a songwriter, channeling a lifetime of spirituality, wisdom, joy, and tragedy into songs with titles such as “Twilight Memories,” “HighLine Woman,” and the title track from his second album.
With a gentle voice drifting softly over steel strings, Papa Jack summons a deeply felt blend of Southern folk, soul, and cosmic Americana into every note and every nuance of the songs he sings. And every number tells a story — stories of discovering music, crossing paths with his musical heroes such as Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash, leaving music, and ultimately returning after the death of his wife.
Press play to hear a podcast about Papa Jack Couch and the stories behind his songs, featuring interviews with Damon Moon of Standard Electric Recording Co. and Brian Revels.
W8ing4UFOs are still playing their scheduled shows at the Pilot Light. Stay tuned for more information.
As Knoxville, Tennessee prepares for the Big Ears Festival‘s annual pilgrimage of deep listeners descending upon the Marble City’s music venues March 26-29, more pieces are falling into place every day. Festivities for the 2020 gathering include an ever-growing film series and panel discussions, in addition to a lineup of bold musical innovators celebrating their singularly nuanced sounds. A rich lineup of heavy-hitters is on the calendar for this year, including German free jazz luminary, saxophone and clarinet player Peter Brötzmann, Tortoise guitar player Jeff Parkerand the New Breed, rock ‘n’ roll poet Patti Smith, Tuareg psych rocker Mdou Moctar, drone music architect Phil Niblock, British free jazz and Afrofuturist provocateur Shabaka Hutchings & the Ancestors, and more.
Amid the flurry of artists and activities on this year’s schedule, Atlanta boasts a particularly strong showing:
Mute Sphere, a group featuring former Faun and A Pan Flute guitarist David Gray, cello and fiddle player Ben Shirley, drummer John Gregg, and percussionist and synth player Chris Childs team up with vocalist Monique Osorio, crafting a blend of composed and improvised rock and modern classical sounds. Mute Sphere takes the Pilot Light stage on Thursday, March 26. 8 p.m. It’s free to anyone who can fit through the door, even if you don’t have a Big Ears pass.
The Rev. Fred Lane is currently setting the South ablaze with the arrival of Icepick To the Moon, his first album over 30 years. The album finds the Auburn, Alabama auteur backed by a group known as the Disheveled Monkey Biters, aka the Edgewood Saxophone Trio (Jeff Crompton, Ben Davis, and Bill Nittler). Rev. Fred Lane and the Disheveled Monkey Biters play The Standard on Friday, March 27. 9 p.m.
Coded deeply within W8ing4UFOs’ DNA is a dense and secret history of Atlanta music. Singer and guitarist Bill Taft, cellist Brian Halloran, and percussionist Will Fratesi’s time together reaches all the back to Cabbagetown in the early ‘90s, sharing stages with Southern firebrand Benjamin in the band Smoke. Producer, songwriter, and keyboard player Billy Fields is like the angel Virgil of Atlanta music, leading the way out of darkness into the light. His resume boasts a lifetime spent playing music with a variety of acts such as Follow For Now, Seek, Upstream, Lust, Arrested Development, Dionne Farris, and H.R. of Bad Brains’ Human Rights outfit. Alongside guitar player Sean Dunn of Athens’ indie rock outfit Five-Eight and viola player and Radon Recordings co-owner Katie Butler, the group creates a mighty sound steeped in the kind of steel-stringed anti-gospel defiance that can only be forged in the forgotten underbelly of the Southern Piedmont. W8ing4UFOs plays two shows at The Pilot Light — Friday, March 27 at 9 p.m., and Saturday, March 28 at 3 p.m.
Dust-To-Digital co-owner Lance Ledbetter joins Nathan Salsburg, curator of the Alan Lomax Archive, for a listening session and discussion of selected artists, repertoires, and site-specific musical communities, including archival recordings from Ledbetter’s nonprofit organization Music Memory. At Boyd’s Jig & Reel. Sunday, March 29. 2-3 p.m.
For decades, Tim Cappello served as a sideman and multi-instrumentalist sharing stages, recording, and acting with a laundry list of celebrities, including Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Billy Crystal, Carly Simon, Gregory Hines, and more. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music with renowned improv jazz pianist and instructor Lennie Tristano. His early ’80s shock-rock band the Ken Dolls were banned from playing Manhattan’s famed CBGB punk dive due to the softcore porno flicks he created to accompany their live shows.
Cappello’s life and musical career are the stuff of legend, yet everything he’s accomplished pales in comparison to the notoriety he gained from the mere 12 seconds of screen time that he landed in director Joel Schumacher’s 1987 teen-angst vampire classic The Lost Boys. With his pro-wrestler physique, wailing saxophone and a pelvic thrust that registers on the Richter scale, Cappello is a pop culture icon known to most as the real Sexy Sax Man.
