Oct.08 Cover - 688 Club Print
Written by Jeff Clark   

ImageNumbers With Wings
Twenty-Two Years After It Closed, People Still Call 688 Atlanta’s Greatest Rock Club

I thought every club was like this.

If it wasn’t the first rock club I’d managed to slip into without the doorman asking my underage ass for an ID, it was definitely the one that made the deepest, most lasting impression. For a teenaged music geek waking up to the rush of exciting new bands and sounds bursting forth, it was like going to the circus. It was a world I’d only read about in things like Creem. I spent more nights there than I can remember, soaking up the music, the adventures, the wild local characters and the general urban-anarchic ambiance of the place. I’m sure many of you reading this were there, and can relate.

But every rock club was not like 688, as I eventually came to realize. Not that there weren’t or aren’t other amazing venues and ramshackle watering holes that I adore. But inevitably, they always end up getting compared to 688. The options are greater now, the local music scene is more split up into tribes, and everyone can find their comfort zone. When 688 opened its doors on May 27th, 1980, it was a shithole. It was also a magical confluence of good timing, good ideas and a void in Atlanta that begged to be filled.

And it’s a story that begs to be told. In putting together this oral history, in talking to all of these different people who worked there, played there, went there and partied there, I came to the realization that what ultimately made 688 special was that it was more like a family than a rock club – and as with every family there will be joy and tears, laughter and love and lasting feuds. I almost got the feeling, in talking to some of the closest participants in 688’s existence, that being interviewed about it was something akin to therapy. Contradictions on facts abounded, occasionally even from the same mouth.

Everyone’s got his own version of the truth. Here, as best I could piece it together, is a version of 688’s. And while it’ll give a more accurate feel of what it was like than any dubious reunion show will offer, at the end of the day, you really had to be there. With that, let’s dial the Wayback Machine to the late 1970s…

Steve May (688 co-founder and co-owner): I had been working with sound companies for years, and a couple of bands really liked what I was doing. Brick was one, they had a couple of disco hits in the mid ’70s. I started touring all over the world with some pretty big acts – Earth, Wind and Fire, Little Feat, Weather Report. Ray Parker, Jr., Prince. I either did house sound, or was production manager on the tours. That’s how I got the seed money for 688. Touring.

“[Co-founder] Sheila [Browning] and [688 bartender] Jerri [Juris] worked together at the Rusty Nail on Buford Highway. That’s how I met Sheila. We started going out, then I’d go out on the road a while. Come back and started dating again. Then I got a job at the Great Southeast Music Hall doing house sound, and she’d wait outside for me every night…Sheila grew up as a coal miner’s daughter in Mud Fork, West Virginia. Talk about depressed – oh man… Her dad died in a mining disaster when she was five. When she got out of high school, she and her friend hitchhiked down to Florida and met up with Black Oak Arkansas. They were sort of like Black Oak Arkansas’ groupies for about two years, and then they moved to Atlanta.

“[Co-founder] Tony [Evans] and I were best friends. I met Tony in 1971, I guess, when he helped open up a hair salon called Blood, Sweat & Scissors in Buckhead, over off of Pharr Road… And then in ’77 to 79, I had a rehearsal hall on Howell Mill Road that I rented out to bands. Marshall Tucker Band rehearsed there, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Mylon LeFevre. And we’d throw parties and stuff, and Tony came over and said ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a club and do this all the time?’”

Jeff Calder (the Swimming Pool Q’s): “Clubs [in Atlanta] then were coming out of the hippie and post-hippie era. The Great Southeast Music Hall, Rose’s Cantina – those clubs, to me, were more ecumenical. They would have jazz, blues, folk…”

ImageSteve May: “Then I did a tour in England, and had some friends there who turned me on the new music that was happening. I went to see Madness and Squeeze play at the Hammersmith Odeon, and we went to a few other clubs in London. I just saw a ton of bands there. I said, ‘Man, this is great! White music is fun again!’ Tony started looking at buildings, [and] he saw that the old Rose’s Cantina was available. So we jumped on it. We started leasing the building at the end of February 1980.”

David T. Lindsay (Stomp and Stammer writer): “Rose’s Cantina was basically a biker bar with pool tables up front. The only time I went there, it was to see English Dogs, which had Bonnie Bramblett and Joe English from Wings in the band. These bikers came in and said, ‘Nobody leaves tonight until you pay us.’ We get to the door, and this biker pushed us with a pool cue. My friend said, ‘Look, we don’t have any money, but I’ve got a bag of pot – will you take that?’ The guy took it and goes, ‘Get out of here.’ We started to leave, and the cops came in. What was great about that was, my friend didn’t get caught for pot on him, the biker did!”

Dan O. Farris (frequent 688 patron): “At one point it was also the Rising Star Café. That was between Rose’s and 688. They moved over to Ponce.”

Steve May: “Originally we were going to call the club Sweeney Todd’s. But Tony really wasn’t into that. He lived with David Jenkins down on Luckie St. – David is a graphic artist, a really good one. He came over, and we were listening to a PiL album, and David goes, ‘It’s 688 Spring Street, right?’ So he wrote the 688 logo, and I said ‘This doesn’t look right, just 688 – it looks like too much other stuff.’ I saw the album cover, and we put the line at the top and the line at the bottom… On the Public Image logo, the line goes all the way through. Ours is partial. So it’s totally legal.”

Michael Lachowski (Pylon): “I liked their logo. I liked their location…”

ImageDavid T. Lindsay: “It was the first changing of the guard. We went there, and met a whole new animal. Like those Pershing Point punk kids, like [Nightporters guitarist] Ray [Dafrico] listening to stuff like Sparks and John Cale.”

