Saturday, June 24, 2006

Nashville Music Zines, Part Three

Okay, so here's how it really went down. It was the fall of 1991, October or November, methinks. The Metro was on its last legs. Palas had pissed off, burned and mislead enough people around town that there was no haven left for his little music rag. We had set up an interview with underground musician Eugene Chadbourne -- who remains one of the most interesting artists plying their trade in the American underground today -- and tied it to an EC show that Gus was allegedly promoting at the Cannery. It was a slam dunk, really: Chadbourne interview in the paper, a live show a week or so later, and to top it off, a friend of mine agreed to cover Eugene's meager $500.00 guarantee. Gus didn't even have to part with any coin, just put on the show....

Chadbourne called me when he rolled into town and I met him in Green Hills. We left his rental car in a lot that I knew would be safe for overnight storage (having left my car there in a drunken Cantrell's stupor many a night) and ran down to Pizza Perfect to have some dinner. Now, the Reverend was already mighty suspicious, since Palas hadn't returned any of my calls that week, and an issue of The Metro with my Eugene Chadbourne interview was nowhere to be found. A deal was a deal, though, and I had already handed off my buddy Eric's five C-notes to Eugene, so, as they say, the show must go on!

Eugene and I arrived at the club around 7:00 PM (for a 9:00 PM showtime) to find the windows darkened and the parking lot strangely devoid of cars. Gus had supposedly arranged for Walk The West, who had met Eugene in Austin, to open the show and I figured that the lot would be full of that popular local band's fans. No such luck. We threw some rocks against the one window that was lit, waking the club's "security guard" from his slumber. The night watchman, a buddy of Gus's that was crashing at the club, had no knowledge of any show going on that night, and he was right.

I called up several friends, including the one that had paid Eugene's guarantee, and we all agreed to meet out at his house. There, Chadbourne pulled out his trusty songbook and beat-up guitar and proceeded to put on a private show for 13 listeners, right from the comfort of Eric's couch. Unfortunately, Nashville didn't know what it was missing, 'cause Eugene rocked the house and we all had a grand old time.

Flash forward several months to the spring of '92. The Metro had been AWOL since the Chadbourne fiasco and local music fans, accustomed to a monthly...more or zine were getting edgy. A number of people approached the Reverend and asked what it would take to start up a new rag. "Money" was always my answer, and when Mark Willis of New Sound Atlanta (who had taken over booking the Cannery in Gus's absence) and Mike Phillips of local band Peace Cry agreed to help underwrite the venture via advertising, R2 (or R Squared, for "Rock & Roll") was born. Pan Doss at the Pantheon club jumped on board, as did Steve West at 328 Performance Hall, and off we went....

The first issue of R2 hit the streets in June '92, a quarter-fold tabloid with local rocker Threk Michaels and metal legends King's X on the cover. I had lined up a pretty strong staff of writers, most of them former Metro scribes, including Brian Mansfield (who wrote a great Will & the Bushmen piece) and my old NIR buddy, Andy Anderson (who contributed a piece on the Ellen James Society and interviewed the Replacements' Chris Mars). We had articles on international artists (Midnight Oil), regional artists (Atlanta's Stonehart) and local artists (Michaels, Stealin' Horses). Clint Brewer, now the editor of the Nashville City Paper, contributed a cool Widespread Panic article and Andy and I scratched out a bunch of album reviews, including discs by the Ramones, Body Count, the Beastie Boys and Jason Ringenberg's first solo album, One Foot In The Honky Tonk.

It took a lot of work to get that first issue of R2 off the ground, and after collecting all the advertising monies due, we broke even, if I remember correctly. Aside from the writers who were paid a pittance for their contributions, folks like Mike Phillips and his wife Wendi, Mark Willis and his new Sound Atlanta staff (especially Roxanne), Nancy Camp and Pam Cross in Atlanta and Nashville's Randy Ford and Donny and April Kendall were all instrumental in getting the zine on the street. Thanks to Willis, we had distribution in Nashville, Atlanta, Roanoke VA and Myrtle Beach SC. The zine had great content and if the lay-out looks a little dated and undergroundish as I look at it today, it was, by all measures, a minor triumph.

With little or no money left after producing issue numero uno of R2, Mike Phillips and I began badgering our advertisers (Go West Presents, the Pantheon, Deja Vu, 527 Mainstreet in the 'boro and, of course, New Sound Atlanta) to place ads in issue number two. Andy and Brian and myself started cranking out copy when, who should reappear on the local scene but Gus Palas! As we were hitting up advertisers for commitments for our second issue, we often found that Gus had been there first, talking shit and trying to undercut us.

Seems that Gus was trying to resurrect The Metro after a hiatus of nine months or so, and the only way that he could do it was by running down those of us who had supported him through the years. We heard reports of Gus saying that I didn't know how to put together a magazine (actually, I had taught him), that we had second-rate writers (Brian Mansfield has since published several books and has written for USA Today for over a decade) and so on. It was a dirty campaign and a lot of potential advertisers were on the fence.

The Reverend, veteran of biker bars and early Internet flame wars, was ready for the fight when, unfortunately, my father died unexpectedly. After working security for New Sound Atlanta at the Cannery on a Friday night, I spoke with my father early Saturday morning before going to bed. I was awakened by my mom who said that they had rushed dad to the hospital. By the time I could drive from Franklin to Nashville, dad had died...and all the piss and vinegar that I had worked up for a feud with Palas drained right out of me. At that moment, I didn't really care about R2 or The Metro or much of anything except my family.

Unbeknownst to all of us, behind the scenes, Gus was negotiating to sell The Metro. Maybe he knew that he couldn't beat us (after all, R2 had his best writers and most of his advertisers) or maybe he was just trying to cash out and split town. Either way, he somehow convinced Ned Horton and Radio Lightning to buy The Metro for a reported $10,000 and bring the zine in-house. I'll never understand why Ned didn't just start his own music zine through the radio station rather than pay Palas (after all, The Metro was nothing more than a couple of crapped-out computers by this time, and Gus hadn't published an issue in over nine months).

I found out about the sale of The Metro when Gus called me to offer his condolences for the loss of my father and to make an offer to buy out the second issue of R2. Seems like they didn't have any material to publish a new issue of The Metro, so Gus had convinced Ned to pay me $500 or something like that for the contents of our second issue. Since it didn't appear that I was going to be able to get another R2 on the street anyway, I agreed to the purchase, paid my people and made peace with Gus. In the process, I was drafted onto the staff of the "new" Metro, although it wouldn't be long until changes were in the air....

The fourth and final installment: Bone Music Magazine and beyond!


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