Since releasing his 2018 debut CD, Blood on the Reed, Cappello has been touring the country as a one-man act. At 64 years old, it’s his first real endeavor taking the stage as the star of the show. Along the way, he’s encountered an overwhelming response from audiences, surpassing anything he could have possibly anticipated.
“No one seemed to care about me when I was their age,” Cappello says. “Then, no one gave a shit about me when I was their father’s age. But now that I’m their grandfather’s age, I’m meeting all of these young people that have tattoos of me,” he laughs. “Since I’ve been out on the road, I must have met 150 people who have a tattoo of me on their bodies.” Continue reading at Flagpole.
Over the last three years, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Kristen Englenz has spent much of her time traveling back and forth between Nashville and Atlanta, although she still calls Atlanta home. On Friday, March 6, she returned to the Eddie’s Attic stage to play the release show for her proper debut album ingénue — and yes, that’s ingénue with a lowercase i.
“I thought it was more visually pleasing, interesting, and balanced,” Englenz says. “However, I have found that most people are capitalizing it anyways, so I may have to get over that.”
The album is the follow-up to Englenz’s 2015 The Extent of Play EP, and was recorded by Ken Coomer of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo fame at Cartoon Moon Studios in Nashville. As the story goes, Englenz had been enlisted to sing back-up on Decatur-based songwriter Mike Killeen’s album Ghost, which Coomer happened to be recording and producing. When Coomer heard Englenz’s parts, he approached her to produce ingénue. Coomer also plays drums and percussion throughout the album, and one early single, “Pray for Rain,” features the golden voices of the Blind Boys of Alabama singing as well. Continue reading at CL.
In the secret history of ska, rocksteady, bluebeat, and reggae music, few names carry such bedrock mystique as Monty Neysmith. In the fall of 1965, he moved from his home near Kingston, Jamaica to the U.K. to study law at Lincoln’s College London. But rather than sticking with the curriculum, he fell in with his cousin Roy Ellis and a band called the Bees, playing American soul and R&B hits by the likes of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. He bought a Vox organ, and what was supposed to be just a weekend gig playing with the Bees turned into an every-night affair. After a few lineup changes, and a one-off gig in a Jamaican club, everything changed.
“We used to play songs like “My Girl” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” But for the gig at the Jamaican club we added in a couple of Skatalites songs,” Neysmtih says. “Roy blew them on the trombone, and I remember doing a few vocal songs as well. When we finished the first one the place went wild. Finished the second one: Wilder. The guy who ran the club was named Charlie, and he said, “Why don’t you guys play more ska, man?”
Over time, ska became an increasingly bigger part of the Bees’ repertoire, which landed them on the road backing up the legendary Prince Buster, and an honest-to-goodness hit backing Eddy Grant of the Equals (and later of “Electric Avenue” fame) for the 1967 single, “Train Tour To Rainbow City.”
It was Grant who prompted the group to change its name to the Pyramids. Later, to work around contractual obligations, they spelled the name backwards, and gave it a twist to roll off the tongue with a little more ease — Symarip. Skinhead Moonstomp was another alias as well, which culminated in the 1969 underground classic LP that captures a day in the life of working class London.
While the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who were ascending to pop greatness in the U.K., Symarip literally brought boots to the dancefloor, as the city’s skinhead subculture rallied to the tune of Neysmith’s clarion call: “I want all you skinheads to get up on your feet. Put your braces together and your boots on your feet, and give me some of that old moonstompin.’”
It was a cultural mashup of the times — the same year that astronaut Neil Armstrong left that first dusty boot print on the moon, Neysmith and Co. were commanding audiences to scuff up dancehall floors with songs such as the oompah-laced “Skinhead Jamboree,” the breezy “Skinhead Girl,” and a swinging version of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
Despite the good natured and celebratory vibe of the music, semantics in the post-Geraldo Rivera world of tabloid journalism have aligned the term “skinhead” with right-wing hooligans. But this corrupt definition of the music, scene, and culture could not be further from the ethics of the community that rallied around Symarip’s shows.
“I have to explain it to people everywhere — in America, in Jamaica — whenever they hear ‘Skinhead Girl’ or ‘Skinhead Moonstomp,’ they start asking,” Neysmith says. “I say listen, you have to understand that the skinheads you hear about are false skinheads. They are bone heads who just stole the style. Real skinheads love Jamaican culture and they love Jamaican music. It was the real skinheads — the working class — who kept Jamaican music alive for all these years. It’s just a culture and a way of life,” he goes on to say. “It’s much bigger now than it was when we made the Skinhead Moonstomp record. For example, last year and the year before I played at a concert called “The Great Skinhead Reunion” in Brighton. Skinheads from Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the UK, and all over the world came for the whole weekend. These are authentic, diehard fans. Most of them dress the part: a lot of boots, tattoos, low haircuts, the girls come out with their curls. Nobody is there to start fights. They’re there for the music — Jamaican music, Northern soul music, from Northern England and all that. I love the skins, man. They’ve kept me alive!”