Steve May: “The first band was the Cretones. We had black and white drawings on the wall, and instead of having tables and chairs there were bleachers on the right and left – it was pretty stark. When people first came in the club, they just didn’t know what to do. They sort of sat on the bleachers like they were waiting for a basketball game to begin.”

Peter Zaremba (the Fleshtones): “It was like a big storage room. That’s what it always felt like – like someone had been warehousing something there, and then when they moved that out, they swept it and put in a sound-system.”

Tony Paris (then writing for Creative Loafing): “They knew they were doing something different, and that hadn’t been done. It had a very cool aesthetic…They weren’t going to be a typical rock club. They were going to be a new wave club. So that just added mystery and excitement.”

Jeff Calder: “Tony Evans was really important to the club. His dynamic that he had with Steve was very…unique, a real balancing act. He was really a whimsical character, very different from Steve’s intensity. Steve had a lot of anxiety trying to keep the club going. And Sheila was like…she kept a close eye on the money. Or the lack thereof!”

ImageStan Satin (Vietnam): “I went there when it first opened….It was my favorite hangout, definitely. At that time, in 1980, Atlanta was a small community of musicians. And then there were the offshoot musicians, the alternative. And we kind of all knew each other. It was like a family. And then more were drawn there that maybe didn’t know the circle, and then we became a larger circle.”

Phreddy Vomit (frequent 688 patron, occasional musician): “The whole atmosphere…it was like looking at the pictures in magazines of CBGB. It was punk rock. It was not a discotheque. It was not all spit and polish. It had a different kind of character. It had a different depth of character, and the clientele that’s drawn to that character. That was what I wanted to experience.”

Dan O. Farris: “They were the only club that ever kicked me in, instead of kicking me out. Somebody was causing trouble outside, and I was trying to stop ’em from causing trouble, and causing trouble myself, and Steve or Tony, one of the two, came out and said, ‘Dan, get your ass back in there!’ I thought that was pretty damn weird.”

Kim Turner (’80s WRAS DJ): “I was 16 years old when I first started going there, probably 1980. My boyfriend and I would go to 688 every weekend. Back then you could change your ID really easily with blue eye-shadow and mascara with a little clear nail polish. It worked every time.”

Tony Paris: “This music was appealing to kids 18 to 21. And the drinking age at the time was 18. So the fact that kids could go see bands, could go drink, it was a happening scene.”

Velena Vego (booking agent at the 40 Watt): “It wasn’t very big, so every show you saw was a very intimate setting. You were right on top of the bands. And when you’re young like that, you’re so in awe of the whole thing.”

Mark Williams (688 DJ, later an A&R rep for various major labels): “Prior to 688, there really wasn’t anything in Atlanta that was specifically geared toward the music that was starting to emerge internationally, and locally out of Athens.”

ImageKim Turner: “In the early days I would go see the Heathen Girls and the Restraints and Baby & the Pacifiers, all the Atlanta groups that were being played on 88. The Athens music scene kind of overshadowed it, but I just thought that Atlanta music was so great. And it was almost like kind of a parody of itself. Everything was very funny – the music was funny, the lyrics were funny, and they never really took themselves too seriously. I just always got the humor in Atlanta music. And then you meet these local bands that you’ve heard on the radio when you’re 16 years old, and you’re just like, ‘Oh my God!’ To me, they were stars. I remember running into Marc Stowe for the first time and being so nervous – it was like meeting the Pope or something. And I had a big thing for Mark Williams, because I listened to ‘Pure Mania,’ and he worked at 688, so I befriended him at the club. I was like, OK, he works at 88 doing ‘Pure Mania,’ he programs the station, and he works at 688 – I just thought he was a god.”

Mark Williams: “I started the day the doors opened. I was working at WRAS, doing the punk rock/new music show, [and] they figured my show would draw some attention to the club. When I did start spinning records there, I would incorporate other stuff that didn’t fit into my radio show. It was a great time to be around and be young, because music literally was really changing. You had the emergence not only of what became known as punk and new wave, you had hip-hop and rap music and the evolution of black music too. So at the club, I wouldn’t play just specifically rock-based records, I would also play Grandmaster Flash records, and Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, and a lot of the street/underground music coming out of New York. I was interested more in the overall subculture music experience of all of it.”

ImageSteve May: “I never wanted a tag, like we were a new wave or punk club. I always thought of ourselves as a progressive rock club. Like, we did Sun Ra, Laurie Anderson – there were a lot of other acts that played there besides the punk bands.”

Jon Kincaid (WREK DJ): “One thing that’s always bothered me about the 688 T-shirts was they list all these bands that didn’t play there. There are a bunch of bands where they promoted the shows, but the bands didn’t play at 688. Laurie Anderson never played at 688, but she’s on the shirt. She played at the Peachtree Playhouse.”

Mark Williams: “The R.E.M. shows were spectacular from the get-go. They rapidly got popular.”

Anthony DeCurtis (writer, Rolling Stone): “I remember an early R.E.M. show there that I just thought they were gonna levitate. I mean, it was so exciting. I would guess it was around the time of Chronic Town, where it just sounded like they were playing one long song, and it was just this kind of rocking, jangling, exciting thing. They were so compelling onstage.”

Mark Williams: “I remember Steve kept them from going on until really late one night, and that really pissed them off. People were getting rowdy and wanting to see the band. They’d finished off the beer and stuff that they’d had, and they wanted more, and he wouldn’t give it to them.”

ImageSteve May: “I had given R.E.M. two cases of beer, and I told them I’d give ’em another case after they played. And Joe Thomas, who was sort of their roadie, came to the bar and said, ‘Steve, Sheila won’t give me another case of beer.’ So I said, ‘Well, go over there and ask Keith [Fuller, barback] to get one out of the cooler for you.’ And then about that time a piece of ice went flying by my head – that’s how Sheila would always get my attention – and she’s like, ‘Don’t give them any more beer! Their friends are drinking the beer!’”

