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The Rock*A*Teens: An Oral History 

After a 12-year hiatus, the influential Cabbagetown rockers return

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SHAKE THE RUST: DuBois (from left) with Lopez, Hughes, and Joiner, who had to relearn many of the Rock*A*Teens songs after not playing them for more than a decade. - DUSTIN CHAMBERS
  • Dustin Chambers
  • SHAKE THE RUST: DuBois (from left) with Lopez, Hughes, and Joiner, who had to relearn many of the Rock*A*Teens songs after not playing them for more than a decade.

Henry Owings: In whatever romantic way, Cabbagetown was kind of like a working-class white ghetto. [It] was kind of scary, kind of strung out, and kind of dangerous. Underneath it all, in some weird Flannery O'Connor Southern Gothic way, it was beautiful.

Chris Lopez: There were a lot of drugs around that scene. Needless to say, some people passed away very close to me.

Kelly Hogan, the Rock*A*Teens guitarist, 1994-1997: Lopez had a band with Allen Page called the New Centurions. If Allen hadn't died, then the Rock*A*Teens wouldn't have existed. That's when Lopez started coming over and teaching me guitar right after [in the] spring of 1994.

Bill Taft, longtime Cabbagetown musician: Allen died right before our first [New Centurions] show. It was a drug overdose, heroin, I believe. I think he died in his car parked outside the house on Wylie Street. I was surprised, but others saw the foreshadowing. It was terrible.

Chris Lopez: Kelly's friends [in the Jody Grind] died in a car accident. She didn't have her band anymore. She didn't want to sing or be the front person in the band.

Chris Verene: The Rock*A*Teens came out of a void. It was out of a hole that needed to be filled.

Chris Lopez: Musically, what I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing. I was just doing my own thing at home.

Kelly Hogan: [Lopez's house at] 711 Wylie St. became the epicenter [for the Rock*A*Teens]. It was a little shotgun house. It had four bedrooms. We practiced in the back of the house. We had mattresses over the window and all around the walls so we wouldn't disturb the neighbors.

Justin Hughes, the Rock*A*Teens guitarist, 1994-present: Verene got me into the band. I didn't know Chris Lopez or Kelly. I was from Atlanta, but had been away [at college]. I was new to the city in a way. I got into a car accident on the way to my first practice. I didn't understand how the [Boulevard] tunnel worked and got hit.

David Barbe, Athens, Ga., producer: With a different person in the center, I don't think that personalities as diverse as Kelly, Chris Verene, and Justin could be in a band. Lopez was always the center of the orbit. He had real chemistry with each one of those band members.

Chris Lopez: I didn't want to be in a rock band. I wanted to get away from the standard rock setup. I was more interested in each of our personalities and what we can do. We were bound by our limitations and that was a good thing.

Kelly Hogan: None of us owned a bass. I was learning guitar chords from [Lopez]. We decided I would play [one string] almost like washtub bass on guitar. I got the biggest, thickest guitar string they make, a 54 gauge or something, and strung it. Then I skipped a space and put that same gauge string for the third string down. If you play one string, and you break it, you're kind of fucked!

Chris Lopez: I had this Epiphone Futura amp that has this insane reverb. You could play and, if you just crank up all of that reverb, there's shit happening that you're not doing sonically. ... I'm surprised it still works. We wouldn't have the band if it weren't for that amp. It has this specific sound.

Kelly Hogan: Verene came and said, "I have the name of the band. It came to me in a dream." I asked, "What is it?" He couldn't even say it and wrote it on this piece of paper. We unrolled this piece of paper and it said: The Rock*A*Teens.

In 1994, the Rock*A*Teens played their first show at Dottie's Food and Spirits, which later became Lenny's Bar, on Memorial Drive.

Kelly Stocks, Dottie's promoter, 1992-95: Chris Verene called me about the Rock*A*Teens. I had this following of bands. They knew I would take care of them. The downside was I didn't have a P.A. a lot of times. The upside was that a lot of places made you pay to play. You didn't have to do that [with me].

Chris Lopez: Everyone played at Dottie's. You could just start a band and call Kelly Stocks. ... It was just a working-class bar. There was country music on the jukebox. It was a dump. The stage was fucking tiny. Tiny, tiny, tiny. Four people on stage with a drum set would be crowded.

Chris Verene: Although we had low expectations, and although we were just having fun, everyone knew about our past bands. Everyone in it was from a fantastically broken-up thing.

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