Now Playing: Black Atticus

Though he’s still on the sunny side of 40, Black Atticus is already a venerated elder statesman on Knoxville’s hip-hop scene. One of the founding members of seminal local hip-hop outfit the Fluid Engineerz in the early 200s, Atticus went on to the short-lived but promising Loose Leaf, then spent a few years in the popular Knox rap/rock crossover act the Theorizt, which he fronted along with fellow emcees J-Bush and Courageous.

Strange to consider, then, that his upcoming project, “The Black Doom Mixtape,” will be his first proper solo release, a tribute to, and reimagining of the work of MF Doom, an underground British hip-hop artist with a penchant for theatrics and clever wordplay.

“He’s one of my favorites, a true all-around hip-hop artist,” Atticus enthuses. “He has some of the most intricate rhyme schemes ever. He’s sort of the mad scientist of hip hop.

“I’m taking his music and doing all kinds of things with it, taking it in directions I’ve never heard anyone else try. My motivation was to do a southern voice over an MF Doom projection.”

The latter observation is key; because for all of his diverse influences — from an early love of the Fresh Prince and the Beasties Boys, to his later delvings into the realms of spoken word and slam poetry — Atticus self-identifies as a southern hip-hop artist. It couldn’t be any other way.

“I appreciate so much hip hop,” he says. “But no matter how much I draw from other sounds, my story is a southern story. That’s the root of my voice, and I can’t leave that behind. There’s a pressure sometimes to do things that are trendy or more popular. But I believe that real recognizes real. I can’t fake it. I have to be real.”

In a nutshell, Atticus’ hip hop story began when he was still an East Knoxville teenager back in the 1990s, trading off parts on a Method Man song with his best friend, and teaching himself to free-style during long walks home from Austin East High School.

“There weren’t a lot of people freestyling in Knoxville back then,” he says with a chuckle. “I’d just do it with myself as I walked home. I didn’t realize in those moments that it was something that one day, I’d be doing all the time.”

But Atticus’ cultural education truly went into overdrive when he went off to school at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala. in the late 1990s. At Miles, he sampled a broad selection of liberal arts classes — “I had some idea when I went off to college that I wanted to learn to do these things, ‘how can I learn to push words around?’ — and was introduced by friends to the town’s vibrant slam-poetry and spoken word scene.

Atticus proved to be a quick study. In quick succession, he won the college’s Apollo Night talent show performing one of his early works “Step Into the Land” — even though friends had admonished him that “poems never win” at Apollo Night — and then got expelled from school for publishing a poem that was critical of Miles’ administrative policies.

“I guess that got someone charged up,” he says. “It got me kicked out of school. It also got me addicted to poetry.”

Unbowed, Atticus came home to Knoxville, teamed with fellow Fluid Engineerz founder Franke Caver, aka Dynamic. Though the two men were close in age, Caver/Dynamic was a huge influence on Atticus, exposing him to a new world of underground hip-hop artists. “Dynamic remembered everyone; he was so hungry for the culture,” Atticus says.

“Some of the stuff he played me was like Latin to me at first,” he continues. “It was a different type of hip hop, not really dance-y or poppy, but with excellent lyrics. I’d never heard lyricists use words that well, or use meter that intricately.

“I think Dynamic saw something in me, and that’s why he introduced me to the things he did. He has great vision.”

Now a de facto dean of Knoxville hip-hop, Black Atticus is one of the founding members, along with J-Bush and others, of the Good Guy Collective, a coalition of local emcees, producers, poets and enthusiasts banded together to support hip hop in Knoxville. Several of Atticus’ Good Guy brethren, including former Theorizt DJ Wigs, are taking part in the “Doom” mixtape.

Atticus is also working with several other Collective members on a documentary about hip hop in Knoxville. “There are a lot of important underground southern hip-hop artists who have come out of Tennessee,” he says. “I don’t think people realize how important a role the state played in southern hip hop.”

For more information on Black Atticus and “The Doom Mixtape,” see the Black Atticus Facebook page. Black Atticus will open for The Palmer Squares on Wednesday July 27 at Scruffy City Hall.

