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Q&A: Just Being Ort

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Who Makes Athens. August 27, 2016. Photo/ Lexi Kim

Ampersand: What first interested you in Athens’ music scene?

Ort: I just enjoyed being a part of it. I knew all of the people. It made me think of Fred Schneider going, "I never thought I'd make a living doing something that was play." I'm still in touch with Fred. I'm still in touch with a lot of people. I've kept in touch with them.

&: Who are some of your favorite people that you met through the music scene?

Ort: Immediately, I think Jimmy Ellison. He wrote for The Red & Black under the name J. Eddy Ellison. He was, at one time, married to Vanessa of Pylon. Jimmy was, or he described himself as, the second worst bass player in the world. He didn't care who the first was. He just didn't care. He knew there had to be one worse. He reviewed bands and worked as an insider. He never believed in the 'it's us versus them syndrome.' He was constantly encouraging other people. That was one of the biggest things he was more than guilty of. He was a lovable, eccentric, frustrating individual who ended up dying of a brain tumor. It is really a tragic story. He was loved and one of the best friends that I have ever had. He played bass for a group called the Side Effects. They had an EP that didn't do them justice because they had a song that was throw all abandon out the window-like and it was called, "I Always Used to Watch Her." Kit Swartz wasn't much of a singer, but he didn't have to be. I don't remember all of the lyrics, but it sings itself. That was their most requested song. You can hear Jimmy thumping away on bass on that.

After that, considerably after that, I had a very wonderful lady friend. She and I used to go see bands together and she became quite a visible part of Athens. She was very shy before she met me and didn't go out, but I coaxed her out of her shell. She was beautiful and had long, beautiful hair. She wanted to grow it down to the floor. I used to brush it. She loved it. She'd purr herself to sleep when I brushed her hair. Then, I'd have to wake her back up. I miss her very much. Her name was Melissa Williams. She was the best friend that I ever had. A lot of other people in Athens loved her very much too. She turned me on to the Indigo Girls because she had seen them while she was going to school at Emory. And, as a result, I found a copy of the 1st Indigo Girls EP, the one that has never been reissued. I found it in a thrift store and grabbed it and now I think I have four or five or maybe even six of them.

Danny Beard is another one of the people who gave us the music scene in this town because he started DB Records in Atlanta out of Wax N Facts record store and recorded a number of Athens groups. He record the B-52s, Pylon, the Side Effects and several other Athens acts. For the longest time, all of it was still available, but he has had a cash flow problem and hasn't repressed. He said he's waiting to win the lottery so he can put everything back in print. He and his partners are still working together after 38 years. It’s admirable.

&: What is your favorite band?

Ort: Government Cheese, out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Now, that has a story. I lived in Nashville for a while and I got tired of hanging around there, so I got in the car and went to Bowling Green, for no reason other than to go somewhere. I found the record store in the mall and made friends with a woman who worked there. She told me about a band that would be playing at Michael's Pub. So, I went. I paid cover, walked in. One of the members wasn't there yet. Or later. Or later. They had everything set up and he wasn't there yet. Everything was ready except for him. Finally, he comes leaping through the door and apologized for getting lost. The bass player looks at him and says, "You better be glad you got here quick." Laying it on thick, pointing to me he says, "This guy has come all the way here from Athens, Georgia just to hear us." He knew it wasn't the truth, but it was the fire they needed. They put one one helluva show that night. It wasn't so much good, again, as it was magic. I came back down here and told the people at R.E.M. about them and they were familiar with them through the grapevine. The guy who ran I.R.S. Records was very interested in them, but they signed with somebody else. They release 3 records and were the darlings of Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Nashville. They're still together. They're still playing. All the original staff, same members, same roadie. It's still magic. They're still writing new songs.

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