Jeff Calder: “So R.E.M. said they’d never play the club again. And they didn’t.”

Jon Kincaid: “They still would come to the club. Peter Buck would get onstage and play guitar with anybody that happened to be there breathing.”

Anthony DeCurtis: “Peter Buck was there all the time. I remember the guys from Rain Parade, who worshipped R.E.M., when Peter came back to talk to them, they were just so excited. He would do it in a very casual way, I don’t think even realizing how encouraging and important it would be for bands to have him just kind of come by and say hi and tell them how much he liked what they were doing… I remember Peter taking me to see the Replacements for the first time there, when there were about 20 people in the place. And you could just walk backstage whether you were doing something or not, and say hello to the bands. It had that kind of feel.”

ImageDavid T. Lindsay: “What punks always said about destroying the barriers between the audience and the band, 688 actually did. You had a rapport with the bands and stuff. You were right next to them, and you could talk to them. You don’t get that much anymore.”

Steve May: “In the summer of '80, we were hurting, and then that September we got Iggy for six days, and then we did Gang of Four, Wall of Voodoo, Siouxsie & the Banshees and Echo & the Bunnymen like back to back to back. All those bands played in September of 1980. Plus Psychedelic Furs. I forgot about them.”

Tony Paris: “They did a great job of booking, they had great taste. There was always something there exciting and different, something you wouldn’t see anywhere else."
Jeff Calder: “It was fairly quickly part of a network of new wave and punk clubs that were on the East Coast, and ultimately the American network of clubs that was developing. The F.B.I. booking agency, they would just run bands into the club. When they found out about 688, they established a relationship very quickly with them.”

ImageAnthony DeCurtis: “Iggy Pop did a week of shows there at one point that I remember very vividly. I think I saw the first night and the last night. The first night was like an open rehearsal. He was just taking his clothes off and screaming at people.”

Jon Kincaid: “It was three dollars to get in. We bought our tickets at Rich’s, which was strange.”

Henry Rollins (Black Flag): “I will always remember the Iggy setlist on the stage left wall. I would really like to have a photo of that.”

Tony Paris: “People always talk about the week Iggy Pop played there. And I really thought those shows sucked. I’m probably the only person.”

Mark Williams: “Iggy came into the office, and he was talking about how he wanted to do an album of Frank Sinatra songs. And I said, ‘Well that doesn’t sound like a very good idea.’ Hahaha! I remember him turning on me like a rabid dog. ‘I’m sick and tired of people not liking my ideas!’ Of course he never made that album. Maybe I was the one that saved the world from it.”

Steve May: “I even remember what bands drank. Gang of Four drank three liters of vodka and four cases of beer. And of course Iggy Pop always had to have a gram before he went on. I didn’t secure it for him, but there were people who did. I would think that he would  share, but he didn’t – he did it all right there. The whole gram.”

Tony Paris: “Seeing New Order there was amazing. Seeing Siouxsie & the Banshees there was amazing. Especially when some of these bands would’ve played across the northern part of the United States, and never make it south because there were never places to play, and finally Atlanta was important enough a city for them to make the effort to come down.”

ImageAnthony DeCurtis: “I remember seeing John Cale do a show where the Fans backed him up, and it was incredible! I mean, it was these guys who totally worship John Cale, and it was just an astonishing show, and it was the sort of thing you would never see anywhere else.”

Brad Syna (manager, Variety Playhouse): “The Residents played there, and one of the guys’ eyeballs got stolen. They never replaced it.”

Doug DeLoach (then a writer for Creative Loafing): “To this day one of the most transcendent moments I’ve ever experienced was when they broke into James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s World.’ They did a gut-wrenching version that had the crowd swooning and some in tears. Guys with eyeballs for heads!”

David T. Lindsay: “I remember the Jesus and Mary Chain played until somebody tossed a beer on them 26 minutes into their set and they left the stage. I saw every SST band that played there – Meat Puppets, Husker Du, St. Vitus… You would go to 688 not knowing who was playing, and you would learn stuff. I saw the Bongos that way. They just turned me on to so many bands. I mean, I saw Fetchin Bones for the first time there.”

ImageJon Kincaid: “It was the Jags show where somebody up front was heckling the band, and the guy took his guitar and smacked him in the head. End of set.”

 Dan O. Farris: “Rodney [Chandler] from the Restraints got clobbered by the Jags’ bass guitar. He and I went up to give ’em an Atlanta greeting with a spit. We just spit our beer at them, it wasn’t a lunger or anything. And the bass player took offense, and cracked Rodney’s head with the bass.”

Brad Syna: “You could hear the guitar instantly go out of tune, and the guy was yelling and screaming. I was watching him walking outside the door, and then he just collapsed in a puddle of blood flowing out of his head.”

Dan O. Farris: “We let [an ambulance] take him. I don’t know if anybody went with him or not. We weren’t the most compassionate group…”

ImageRenee O’Hearn (688 bartender): “I probably started working part-time in ’81. There was Sheila and then Jerri, the other bartender. Then Jerri married that guitar player in the Restraints – Dan Timmers – and they moved to New Jersey, and then I started working full-time there.”

Steve May: “I thought we were gonna close in ’82, because it didn’t look very well. I pulled some money out of some stock that I had as collatoral, and got another $20,000 loan in the summer of ’82 to pay for the liquor license and taxes and stuff. And then in January of ’83 the club just took off. I can’t put a finger on it, I don’t know exactly what happened, except that by ’83 we were more the norm than outside of the industry.  I remember that Bill Lowery brought Alicia Bridges over to talk to me to learn how to be new wave!”

