SHADES BEHIND THE SHADOWS
Athens, Georgia, celebrated as “the Liverpool of the South” and the “Branson, Mo., of indie rock,” is the epicenter of college music. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed the city the "best college music town in the country" and the "alpha and omega of the college music scene."
Since the late 70s, Athens' musical loins have sired a litter of renowned bands, from the B-52's to R.E.M. and Widespread Panic. Less well known is the city's musical history that predates the emergence of these world-class artists in “America's hippest music scene.”
Pete McCommons, Editor and Publisher of the influential Athens weekly magazine Flagpole, wrote:
“Athens music is played out upon a palimpsest, each layer partially obscuring while drawing strength from those underlying. Yes, the legend is that bored, artistic, hip, cool kids in the late '70s made up a band (the B-52’s) to entertain themselves and their friends at parties in the rambling, decrepit old houses that sheltered the eccentric dropouts who became "townies" to distinguish them from the "gownies" on campus. That band flashed quickly to NYC, paving the way for all that followed, showing that all you have to do is make it up and it will work. So many followed that Athens music is still not only going strong, it has a history. It has living legends and sacred spots. They haunt the new performers, judging them from the shadows, in turn haunted by the youth who ever spring forth, banishing the ghosts by the glare of the spotlight. There are other shades back behind those in the shadows, for Athens was a music town in the '70s and in the '60s and the '50s and beyond.”
"Present at the Creation: Ravenstone & the Birth of Athens Rock" by Charles Burel, takes us back to the early 70s in this mecca for cool to provide a rare glimpse at some of the “shades back behind those in the shadows” and one band’s unique place in the city's musical history.
Present At The Creation:
Ravenstone & the Birth of Athens Rock
Ravenstone, a group that has rightly been called “one of the godfathers of Athens rock,” and “an early link in the internationally acclaimed Athens music scene,” was arguably the premier rock band bouncing across the city’s nascent music landscape of the early 70s. The group was formed when three of its members met in the University of Georgia’s drama school (the “Seinfield” actor Wayne Knight was a classmate) and discovered their mutual love for hip shaking music and rabble rousing.
The group's lineup (left to right in photo) was Butch Blasingame, lead guitar and vocals; Bill Wilson, drums, clarinet, saxophone and vocals; Michael Simpson, lead vocalist, harmonica, percussion and air raid siren; Dwight Brown, bass, acoustic guitar and vocals; Ralph Towler, guitar, mandolin, keyboards and vocals.
Unlike many young musical artists in the South during that era, Ravenstone wasn't fixated on the Southern style of rock made popular by the Allman Brothers Band, the Charlie Daniels Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Instead, the group drew its inspiration from such disparate influences as the social commentary of the Kinks, the blistering guitar rave ups of the Yardbirds, the streetwise humor of Lou Reed, the raw theatricality of Iggy Pop & the Stooges, and the clarinet solos of Benny Goodman.
The result was music that one critic called "earotic rock," (yes, that's the way he spelled it) which I still find humorous. Their music, infused with the jolting excitement of youthful passion, was designed for both pleasure centers – the brain and the hips. And Ravenstone stimulated both, splendidly at times.
The band’s explosive sound was muscular, loud and lyrically intense, combining prototype punk elements (before that label was invented) with roots rock, British invasion and old school soul influences such as James Brown and Otis Redding.
Ravenstone's campus concerts at Legion Field and the Memorial Ballroom, and their performances at various clubs around Athens (Between the Hedges and Your Mother's Mustache to name two), were legendary as much for the band's stage antics and political activism as their incendiary music.
The band was renowned for its persiflage. One of the earliest published photos of the group featured the bass player in a gas mask and bow tie and the drummer in military uniform hanging on a granite cross in a graveyard. A Mickey Mouse doll and a Crusader's shield are noticeable at his feet. Those two iconic images pretty much summed up the band’s outlook: a crusading spirit that never took itself too seriously.
The Ravesters (as their fans called them) are probably the only Athens band ever to perform a solo in a song using a World-War-II-era air raid siren. It was a tune that began with a rather unusual rap in Russian by the group’s multi-lingual bassist.
Chances are they’re also the only Athens band ever to be harassed by the Ku Klux Klan for performing at a gay rights dance – reportedly the first ever openly held in the southeast – on a bill with a female impersonator. A court injunction was required for the campus concert to occur after the university refused to allow it on grounds that it would promote sodomy.
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