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Diggin' up bones 

Former Atlantan Stevie T. finds a home

"Go west, young man." That old saying made a lot of sense to former Atlantan Stevie Tombstone.

After years of struggling in his hometown, Stevie has finally realized his dream in the musical mecca of Austin, Texas. It took two tries to find the magic, but everything finally came together.

"My first time living in Austin was pretty rough," says Stevie T. "But this time I have met a lot of good folks, and things have clicked. I was meant to come back. [Now] I'm doing a lot of session work, playing gigs with a few other guys, and making records."

As a younger, wilder man, exploring both post-punk and country music in the late '80s, Stevie led the popular Tombstones, one of Atlanta's most rocking bands. Their place in the local scene is legendary -- they appealed to both the dark heavy metal crowd and the burgeoning Redneck Underground.

Stevie recalls those days with a combined sense of fondness and loss. "I still do some of the old songs in my set, such as 'Till The Day I Die,' and 'Can't Go Home,' but after Will [Platt, former Tombstones bass player] passed away, I just got out of that loop. I still talk to [drummer] Pat Parker sometimes. As a matter of fact I sent him some royalty money recently. I think he was completely shocked."

Austin has proven to be a fertile ground for Stevie's musical growth. He sees significant differences between the Texas city and Atlanta.

"There is a much bigger market for Americana in Austin, and the music scene is tied more closely to the culture of the city," he says. "Things tend to be a lot more constant here. There is a lot going on, and I have been drawing inspiration from day-to-day life, and the culture. And the food."

It is ironic that on his new release, 7:30 a.m. (Saustex Media), Stevie surrounds himself with other musicians who also left Atlanta for greener musical pastures. Featured on the record are Alan and Karen Jo Vennes, formerly of the Delta Angels and current Arkansas residents who will be relocating to Austin soon; Katie Nott Blackwell, a fiddle player who was in several Atlanta bands; and drummer Kevin Wright, who has worked with Stevie on several projects. Helping on background vocals is Stevie's main squeeze, Molly Pitts, who fronted the Corvairs while living in Atlanta.

On first listen, 7:30 a.m. comes across as much more grounded and honest than Stevie's work with the Tombstones. His growth as a songwriter is easy to chart, as his recorded work has gradually become more mature, from the rowdy gothic darkness of 1988's Preachin', Prayin', Guitar Playin' EP through Second Hand Sin from 1999 and Acoustica in 2000.

"The Tombstones' songs were not reality based," says Stevie. "I was younger, and made stuff up to fill in a lack of life experience. We were coming from a punk rock background. Now I have learned that real life is a lot more scary than anything I can make up."

For the most part, though, life has been pretty good to Stevie of late. After years of trying to handle all his own business or dealing with difficult and untrustworthy music industry people, he finally feels comfortable handing over the reins: "I have a new manager, a publicist, and a label with decent distribution. They can handle all that stuff, and take the load off me."

Coming home to Atlanta may be bittersweet in some ways, but Stevie is prepared for the visit. While his solo acoustic appearance at Smith's will be a "Pre CD release party," he will have copies of 7:30 a.m. for sale.

"Once we officially release it, I will be back in the spring with the whole band," Stevie says. "Moving to Austin was the right thing to do, but I am looking forward to coming back and seeing everyone. I want to apologize for taking so long to finish this record."

james.kelly@creativeloafing.com

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