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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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Bill Taft: As long as we tipped them, the dancers loved us. They might grumble a bit because we'd take over their dressing room. At the end of the night, we'd give them a nice cut of the door and they'd give us a big hug and say, "Come on back anytime!"

The Jody Grind often played out-of-town shows with Opal Foxx and Deacon Lunchbox opening for them. There were far too many people to travel in a van, so they improvised.

Bill Taft: Opal Foxx was a big band with ten people or more. So touring meant renting a Ryder truck and loading it with band equipment and sofas. We'd ride in the back on the sofas.

Brian Halloran: In the summer, Deacon would duct-tape an AC hose to the front two air conditioner vents and run it into the back. I was such a kid, I'd always hold it and making sure everybody got a little bit at a time. It was the pleasure hose. In the winter, we'd huddle up with blankets. Anytime we'd stop to get gas or something, it was like a freak show. We'd lift up the back door and it was like a clown car; all these freaks getting out of the back of a moving truck.

One time [when] we played at the Rockin' Eagle in Statesboro, Ga. with the Jody Grind, we had a flat tire in front of these orchards. And a guy comes out with a shotgun and yells out, "You get off my property!" We're all running to get back into the truck; but Bill Taft is out there and says, "What the fuck are you doing yelling at us? You should be helping us."

The Opal Foxx Quartet had caught the attention of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, who brought them to John Keane's studio in Athens and produced six songs for the band's debut album.

Connie Hanes: "Michael came into the Downstairs in Athens to hear us. We had gigs there, where it was more like a tent revival. Everybody would be sweating and Benjamin would be standing up on a chair. I think that's where Michael came along, because he felt more comfortable talking to me because he liked Benjamin.

Benjamin called Michael "Bubba." He was very irreverent about the whole thing. I don't know if Michael knows that or not.

IN 1992, THE JODY GRIND released its second album, Lefty's Deceiver, and word was the band was destined for a major label deal. Shortly after the album was recorded, Walter Brewer left the band and was replaced by Robert Clayton.

On April 18, 1992, the band traveled to Pensacola, Fla., with Deacon Lunchbox for a performance at a nightclub called Sluggo's. After the show, Deacon Lunchbox, Rob Hayes and Robert Clayton got in the band's van to drive back to Atlanta; Kelly Hogan and Bill Taft decided to stay behind and drive a car back the next day. The van was on I-65 outside Greenville, Ala., when a car traveling south came across the median and hit the van head-on. All three were killed instantly. Clayton was 22, Hayes was 24 and Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber) was 41.

Bill Taft: Kelly and I stayed over that night because we wanted to have a party. We went out, had a good time, then got up the next morning and drove home. We came back to the rehearsal space and noticed that Robert Clayton's car was still there, and that didn't seem right.

I got to my house and my wife came out and I knew the minute I saw her something bad had happened. She told me, and I just stood there and started crying.

Doug DeLoach: I didn't even think about you asking me about that. [long silence] It was unspeakably devastating. When it happened, my editor asked me if I could write something. I said no, I just couldn't. It took me until the year anniversary to even be able write about it, and even then it was only to say I was happy to know those guys. That was the first time I'd ever had friends die in that way. It still hurts.

J.T. Thomas: Tim and I were very close friends. To be quite honest, I don't think I've ever emotionally processed the information. If you go there, it's so dark and awful. I mean, how can Tim be gone?

Connie Hanes: When he died, I asked for one thing: I wanted his jacket. I just wanted that jacket that had hugged me so many times.

Col. Bruce Hampton: I'd become very close to Deacon in the last six months before he died. It happened on Easter Sunday. We were on our way to Pensacola the next day and didn't even hear about it for a week. But we passed right by where it happened. You could see where the car went across the median for a hundred yards or so and hit them head-on. Four in the morning, one second either way. ...

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