Kim Turner: “That Fleshtones show where the electricity went out – it was phenomenal! They were up on the bar, stomping for the beat and playing. It was so great.”

Peter Zaremba: “We played there a lot, and it always seemed like it always just melted into some big, sweaty mess. It was a tough place. You’d play, and there’d be precipitation coming from the ceiling onto the stage, you know, because of the sweat and the heat. I remember one night it just got so hot, and so insane, that we blew out the electricity twice. The place went totally black… After the electricity went for the last time that night, we just took everybody outside and played acoustically. And everyone loved it anyhow.”

David T. Lindsay: “It was like 96 degrees outside and 106 inside. People were taking off clothes, and there was a woman there in a floor-length mink coat! And she passed out, and had to be passed overhead from the center of the club all the way to the front door… I went over on the other side of the street with a bunch of people, and…you could hear the Fleshtones from the other side of the street, playing acoustic. And somebody, I believe it was the Nightporters, had gotten pissed off earlier, and they went to south Georgia and had gotten a whole bunch of nematodes, like 40 or 50, and turned ’em loose in the club. And they came out that night and started crawling on people, and people came running out of the club at one point. People made U turns on Spring Street and took off, because they saw people twitching and itching and stuff, and they thought it was an LSD freakout or something. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.”

Kim Turner: “The what? Nematodes?!”

Peter Zaremba: “I neither confirm nor deny that report.”

David T. Lindsay: “Has anyone brought up Young Schizophrenics? Only played at 688 but they played constantly. It was two people. It was an elderly black man who did bird calls, and a young guy who tried to suck his tongue down a vacuum cleaner tube. That was their whole act. They were always fun to go see.”

ImageDoug DeLoach: Steve allowed for a lot of creative freedom at the club. Some of it just to fill the night. But Ian McColl presented a series of nights called Next Wave Wednesdays, and…I saw amazing proto-music videos there. There were noise and experimental bands that otherwise would not have been on 688’s normal concert schedule.  Off the top of my head I can remember TransDuo with Ladonna Smith and Davey Williams, Shaking Ray Levis…And in addition to the music, there was dance – performance-type stuff that was beyond any classification, like Section 8. The point is, there was a lot of other stuff that wasn’t your standard 688 fare that went on there.”

Clare Butler (the Now Explosion): “We did lots of stuff where they ended up being furious with us. But we had good crowds! And we did a lot of theme nights – a Miss 688 Pageant, a Wedding Night. Some of the experiences that we had there made us want to open the Nitery Club. We definitely tried to be subversive, because we realized what a dude’s rock scene it was. We just wanted to do something that would shake ’em up a little bit. And it did.”

ImageMark Williams: “The Now Explosion, I loved them, they were very entertaining. It was part performance, part theater, but the music was really good. They were all interesting personalities. You had Lady Clare, and Larry Tee, who went on to be a big DJ in New York, and produced some of RuPaul’s records. But their whole bit in the Now Explosion was to really be controversial and try to push the envelope. I remember one night they did a ‘Free Meat’ show. And they came onstage basically all covered in pieces of meat and stuff. And there weren’t a lot of people there, and I think Sheila was in a particularly bad mood that night, and they were just kind of creating a bit of chaos up there, and she absolutely lost it.”

Alan Gamble (688 doorman/night manager): “They’d gone and bought pig parts, so they were throwing that stuff out into the audience, and for weeks afterwards there was this godawful smell. Eventually we found a pig nose on top of the air conditioner.”

ImageTom Gray (the Brains): “We did our ‘Dancing Under Streetlights’ video there. We were able to get a police permit and block off Spring Street, mainly because it was between two and four in the morning when we went out there! Charles Wolff had his drum kit up on the roof, we had a PA system set up on the roof, and we were playing the song, and everybody was dancing in the street out there. And people would stop – they’d just parked their cars and get out and come dance with us. There were all sorts of people out there in evening gowns and fur coats and tuxedos. Man, I haven’t seen that video in years and years…”

Doug DeLoach: “I remember the local bands kicking ass there. Bruce Hampton did some incredible shows there with the Late Bronze Age. He was smokin’ with that band back then. 86 put on just killer shows there. I remember Linda Hopper coming through with her Oh-OK group, and they just blasted the place out. Love Tractor did some incredible shows there. The Athens bands did some of the best shows I ever saw them do. ’Cause they would come in and sort of ratchet it up a bit, and really deliver.”

Alan Gamble: “I walked into the dressing room once before a Pylon show, and they had literally bought gallons of paint and were painting the inside of the dressing room. I always loved Pylon, but I was appalled. Those walls were almost sacred!”

Michael Lachowski: “We had a general disdain for the whole graffiti thing. We just thought it was obvious that everyone’s gonna do it, and therefore we were gonna be elitist art snobs. So we took it a step further. In our heads we were like, if we were going to write on a wall, our mark would be to go with such a wide brush that there wouldn’t be any graffiti – we’d paint the walls!”

ImageSteve May: “I think Pylon were really upset about the flying dildos. The most offensive graffiti on the wall in the 688 dressing room was by the Go-Go’s, an all girl band.”

Michael Lachowski: Tony came in, and it was just one of those things where instantly your entire world changes 180 degrees. All of a sudden we were face to face with the angriest person I’ve ever personally witnessed. To him it was no different than if we’d slashed the Mona Lisa or something. We were never invited back.”

Jon Kincaid: “I did see Phreddy Vomit play one night. They had something like a ‘Folk Revival Night,’ and Phreddy Vomit sat onstage playing ‘Mr. Spaceman.’ Things like that are just kind of hard to figure out.”

