A great weekend of Athens music 24 years ago


Leafing through the mid-1991 volume of The Athens NEWS, I stumbled upon the "What's Happening" events calendar for May 23 of that year, the weekend before Memorial Day. What struck me about the calendar was the number of iconic Athens, state and national bands that were playing at uptown music venues that weekend.

They included:

• Blue Mayhem playing at O'hooley's. They were a power blues trio that featured lead guitarist Steve Eagon and bass player Jack Sowers, an OU grad who was a founding member of one of the best Athens bands of the late 1980s, Rhythm Method. O'hooley's was Athens' first brewpub, founded and owned by the late Jimmy Prouty. It eventually became Jackie O's Brewery under new ownership.

• The Crunch at the Dugout. This was the basement bar where Ski's Teases & Collectibles is now located, on North Court Street just across from Dale's BP. The Crunch, in a promotion for a reunion show several years ago in Powell, Ohio, was advertised as "Athens Ohio's best band of the '80s and '90s." Among others, The Crunch featured guitarist extraordinaire Bill Dutcher and front-man lead singer Paul Newman, though not the one from "Cool Hand Luke."

• The annual comedy showcase by OU journalism professor, the late Mel Helitzer, was scheduled at the Front Room in OU's old Baker Center. Every academic quarter, Mel gave a final exam for students in his comedy-writing class, where they'd have to do a comedy routine in public.

• Southern Culture on the Skids was playing a show at O'hooley's. This great Southern-trash rockabilly band, aka SCOTS, had an international reputation and was quite a coup for O'hooley's. For several years, I participated in an Internet mailing list that focused on alternative country music. One of our most bitter arguments involved the all-important question of whether SCOTS was making fun of Southern culture, white working-class people and country music, or being self-deprecating and respectful toward these things. For the life of me, I can't remember which side I was on.

• ADR - full name, Appalachian Death Ride - was playing the Union. In my early years in Athens (my "second coming"), ADR played frequently around town, though I could have sworn they were already active when I arrived in '86. However, Allmusic.com's bio insists ADR didn't form till 1989. Whatever the case, they were a dynamic, hard-rock band, in the vein of Pearl Jam, Nirvana or New Bomb Turks. Chris Biester, ADR's front man, still runs the open stage at Casa Cantina every Wednesday, and has been a fixture on the local music scene since the '80s.

• Bob Montalto, a popular (and talented) local jazz pianist, was playing at the fine-dining restaurant, Seven Sauces, then on North Court Street, and the late Richard Syracuse had his regular piano-playing gig at Lucky's (which at the time I believe occupied what's now the Red Brick Tavern, downstairs from The Athens NEWS office (where I'm typing right now). Tragically, Richard passed away Nov. 21 after being struck by a car in front of his home west of Athens. At the time, he had a regular gig at the Ohio University Inn.

• The Voodoo Birds. This lively, horn-driven band featured Roman Warmke (who became the bass-playing anchor of the Royales), along with various other Athens area musicians of note. Roman was kind enough to provide me with the roster, which in addition to him included Thaddeus Semsel, Ben Repp (guitar, singer), KC Waltz (singer), Chris Aubell (drums), Jonathan Hunt (keys), Joe Walker (trumpet), Al Hall (trombone), Eric Leighton, aka Junebug (trombone), Rob Quebman (sax), and Doug Adkins (Conga). Most of them came from Athens or had Athens connections.

I remember these guys because some of them participated in a pick-up flag-football game that I participated in every Sunday in the early '90s. Some of the band members, including Warmke, also used to deliver pizzas for the late great Late Night Pizza in Athens.

"Exhuming the Morgue" is a new feature where we take advantage of the nearly 38 years of local newspaper history that's contained in our bound volumes of back issues of The Athens NEWS.

Though incomplete in the early years, our bound volumes are a treasure trove of modern Athens city and county history. The volumes, usually bound into two or three books per year, contain complete issues of The Athens NEWS, spanning the time between the paper's launch as The Athens "A" News in 1977 to the present.

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