One could forgive Atlanta music audiences for being jaded. The city is absolutely bursting with musical talent and venues in which musicians can share their gifts with the public.
Case in point: At Fat Matt's Rib Shack every Thursday night for more the past decade or so, vocalist/pianist Eddie Tigner, 76, and drummer Ron Logsdon have anchored the band Chicken Shack, with a rotating cast of guitarists, bassists and harmonica players. There's no cover charge. They work primarily for hot food, cold drink and the opportunity to pass the tip jar once or twice per set.
"What you play for is not the money," Tigner says. "It's the atmosphere and the friendship. The fellows I've played with there have been really good friends. Fat Matt [owner Matt Harper] has done a lot of things for me personally, and not just at the club."
Tigner points out that his band members have given him music equipment, and also urged him to make the only solo recording of his career, the 2001 release Route 66, on the nonprofit MusicMaker label.
Tigner is a veritable encyclopedia of blues, jazz and old standards. That should be no surprise, though: After spending a decade in vaudeville, he toured as a member of the Ink Spots for nearly 30 years. Staples of Tigner's repertoire include "Take the 'A' Train," "C.C. Rider" and "Route 66," but he's equally adept at less typical fare such as "Sunny Side of the Street" or the Ellington chestnut "Caravan." He's also fluent in the Nat Cole Trio catalog.
"What I enjoy most about Eddie is playing those old swing tunes he can bring up," Logsdon says. "The way he plays them, with all the dexterity and all the little riffs, it's a constant challenge to keep up with him. It's enjoyable to have that challenge, and I love those old songs."
Tigner became involved in Chicken Shack almost 10 years ago, when the late saxophonist Grady "Fats" Jackson asked him to perform at a convalescence home on Piedmont Avenue. Jackson put on many such shows with vocalist "Sweet Betty" Journey, guitarist Felix Reyes and other local talents. Reyes invited Tigner to a Thursday gig, and the rest is history.
The current Chicken Shack lineup includes Tigner, Logsdon, vocalist/guitarist Frank Moates and bassist Ben Gettys. Moates is a recent addition whose own diverse repertoire blends nicely with Tigner's. The band also boasts an impressive alumni roster. Founding members (prior to Tigner and Logsdon's arrival) included Reyes (who now lives in Chicago), Matt Sickles on washtub bass and Donnie McCormick on his now-famed chicken-coop percussion. Guitarist Sean Costello and pianist/harmonica player Paul Linden are among the other Chicken Shack alumni. Now in his early 20s, Costello has a record deal with Landslide and tours the nation. Back then, however, he was a 15-year-old prodigy whose explosive blend of technique, youthful energy and respect for blues tradition made him a hit across various age groups.
Chicken Shack also has enjoyed some unique exposure. The band was filmed by the Japanese Playboy Channel, and also was featured on the Food Network program "$40 a Day," hosted by Rachael Ray. "She wrote a '$40 a Day' blues song on a paper bag, and got up and sang it," Logsdon recalls. "It was funny as hell." The episode still airs frequently.
At the end of the day, though, it's not money or exposure that inspires the musicians to show up each week. It's the camaraderie on stage that makes it worthwhile, says Logsdon.
"I don't care if it's a roomful of people or just two people in the room," he says. "If the musicians are having good contact, putting out a good sound, you want to play. We'd play just to be together."
At 76, does Tigner ever plan to give up the gig? "They'll have to run me out of here," he says with a laugh.