Using Newspapers to Track Dates and Locations: The Last Resort and the 40 Watt Club “Uptown” (Part One)
Written by our friends at the Athens Heritage Room
Our article on the B & L Warehouse and Buckhead Beach noted that the 40 Watt Club moved to a new location in 1983, on Broad Street, where a venue called Smoke’s had operated briefly. Though this version of the 40 Watt lasted only four years—in 1987, it returned to its former home on Clayton Street, exactly where the Caledonia Lounge is today—the new, larger location gave the 40 Watt the chance to draw larger audiences and book more bands, helping it become, in the long run, the most recognizable of all Athens live-music venues, indeed almost iconic, as its logo and the very idea of the place has spread across the world.
Another historical development, later in 1983, would need to happen first, however, for the 40 Watt to stake such a central claim in Athens music history: the closure of the Last Resort, the venue that had for the previous decade been the go-to place for new, challenging music and out-of-town acts not popular enough to play the University of Georgia Coliseum or the J & J Center—or the short-lived early version of the Georgia Theatre as a music venue.
The Last Resort, as its name indicates, operated in the same space now held by the restaurant, the Last Resort Grill. It opened at the start of 1967, according to two articles, in January and July, in the Red and Black about the new coffee house/ performance venue. The second of those articles is shown below. Note that the address is 184 West Clayton Street. Originally, it occupied what is now the western side (left, or “stage right,” when facing the building) of the restaurant. By 1976, at the latest, it had expanded, with a separate performance space on the eastern side.
Among the renowned artists who visited the Last Resort in its early years were Odetta, on multiple occasions, David Bromberg in 1972, Dixie Dregs in 1976, and George Thorogood in 1978, not to mention a young, striving Jimmy Buffett in 1973 (at least according to a note about upcoming shows found on page 7 of the October 4, 1973, Red and Black) and a rising comedic star, Steve Martin, in 1976. In 1977, a banner year for the club, Athenians had a chance to see Doc Watson, Tom Waits, and Woody Shaw. A review of the 1973 Odetta concert was written for the January 17, 1973, Red and Black, as seen here.
An extensive review of the Tom Waits performance in the November 11, 1977, issue of the Red and Black, shown below, retrospectively shows the artist in a transitional phase of his career. Waits returned to Athens in 1979, playing the Georgia Theatre, as seen in the “After Hours” column and an advertisement from the Red and Black for November 2, 1979 in the second image below.
Also of note in this clipping is that the Athens location of the record-store chain, Record Bar, was still at Beechwood. It would later move to the Georgia Square Mall and in turn be replaced by Sam Goody.
The Georgia Theatre advertisement notes a performance by David Allen Coe, a regular at that venue for much of its history, and lists where one could buy tickets for the venue: Custom Sound (still open today), Hifi Buys (long gone), and Chapter Three Records, a shop on Broad Street that occasionally had performances on its second floor, including no less than the debut of Athens legends Pylon, earlier in 1979.
This page is included in its entirety because of the advertisement for El Dorado, the vegetarian restaurant that later morphed into Bluebird Cafe and was one of several busineses located in the Morton Theatre building before its renovation. And because this edition of the “After Hours” column gives a quick look at what was available in both Athens and Atlanta in November 1979. The Omni and the Atlanta Civic Center were certainly hopping, then, weren’t they?
As we have seen, a diverse array of talent took to the stage at Last Resort, but the venue focused on Folk and Blues. A better example than Odetta or Waits of the kind of lesser-known artists who filled the Last Resort’s schedule is Reverend Pearly Brown, a Blues guitarist from Americus, Georgia, whom you could see perform on the streets of his hometown and later Macon as well as at blues festivals and opening for rock bands. His 1971 performance at the club was advertised in the club’s standard way at the time: against a black background, a simple illustration of a lamp shade, the venue name, and the performer “this week” (Red and Black, October 6, 1971). Brown played both the Last Resort and at various spots on the University campus for multiple visits to Athens, including a night as Bonnie Raitt’s opening act at Legion Field in 1977. That concert was reviewed in the April 19, 1977, issue of the Red and Black.
The Last Resort seemed to put on more “big name” artists as the years went by. The number of search results for the Last Resort in the Red and Black increases significantly in the second half of the decade. The following advertisement from the April 20, 1976, issue for the Steve Martin performance shows that the venue was buying more space in the student newspaper.
An advertisement from the January 20, 1977, issue of the Red and Black for a performance by the Macon-based group Tall Dogs (which included Joe English, who was briefly a member of Paul McCartney’s Wings) is even bigger. Nonetheless, upcoming performances more characteristic of the club’s original approach, by blues legend John Lee Hooker (based on our research so far, we are not certain this concert ended up taking place) and folk singer Gamble Rogers (a regular at the Last Resort), are also noted.
The Last Resort also hosted the young acts of Athens’ “new wave,” as seen in the numerous clippings below of the advertisements the club ran in the Athens Observer, copied from the Heritage Room’s microfilm copies of the weekly newspaper. Even the B-52’s played there, early in the band’s development, as noted in the January 26, 1978, issue of the Red and Black.
The following clipping from the Athens Observer published on November 4, 1982, offers plenty of treats for Athens historians, with ads for WRFC, Chick Piano, and the Grill (at its original location on Broad Street). Among the performers listed for the Last Resort are two highly-regarded groups associated with the new Athens scene (Guadacanal Diary and Limbo District) as well as an older favorite, Glenn Phillips, who had been a member of Atlanta’s Hampton Grease Band.
Another clipping from the Athens Observer, December 9, 1982, shows that long-standing local favorites the Normaltown Flyers ventured away from their regular home at Allen’s to play at the Last Resort. The rest of the clipping provides another glimpse of the short history of the “i and i” and part of the Observer‘s events calendar, telling us what was going on at the Armadillo Palace, the 40 Watt, the Lighthouse, the Mad Hatter, Smoke’s, and the Ramada Inn’s Frog Pond Lounge (this hotel later became the Holiday Inn Express, as you can determine from the addressed listed: 513 West Broad Street).
A clipping from the Athens Observer (January 13, 1983) two months later provides an example of the kind of competition that smaller venues, in this case the Mad Hatter and the Last Resort, sometimes faced from the University Coliseum. Deserving of another article itself, the Coliseum hosted many musical greats during this hey day of arena rock. Neil Young, on a rare solo tour promoting his love-it-or-hate-it Trans album, stopped by in early 1983. Look closely and you will see that one could buy tickets (9-10 U.S. dollars for those lowly non-University students!) at Turtle’s, Wuxtry, and Record Bar (now at the mall).