Now Playing: Trae Pierce and the T-Stone Band

Few outfits have rocked Preservation Pub as ferociously, or as authentically as Trae Pierce and his T-Stone Band. Their performance at the Pub a couple months back was a cathartic, sweat-drenched funk-rock maelstrom, deadlocked bassmeister Pierce leading the charge with his frenetic four-string chops and eruptive stage presence.

But for all of his varied influences and his many high-profile bass gigs through the years — the well-traveled Pierce has backed up the likes of The Ohio Players and Dr. Hook and the Blind Boys of Alabama (with whom he won the first of four Grammies), to name just a few — Pierce says his band’s unparalleled live energy is best attributed to his early days, playing with a church band in his hometown when he was scarcely just a ‘tween.

“Our vibe, it’s like an old camp meeting, gospel-style,” Pierce says, during a recent phone interview. “If you went to a gospel concert back in the day, that’s what it was like, people making noise and having fun. And I come from a gospel background.

“People may not get that when they see us, but that’s what I have in mind. We’re having a camp meeting.”

It goes without saying, then that Pierce got an early start on his impressive and ever-surprising career as a top-flight touring and session musician and, now, leader of his own band. Learning piano, and then guitar before taking up the bass, Pierce was only 11 years old when the manager of The Ohio Players happened to catch his church band open a local show for a national touring act.

Pretty soon, Pierce was playing fill-in gigs with the Players, flying in and out of town on weekends so he could be back at school on Monday mornings. After a couple of years of intermittent gigging, Pierce made a fateful decision: “I was 13 years old, and I decided to hit the road, full-time,” he says. “I haven’t come back since.”

While he was able to earn a spot on The Ohio Players roster years before he was old enough to earn a learner’s permit on the strength of his stellar bass chops, Pierce wasn’t content with being just another gonzo player. “The greats always told me, ‘there are a lot of good players out there,'” he says. “‘So what can you do to make yourself different?'”

Inspired by Peter Frampton, the ’70s blues-rock guitar ace who made the so-called “talk box” effect a standard part of the six-string lexicon with his platinum-selling “Frampton Comes Alive,” Pierce pioneered a talk-box style for bass guitar. And he is perhaps the first (only?) four-stringer to take up a slide and coax trad-blues and pedal steel licks out of the instrument.

“I was doing the talk box at home for a long time, and never had a chance to play it out,” Pierce says. “Then I finally did it live, and people were like, ‘I’ve never heard that before!’ And it caught on.”

Pierce founded the T-Stone band in 2013, as an outlet for his own creative muse. The band includes players whom Pierce met over the years of touring and recording with other artists — with the exception of one, that is, that exception being singer/rapper Ramon “Rae” Pierce, Trae’s son.

Trae says the younger Pierce, a child of the hip-hop era, is a key to the T-Stone band’s verve and authenticity. “To mix hip-hop and funk convincingly, you have to have a real rock player,” he says. “That’s our guitar player, Andrew Beckner. And you have to have a real hip-hop artist. That’s Rae. He’s also a big part of our live show. His energy really comes through on stage.

“And me? I’m in the middle. I’m the funkateer. And I take all the people I’ve played with over the years and put it all in a jar. And when i pour it out, it comes out T-Stone.”

Trae Stone and the T-Stone band will play Scruffy City Hall Friday, July 15 at 11 p.m.

Zeus Speaks

unnamedZeus is a djinni. He dispenses worldly–and otherworldly–wisdom from his hovel ‘neath the stairs of Preservation Pub.

How should we view Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union?

Z: I think everything that’s happening has been prophesied. Our is not to stress over it, but to observe and stay out of the way. Focus on the Heavenly Father, and on healing Mother Earth. And respect other people for who they are, and not cast judgment.

How can we heal the earth?

Z: Less drilling and more planning. We need to clean our oceans and clean our air.

The FBI spoke with Hillary Clinton the other day. What’s going on there?