Phreddy Vomit: “I started getting press for nothing, right, for like walking down the street. But there were only five people in the city with mohawks then, you gotta understand. David T. Lindsay wrote in Muzik, ‘Who the hell is Phreddy Vomit? What was he doing stalking the halls at Pylon with his name written on the back of his jacket? His hair resembled a congealed salad.’ I was just being a local character.”

Renee O’Hearn: “Phreddy Vomit – that guy used to get on my nerves. When I met him he had hair down to his chin, wearing flannel shirts and listened to Neil Young. And within a year he had transformed into Phreddy Vomit.”

ImagePhreddy Vomit: “My friend Spider and his friend Rachel come over. And they’re like, ‘Hey, let’s drop acid and get some beer and go to the women’s prison.’ There was this old women’s prison out by Grant Park, like this big old gothic place out of a fuckin’ Edward Gorey nightmare. We’d go in there and drink and skate and screw and stuff. So we went out there and spent the day drinking beer, high as hell on who knows what, and…this girlfriend of mine’s band was playing down at 688. So we said, ‘Let’s go see her.’ So my sister Elaine worked the door. I hadn’t had an ID my entire life at this point. That’s how I was even able to go into this place and drink, was my sister worked the door. We get there and it’s some new chick. Where’s my sister? She’s in Athens at some party or some shit. So the girl’s not gonna let me in. So we go outside, and there’s a ladder going up to the roof. And we look at each other, and up we go. Not even seconds flat we’re up on the roof, drunk off our asses, mind you. And you know on rooftops, you’ve got places where hatches pop up and you can get into the ceiling to monkey with wires and shit? Well there’s one of these situations, and basically it’s some tarpaper on top of a wooden frame. Me in all my gullibility think it’s some kind of drum riser for me to dance on. I’m like, ‘Hey Spider, look!’ I go up on this thing, and pop right through it, hahaha! I came down onto a tabletop, so it wasn’t that far a fall. The thing is, I sprang off the table and go head first onto the dance floor, breaking the fall with my left hand, dislocating the first two fingers on my hand – they were literally bent backwards, hahaha! So I was there with a bunch of people staring at me, and debris falling on my head, and realized it’s time to make a quick exit! I literally get up and walk out the back door leaving a trail of blood behind me! They wound up at one point putting an effigy of my legs hanging through the ceiling, twirling around and around on a motor. It became part of the fabric of the folklore itself. Nobody sued anybody. Try doing that today!”

ImageClark Brown (artist/photographer, Blue Rat Gallery): “A lot of it, the music was a backdrop.  A lot of it was just drinking and partying. You look at those ticket stubs – it was only five bucks to get in.”

David T. Lindsay:
“There was such a cast of characters there. Like Mr. Wite-Out, a skinny black man who would show up and have Wite-Out all over his face, ’cause he’d been sniffing it!”

Tony Paris: “One night Bette Midler was there. She had done a show at the Fox. And I was standing behind her, watching the show, whatever it was, because you could stand behind her, she’s so short. She kept looking over at the guy that brought her, going, ‘My ass is itching! I don’t understand it! Ever since I’ve been in this place, my ass is itching!’”

David T. Lindsay: “I’m standing there, and this really bitchy woman who’s just screamin’ at people walks right up to me, pulls my elbow, and says, ‘Where’s the bathroom here?’ I said, ‘Over to the left.’ She said, ‘Every time I come in this joint, my ass itches.’ And it was Bette Midler.”

Jeff Calder: “I’ll never forget the time Tony Evans called me one morning. Richard Hell played the night before, and Tony called me at like 9:30, 10 in the morning and says, ‘Jeff, I’m at the Krispy Kreme. Can you come pick me up?’ And I said, ‘Why do you need me to do that?’ It was fuckin’ 10 o’clock in the morning, that’s like 4 a.m. to me. ‘Well, I need to get Richard Hell and the band out to the airport, and I know you have the biggest car.’ I had a gigantic Chrysler Newport at that time, it was a massive vehicle. I said, ‘Where will you be?’ ‘Behind the dumpster.’ So I had to go down and pick up Tony behind the dumpster, and then we went over and picked up Hell and some of the other guys in the band at the Georgian Terrace. I never, ever found out what Tony was doing there. It just seemed like the most perfectly normal thing in the world. That was the era. You didn’t even think to ask the right questions. I looked over to the dumpster and I didn’t see anybody, and then he came out from around the corner.”

David T. Lindsay: “There was the guy who showed up one night in a three-piece suit looking out of place, and he had a watermelon under his arm. We NEVER figured that one out.”

ImageSteve May:
“One night Chris Wood was shooting a gun in there. I think he made a target or something. I don’t know what I was doing – probably just doing the books at the end of the night. The band was loading out, it was after hours. I don’t think there were more than two or three people in the club at the time. And when he shot, something ricocheted and went through the bar and made a hole in the bar. And a hole in the wall, too. So the next day I got out some spackling and fixed the wall over the bathroom and fixed the bar with some wood putty. Sheila got totally pissed. ‘What are you doing letting somebody shoot a gun off in the club?’ It could’ve ricocheted and gone through the drywall and hit me or something.”

Jeff Calder: “Jesus, there’s so many crazy things that happened there.”

Steve May
: “688 was one of the few clubs you could go into and raise hell. You could go and let your hair down and go crazy. And people loved it for that fact. There wasn’t a lot of stuff to mess up.”

