The main dish at this lunch club is rock ’n’ roll

Attending the June, 2019, music lunch club meeting are (back row, from left) Dick Wooley, Deborah Coons, Bill King, Forrest Haller, Mark Pucci and Randy Roman; (front, from left) Steve Jones, Dave Dannheisser, John McKnight and Karin Johnson. (Mark Pucci)

Here’s an expanded version of an Adventures in Food column I wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. …

The Chinese restaurant in Doraville where I attend a monthly lunch club features delicious Cantonese entrees, but the real main course is stories told about some of the legends of rock ’n’ roll.

The ATL Music Lunch Club is an informal gathering at Bo Bo Garden Asian Cuisine on Buford Highway. The club, which has been on hiatus during the pandemic, is a mix of folks somehow connected with the music biz.

John McKnight plays drums, Joey “Papa J” Sommerville plays trumpet, Don Dunlavey plays guitar; Randy Roman, Steve Jones and Dave Dannheisser are former record label guys; Rick Diamond is a photographer; Vince Canipelli is a veteran concertgoer who recalls seeing the Allman Brothers at Piedmont Park in 1969.

Bill King (third from left) is seen in his rock critic days with (from left) Capricorn Records’ Mark Pucci, Dick Meeder of 96 Rock and Pat Pucci. (Rick Diamond Photography)

Shortly after I retired in 2017, I was invited to join the group by longtime friend Mark Pucci, whom I’ve known since I was The Atlanta Constitution’s rock critic in the 1970s-80s, and he was publicist at Macon’s Capricorn Records (label home of the Allmans).

Thankfully, at my first few club meetings, I got to experience the extraordinary storytelling of local music legend Bruce Hampton, before he died onstage at the Fox during his 70th birthday concert.

Col. Bruce Hampton (second from right) is seen backstage at the Fox Theatre with (from left) Warren Hanes of Gov’t Mule/The Allman Brothers, and Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M. (Rick Diamond Photography))

The lunch group actually dates back about 20 years to when Hampton and former Capricorn Records Vice President Dick Wooley would meet for lunch at Little Szechuan on Buford Highway. Gradually, others started to tag along.

Chattanooga recording studio owner Glenn Halverson (who drives down for the lunches) was an early member. “I was only 36,” he recalled, “and I was very much intimidated. These guys were the real deal. I was smart enough to shut up and listen … and learn.”

Dannheisser likes that the lunch club is “such a diverse representation of the music and entertainment business — record company reps, radio DJs, studio and touring musicians, writers, photographers, and they all have their memories and stories of the industry’s better days. That makes it so enjoyable. I can’t wait till we reconvene to hear what everyone has been up to during the last year … should be interesting.”

Wooley recently summed up the lunch club as “just a bunch of old farts getting together and swapping war stories. … It’s a good little get-together. We have a few laughs.”

The May, 2019, meeting of the ATL Music Lunch included old-school Georgia soul music artist Hermon Hitson (center). Posing for the traditional post-lunch shot were (back, from left): Joey Sommerville, Dick Wooley, Mark Pucci, Forrest Haller, Bill King, Hitson, Randy Roman, Glenn Halverson and Vince Canipelli. In front is John McKnight. (Mark Pucci)

Nowadays, the age range generally runs from the 40s into the 70s — mostly men, but there are a couple of women among the regulars. Although Halverson, who sends out the email notices with meeting dates, has 75 names in his database, the usual attendance is about a dozen, although as many as two dozen folks have been known to show up. Guests sometimes drop by, including former Humble Pie guitarist Tom Johnson and longtime R&B guitarist Hermon Hitson.

Bo Bo Garden has an expansive menu, but the lunch fare is mainstream Chinese dishes. We meet there primarily because it’s one of the few places in town that has a table big enough to seat us all.

The crispy garlic bone-in half chicken at Bo Bo Garden Asian Cuisine in Doraville is an ATL Music Lunch Club favorite (and worth the wait). (Olivia King)

Some dishes take longer than others to come out, particularly the crispy garlic chicken favored by Wooley. We all throw a dollar into a pot and the last person to get their food (usually Dick) gets the money, which basically pays for his lunch and share of the tip. 

Over such group favorites as shrimp and eggs, shrimp with black bean sauce, mushroom chicken and shredded pork with garlic sauce, we share amusing tales about superstar encounters, talk about favorite performers, tell jokes and just share our lives. You might even hear a couple of folks comparing notes on hearing aids!

“I do love the stories about the music biz from the ’60s to the ’80s,” said one of the younger members, singer Karin Johnson, who performs locally with Blacklight Midnight, Vintage Boogie Band and That ‘70s Duo, and also works with Pucci in his music publicity firm.

Diamond agreed: “There are lots of great stories told every month.”

And, Dannheisser said, it’s “such a diverse representation of the music and entertainment business — record company reps, radio DJs, studio and touring musicians, writers, photographers, and they all have their memories and stories of the industry’s better days. That makes it so enjoyable. I can’t wait till we reconvene to hear what everyone has been up to during the last year … should be interesting.”

Noted Pucci: “The promo guys are the ones that have all the good stories, because they had the big budgets.”

Bill King’s first time at the ATL Music Lunch Club was in February, 2017. Attending that day (standing, from left): Forrest Haller, Augie Ray, Bobby Golden and Rusty Hendrix; (seated, from left): Moe Thaxton, Glenn Halverson, Col. Bruce Hampton, Randy Roman, John McKnight, Mark Pucci, King and Joey Sommerville. (Mark Pucci)

Yes, there are unprintable tales of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll from members’ younger days, but many stories are family-friendly. At my first gathering, I remember former MCA Records sales rep Forrest Haller telling how a cardboard standup of singer Tom Jones wound up with a couple of bullet holes in it.

