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Monday, September 9, 2013

Honky tonk hero Chris Scruggs keeps traditional twang alive

Posted By on Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 6:07 PM

Scruggs.jpg
  • Courtesy Chris Scruggs
In spite of its rather apocryphal origins, the term "honky tonk" has been appropriated to describe a very specific subgenre of county music. Originally a piano based-style of dance music in the 1920s, these days honky tonk tends to be associated with the music of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Floyd Tillman, and a slew of other classic country artists whose heydays began in the late 1940s and continue today. While the unique combination of sounds - rhythmic guitar and bass, fiddle, and steel guitar (no drums!), may not be prevalent in the contemporary country you hear on the radio, there are a number of working musicians who believe in keeping the sound alive and fresh.

Nashville based artist Chris Scruggs, who brings a rich heritage into his own work (his mother is songwriter Gail Davies, his father is Gary Scruggs, and his grandfather is legendary banjo master Earl Scruggs), believes that the honky tonk era is one of the most essential times in country music history. "My personal motivation is to make sure that people who come to Nashville have a chance to hear this kind of music. New Orleans has Preservation Hall, Texas has the Western Swing dance halls, Nashville needs this honky tonk thing. It was the 'mainstream country' of the day', and like bluegrass, it should be preserved."

Scruggs believes that the honky tonk era is one of the most essential times in country music history. "My personal motivation is to make sure that people who come to Nashville have a chance to hear this kind of music," he says. "New Orleans has Preservation Hall, Texas has the Western Swing dance halls, and Nashville needs this honky tonk thing. It was the mainstream country of the day, and like bluegrass, it should be preserved."

Joining Scruggs at the upcoming Kavarna show on Tues., Sept. 10 is guitar master Kenny Vaughn, who has worked with many great artists such as Marty Stuart, Wanda Jackson, and Porter Wagoner. Also appearing is steel guitarist Pete Finney, Billy Contreras on fiddle, bassist Jared Manzo, and rhythm guitarist Wes L'Anglois.

"I don't tour with this band, so the Kavarna gig is really special," says Scruggs. "This music is from an overlooked era in country, post-World War II and pre-Elvis Presley. It's a nice period, a honky tonk hillbilly thing."

Finding gigs in Atlanta has been a challenge for folks like Scruggs, whose music may cater to a very specific audience. In recent times, Decatur coffee shop Kavarna has been the go-to venue for such esoteric performances, in many ways thanks to the efforts of Greg Germani and his friends. He recalls, "I first stepped into the role of promoter when my friend Deke Dickerson was passing through Atlanta and hadn't been able land a gig at any of the regular clubs for reasons I can't understand. Some friends and I pooled a little money and got him a show at Decatur CD, where we supplemented our contributions by passing the hat. It worked out very well, and the next time he came through town, we did the same thing except we set up the show at Kavarna, since it's a comfortable place to visit and they sell beer and wine."

The success of the Dickerson shows motivated Germani and his honky tonk-loving cohorts to do more. "After doing a couple shows with Deke, I contacted Chris Scruggs via Facebook about coming down from Nashville to do a steel guitar show in Atlanta, and he was very receptive to the idea, and we ended up getting a very good response. Kavarna's been really good to work with. They don't charge to use their space. They just have an expectation that you'll be able to bring out a crowd of at least 50 people, and so far, that hasn't been a problem with any of the shows we've put on there."

Scruggs concurs on positivity of the Kavarna experience. "The crowd was great. We had a full house, and it's a very nice room. It was like doing a house concert, but in a public place."

Germani sums up just how unique these events are. "I know I'm biased, but these shows have offered country and roots music lovers the chance to see a performer like Deke who would have otherwise had to skip Atlanta. And in the case of guys like Chris Scruggs and Steel Guitar Hall of Fame member Kayton Roberts, I eventually realized that they were not likely to ever come down for a show unless my friends and I stepped forth and tried to make it happen."

Chris Scruggs & the Air Castle All-Stars, ft. Kenny Vaughn play Kavarna on Tues., Sept. 10. $15. 8 p.m.

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