Thankful for the Flyers

I’ve been listening to the Normaltown Flyers since 1979 and there are two things that have always been true: the music’s great and Brian Burke is in the pilot’s seat.

I wish I could say that I was in the Last Resort when Brian made his first stage appearance. Fat Jimmy discovered Brian in the fall of 1969 when he knocked on the door of a Reed Hall dorm room from which he could hear somebody playing Rolling Stones songs on an acoustic guitar. The door was opened by Brian Burke and a friendship was born that continues to today.

At the time Fat Jimmy was the doorman, bouncer, bartender, and janitor at the Last Resort which was then owned by Mad Dog Melton. Brian started hanging around and after a couple of months of coaxing by Terry and Jimmy, Brian went on stage.

In 1970 the Last Resort was the Athens music scene. However things started changing as Your Mother’s Mustache opened downtown and Between the Hedges brought beer and music and dancing to Normaltown (actually beer was already there).

Brian joined Terry in the early to mid 70’s in Mad Dog Melton and the Laughing Disaster and Misery Loves Company and then took a more country bent in the Riverbottom Band and Austin Church and Whatever It Takes.

Around 1978 bar owners in Athens suddenly seemed to realize that they didn’t need a stage to offer live music. The fact that the number of musicians and bands in Athens had exploded was certainly a factor also. They saw that they could set up a band in a corner and offer live music. This corresponded with Brian Burke, Greg Veale, and Mike Cronic forming the Normaltown Flyers in 1979.

The Flyers first paying gig was at the Deli Haus in Normaltown. About halfway through the second set they had just played “Dancing the Night Away” and Mad Dog tapped my shoulder and leaned in to say something.

I didn’t know what to expect as Terry was notoriously critical of bands, but he motioned towards the Flyers and said “nobody covers the Amazing Rhythm Aces and they’ve done two.”

It was the Mad Dog seal of approval and he had pinpointed the Flyers strength: the ability to fearlessly mix strong covers with their original songs.

It didn’t take long for Danny Self, then the owner/manager of Allen’s Hamburgers to approach the Flyers about doing a weekly show in Allen’s. After some discussion Wednesday night at Allen’s with the Normaltown Flyers was born.

Allen’s quickly became the place to be on Wednesday night and the Flyers soared.

That November the Normaltown Flyers played their first Thanksgiving eve show and an Athens holiday tradition was born. In the years since then former Athenians who have returned for Turkey day join those who’ve never left, and they all come out of the woodwork for a large dose of down home music, hometown friends, and cold beer to kick off the holiday season. The venue has changed over the years but the tradition continues.

The Flyers too have seen changes over the last 36 years. Bassist Tom Ryan came on board in the early ’90’s. Drummer Deane Quinter in the late ’90’s. Athens best guitar player, Davis Causey, has always been part of the Flyers in one way or another. Keyboardist extraordinaire Tim White has become a mainstay the last couple of years. Brian Burke is still as always the pilot.

The Normaltown Flyers play Wednesday night at the Foundry beginning at 8:00. Songs from Chuck Berry to the Stones to George Jones to Buddy Holly along with Burke’s originals will be rockin Thanksgiving Eve and Athenians and ex Athenians of all ages will come out of the woodwork to dance the night away.

If you close your eyes and listen real closely between songs you might just hear Mad Dog’s gravelly voice saying “nobody does it like the Flyers.”

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