Photograph by Richard Eldredge
With the commotion caused by seven-time Grammy-winning country trio Lady Antebellum strolling the red carpet at the Georgia World Congress Center Saturday night, it was easy to miss Danny Beard. The owner of Wax ‘n’ Facts and DB Records in Little Five Points at times appeared uncomfortable and mildly embarrassed. Along with recording artists Lady Antebellum, Wet Willie, Jeff Foxworthy, Francine Reed, and Collective Soul’s Ed Roland, Beard was inducted at the 36th annual Georgia Music Hall of Fame ceremonies.
In 1978, Beard financed the B-52s’ debut single, “Rock Lobster.” The indie 45 ended up selling 20,000 copies. Of his surprise induction, Beard told me, “I wasn’t sure what to think. They called me at the store. I knew my mom would like it. She’s 94. That’s basically why I’m here.” Beard paused for a second and then added, “And if I’m being honest, they should have put Pylon in, but, whatever.” (The Athens art-rock act was among the most influential acts ever signed to Beard’s DB Recs, but is still not in the Hall of Fame even after peers, including the B-52s and R.E.M. were inducted, in 2000 and 2006 respectively).
As if on cue, B-52s singer and Beard’s award presenter Kate Pierson appeared next to the record shop owner to guide him down the carpet. The two have been friends for 37 years. Beard got the idea for recording “Rock Lobster” after seeing the band play at an Athens house party.
“I just remember Danny stuffing all these singles into envelopes and sending them off to [iconic Greenwich Village record shop] Bleecker Bob’s in New York,” recalled Pierson. “Bleecker Bob claimed he never received them. He never paid us. But when we went up to New York to play one of our first gigs, he had them in the window! The first time we heard the single on the radio, we were all in the car together driving around Athens and when it came on, we screeched to a halt and we all screamed like crazy.”
Spotting Pylon lead singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay at the cocktail reception, Atlanta Grammy chapter executive director Michele Caplinger quickly assembled a DB Recs reunion on the red carpet. “Pylon never would have played outside the state of Georgia without Danny’s support,” Hay said. Added Pierson: “And we never would have played outside of Georgia either if not for Danny, and Danny would have never visited anywhere outside of Georgia if not for us getting gigs in New York”
Further down the carpet, Atlanta singer Francine Reed, the evening’s Pioneer Award inductee, was experiencing a first. Reed told the assembled media, “I’ve never been on a red carpet before. I might have to get me some of this for my home. I think I like this a whole lot!”
Inside the Georgia Ballroom, one of Reed’s table guests surprised her with a gift—a silver flask filled with her favorite adult beverage, Courvoisier. She allowed herself a tiny sip before taking the stage.
Lady Antebellum’s Augusta members Charles Kelly and Dave Haywood told me the award makes the band’s Nashville member, Hillary Scott, an honorary Georgian. “This seals the deal,” Kelly said. Added Scott: “I’m just so honored to be here with these guys tonight.” On stage, during an emotional acceptance speech, Kelly cited the Athens music scene and the B-52s’ music among his early influences. From her seat at Beard’s table, Pierson beamed.
Inducting Beard, Pierson told the statewide audience watching the live telecast on GPB-TV, “Danny was the rocket fuel that launched the B-52s and many other bands into outer space. He’s the man behind the bands. We owe such a debt of gratitude to Danny.” Beard in turn told the crowd, “One thing I’ve found to be true over the years, excellent artists are usually excellent people. My life has been enriched by knowing all these folks.”