Renee O’Hearn: “Those earlier years, it was so great, but towards the end, when a lot of those more hardcore L.A. bands would come in, it seemed like we wouldn’t get all of our regulars. A lot of times it would just be Marines who wanted to come in there and slam-dance. One of the last nights I worked there, and I thought, ‘I cannot do this much longer with these bands,’ was when Black Flag played. Nice guys, but I just remember watching all these people coming in with leather wristbands with nails sticking out of them, and people would come up to the bar with blood gushing. I remember this one guy got his nose smashed and it was just spurting on the bar, and I was grabbing cocktail napkins…”

Henry Rollins: “I think it was in 1984, the Meat Puppets were opening and way in the back off the stage right side, there was an elevated strip where people were sitting. One guy had loaded his table with beer cans, which he was crushing up and throwing at the band. I watched him do it a couple of times and then grabbed him and flipped him over the rail and he hit the deck hard. I really liked that.”

Kevn Kinney (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’):
“Drivin’ played some free beer deal or something and all these skinheads showed up and started a fight with just about anyone....I was just soaked in beer. It was something I had never really seen before.”

Jon Kincaid: “The Anti-Heros wrote their ‘Disco Riot’ song about that night. It was a dollar to get in and free beer when you got inside. So apparently the skins had been drinking all night, which is always a good mix for disaster. They were just harassing the crap out of Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. They were throwing beer on Kevn, and Kevn was just trashing them. When I walked in I knew there were problems, because the skins were rolling a black guy in the doorway, a homeless guy.”

John Wicker (688 co-owner, later years): “They were just being general skinhead dickheads, the new rednecks. And then I confronted them, and it went from there. I’d seen ’em beat this one kid up, I didn’t know what was happening inside. I got into a confrontation where it was me against about 12 guys, and I got the worst of it.”

Steve May: “John took out two of them with a caulker.”

John Wicker:
“Huh? He’s an idiot, haha! It was a wrench. I had a wrench under my seat in my van.”

ImageJon Kincaid: “I went back inside and was talking to David Lindsay among other people. I walk back out, and the street’s just filled with police cars and ambulances. They pulled [Wicker] out of the van and beat the shit out of him. It made the news that night.”

John Wicker: “I got like 110 stitches and a broken nose. But that’s after they’d tried to attack me. They kicked my face with their steel-toe boots. And a four-inch pole, they were beating my head with that.”

Jon Kincaid: “I heard a story that they were around back afterwards and [Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ bassist] Tim Nielsen just jumped on one of them and was beatin’ the crap out of him, and skinheads were trying to pull Tim off and were pulling clumps of hair out of Tim’s head.”

Kevn Kinney: “We took ’em to court for that. And that was sort of the beginning of the end for their thing. We were prosecuting the skinheads. We knew who they were, ‘cause they were all in our neighborhood. And there was one, I’m not sure if he was a minor or not, and he was Jewish. He was from this really rich Jewish family, and I’m like, ‘You’re a fuckin’ skinhead, dumbass!’ That’s when we changed our publishing to Hairhead Music.”

ImageRenee O’Hearn: “I met my husband at 688. He came in on a Tuesday night, and there was nobody in there. It was him – he was the bassist for Missing Persons – and Warren the guitar player, and the keyboard player. The club was just vacant. Anyway, we struck up a conversation, and went out to dinner, and then saw each other occasionally. I went out to L.A. and visited with him a while. We certainly weren’t an item or anything. And then when we saw each other in ’84, we just kind of decided to get married! It was August, and Missing Persons were playing at Six Flags, I think. And we got married that December, and I moved to L.A.”

Tony Paris: “There was certainly a lot of action in the bathrooms at 688. Especially in the women’s bathroom. You had those stalls, and the doors would close. I won’t go into detail. But there were certain times…”

Phreddy Vomit: “The drinking age was 18 and19 [Georgia raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 19 in September 1980], so you  had all these loaded 18-year-old chicks, and also 16 and 17 with their sister’s ID, right? So it was just like this total fuckin’ pussy-fest going on. And there wasn’t no AIDS epidemic…Oh yeah, I got banged in the bathroom one night!”

Scott Hoffman (688 DJ): “Oh, God, man, I got so much pussy in that place. They should’ve made one of the bathrooms the Scott Hoffman Memorial Get-Pussy-In-The-Bathroom Room.”

Kurt Warner (688 doorman): “I got laid up against the cars a few times in the parking lot.”

Steve May: “We had closed one night, and the band was loading out the back, and I was walking back out to the office, where the hallway was that led to the front door. And Bob Burden, the guy who started Flaming Carrot Comics, is sittin’ there on a stool getting a blowjob. And he looks at me and goes, ‘Oh well – beats eating hamburgers!’”

Scott Hoffman: “It was almost our age of free love…We just kind of felt like we were ten foot tall and bulletproof.”

Anthony DeCurtis: “I can’t count how many times I drove home drunk from there. It scares me to think about that.”

ImageDoug DeLoach: “For a lot of people, it did become a home away from home, or even a babysitter. An outlet for behavior that didn’t have a stage anywhere else. And that could be both good or bad! This was a venue that attracted all kinds of activity, some of it not so pleasant.”

Alan Gamble: “I remember smoking with Marianne Faithfull in the women’s bathroom. Not weed, not cigarettes. We were smoking crack.”

Scott Hoffman: “The craziness that went on there, it was rampant. I mean, we were smokin’ dope in the bathrooms, doing cocaine in the bathroom. I never forget the night my friend Ricky gave me a Quaalude. I went to the bar, got a beer and popped the Quaalude. Ten minutes later he comes walking over and says, ‘What did you do with that Quaalude?’ ‘I ate it.’ ‘What?! You ate the whole thing?’ ‘Yeah.’ I just started laughing at him, and we sort of locked arms and started doing this Irish spin-around dance, and the next thing I remember it’s Sunday morning and I’m laying on the couch.”

Steve May: “Everybody partied. We all did our share back then. The point is, I always had a watchdog on me, and her name was Sheila Browning.”

