Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Tim Tucker of Tim Tucker and the Uh-Huhs was a regular performer at The Brick before it burned Sept. 17.
It was the place in Decatur for musicians to share their tunes. Then a fire destroyed it, and bands and fans are singing . . .
All we need is another
By Danielle Komis
Local musicians remember the day Decatur’s music died. And until that music returns, life just won't feel right, the say.
A fire that destroyed The Brick Deli in Decatur more than two months ago not only destroyed a historic downtown building, but also the music scene that revolved around it.
For local musicians, the popular restaurant and bar was the place to play, and for fans, it was the place to hear music ranging from hard rock to bluegrass.
Band members and regulars said word of early morning blaze Sept. 17 spread like wildfire.
Jeremy Braswell, vocalist for local band Bishop Black, couldn’t imagine the loss when he heard about it, so he drove to Second Avenue to see for himself.
“There it was, it had really happened,” he said. “That was a weird, sick feeling . . . I didn’t realize what a staple that place was to people my age until it’s not there, and then you realize what it was doing.”
‘Like a family’
Donnie Terry, guitarist and vocalist for Cobra Jet, said the aftermath of the blaze has been such a struggle because everyone at The Brick was so tightly knit.
“It’s been horrible,” Terry said. “We were really like a family.”
The “like family” phrase comes from everyone’s lips who used to frequent, work or perform at The Brick. They all had each other’s phone numbers stored in their cell phones. The numbers were unnecessary because they knew they’d see each other at The Brick.
To help The Brick “family,” Terry organized a benefit concert Oct. 20 at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts in Decatur, sponsored by Bank Street Deli.
The concert featured local bands and musicians like Bishop Black, Mike Roberts, The Whitey Herzogs, Tim Tucker and The Uh Huhs and Cobra Jet, and raised nearly $3,000 for The Brick’s employees and the restaurant’s new location in a building being renovated on East Moulton Street at First Avenue Southeast. Owners hope the new Brick will be open by February.
During warmups for the benefit concert, Terry identified numerous musicians milling around on stage that he had played with at one time or another since high school. When he realized how long the list was getting, he smiled.
“Maybe that’s why the music is good — we’ve been doing it so long,” he said.
Local music community
Many of the bands have slowly morphed over the years as members have come and gone. Today, some of the bands share members. Guitarist Jeff Sharp, for example, plays with the Whitey Herzogs, Tim Tucker and The Uh Huhs and Cobra Jet.
Sharp as well as others like Terry have played at The Brick for 10 or 15 years. Most of them were in high school when they made their music debuts there and were not even old enough to drink a beer.
Bishop Black didn’t have a strong following until it played at The Brick, Braswell said. Initially, the band’s members had to beg their friends to come. But slowly, Bishop Black’s fan base picked up until they packed the small bar at every performance.
“That got us our following, no doubt about it,” Braswell said. “We thought if we could get on at The Brick, we could get moving on up in the world.”
For many bands that played at The Brick regularly, the fire put a major kink in their schedules. Some of them had numerous shows scheduled there through the end of the year and had to scramble to find other places to play so they could still pay their bills.
Matt Thrasher, guitarist for Cobra Jet and The Whitey Herzogs and a former Brick employee, said few bars can match the money bands often made at The Brick. The place was usually packed and bands split the money charged at the door, he said. But more than that, he misses the atmosphere.
“It really wasn’t like work,” he said. “It was like ‘Empire Records.’ ” referring to a 1995 movie that features an independent music store that is more like family than co-workers.
Brick owners Lisa and Dave Champlin, and Tina and Rob Hall, who bought and renovated The Brick in 1998, talk up musicians who once played there and “made it” into mainstream music.
Bo Bice, American Idol runner-up in 2005, played The Brick on Thursday nights for three years, Tina Hall said.
Country musician Gary Nichols, who recently signed with major record label Mercury Records, also regularly performed there.
Bishop Black performs at an Oct. 20 fundraising concert for The Brick and its employees at Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.
Many well-known musicians also passed through the bar when it was still B.J.’s Deli. Among them is Johnny Sandlin, who produced The Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic and Dickey Betts and now has a studio in Decatur.
“It’s pretty crazy the people who have been through that place,” Braswell said.
Soon after the Brick burned, downtown Decatur nightlife all but disappeared, and few people went out anymore, Brick regulars said.
While business at nearby Café 113 on Grant Street picked up, the restaurant and bar did not enhance its music lineup because it doesn’t have the space to accommodate most bands, said manager Bentley Vaughan.
However, Simp McGhee’s restaurant on Bank Street extended its weekend hours and started featuring local musicians a few weeks after the fire to fill the void. Many bands that used to play regularly at The Brick were recruited, such as Tim Tucker, as well as former Brick bartenders. Hall even manages on the weekends.
While Simp’s “after dark” nights have been a success, owner Christy Wiley doesn’t plan on continuing the extended hours indefinitely.
“We’re not trying to be The Brick, and we absolutely have no desire to compete with The Brick,” she said. “Once they reopen, we’re done.”
Hall, who said the new Brick will be able to accommodate larger bands, is antsy for the re-opening to finally occur.
“It’s killing me at this point,” she said. “We’re going really as fast as we can.”
The diverse crowd of young and old Brick regulars also are itching for their favorite meeting place in Decatur to reopen, said longtime Brick employee Belle Hallmark.
“People always say, ‘This is our Cheers,’ ” she said, referring to the bar in the television series “Cheers.”
To Dawana Dumas, who owns Metamorphosis salon in downtown Decatur, The Brick was like Cheers.
She said she visited there every day for at least a year, sometimes even twice a day, to eat or hang out.
“I was the No. 1 regular,” she said. “I’ve lost my place. Decatur died with The Brick. That’s pretty much how I see it.”
On the Net
For updates on work at The Brick’s new location on East Moulton Street and to view photos taken at the old Brick, www.brickdeli.com.
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