Over the years, Neysmith has continued performing under various names such as Zubaba, which landed a part in Sidney Poitier’s 1973 film, titled A Warm December. More recently Neysmith has continued performing with an on-going version of the original group that’s now dubbed Symarip Pyramids featuring Neysmith along with original members Michael Thomas and Frank Pitter. Since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Neysmith has called Atlanta home, where he continues writing and performing under the name Monty Montgomery.
On February 28, Neysmith headlines the 2020 Winter Weekender festival at the Earl. He’ll be joined on stage by a coterie of Atlanta musicians including guitar player Rob Kincheloe, drummer Michael Griffeth, and members of the Southern Ska Syndicate including bass player Jay Wallace, guitar player Lester Dragstedt, tenor saxophonist Brett Rakestraw, trombone player Andy Hawley, trumpet player, Chad Paulin, and keyboard player Billy Fields.
The group is performing the album Skinhead Moonstomp start to finish, along with a few solo numbers and a new Symarip Pyramids song, titled “War On Mars.” And when he delivers the line, “Martians are trying to steal our ska,” he pushes the music and the culture one boot print further, to the moon and beyond.
In the fall of 1969, Larry Ochs was bouncing between majors at the University of Pennsylvania, while working as a college radio DJ at 88.5 FM/WXPN. “I was a rock guy back then, I liked Jimi Hendrix,” he says. “The station had an incredible jazz collection but at the time I didn’t know much about jazz.”
One afternoon, word spread that a ‘pretty far out band’ was playing in a decommissioned church not far from WXPN’s studio. As Ochs recalls, most of the staff was going to the show, so he went too.
What he encountered there was none other than the Sun Ra Arkestra. The ceiling was so low, he remembers, that the performers couldn’t stand all the way up without bumping their heads.
“All that power was happening in this tiny church basement,” he says. “Being there, witnessing that performance really changed my life. I didn’t get what the hell was going on, but I sure wanted to go back. There were dancers running through the crowd because there was no room for them on stage,” he adds. “The whole experience made the world move under my feet.” Read the full feature story at The Chattanooga Pulse.
One of the more popular numbers from Athens rapper Squalle’s repertoire is a song called “Til We Fall.” For the artist born Torrance Wilcher, and raised in the Rolling Ridge and Pauldoe neighborhoods, the song is a hardcore statement of purpose.
“I’ve been on my mission from my birth,” Squalle rhymes. “My ambition I would like to give to the Earth/ And since you’re Mother Earth, you can share it with the world/ I wanna be the truth that our boys and our girls see/ I learned I was created from the dirt, so I gotta show these trees where they started from first.”
Squalle’s words are a community rallying cry—a decree to set an example by always remembering where you came from and never forgetting where you want to go. “Til We Fall” is one of 12 songs featured on a new compilation LP titled Classic City Wax, Vol. 1. The record is a survey of Athens’ brightest hip-hop artists, from Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Linqua Franqa to rising artists LG, Motorhead 2x, Son Zoo, LB, Kxng Blanco, DK, Cassie Chantel, The YOD, Caulfield and elder statesman Ishues. Continue reading at Flagpole Magazine.
“The very last thing the great Polish composer Henryk Górecki said to me was, “I hope one day I will understand how music works.” And that’s been inscribed in my inner being. If Henryk — one of the most incredibly musical people on the planet — didn’t understand how it works, I don’t think anybody could. He had the presence of mind and the humility to say he didn’t understand it. And he confirmed what I feel. How does it work? It’s a mystery that I love to explore every day of my life.” — David Harrington
Since 2012, Soul Food Cypher has convened on the fourth Sunday of each month to showcase the positive and constructive role that rap music can play in shaping daily life. By concentrating on expanding consciousness through the craft and ingenuity of freestyle rap and spoken language, SFC builds structure by facilitating regular cyphers (a group of freestyle rappers rhyming in a cyclical motion, following each other’s lead) that foster creativity and a sense of camaraderie within the city’s underground hip-hop scene.
“Our aim is to provide Atlanta’s lyricist community with a safe and nurturing environment where their voices and artistry can grow,” says SFC’s executive director Alexander Acosta. “We look to solidify the art of freestyling as a genuine aesthetic to the wider artistic community and carry this rich tradition to the next generation.” Continue reading at Creative Loafing.
Love Tractor and Oh-OK are two bands inextricably linked by time and space—meaning, of course, that they both played hands-on roles in shaping Athens’ hallowed alternative rock scene at the dawn of the 1980s. Both groups shared practice spaces and stages and even brandished the mark of Atlanta’s DB Recs alongside the B-52s, Pylon and the Method Actors. But despite coming of age amid the same college town music scene, stylistically speaking, their sounds could not be more disparate.