By Collin Kelley
Editor

Like our monthly content, the musicians profiled in our first annual “Music Issue” are diverse and eclectic. Our goal was to pick a crop of up-and-comers as well as local favorites who have been on the scene for ages, but we believe deserve more attention for their body of work.

While hip-hop, rap and R&B has put Atlanta on the international music scene thanks to artists like OutKast and Soulja Boy, we’re just as well known for producing Indigo Girls and Sugarland.

When we first started talking about music, I immediately turned to veteran Kodac Harrison, who has been making music in Atlanta for 30 years and, literally, knows everyone.

We asked Kodac to compile his current Top 10 favorite musicians and we think you’ll love his personal, inside look at these talented artists.

We also selected some musicians to showcase, who are both longtime favorites or new to the Intown scene. From Brokenkites’ cinematic electronica and Black Swan Lane’s dream pop to the soulful sounds of Ken J. Martin and the “alterna-grass” of Sonia Tetlow, we tried to cover a lot of the bases that make our music scene so diverse and exciting.

Beyond the artists, we also wanted to focus on where the music is made and those who work behind the scenes to produce the sound of Intown. To that end, you’ll find stories on SMKA Productions (behind some of the city’s biggest hip-hop acts) and a Q&A with David Coucheron, the new concertmaster for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Tune in and turn it up!

Kodac’s All-Star Picks!
Local music legend picks 10 musicians you can’t miss…

By Kodac Harrison

I was asked to write about my 10 favorite local musicians, which is easier said than done. During my almost 30 years in the Atlanta area, I’ve created 15 different recordings of original music and spoken word.

I’ve got lots of favorites and it depends on what year are you talking about. Yesterday would be different than today and so would tomorrow.

I have been a fan of Bruce Hampton, Caroline Aiken, Dan Coy and Elise Witt for years, but as of this minute my 10 favorites are as follows:

Brandon Bush is not a singer-songwriter like his well-known brother, but he is without a doubt the better of the two on his individual instrument, the keyboard. I first met him in Chapel Hill before he moved to Atlanta and became a housemate for a short period of time. Brandon has played with many bands and recorded with the likes of Shawn Mullins, John Mayer, Train and Sugarland just to name a few. Brandon once told me he didn’t really care about soloing and didn’t particularly like jam bands. He plays just what a song needs, nothing more, nothing less, which is a songwriter’s dream. He is truly a tasteful keyboardist. These days you can hear him playing with Sugarland. www.brandonbush.com

Gentleman Jesse once took a two-by-four to the face in defense of his girlfriend, so he is truly a gentleman. I first met Jesse Smith when he worked at Java Monkey Coffee House in Decatur. These days when he is not touring with his band, you can find him at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur.  Performing live in places like The Earl, he sings his original hook laden songs, while accompanying himself on electric guitar. The power-pop he and his band plays is reminiscent of early Elvis Costello. His first album, Gentleman Jesse and his Men, was released to universal acclaim. You can find Jesse in your local record store. That’s right; his CD was also released on vinyl. www.myspace.com/gentlemanjesse

Nick Longo first played with me back in 1992. As was the case then and in the years since, he has played with many of bands. In fact, I once heard another horn player exclaim, “Nick can’t play all the gigs.” Once after playing a circus gig, he joined us for the 21st birthday party of a Turkish girl. Toward the end of the night the birthday girl and two of her equally beautiful friends asked if we could play belly dance music.  We were clueless until Nick started playing a Middle-Eastern melody and all of a sudden the bellies started dancing. He is my hero. Nick often sings harmony to my vocals with his sax. He has a great ear and a tremendous memory for songs. He now fronts his own band and has released an excellent CD of original up-town jazz. You can find him playing with his band at north side clubs and restaurants or at www.nicklongomusic.com.

