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The triumph and tragedy of the Cabbagetown sound

Part 1 of 2: Have you heard death singing? An oral history

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Doug DeLoach: Freedom Puff is where Benjamin not only realized he could be in a band, but that he had something to contribute beyond being Mr. Outrageous. He told me that's when he realized, "I didn't have to show my dick to get attention." He caught the muse that he could then pursue. That led to him taking himself more seriously, it led to the Opal Foxx Quartet.

Connie Hanes: I was living in Carrollton, I was 18 and Benjamin was 16, and I picked him up hitchhiking. That's how we met. We eventually lived together on this 350-acre farm in Carroll County. He moved to Atlanta, then went up to New York and met Patti Smith and hung out with her for a while. I baby-sat his boyfriend while he was gone; he was tremendously upset that Benjamin had taken off to New York.

Brian Halloran: "If Benjamin and Connie hadn't met, then probably none of us would have met. They started Opal Foxx and it really opened up a floodgate of exposure."

Connie Hanes: It was Benjamin's idea to start Opal Foxx. He was going to dress in drag and he wanted me to dress in man drag. I said no. But he'd dress me up in a blonde wig and a blue sequin dress, which was his dress.

He sang the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow and "Mother's Little Helper" -- all these housewife songs. And his drag was really cotton dress drag. He didn't wear a lot of make-up and he'd wear cotton dresses for the most part. Sometimes he'd swipe my shoes.

Brian Halloran: My roommate told me about this quartet with a drag singer playing brunches at the Little Five Points Pub, and I went to see them. Bill Taft was the guitar player and I knew him from the Chowder Shouters because they used to practice in my basement. After the show, he introduced me to Benjamin, who was in a blue-sequined, tight-fitting dress. I'd just seen him do a song about masturbation and he'd told everyone at this Sunday afternoon brunch: 'OK, everybody who masturbates, wave your hands in the air!' And everybody was waving their hands.

I just fell in love with this person who was making everybody feel good about being themselves. That was his gift. He was able to make everybody feel OK about who they were, no matter what that was.

Bill told him I played the cello. And he said, "I've always wanted a cello player." And a week later, I'm in Bill's car going over to Connie's house for practice.

CHAPTER THREE

AS THE OPAL FOXX QUARTET formed, more and more musicians began to move to Cabbagetown: Kelly Hogan, who would become the lead singer of the Jody Grind; Amy Pike, lead singer in the swing group the Lost Continentals; Andy Hopkins, who formed a band called Flap and later played in Hogan's solo band; Chan Marshall, who would perform as Cat Power; and Chris Lopez, guitarist in the Opal Foxx Quartet and, later, the Rock*A*Teens.

J.T. Thomas: The real transition came when Eric and I moved into the house at 711 Wylie St. That to me is the house that sort of built the Cabbagetown music scene. It was a ramshackle old house that we could practice in. Everyone gravitated toward that house. A lot of creative things happened there. And after we left, Chris Lopez moved in and that's where his bands [including Opal Foxx] rehearsed.

Doug DeLoach: Bill was doing an open mic thing at the White Dot called "An Evening with the Garbagemen." That's where he first started to perform with Kelly Hogan.

Bill Taft: Kelly would come to the open mic and we'd play some songs. Out of that, we kind of became a band. I thought I'd like to do a jazz thing with Kelly. I didn't really know how to play jazz, but I thought that would be a perfect way to learn.

The Jody Grind was the first Cabbagetown band to break out. The group was signed to Danny Beard's DB Records and released an album in 1990, One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure.

The Jody Grind's jazz/punk sound combined the sweetness of Kelly Hogan's soaring, classically trained voice with the edgy sparseness of Taft's guitar. They were joined by drummer Walter Brewer and bassist Rob Hayes, whose Cabbagetown roommate was Chan Marshall (Cat Power).

Doug DeLoach: The Jody Grind was fucking unbelievable. You immediately recognized this was an incredible collaboration, that the music was extraordinary in every way: the composition, the playing, the whole mix of jazz and rock and blues and Broadway and torchy Southern decadence, Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael.

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