With her Collings acoustic guitar in hand and a small plastic container filled with guitar picks and capos in front of her, Michelle Malone unleashes a gritty, potent vocal.
She’s seated in the studios of 97.1 The River, slender in all black, her wheat-colored hair sitting on her shoulders, and she’s uncorked a song familiar to longtime Atlantans – “Big Black Bag,” from her early- ‘90s days with Drag the River.
Malone and the band – guitarist Jonny Daly, drummer Billy Pitts, bassist Phil Skipper and keyboardist Joey Huffman – had a searing moment in the spotlight with their 1990 debut record, “Relentless.” The toured the country with ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat and other like-minded Southern rockers and received decent radio play for “Big Black Bag.”
But frustrations among bandmates and with their record label led to a dissolution in 1992.
“It was sort of cut off at the knees. It took awhile to become friends again,” Malone said. “I loved those boys in the band like brothers and I still do to this day.”
So much so that Drag the River – which reunited for a few shows in 2017 – will return to the stage one more time on Saturday at the Vista Room with the original lineup (with the exception of Doug Keys on guitar instead of Daly).
Malone, who released her 15th solo record “Slings and Arrows” last year, will also host “Michelle Malone’s Blues ‘n’ BBQ Birthday Bash” for two shows at Eddie’s Attic on May 11.
But first, she spent some time at The River studio recently to talk to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the station’s Kaedy Kiely about getting the band back together.
On her early days as a musician:
“I wanted to write songs and play guitar like Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. While I was in college at Agnes Scott, I put out a solo record (in 1988), ‘New Experience,’ and then put a band together (Drag the River) and we got signed to Arista Records. I began playing with Jonny Daly, Billy Pitts and Phil Skipper. It was just the four of us for many years. And then when we recorded (1990’s) ‘Relentless’ album, Joey Huffman came in and played keys on a few songs and became a band member.”
On why Drag the River broke up after only one record:
“I think we were just tired and partying way too much. We had been hitting it hard even before the record came out. We probably needed some intervention and a break. Then we were making demos for the label and it wasn’t the music they wanted us to make. I make music that I’m passionate about and makes me happy because ultimately, I have to wake up and look at me in the mirror. I called the label one day and said, ‘I can’t be who you want me to be.’ They wanted me to be more like Joan Jett, who is wonderful, but it’s not me. Unfortunately, I burned bridges with my bandmates and manager at the time…I wish I’d done it differently in many ways, that I had handled the situation at the label differently.”
On reuniting the band in 2017:
“I had this crazy idea to put on a show and we had such a good time…The audience was amazing. We enjoyed each other - it was fun to play these songs together. We did several shows that year and we decided to do one more reunion show this year. We love that people still want to hear us.”
Michelle Malone and Drag the River
9 p.m. Saturday. $20-$25 (21 and older only). The Vista Room, 2836 Lavista Road, Atlanta. 404-321-5000, thevistaroom.com.
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