The Atlanta music community lost one of its key figures when J. Mike "Fuzzy" Cawthon -- the owner of Fuzzy's Place nightclub -- died Oct. 24 of a heart attack.
In the 29 years since it first opened, Fuzzy's has established itself as one of Atlanta's essential music rooms for blues and funk-flavored bands. "It started out as a place for people who weren't into the meat-market scene, which was the big thing in Atlanta when Fuzzy's opened, and wanted to hear live music," says Bryan Cole, the musician and producer who acted as the club's music consultant in recent years. "At that time, there weren't many places where you could see real musicians playing real music."
Cawthon, 56, loved roots music, and Fuzzy's became one of the most coveted venues for Atlanta's up-and-coming musicians, and for such local stalwarts as Mike Veal and Java Monkey. It's also known as a place musicians can come and jam -- Gregg Allman has sat in at Fuzzy's, so have Dave Mason, Jack Bruce and Buddy Miles.
Francine Reed helped build her Atlanta following at Fuzzy's and still performs there regularly, drawing overflow crowds into the compact music room. "They have always treated me like gold over there," she says. "The thing I'll miss most is his voice; his voice was so funny and I just loved hearing him talk."
Cawthon was a fixture at his bar, and helped create the casual atmosphere. "He used to say he had the best job in the world; he got to wear a shirt with his name on the back," says Keirsten Alexander, general manager of the club.
"He believed in family and really took care of his employees like they were family," says Cole, whose wife, Lisa, has worked at Fuzzy's for 23 years.
Cawthon played fullback for the University of Georgia and Fuzzy's is a museum of Bulldog football memorabilia; it also became known for Joe Dale's creole-flavored menu. Cawthon's family plans to keep Fuzzy's open. A memorial concert to benefit the Georgia Alzheimer's Association is being planned; well-wishers can donate to the association (www.alzga.org) in the name of Martha Cawthon.