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Go Johnny, Go! 

Roquemore's gentle humor and persistence pays off

"When I was playing music around here in the late '60s, the place to play in Decatur was a place called Uncle Charlie's Attic," says folk singer/songwriter/humorist Johnny Roquemore. "It was one of the few places you [could] go and actually get booked. Now, all these years later, I'm playing Eddie's Attic, so how much has changed?"

But Roquemore (pronounced ROCK-more, and yes, that's his real name) has had plenty of adventures between his Attic gigs. "Back then, I was playing loud, loud rock 'n' roll. My whole ambition was to have an amp that was taller than me." After he realized that goal, he also realized that he had to lug that monster amp to gigs. "I decided that maybe I should be a folk musician."

At the same time, he also acted in productions at Academy Theater, Theater Atlanta, and the Alliance. "I was dating a girl at the time and she said, 'You've been in a couple of movies now and commercials, you oughta go to Hollywood.' So I did!" He and the girl hitchhiked to California in the summer of '72. He left his native Georgia home, intent to find fame and fortune with music and acting. Their relationship ended in Salt Lake City, but Roquemore continued on to L.A.

"There I am, in the middle of Los Angeles," he says. "I didn't know one thing, I didn't know anybody. I got a $7-a-night hotel room in the center of downtown. The next day, I'm walking around and a guy goes, 'Brother Roquemore, it's great to see you! Do you need a place to stay?' Turns out, it was a guy from Atlanta who owed me $75! He was on the street corner, preaching. He'd found God."

Roquemore quickly learned the gospel of life in L.A. "Here in Atlanta, everybody helped everybody, everybody knew everybody. Out there, man, they didn't care." But he persevered, landing an agent and falling in with the Laurel Canyon country-rock scene.

"I got a job at this cool place, the Great American Food and Beverage Company," he says. The restaurant was a haven for fledgling musicians. They'd take orders and also sing. "If you worked there, you had to perform, too. And it was a happening place. We could make a hundred dollars a night in tips and only work three days a week." His co-workers included Ronald Regan's activist daughter Patti Davis, Katey Sagal, Danny Elfman and, briefly, Peter Tork of the Monkees.

Acting jobs weren't that plentiful, but Roquemore developed his own style of music, adding good-natured humor to his roots-rock and bluegrass material. "Hey, you had to keep the customers entertained," he says. If the people were laughing, then the tips kept coming. "I watched so many singer/songwriters play such boring stuff. You just wonder why they can't write any better than that. Why can't they come up with something to make people laugh and have a good time?" He honed his style in the SoCal clubs, gathering a following and releasing a string of 11 well-received albums.

Probably his most infamous gig was a spot on TV's "The Gong Show" in the mid-'70s. "One of my big tricks at the restaurant was to play the 'William Tell Overture' on the harmonica. It went over like gangbusters every time. I said, 'Man, I can take that 'William Tell' to 'The Gong Show' and clean house.'" And he did. He won the contest and $500. Stints on Dr. Demento's radio show followed.

But being goofy wasn't the only thing that kept Roquemore's interest. He and his wife also trained and boarded horses in Malibu. "It was quite lucrative," he says, "and so much different than the entertainment industry."

After the death of his parents, Roquemore inherited the family farm in Mansfield, 50 miles south of Atlanta, and moved back to Georgia in May 2002. "We've been back three years now and it's like coming full circle," he says. One of the first places he played when he returned was, yep, Eddie's Attic. He returns there on Thurs., July 28, to celebrate the release of The Last Dirt Road, a new collection of his witty tunes. "In many ways, I'm starting over here, but I have 14 albums out now. So I'm a little wiser, I guess."

lee.smith@creativeloafing.com

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