Z: We don’t have time to be distracted by these little details. We need to focus on the bigger picture. Our job is not to feed into the negativity. Our job is to receive, reflect and transform. Our job is to focus on those who need help, and on those who will listen.

When we feed into the negative, it destroys the light within ourselves.

What are your thoughts about the Orlando massacre shooter?

Z: It’s not our job to carry out hate missions. It destroys the very core of love.

The U.S. soccer team got to the finals of the Copa America, but then lost badly. What’s the future of U.S. soccer?

Z: Everyone has a time to win and a time to lose. They’re getting better.

But we’ve got a lot of issues going on right now. The presidential race. Terrorism. Police brutality. Homelessness. Racis. We should be focusing on these things instead of on kicking a ball through a goal.

Zeus’ quote of the month: “When you meditate, meditate on water. Visualize water. Water cleans the spirit, calms it, and washes away the burdens and troubles of the present. Look instead of looking down.”

Now Playing: Barstool Romeos, unplugged

Barstool Romeos frontman Andy Pirkle looks like he scored his AARP card during the first Bush presidential administration, but the truth is that he’s only 15 years old.

Okay, no. That’s a lie. The real truth is that Pirkle is… well, it’s really none of your damned business how old he is. But Pirkle does actively cultivate his grizzled appearance, not the least by farming that impossibly long and tangled beard, streaked with grey — a crazy kudzu patch of facial hair that, along with his ubiquitous well-worn overalls and straw hat, makes him look a bit like the Dukes of Hazzard’s Uncle Jesse after a month-long acid bender.

It also adds an extra whiff of authenticity to Pirkle’s southern-fried bar band the Barstool Romeos, which he founded some six years ago along with guitarist Mike McGill. Not that the band needed any extra cred, thank you. Nope, the Romeos’ brand of alternately winsome and shit-kicking trad-country/rockabilly/southern rock would come across as the real deal even if Pirkle didn’t look like a guy who’s been sleeping it off in the melon patch.

Before he was the honky-tonkin’ idol of millions, Pirkle was frontman for a handful of local punk-rock outfits. The country thing was always there, though, an integral part of his East Tennessee upbringing. “I’ve been steeped in country and hillbilly music all my life,” he says. “I found punk rock when I was a teenager, but I’ve been a country fan even longer.

“There’s a long history of country music fans in my family. I loved all the old outlaw country stars, and some of the really old stuff, too, stuff like Lefty Frizzell. So when we started playing country, it was easy to come back to.”

The Barstool Romeos actually began life as Andy Pirkle and the Axis of Evil, finally changing the name a few years ago, mainly at Pirkle’s insistence. Shortly after the name change, the Romeos recorded their first release, “Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal,” a 13-song platter full of booze, blooz, and the occasional tinge of cry-in-your-beer regret.

Local blogger KnoxvilleUrbanGuy described the songs on TSASA as “real country music looking you straight in the eye without blinking.” News Sentinel scribe Wayne Bledsoe said that co-leaders Pirkle and McGill “harmonize like angels who fell out of heaven into a bucket of barbecue.”

Sa-lute! Or so they used to say on “Hee-Haw,” the old  ’70s-era cornpone and country music television program, a show on which Pirkle and McGill would have been fitting featured guests, had they only been born a few decades earlier.

Ordinarily a humble fellow, Pirkle knows there’s something extra-special about his current outfit. “In most of the bands I played with before, we’d play a show, and the band would be just background noise,” he says. “But when the Barstool Romeos play, about half the heads in the bar snap up and burn around.

“We get ’em up and dancing, every time. I’ve never seen a bar band that had this effect on a crowd. And I just keep getting more comfortable with these guys up on stage as time goes on.”

In the meantime, the Romeos are long overdue for a second studio effort, and Pirkle says the band will begin recording record #2 in July. Pirkle won’t say much about the next release, other than “we’re staying true to what we were on the first album… but people will see us growing as musicians.”

As for the title of the next album, and other important deets: “I’m keeping my cards cars close to my vest. I’ll just say that we’ve had two years to play this album, and I’m feeling great about it.”

