Charley Magruder’s Proprietor Butch Weaver Passes

Butch Weaver died on March 9th, after being in the hospital for several weeks (much of that time in the ICU) with an unidentified infection. No, I did not personally know “Pops,” as Weaver was affectionately known. But from what I’ve heard from mutual friends, and what I’ve gathered scrolling through the many Facebook posts from those shocked and saddened by his passing, he was a tremendously loved and loving man – genuine, supportive, hard working and generous. He’d just married his wife Tricia Morris last June. That’s just heartbreaking.

I certainly spent a few bleary late nights during the late 1980s and early ’90s at Weaver’s rambunctious north Atlanta rock club, Charley Magruder’s. During that time period, Magruder’s was Atlanta’s quintessential ROCKER club – as in long hair/big hair/AquaNet, denim jackets/leather jackets, super-tight jeans, scarves, chains, headbands, hot rock ‘n’ roll chicks (a good portion of them strippers) in painted-on spandex, lipstick, heavy makeup, studded halter tops, etc. If Magruder’s were open in the here and now, it’s where the Biters and Gunpowder Gray would be hanging out every weekend they weren’t on tour. But it couldn’t realistically survive these days, to be honest. Sure, there are hard rock and metal bands aplenty in Atlanta, but it’s a different attitude now. The music is uglier, more extreme, more serious, more brutal. It’s not made for a party bar. The most recent approximation we’ve really had in Atlanta was 9 Lives Saloon, which had a good run in Little 5 Points (in the space currently housing the Corner Tavern) during the ‘00s. Yeah, there are younger bands and fans still bangin’ out the hair-flingin’, amp-wailin’ hard rock, but too much of it has that tongue-in-cheek hipster wink-and-nod aspect fouling it. The heyday of hard party rock has passed, its fans have aged, times have changed. Atlanta has changed.

But in its day, Magruder’s was party central – nothin’ but a good time, as the anthem goes. It wasn’t where you went to see the cool college-rock or alternative bands – spots like the Cotton Club, The Point, The White Dot and Masquerade were geared more toward that crowd. No, Magruder’s was, I suppose, the closest we had to a wild “Sunset Strip” rock club during that time, even though it wasn’t that wild or debauched at all. It was just a joint in a suburban strip mall, Powers Ferry Landing, with low ceilings, split level mullets, cheap (pre-craft brewery) pitchers of draft beer and Jaeger shots aplenty. People would get fuuucckkkkked up. Bars could stay open ’til 4 a.m. back then. Sometimes there’d be drunken scuffles. but thankfully rarely in my vicinity. (I did get tossed out of Danny’s – another rocker bar a bit farther northwest, on Cobb Parkway – one inebriated night, but that’s another story that I don’t recall much about anyway.) You know how a lot of those ‘80s hair bands would have those cheesy synchronized chorus line moves where they’d all rock in unison along the front edge of the stage? Not only would you see the bands at Magruder’s pulling those moves, but the longhaired rocker bartenders – who all looked like they were in bands anyway – would do these stupid fucking routines where they’d hop around and flip liquor bottles and toss ‘em to each other and so forth. Soooo fuckin’ cheesy.

Magruder’s radio commercials seemed like they would air incessantly on 96 Rock. I can still hum the jingle, but I can’t remember if the words went “I wanna rock at Charley Magruder’s!!” or “We’re gonna rock at Charley Magruder’s!!” I’m sure one of you geezers out there will set me straight. Whatever it was, whenever my friends and I would rock at Charley Magruder’s, I recall it being pretty packed, always a scene. It wasn’t a large place, by any means. Original bands played Magruder’s, but to my memory most groups that played there on a regular basis played hard rock and metal cover songs, albeit with originals scattered in. The majority of the bands I saw there have long ago faded from memory, although I recall a few. Bareback (led by former Whiteface member Doug Bare, who passed in February). Alien. Illusion (which had Moses Mo from Mother’s Finest in it). Babe Blu. PG-13 (Jesse Dupree’s pre-Jackyl group). The Hellhounds (Georgia Satellites members) would plug in from time to time. But the bands were sort of an afterthought. Most nights I ended up there, I had no idea who was gonna be playing. You went there for the scene.

Touring rock stars would occasionally frequent the place, probably more for the hot chicks than the music. I may have brushed shoulders with a few without knowing it, but the only one I remember was Ron Asheton of The Stooges, who was there watching Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ play under the name Test Pylot one night in 1992. No clue what Ron was doing in Atlanta that particular evening, but hardly anyone knew who he was! He didn’t have big hair and shiny leather pants, he just looked like an overweight middle-aged slob.

The story as I’ve heard it goes that Vietnam vet Weaver was a longtime regular at Magruder’s who ended up acquiring it in the mid-to-late ’70s and by the mid ’80s had steered it into its notorious incarnation as the lively suburban rock hangout I’ve described above. Later, as grunge, complaint-rock and rap-rock began to overtake the mainstream hard rock market, Charley Magruder’s stature in the Atlanta rock club hierarchy faded, and it closed for good in the mid ‘90s when the shopping center was sold to Publix and Weaver elected not to relocate. But to many of those who regularly played or patronized the place, Weaver remained a good friend. My condolences, if you are among them.

Rockin’ at Charley Magruder’s. Man… hadn’t thought about that place in ages. It was never hip or cutting edge, but it sure was a fun place to get into trouble.

This article was amended on March 14th to reflect that Weaver took over Charley Magruder’s in the mid to late ’70s (not late ’80s as originally stated), and that he was hospitalized for an unidentified infection, not influenza.