eye (2007-40)

Eye on the Scene

Rockinâ’ with Rick

The first â“Wolfe Jamâ” hit the Corner Lounge Sunday afternoon as Knoxvilleâ’s music community rallied in support of Rick Wolfe, singer-bassist for the MacDaddies and umpteen other bands over the past 30 years, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. The Wolfe Jams (a second one takes place this coming Sunday, 3 p.m.) are organized by Ed Corts and Gail Meglitsch with help from Tami Brewster of the Pickâ’nâ’ Grin music store where Rick has been a co-manager and techie for a couple of decades. He has been a selfless mentor to a whole generation of local musicians and recording engineers.

Sundayâ’s show amounted to a real summit meeting of Knoxville musicians chowing down on the impressive potluck spread and cranking out some ragged but righteous tunes. Just one freeze-frame from Sundayâ’s party: Blues harpist Allan â“Harpoâ” Stocks warbling through a bullet mike while Wolfe and Corner owner Ed Corts hold down the rhythm section and Chriz Zuhr and Todd Steed trade Allman Brothers licks. Out backâ"Kyle Campbell and Leslie Terry tuning up a mandolin and fiddle.

Planet Attitude: Chuck Burnley

A wake will be held Sunday at Manhattanâ’s for a figurehead of Knoxvilleâ’s arts and music sceneâ"music promoter Chuck Burnley, who died of lung cancer Sept. 28 at his home. The 58-year-old booking agent and nightclub visionary ran Planet Earth, the lofty speakeasy-style bar that was one of the Old Cityâ’s anchor venues as it evolved from a Bowery zone into an entertainment mecca during the late â‘80s and early â‘90s.

Burnley is well-known for his uncanny sense of anticipating great movements in music before they became popular. Many of the groups he brought to town to play Planet Earth or Manhattanâ’s and other special events would become world-renowned shortly after hitting Knoxville. In those shoestring days, bands often bunked at the home of Burnleyâ’s friend, Lori Midori.

Midori, whose career as an artist was supported by Burnley, says she realized Burnley â“was on a whole other level from the rest of usâ” when, behind his back one time, she rather mischievously flipped through his Rolodex. The card that came up was Frank Zappaâ’s home phone number.

â“This is why he was such an iconâ"nobody had a clue as to who some of these groups were before Chuck Burnley. He felt the pulse of new music before it even hit big.â” Among the bands that came here ahead of the general trend were the Spin Doctors, Col. Bruce Hampton, Leftover Salmon, and Mr. Crowâ’s Garden (later the Black Crowes) alongside leading local musicians like RB Morris, the JudyBats, Smokinâ’ Dave and the Premo Dopes, and the late great jazz percussionist Samarai Celestial.

Carl Snow recalled playing there with his bands of the era, like Whitey. â“I remember Chuck as a music fan more than a club owner,â” Snow says. â“I mean sure, he owned the place and sometimes â‘ranâ’ it. But, more often than not, heâ’d be drinking, dancing, and having fun with the rest of the audience.â”

Burnley came to Knoxville in the â‘60s to attend the University of Tennessee. The Washington, D.C. native had previously lived in California. One of his earliest creative projects was partnering with Knoxville author and singer-songwriter Morris on a filmed version of The Man Who Lives Here Is Loony, Morrisâ’ play inspired by the life of Pulitzer Prizewinning writer James Agee.

Despite his sometimes tempestuous relationships with many who ultimately admired the man, virtually everyone interviewed for this article considers Burnley to have had a major role in mid-wifing Knoxvilleâ’s creative community to a higher level.

â“Chuck [had] an amazing spirit,â” says local music promoter Ashley Capps. â“He could be crazy as hell, but he was also smart as hell, a visionary.â”

Smith, now general manager at WUTK-FM, UTâ’s student radio station, credits Burnley with the stationâ’s early success.

â“To say Chuck was one-of-a-kind is shortchanging the man,â” Smith says. â“He was as passionate about whatever it was he was into doing as anyone I ever knew. And we were all the luckier that he was into bringing good music, and more importantly, new music to Knoxville when he was promoting. And Knoxvilleâ’s live music scene would not be where it is today if Chuck had not nurtured it in his own way.â”

Addressing Burnleyâ’s sometimes irascible qualities, Smith notes that â“more than a few people misunderstood Chuck, and for many reasons that were of his own doing. But I feel very lucky that he was a special friend.â”

The family has requested memorial contributions be given to the Wellness Community of East Tennessee. â" Jack Rentfro


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