Andy Pirkle and Mike McGill of the Barstool Romeos will play an acoustic set Saturday, June 25 in Scruffy City Hall along with the Baryard Stompers.

Now Playing: Ghostbusters Day Festivities @ Scruffy City Hall


ghostbustingAfter a 27-year absence, the Ghostbusters movie franchise is at last returning to the big screen on July 15 with a new, rebooted version, featuring a new all-female onscreen ghostbusting team plus some guest spots from original GB survivors Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson. And in Knoxville, homegrown movie house titans Regal Entertainment Group will host the local premiere, and also serve as co-sponsors of Ghostbusters Day, a (slightly misnamed) two-day slate of ghostly events and activities surrounding the premiere at downtown’s Regal Riviera.

Taking a lead role, and also co-sponsoring the event is real-life local ghostbuster J-Adam Smith, who is also the proprietor of Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours. If you’re a downtown regular, you may recognize Smith with his shaven pate and exquisitely manicured goatee. Even more likely, you recognize his car, a lavish black-on-purple hearse, streaked with green and imprinted with the HKGT logo.

Dubbed by some “The Paranormal Historian,” Smith has made appearances on a variety of supernatural-themed national cable and network television programs, and been interviewed in various magazines. He’s also an unabashed Ghostbusters fan boy.

“I loved the Ghostbusters movies, and I’m so excited after waiting 27 years,” Smith says. “And I wanted to create something memorable around the premiere. I’d like people to talk about it some day: “Do you remember the time Ecto-1 was led by a phalanx of police cars down Gay Street?'”

The latter being a reference to one of the Ghostbusters Day events, involving a replica of the original Ghostbusters’ Ecto-1, the 1959 Cadillac ambulance that original GBs Peter and Raymond and Egon and Winston used to haul their proton packs and ecto goggles (not to mention a roof-mounted proton cannon) around to sundry supernatural emergencies.

The Friday afternoon processional featuring Ecto-1 will be one of many highlights of the weekend, and superfans who want the full-monty Ghostbusters premiere experience can log onto for ticket package information. Smith warns that many of the perks — such as VIP seating at the movie premiere, and a spot on the Saturday evening Paranormal Adventure Tour — are in short supply, so make your reservations early.

The weekend will include a variety of special events at our very own Scruffy City Hall, as well, including a movie after-party 11 p.m. Friday, and a nearly-full day of Saturday activities including a Ghostbusters trivia contest, a Harold Ramis tribute (Ramis being the late, lamented star who played Egon Spengler in the original films), a Ghost Hunting 101 lecture/panel discussion featuring a handful of visiting paranormal experts, and a special viewing of the Knoxville-based documentary film “Historic Haunting: A paranormal study of Ramsey House.”

Also available for those who purchase the premium-level Ghostbusters Day event packages (again, see the website for deets) is the Saturday evening paranormal adventure tour, a spook-filled sojourn through various local paranormal hot spots — of which, Smith says, Knoxville has more than its allotted share.

“Knoxville is one big Ground Zero for paranormal activity,” says Smith, whose daily Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours trips visit a variety of area graveyards, battle grounds, and other ghostly hangouts. “I mean, the city has dead soldiers walking around the streets. There’s an 80 to 85 percent chance of getting activity .”

Smith says his HKGT guests regularly experience first-hand the likes of EVPs (electronic voice phenomena — creepy, unexplained voices that turn up on audio recordings), orbs and floating EMFs (electromagnetic fields, believed to a be a sign of ghostly activity).

And for the skeptics among us, Smith says his tours are solidly rooted in real historic events; so even if you don’t believe in things that go bump in the night, you’ll find yourself learning a fascinating fact or three about Knoxville, and some of its more, shall-we-say unusual historical events.

“It makes you feel like you’re a Ghostbuster,” Smith chuckles. “It’s always a fun time.”


Ghostbusters Day events at Scruffy City Hall will include the movie after-party Friday night at 11 p.m., and a full slate of events, including the ghost hunters panel, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 16.