In the early '70s, the Hampton Grease Band was an utterly unclassifiable Atlanta musical phenomenon. The freewheeling band's shows were Dada spectacles that attracted a hardcore underground following. Music to Eat, Grease Band's 1971 double-album debut, remains a highly prized collector's item and cult-favorite masterpiece.
Grease Band guitarist Harold Kelling died this past May and, in tribute, original band members Glenn Phillips, Mike Holbrook and Jerry Fields, along with Jeff Calder and Bob Elsey of the Swimming Pool Q's, are set to perform the album in its entirety this Sat., Aug. 27.
"At its best, Music to Eat was the most original and advanced album ever made by a rock band from the South," says Calder, who will handle vocal duties for the show. "You have to remember that young people in this part of the country didn't join the '60s 'cultural revolution' until the early '70s." The HGB came along at the start of Atlanta's hippie era but were definitely not a hippie band. "They were not comforting like, say, the Allman Brothers or the Dead. The Grease Band was confrontational and funny. This appealed to people who disliked the smugness of the drug culture and wanted to push on to the next thing."
The early '70s were a healthy time for music in Atlanta, adds Phillips. "The most memorable thing about it was its embrace of individuality, and it certainly nurtured us. Personally, I remember the album as one of the many artifacts that reflect the importance of people deciding for themselves what they like, as opposed to being told.
"My reason for wanting to do the show was obviously to pay tribute to Harold, but also to help myself and others deal with his loss," explains Phillips, who penned a detailed history of the band for the now-out-of-print CD reissue of the album (the essay, along with previously unpublished band photos, is available at www.glennphillips.com). "We constantly pushed each other as guitarists and songwriters. The songs we were writing were born out of a complete disregard and freedom from any commercial considerations."
According to Phillips, Harold Kelling was the only one who could play an instrument when the Grease Band first started. "The band and its music were very much an unconscious celebration of life," he says. "This time around, the life we're celebrating is Harold's, and the motivation is conscious."
The Glenn Phillips Band and Hampton Grease Band Tribute play Red Light Cafe Sat., Aug. 27. 8:30 p.m.. Call for price. 553 Amsterdam Ave. 404-874-7828. www.redlightcafe.com.
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