Atlanta musician Evan Lee Frayer, who for many years served as Daniel Dudeck’s original percussive partner in Mudcat, died on Saturday, Feb. 29 of heart failure.
The 52-year-old had an existing heart condition that was diagnosed a dozen or so years ago, according to his friend, musician David Evans, himself a first edition Mudcat member. On Thursday, Feb. 27, Frayer went into the hospital with shortness of breath; early Saturday afternoon, his heart shut down. The suddenness of his passing stunned his numerous friends and fellow musicians from the “Northside Tavern scene” and beyond, many of whom played with him in some capacity over the years.
Shortly after moving to Atlanta in the late ’80s, Dudeck met Frayer while both were busking separately in Piedmont Park during the Arts Festival. “[Evan] was a skinny guy, had a fur vest, and orange socks, and these big boots,” Dudeck told me for an Oct. 2007 S&S story on Mudcat. “And a shopping cart, which he’d kick over, set up his little drums and play.” Before long the scruffy pair would often be found in parks or on street corners performing together, or with what would turn out to be a rotating cast of musicians in the beloved Mudcat band, whose upbeat, freewheeling jumble of American roots music entertained Atlantans for decades.
Frayer eventually retreated from full-time Mudcat duty in favor of other musical pursuits, most notably the NOLA-style second line-worthy Wasted Potential Brass Band which Frayer founded with trumpeter Mico Bowles around a loose Thursday night gathering of musicians dubbed the Lucky Dogs at Oakhurst bar Steinbeck’s. He could be found with numerous other outfits performing anywhere and everywhere over the years, too – some short-lived and some just one-off sit-in gigs, most long forgotten, in a wide range of styles: Cajun/zydeco group Hair of the Dog; the Madison Horns; Irish band Cabbagetown Criers; Three Dot Polka Band; Ross Pead; Dog Star; Jungle Jim and the Swingsets; Rock-a-Billy Roach; hillbilly roots/funk group Stonehouse Posse; and Southern blues legends Frank Edwards and Essie Mae Brooks… to name but a few.
Evan Frayer was a natural entertainer (he attended a performing arts high school), a witty, goofy fellow whose enthusiasm carried over into whatever combination of musicians he happened to be playing with on any given day or night. He wrote songs, sang (rapped, even!), and played drums, washboard, accordion, saxophone, harmonica, bass, guitar, banjo and all manner of stringed instruments. A man with an eccentric range of interests, he did lots of other non-musical, peripherally musical and fully musical stuff, too. He worked at radio stations, produced talk shows for Mike Rose (WALR) and Christopher Rude (WCNN), wrote satirical songs for Rose’s show as well as Kim Peterson’s WGST program, and contributed parodies to XM’s National Lampoon Radio. He had a wedding DJ business, and he did comedy. When his wife gave birth to their son in 2007 he transitioned into stay-at-home dad.
Evan was deeply passionate about many things, from the Braves and Falcons to local government to his Libertarian views on politics and society. He was particularly interested in the Olympic Park bombing of 1996, and the media mob’s upheaval of security guard Richard Jewell’s life – so much so that he wrote and starred (as Jewell) in a musical (yes, a musical, but a highly creative, insightfully written one) about the incident. In time for the 20th anniversary of the night it happened, Game On! had a short run at 7 Stages Theatre in Little Five Points in late July 2016; all shows were sold out. When Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell film made its world premiere in Hollywood last November, Frayer was there.
A celebration of Evan Lee Frayer’s life will take place this Friday, March 6 at Vecoma at the Yellow River in Snellville. An open music jam session is also happening on Sunday, March 8th beginning at 3 p.m. at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Little Five Points, and you can be sure Evan’s vivacious spirit will be filling that weathered watering hole and spilling out onto the sidewalk, makeshift and fun-loving and welcoming, like so much of what he did.