Music Features

Todd McBride’s Rock and Roll: Saying Goodbye to an Athens Musician and Scene Supporter

Todd McBride. Credit: Mike White

I first met Todd McBride in Birmingham, AL in April of 1992. Virgil Kane, the acoustic duo that Mike Cooley and I had at the time, ended up opening for The Dashboard Saviors on a bill that was supposed to be topped by The Jody Grind and Deacon Lunchbox. It was just days after the horrific tragedy that killed Deacon and two members of The Jody Grind, so the show became a memorial to them with the Saviors headlining. Their set was blistering and cathartic, and both Cooley and I became fans for life.

I met Todd backstage after the show, but we became friends three years later, when I was working at The High Hat Music Club on Clayton Street. One of the first weeks I worked there, I mixed a show for The Hot Burritos that featured Todd and fellow Savior Rob Veal sitting in, doing songs backed by the Burritos. He at least claimed to remember that night in Birmingham, and one conversation led to many many more. Todd was a regular, and we had an immediate and deeply rooted rapport that only grew along with the years.

I learned that before the Dashboard Saviors, Todd had been part of The La Di Das with Vic Chesnutt. They had grown up in neighboring towns. Todd was also a player and contributor on Jack Logan’s Bulk album, which is a seminal part of Athens music history (and one of the defining albums from my first years in the Classic City). But it was with The Dashboard Saviors that Todd made his biggest play for the music big leagues. They were truly a great rock and roll band through and through. Killer songs (including two fantastic writers, as Rob’s songs provided the perfect counterpoint to Todd’s). A monstrous rhythm section (John Crist was an excellent drummer) and killer guitars from Todd and Mike Gibson. Rob’s singing had a wonderful ambling off-handed quality that perfectly complemented Todd’s boisterous delivery, but Todd’s singing sealed the deal. A voice that cut through the loudest of bands on any PA system in any room. 

Onstage and off, Todd possessed wonderful, sometimes contradictory traits. Whip-smart but without an ounce of pretension. Warm and big hearted but never one to take any crap from anyone. He could argue all night that Paul Newman was mightier than Steve McQueen (he was correct), but could certainly admit it when he was wrong. These traits gave his songs that something extra that is hard to define—the unspoken thing that separates the good songs from great songs. Todd definitely wrote some great songs. 

“Just Like Geronimo” is a great song—look it up if you haven’t heard it lately. “The Projectionist” is an epic story song, without the actual story. You meet the characters and imagine the rest, a piece of masterful writing, as much for what it leaves out as what it says. Still, as great as the songs are, his perfect delivery seals the deal throughout. Dashboard Saviors released three acclaimed albums and played tons of dates all over the country, particularly building a following up in Minneapolis where they attracted the attention of Peter Jesperson who had managed The Replacements and signed them to his Medium Cool label. Peter Buck (from R.E.M.) was also an early supporter, and he produced Kitty, their raucous debut. In the wake of their third (and to me finest) record love sorrow hatred madness, Rolling Stone called them a band to watch and things looked to be coming together towards them getting the success they deserved.

After years on the road, John moved to Minneapolis, and the band became more of an occasional thing. Todd, however, made one fantastic (and unfortunately hard to find) solo album called Sketchy that was released on the German label Blue Rose Records. Todd recorded it backed up by a young band he had been championing in town, The Possibilities. They did a little touring with him in the states, and Todd did a full-on solo tour in Europe. Unfortunately, after that, he never really toured much again, and only occasionally played shows. When he did, they were always excellent.

What Todd did continue to do was be a vital part of Athens’ amazing music scene, attending several shows a week, tending bar at The Roadhouse and always talking up that “killer” new band he just saw. He was a wealth of knowledge and great stories, including the greatest ever Andy Griffith tale that revolved around incidentally meeting him while checking the mail at his parents house in Griffin while Andy was in town filming a TV movie of the week. (I can’t print the story here, but will happily do my best T. McB impression and tell it to you when I see you in town.)

That first Dashboard Saviors show in Birmingham all those years ago ended with a rip-roaring cover of Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” played like a Crazy Horse song. Cooley and I stood there in front of the stage, swearing that we were watching the kind of band we dreamed of one day having ourselves. A few years later, when we did in fact have our band Drive-By Truckers, Todd was our most avid supporter ever. I’m pretty sure he never missed a single Athens show from our first shows at The High Hat through our many HeAthens Homecoming shows through the past 27 years.

Todd’s health hadn’t been so good in recent years, and we lost him on Jan. 16 after a tough battle against tall odds. Even in his later days, he still had his spirit and sense of humor. He said he lived a full life and lived it the way he wanted to. I miss my friend terribly as do so many others in our beloved Athens. Homecoming will certainly not feel quite right without him being here, even though I know he’ll be here in spirit. Here’s to you, T. McB!

Shotgun Shells: A Celebration of Todd McBride 

Feb. 10 at the 40 Watt: Trey Boyer Band, Dave Marr, The Arcs, A.D. Blanco, Shehehe, Classic City Jukebox, Mercyland, Shotgun Saviors 

Feb. 11 at Nowhere Bar: The Royal Velvet, Larry’s Homework, Five Eight, Amplifyer, Dictatortots, Dangfly