I first met Kristin Markiton along with Beverly Blouin at Eddie’s Attic in 1996. Not long after that, I asked Kristin to direct the back up vocals for my short-lived, ten-piece soul band. She has sung on all of the recordings I’ve made since that time. Kristin is a trained vocalist, who has sung with many bands and even spent a couple of years as the lead vocalist for Delta Moon.  Because she has a background in theater, I asked her to join me at 7 Stages for my production of Reach for the Moon. I knew she would add much more than just vocals. She has the ability to be soulful, serious and playfully sexy at the same time. Kristin has her own band and released a wonderful recording, which was produced by Kristian Bush. You can see her perform at places like Eddie’s Attic. www.kristinmarkiton.com

When I first started playing with Sean O’Rourke back in the early 90s, he was know mostly as a hard hitting rock drummer. In the years since, Sean has become one of the more versatile drummers in town, playing everything from jazz to country. Sean has played drums with many groups including Francine Reed, The Aquarium Rescue Unit, Mother’s Finest and toured with Sugarland for over a year. I call Sean the groove-master because he makes everything groove. He has become a fine engineer/producer working out of his home studio. When Sean is behind me, I dance. www.seanorourke.com

I first heard Sydney Rhame when I went to an acting camp performance at Clairmont Elementary. She played an opening song, while singing and accompanying herself on guitar. I was impressed, especially with the way she slid up to the high notes. I was even more impressed, when I found out that it was an original song and that Sydney was only 10-years-old. She has a rich, full voice for one so young.  Her parents are very supportive and encouraging, but they don’t push Sydney.  If anything she pushes them.  I took her up to Rodney Mills’ studio, where she recorded four of her songs.  You would have never guessed it was her first time in a recording studio.  I saw her play a set at Java Monkey last fall and she introduced every song, with the title and the words, “I hope you like it.”  Less than six months later, at Java Monkey again, she was at ease with the audience, joking and talking to the crowd. At this rate, Sydney will be an artist to contend with in a few years. She’ll be 12 this month. You can catch her around Oakhurst and Decatur. www.myspace.com/sydneyrhame

Back in the 80s, I first heard Bill Sheffield sing with a local R & B band called Cool Breeze and then playing guitar and singing with the XLs. Years later I heard Bill sing the blues while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Now, it is not unusual for a former rock ‘n roller to try to extend his career by narrowing his vision and singing songs written by black men decades earlier. The difference was that Bill was stripping his music back to the essential elements; that is his guitar and his always-soulful voice. An artist has to continue to grow, change, and redefine himself in order to define himself. Bill has done just that and his latest recordings find him taking on the songwriter’s role, outside of the limited formula of the blues. You can hear Bill at Blind Willie’s, the Northside Tavern, or maybe even on a European tour. www.billsheffield.com

Bill Taft has become associated with what has been called the “Cabbagetown sound.” This is because of his membership in the legendary avant-garde bands The Opal Foxx Quartet, The Jody Grind and Smoke, not to mention the Chowder Shouters. After Smoke vocalist Benjamin Smoke died in 1999, Bill put away his cornet, took his guitar back up, and put together Hubcap City. These days Bill has combined the sound of Hubcap City and Smoke into a band called Smoke that City. Bill is a great writer and a unique storyteller. I always smile when I see Bill and chuckle when I hear him perform. You might catch Bill at The Sycamore Place Gallery or other places where art is the priority. www.myspace.com/hubcapcity

I have to admire guitarist/songwriter Charles Williams for keeping two bands that primarily play his songs, together and for finding two excellent female vocalists to front them. I’m talking about Amy Pike in The Bonaventure Quartet and Bernadette Seacrest in Bernadette Seacrest & Her Provocateurs.  Since my days playing with Dave Webb on stand-up bass, I have been drawn to stand-up bass players, including Mark Bynum, who plays with the Quartet. Charles was an original member of Bruce Hampton’s Aquarium Rescue Unit and is an always-interesting guitarist. You might find Charles playing at the Highland Inn, or with Bernadette on their first tour of Europe. www.bernadetteseacrest.com

Count M’Butu was given his name by Bruce Hampton when he played with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. I first played with the Count in the Little Five Points Pub back in the early 80s. These days he plays percussion in the Derek Tucks band. He has sat in with the Allman Brothers, Santana, Wide Spread Panic, hung out with Eric Clapton, and been on stage with the Rolling Stones. One of the things I love about the Count is that, “he ain’t got no ‘tude.” When he starts “banging on his box,” he sounds like he is playing a complete trap set. The Count may be my favorite of them all. www.facebook.com/Count-MButu

For more about Kodac Harrison, visit www.kodacharrison.com.

More Music!

Brokenkites

Black Swan Lane

Sonia Tetlow

Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus

Red Eye Grave Records

Lucas Mire

Melanie Hammet

SMKA

Ken j. Martin

David Coucheron

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.