As Haller recalled, One Stop Record Distributors, where he worked at the time, “was located in a large, old two-story house in a business-zoned area off Peachtree.”

The business took over the downstairs, while a financier named Ronnie was living upstairs.

One day, Haller said, “a record label salesman dropped by with new releases, and one was a Tom Jones album, and for a promotional item, for us to give to some record store for display, he carried in a life-sized cardboard cut-out stand-up of Tom Jones, and stood it up in the corner.

“Ronnie usually arrived later at night, after business hours, and went upstairs. At some point, he thought he heard a noise downstairs and came down with pistol in hand.  In the dark, in the corner, he caught sight of someone standing there and, frightened, he pumped two bullets into Tom Jones. 

“For several days after, all the record sales reps from around Atlanta came by to see the Tom Jones standup with a couple bullet holes in his chest … to great hilarity. 

“At some point, we gave it last rites and buried it in the backyard,” Haller concluded, laughing. 

One of Halverson’s favorite stories told by Hampton was about Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden, who had ordered a jukebox that had some problem. Walden got on the phone to the company, and “got so upset he was destroying his phone, beating it on the desk!”

Added Halverson: “The point was Col. Bruce telling the story. How he told the story made it funny.”

Col. Bruce Hampton was the founder of the ATL Music Lunch Club. Seen at this 2016 meeting are (from left) Glenn Halverson, Mark Pucci, John McKnight, Karin Johnson, Hampton and Randy Roman. (Mark Pucci)

He’s also still impressed that Hampton was at Funochio’s, a rock club on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street, when Lynyrd Skynrd was discovered.

Many of the most fondly told stories involve Hampton himself, a mentor to many in the music business, including highly regarded guitarist Derek Trucks. Said Steve Jones, a former Atlantic Records promotion man who recently retired from teaching at Georgia State University: “My favorite stories were any about Bruce. … I miss his presence at those gatherings so much … he was a magnet for uniqueness, creative thought and just downright nice people.”

Actor Billy Bob Thornton was in Hampton’s band at one time. After Thornton hit it big in movies, Hampton had a role in the film “Sling Blade” and the Colonel (as he’s fondly called) loved to recite one of his key speeches from the movie over lunch.

“Bruce was really the centerpiece of the lunch group,” said Wooley, recalling another favorite story told by Hampton, about how he encountered Little Richard in the mid-1960s, outside a club on Auburn Avenue. Richard was chewing out one of the guitarists in his band for daring to outdress him. That guitarist was Jimi Hendix. 

A couple of the all-time favorite stories from the lunch club involve Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard. (Billboard)

Speaking of Hendrix, Sommerville said his favorite story from the lunch group is Pucci’s about the first time he ever saw the guitar legend in concert, on July, 3, 1967.

Pucci and a friend decided to arrive early at The Scene, a New York City club where Hendrix was playing. “We turned the corner onto the street where the club was, and out in front was a large stack of Marshall amps,” he recalled. “And, sitting on top of them was Jimi, reading the National Enquirer!”

They talked with Hendrix for a few minutes, Mark said, adding: “The dope that I was, I didn’t ask for an autograph!”

Of the performance itself, Mark said, “That was the loudest show I’d ever heard anyone play up to that point. I remember he came out and said, ‘I hope you have your Blue Cross paid up.’ It was the first time I ever saw anyone play the guitar with their teeth, which he did on ‘Hey Joe.’”

At the time, Mark was living in New Jersey me and was planning on taking the train home. But, when he got to the station, he discovered that it was after midnight, and they’d switched to the holiday schedule. “There wasn’t another train until 7 the next day. So, I slept on a bench at Penn Station.”

Another Hampton story about Little Richard that Wooley recalls was when Col. Bruce was visiting Warner Bros. Records in Los Angeles with Frank Fenter of Capricorn Records and comedian Martin Mull, who was recording for Capricorn at the time. At the record company’s offices, they encountered Little Richard who “was waiting out in this little holding area, and eight hours later, he was still there waiting! He was out of favor at the time; this is when he was vacillating between rock ‘n’ roll and being a gospel minister.”

Haller also remembers that “Col. Bruce told us once his band was doing some club gigs with Muddy Waters in some nearby states and they were driving together late at night in Mississippi and Muddy told Bruce that they were near Clarksdale, and asked did he want to drive out to the famous ‘crossroads’ where supposedly Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for his guitar playing, and get out and stand around.  

“Bruce was a superstitious guy, and said something like, ‘No! Not on your life … I’m good enough.’”

Members often bring freebies to hand out, including new CDs from Mark Pucci’s publicity clients and copies of Beatlefan magazine from Bill King. Back row, from left: Tony Bryson, Dave Dannheisser, Dick Wooley, John McKnight, Rick Diamond. Front row, from left: Forrest Haller (holding up a copy of Beatlefan), Vince Canipelli, Bill King and Mark Pucci. (Mark Pucci)

Recently, I was reminiscing with former Memphis club manager Deborah Coons about how we miss our monthly club gathering. “I do Zoom calls all day with my work, which is OK,” she said, but “nothing beats face to face in the same room, eye contact interaction, laughs, breaking bread (twirling noodles).”

After that conversation, I was hankering for some Bo Bo, so my family ordered a takeout lunch from the restaurant.

Wanting to see what Wooley has been waiting on all those times, we included the crispy garlic chicken in our order. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait on it, but, if we had, it would have been worth it. It was delicious.

The members of the ATL Music Lunch Club know whereof they speak, whether it’s music or Chinese food.

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