Kurt Warner: “The barback, he was sellin’ blow there. And this guy Manuel – man, that guy, you would smell the Old Spice before he ever walked in there. He was selling eightballs to him.”

Steve May: “All I know is Manuel came in from the Mariel boatlift, and he said he was a refugee from Cuba and a schoolteacher. That’s what he told me.”

ImageKurt Warner: “Steve didn’t want the barback there anymore. Here’s the irony of it – I picked up where he left off. But somehow the barback thought I was the one who told on him, so he basically went around town spraypainting everywhere, ‘Kurt Is a Homo.’ And I’ll never forget walking in on a Tuesday, and I get told, ‘Hey Kurt – you know you’re a homo?’ I went out back, and it was spraypainted everywhere. It was quite the claim to fame. There was even a stencil of it at a club in Birmingham.”

Jon Kincaid: “I remember Billy Bragg playing there, and he said, ‘I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve gone to a lot of places, and when people ask me what I’m going to remember about Atlanta, I will remember that Kurt is a homo.’”

Alan Gamble: “Tony [Evans] and I used to go to a mutual friend’s house who was a coke dealer and we’d sit around and smoke crack all night. It was pretty common for us to do that.”

Steve May: “[Tony] was on drugs all the time. Cocaine, freebasing. I got up and had to meet the Fire Marshall for an inspection one morning. I guess that was in April of ’85. And I walked in at 9 o’clock, and he was passed out on the couch with a pipe and particles of rock on the table. I found John Wicker to buy out his shares, at the end of the month.”

John Wicker: “My wife and I ran Pink Flamingos in Little Five Points. It was more her store. A friend of mine told me 688 was going to go under, so I went and talked to Tony and bought his shares. I just thought it was an opportunity.”

Kevn Kinney: “Cathy Hendrix was really the secret soul of the place and we really trusted her... She was the conscience of 688.”

Cathy Hendrix (688 promotions): “I was hired to basically do publicity and promotion. And to be Steve’s assistant. But I sort of made it into whatever it was. I think I got that job in January of ’83.”

ImageSteve May:
“In ’83 they passed a new law where our insurance went from about $1500 per month to $5000 a month. Liquor costs went up about 20 percent. I kept raising prices at the bar, but I thought there was only so much I could get out of these kids. They only had so much money to spend.”

Tony Paris: “When the drinking age started to be raised to where it was finally 21, that was the beginning of the end for 688.”

Steve May: “In ’85 I had to put in money to pay the withholding taxes for two quarters. Because that’s one thing you have to pay. So I said, ‘Hell, I’m not going to be doing this much longer.’ And Sheila and I decided to have some time apart in ’85. She said, ‘I’ll sell you my 10 percent, and you run it,’”

Renee O’Hearn: “She moved out to LA and stayed with us for a little while, and then she got her own apartment. She had two jobs, and she was trying to take care of herself. I think that she wasn’t really happy in her relationship with Steve, and I think she just wanted to leave and start a new life.”

Steve May: “And then Mike Hendry came in. ’Cause when Tony got a bunch of money from John, I kind of got jealous and said, ‘I want money too!’ I wanted to buy a condominium. So I sold him what the down payment was gonna be. I had 55 percent at that time, and I sold him 30 percent, and I kept 25.”

John Wicker: “He’s a lying fuck, like always! Steve only owned 15% of it. I owned 45%, and Mike Hendry owned 40%.”

David T. Lindsay: “When Mike Hendry took over, now that’s a son of a bitch. He always reminded me of a wrestling promoter. I got an opportunity to tell him to his face, ‘What, are you one of those guys who has more money than brains?’ And he flew into a rage and told me never to come back around him. He was never at the club anyway. I think Mike Hendry was their downfall.”

Steve May: “By July of ’85 I thought the writing was on the wall, but I had promised Mike and John that I would stay on for a while. And it actually ended up going on for another year. But they kept on saying, ‘How can we keep 688 open?’ I said, ‘Well, you’ll have to diversify, and maybe get a record label and do some things outside the club.’ I thought the club was not gonna support itself anymore.”

John Wicker:
“That’s when we started the record label, and we started a video production company, and we were in negotiations with MTV to sell a show to them. Live performances at the club. But MTV got bought out by Viacom, and they bailed on the concept.”

Cathy Hendrix: “A lot of starting the label had to do with Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. They were a band that we thought were going to get signed, and it was gonna happen soon. So being able to get them was a coup. The Fleshtones participated because they played the club often, and really loved Steve and wanted to do it. They were never really signed to 688, they were just on that compilation [688 Presents]. John [Wicker] was in a band called the Vinyliners, who had a couple of songs on the compilation. So it might’ve been a bit of a vanity thing for John to finance that. Dash Rip Rock was a band I knew from living in Louisiana. And finally, Arms Akimbo, who at the time were very popular – they were on the compilation, and then we put out their album and they promptly broke up.”

Steve May: “I was just going through the motions, pretty much, I guess, in July and August of ’86. I planned on leaving around the end of September, and then Sheila died.”

Renee O’Hearn: “Sheila was at the time dating the skateboarder, Tony Alva. And I really don’t know what happened. She was hanging out with people I didn’t really know who they were. I was married and had a baby, and had my son, so I’d see her and I’d talk to her, but I don’t really know who she was hanging with or anything.”

Steve May: “The reason they were all up at Laurel Canyon partying, Sheila was diagnosed right before she died with having cysts in her breasts. They had just done the biopsy the day before she died, and they took her out because she was real upset about it… It might’ve been an accident because Sheila was clumsy, but she had no business being there. It was a house, a two-deck house, and the structure’s all gone except for the chimney that went from the first floor to the second floor. And so a lot of kids just went out there to hang out, and see the view – it’s a great view. But the place was very rocky. She slipped and fell. It wasn’t really that far, but she hit right on the back of her head. And it was about 12 feet, 14 feet maybe. I just blame Tony [Alva] for bringing her out there. We got the cops involved, and they arrested Tony for wrongful death. They picked him up, arrested him and put him in jail. He got bailed out. This was in the course of 24 hours. I dropped the charges. Everyone said to drop it. When I dropped the charges, they finally released her body from the morgue, and I took her back to West Virginia to be buried.”

