North Asheville’s Music Scene Was Down and Gritty!

Yes, you read that right.  In the 1970s and 1980s North Asheville was the place to go for live music and dancing!

“Asheville Citizen-Times July 17, 1992”

The North Asheville History Project is underway. Fifteen North Asheville residents have now been interviewed and Scan Day at North Branch, Saturday April 8 was a great success. Our documentation and knowledge of North Asheville’s incredible history is growing every day.

 

That North Asheville was the hot spot for music was a total and surprising bit of news to us. Until that is, North Carolina Room Friend’s volunteer Pat Fitzpatrick interviewed Nancy Alenier. Many of you may know of Nancy and Jim Gardner as proprietors of the Asheville-based A-Tone Music, “a record company/booking agency/management service mixed into one.” [Mountain Xpress May 24, 2000 “Duly Noted.”]

“North Asheville used to be a lot grittier.” Nancy gives mind to the fact that North Asheville is now thought of as the elitist, the country club, the wealthy, the extravagant. “It hasn’t always been that way.” Nancy first moved to Western North Carolina in 1976, and in 1985 she moved from Madison County to North Asheville.

To be specific, there was the Brass Tap, Doc’s Rock Shop, and the Cosmic Ballroom.

“My particular favorite (bar) was the Brass Tap, which was a little bar–a dive bar–located where Atlanta Bread Company was. Capacity was about a hundred, at most. And it had mostly blues music. And it was always live music and it was a real scene, with people who wanted to get down and dirty. That was my favorite haunt.

“Asheville Citizen Times” ad for August 24, 1980.

It was called “the little nightspot at 633 Merrimon Avenue.” It also had the distinction of being “Asheville’s oldest music room.” It’s a story in itself. It has its own history.

The Brass Tap seemed to have begun in 1966 as Cebo’s Pizza (although listed in the city directory as Cero Pizza), then Suds and Pizza in 1967, Caesar’s Parlor in 1973 with owners Dave and Mary Lu Filkins, The Club, the Brass Tap (opened in 1980 by Steven Brady owner of Steven’s Restaurant and Pub on Charlotte Street) and then The Human Factor. Asheville musician Bruce McTaggart then took it over, renovating with a new bar and called it the McTap. Kevin Elliot bought the bar in 1992 calling it Bullseye Pub. The Alternative Pub must have been the last in 1993 with owner David McFarland.  It is said that live music started at this location in the early 1970s. Atlanta Bread Company moved into the new shopping center in 2000.

“Asheville Citizen-Times” ad for June 1, 1972.

What’s important about this long-lived bar is the influence it had on local musicians. North Asheville’s own Warren Haynes started playing there when he was 14. He walked there from his home at 28 Robindale Avenue. He played for free beer and tips. Nancy Alenier recalls hearing Warren play there.  And he was playing there in 1980 when someone from David Allen Coe’s band spotted him playing. The guy asked Warren if he’d be interested in playing with Coe’s band? Four month’s later he got the call and left to join the country music superstar as lead guitarist. The Brass Tap gave Haynes a going-away party at the Brass Tap the night before he left. Warren Haynes went on to join the Allman Brothers Band in 1989, and then formed Gov’t Mule part time in 1994, leaving the Allman Brothers in 1997. [Asheville Citizen-Times Dec. 28, 1980 and Apr. 24, 1998.]

Ray Sisk recalls being a “pizza-flipping singer at Caesar’s Parlor.” Sisk was back in town in 1987 and was playing at the Human Factor–somewhat of a homecoming for him. “More musicians have come out of that place than anywhere else I can think of. It’s got a certain magic.” [Asheville Citizen-Times Jan. 25, 1987.]

Malcolm Holcombe, who grew up in Weaverville started off there as well. His father bought him an old Suzuki guitar in a pawn shop. His first shows were at Caesar’s Parlor, which he referred to as “a popular hippie coffee house.” He met other Asheville musicians there, including Dan Lewis, Larry Rhodes and Ray Sisk. [Asheville Citizen-Times June 16, 1995.]

Asheville native musician Dan Lewis feels the same about the place. Lewis met Ironing Board Sam there in the 1970s. The two were meeting back in Asheville in 2012 to play at the White Horse in Black Mountain. Lewis says of Caesar’s, “In the early 1970s, we all cut our teeth there.” [Asheville Citizen-Times June, 15, 2012.]

“The Brass Tap was really the infamous club, you know,” Nancy said. “Again, it was teeny tiny. You heard the best music there and you hung out with the best people there who really loved the music.”

More on North Asheville’s music scene to follow.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian.

Do you have any photographs of this important location from Asheville’s music scene, or know of anyone who might? We are also looking for photographs of Merrimon Avenue during this time period. If you have any photographs of North Asheville that you think deserve to be documented, please give us the opportunity to scan them and add them to our Special Collection database. Please contact the North Carolina Room at 828-250-4740.

 

3 Comments

  1. You probably already know this, but there are a ton of photos on the Facebook page, “Remembering the Brass Tap.” I was a bartender at the Tap under Richard and Caroline Bush, and for a while at the Human Factor. Great article!

  2. Ironically, many of the people quoted in this article didn’t show up till well after the golden era of Ceaser’s Parlor in the mid 1970s had already faded; what they saw and heard were just shadows and echoes of the real magic that happened and ended before they arrived. The Brass Tap and all it’s later incarnations were louder and raucous but infinitely less soulful.
    To know the real story, you had to know the original owners Wally and Heyda Libby who created the opportunity. hear Ray Sisk and Larry Rhodes in their most elemental and soulful moments,
    witness the roots of Americana in the folk-rock-outlaw country fusion of Wedtern North Carolina hippie-outlaw-rock band Loafer’s Glory, experience the thunderous acoustic guitar and songs of young Don Humphreys, see a shinny little Weaverville kid wander in with a guitar and a certain charisma and slowly become Malcolm Homcombe, and occasionally witness the incomparable Anne Lalley and her other-worldly ethereal songs, or the deep mesmerizing folksinger voice of Steve Taylor and his 12 string guitar. And I was there too, along with blues legends Walter and Ethel Phelps. banjo genius Joe Freeman and a dozen others, all caught in the rapture of a time too perfect to last, but absorbing , remembering, learning and releasing it again…
    A sax player would wander in, a banjo picker, a rock guitarist in search of a jam, a old bum who played harmonica like the faded Nashville recording artist he claimed to be … this was our own small Mecca of Americana, decades before the term was coined, musicians hungry to play, fitting the improbable together in new inspirational ways.
    Years before the Brass Tap, Ceaser’s Parlor, as unlikely as it sounds now, planted the seeds for much of the music scene in Asheville, and is totally the roots of the singer-songwriter movement in this small corner of the world. Stone point, exactly five of us Asheville folk were writing songs, and we all knew each other pretty well.
    The Brass Tap was merely the loud rude and unruly child, the next generation , the smell of stale spilt beer and ears ringing the day after from music played enthusiastically but five times louder than the small room needed.
    And maybe none of it would have happened without Ray Sisk, who convinced Wally and Heyda to make live music the central theme of a nowhere little pizza joint, that planted a thousand seeds and launched a thousand musicians and memorable performances, before Asheville was Asheville. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it was the Brass Tap; Ceaser’s Parlor was the mothership, and Ray Sisk was the father.
    Dan Lewis ~ 5/7/2020

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