Renee O’Hearn: “For me, the whole thing was just so unresolved. I actually called that guy [Alva] when she died, and I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to sit down with me and tell me what happened. He was supposed to meet us at dinner, and the bastard never showed up! I just hate him for it. My friend died, and you’re the last person to be with her, and you don’t have the guts to sit down and tell me what happened?”

Steve May: “Someone told [Alva] I brought Manuel out to kill him. Anyway, I didn’t even bring Manuel. Manuel brought Manuel. He wanted to come.”

Renee O’Hearn: “When [Steve] came out to L.A. when Sheila died, he was hanging out with this guy that I know was a coke dealer. When Sheila died, her mother talked to Steve. He made her pay for his plane ticket out to California to oversee Sheila being flown back to West Virginia. Her mother who had breast cancer, and was a widow. They were very poor. And that pissed me off. That whole thing with Sheila haunted me so bad.”

John Wicker: “Steve wigged out…He became an absolute wack-job, became totally decadent, and we were all cokeheads. It was industry-wide. And he just let the shit go. And of course he didn’t want to tell us – as major shareholders, we didn’t want to hear that. We were tanking.”

Steve May: “I decided to take some time off. I was drinking, I thought, too much. I took a little time off and went deep-sea fishing for about a week off the coast of Georgia, and then I went to St. Martins for almost a year. Just to get away from all of Atlanta… It was John and Mike’s decision to close the club. I was not even there.”

John Wicker: “Well, [Steve] didn’t pay the bills, he lied to us. Basically that was it. I went down to pay the Budweiser guy, because we owed Budweiser three or four thousand dollars, or whoever distributes it. And when we got there [to the club], the power was turned off. And then I knew we had more problems. And it came to light that we had more problems than we ever knew.”

Cathy Hendrix: “It should’ve been decided that it was somebody else’s job, but no plan had been put in place. We really didn’t know how long Steve was gonna be gone, or what was going on with that.”

John Wicker: “We were probably 12 to 15 thousand dollars in debt. It came as a surprise to Mike and myself.”

Cathy Hendrix: “It was very sad, because it was just over.”

Jon Kincaid: “The last band that played there, the night before they closed, was Greg Ginn’s band, Gone.”

ImageCathy Hendrix: “We moved the record label office around a little bit. For a while we were in the back of Pink Flamingos, and we were over at that studio off Cheshire Bridge Road where we had recorded the stuff. I was doing all the publicity and promotion, and John Wicker was trying to do sales, and it’s amazing that we sold in the neighborhood of 5,000 of that Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ record.”

Steve May: “They sold the Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ record to Island, for half of what it was worth. And then we never got our money. We had shares in it. Everybody else got their money, but all my guys that put money in never got their money.”

John Wicker: “I never saw a nickel from it. I don’t think any of us did. The record label folded pretty much soon after the club closed, because the same corporate structure owned the club. And we went into bankruptcy. We lost whatever we had invested.”

Jeff Calder: “I will say about 688, by the time we were ready to sign a record deal with a major label, we had a really big following in Atlanta, and I think a lot of that was because of that club. By the time Blue Tomorrow, our second A&M album, came out, 688 had collapsed. And there was really no place for us to play like that – a place you could count on. It didn’t seem like there was anyplace else like that that took its place.”

Cathy Hendrix:
“It was my favorite job I ever had, to this day. It was just something of a time and place that I don’t think could be replicated.”

Doug DeLoach: “To me, it was not the end of an era like it might have been for some. Although as an observer of the cultural scene, it certainly signaled a shift, not only in music but in the cultural scene in Atlanta.”

Tony Paris: “It was like a home away from home. I mean, they kept a certain brand of scotch behind the bar just for me, because nobody else drank it. I know an underage girl that used to go to the club. She ran away from home, and you know, Tony Evans realized she was really gonna get in trouble if he didn’t take care of her. He didn’t take advantage of her, he just took care of her because he didn’t want to see her get caught up in some bad situation. So, there were three primary people, and they were always there, and they always cared about their customers. Tony used to cut hair, and I remember one night I had to go to New York the next day, and I wanted a haircut, ’cause my hair was long, and he cut my hair in the dressing room! And I think it’s things like that that make it the place that everybody remembers.”

Anthony DeCurtis: “I loved the social aspect of 688. I mean, it was great. The bartenders were beautiful – and they were actually really good bartenders! You’d always see your friends there. And there was something very bracing about it – it was really like an island of a kind of musical sophistication and fun. You really felt like something was happening. And you could be part of it.”

Tony Paris: “You know, it was adventurous, it was fun. There was really no other club like it, that has created and done the same thing.”

Mark Williams: “A lot of it’s a blur, but it was a great time to be a music fan, because there are very few times in history that you can say you were there when music was significantly changing. It was definitely evolving, and we were there in all of it, and a lot of it in our backyard.”

Renee O’Hearn: “I still have dreams that I’m still working there!”

In Memory of Sheila Browning, Tony Evans and Jerri Juris.

Special thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and memories. 

Backstage punk girls photo by Bryan Pritchard

Sheila Browning & Renee O'Hearn photo by Clark Brown

Backstage saxophone photo by Jeff Calder

Jesus and Mary Chain photo by Ken Kelly

All other photos: unknown.

If you took 'em and want credit, let us know!


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