As a founder of The Last Resort in the 1970s, Melton created the first live performance bar in downtown Athens. The club introduced Athens to a variety of folk, blues and jazz acts from young musicians who today have become household names - people like Towns Van Zandt and Jimmy Buffet.
"He had a pretty big influence on a lot of people's lives," said Davis Causey, another Athens native and an accomplished guitarist who has played with Melton, the Randall Bramblett Band, The Normaltown Flyers and Sea Level. "I think the reason Athens music started was probably because of Terry Melton."
The Last Resort served as a venue for Melton's own act and several other Athens musicians, among them Brian Burke now of The Normaltown Flyers.
Before The Last Resort, Athens' music scene consisted mostly of bands that played cover tunes at University of Georgia fraternity and sorority parties.
"(Melton) touched a lot of musicians in Athens, whether they know it not," Causey stated. "Because many of the people he touched had influences on others."
Causey's first encounter with Melton became a life-defining experience, prompting Causey to look to music as a profession.
Melton was the intermission entertainment at a talent show that Causey attended in 1960 at the E.B. Mell Auditorium of Athens High School.
"(Melton) had on a paisley tuxedo and the greatest flat-top since George Jones and a '58 or '59 Les Paul Sunburst guitar," recalled Causey, who at the time was an 11-year-old just starting to play the guitar. "He came out and did a couple of Chuck Berry songs, and I was just blown away."
After the show, Causey said, Melton left with a beautiful girl on his arm and hopped into a 1959 Corvette convertible.
"It don't get no better than that," Causey said. "I thought right then, that's what I want to do."
Melton launched Burke's career, convincing the young man to get up and play at The Last Resort. Burke agreed that Melton laid the foundation for the Athens music scene.
"I would say that's definitely true to my knowledge," Burke said. "When I got here, The Last Resort was the only cool place where you could go and hear (live original music) ... he was the focal point of music in this town."
Melton also created a rock band that was primarily known as "Mad Dog" Melton and the Laughing Disaster and that played often at the bar and nightclub Between the Hedges, underneath Allen's Hamburgers.
"That was everybody's favorite band," said David Lay, former owner of Normal News and Tobacco and an Athens native. "If you wanted to party and have a good time, that was the band to go see."
Melton was a star athlete, a member of the Athens Little League all-star team that won the state championship in 1954, and later an All State running back for Athens High School.
But it was music that would hold Melton's passion.
"He probably could have played football and gone pro," Causey said. "But he did it the way he wanted to do it."
Melton's musical style came across raw and gravely, but Burke said he was a master at interpreting others' songs.
"He loved good soul music and good country," Burke said. "Terry could take songs and make them his own."
His appearance and mannerisms, what Burke also described as gruff and intimidating, belied Melton's true nature, Burke said.
"It was all bluff; he had a kind heart and was just as good a friend as you could ask for," Burke said.
His performance with the Normaltown Flyers on June 16 was not only his last public performance, but perhaps his finest, Causey and Burke agreed.
"All of us commented it was the best he had ever sounded," Causey said. "I'm just glad we had that really good thing of him playing live. He will be sorely missed."
"He did one of his best performances of all times," Burke said. "He was just on it from the word go; he sang, we played, it was really inspiring."
Graveside services for Melton will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Evergreen Memorial Park with the Rev. Jerry Meredith officiating.
Terry Melton founded the Last Resort in the 1970s, creating the first live performance bar in downtown Athens. Before that, the music scene consisted mostly of bands playing cover tunes at UGA greek parties.
A Mentor, A Friend, A Brother
originally published August 30, 2006 Flagpole Magazine
Terry Melton never was much of one for dogs or cats, however, in 1985, he seemed destined to have a pet.
His first encounter with the animal kingdom began, like many things Terry, at a party. Little Mary had found some excuse for a gathering at her house just inside the Jackson County line, and after an afternoon's festivities, Terry was heading home to the Hogan's Hollow section of Normaltown.
Now, Little Mary had a house full of dogs and cats, and one of her cats, becoming filled with wanderlust, decided to go home with Terry. The cat, unbeknownst to the Mad Dog, climbed on top of Terry's car for the ride to Normaltown.
To the dismay of a yard full of partygoers, Terry pulled out onto the Jefferson Road with the cat holding on to the top of his car.
He proceeded down the highway at 60 mph with the cat holding on and Little Mary in pursuit. The cat must have seen all nine of its lives flash by before Terry fortunately stopped at the Golden Pantry for cigarettes.
When the car stopped, the harried feline bolted from the roof, and it took 48 hours of Little Mary-led searches of the neighborhood before she found the traumatized animal and returned it home.
It was shortly after that that Terry became even more closely involved with the wildlife of Normaltown. There were several large oak trees surrounding Terry's bungalow in Hogan's Hollow. He used to frequently sit out front and enjoy the great outdoors. One evening shortly before dusk he was having his supper while enjoying the sunset under one of the great trees. He set his plate down on a little table and went inside the house for another PBR. Upon returning to his front door, he was surprised to see a raccoon helping himself to Terry's sandwich.
Terry's surprise turned to fascination as he watched the dexterous little animal make short work of his supper. The raccoon sauntered off, and Terry wondered if it would return.
The next evening Terry put some bread out on the table and anxiously waited. Sure enough the raccoon returned.
The perfect pet. No visits to the vet. No grooming. No worrying if Terry wanted to go away for the weekend. And those little hands - maybe Terry could teach him a few guitar chords and form a new band: Mad Dog Melton and the Hogan's Hollow Raccoon. Endless possibilities.
The raccoon became an instant Normaltown celebrity with an ever-increasing crowd gathering at Terry's house at dusk every day for the show. The bread evolved into fruit: the raccoon had it good.
This went on for over a week; then one evening a crowd was waiting in eager anticipation for the raccoon's visit. There was a full meal set out for him and a festive atmosphere inside as Terry bragged to his visitors, extolling the virtues of raccoons as pets. Then, as the darkness encroached upon the Hollow, they spotted something outside at the dinner table. But there was no soft fur, no cute bandit mask, no neat little hands or bushy tail. Instead, there was an ugly pointed nose, greasy, dirty fur and a long, hairless rat-looking tail. Terry's raccoon had turned into a possum!
The raccoon was history.
Now, Terry is history, too.
I was leaving an afternoon Braves game with Reno when his cell phone rang. Terry had suffered a heart attack and was dead. JT had waited until after the game was over to call. The Braves had gotten the crap beat out of them, but we had a good day up until then. Enjoy the athletes, the stadium, the crowd, the company. Terry had helped me learn to enjoy sports and keep them in perspective, whether it was Zero circling the Athens Speedway or the Dogs playing for the national championship. Keep it fun.
He also taught me to watch movies. He knew every character actor in every black and white movie shown on TCM and AMC. His favorites were the gritty westerns: Yellow Sky, Winchester '73, The Searchers, Red River. He disliked special effects, looking stead for dialogue and a story.
Of course, he taught me about music.
The first time I met Terry he was playing at the hippie gas station on the Macon Highway. It must have been the summer of 1971. When the police shut the show down as soon as it began, Terry's solution was simple. He got on his stool with his acoustic guitar and harmonica and started playing Dylan songs. He didn't need no stinkin' microphone or speakers: he proceeded to entertain the crowd. It was about that time that the Laughing Disaster was formed and set the standard for music in Athens clubs.
In the years that we were neighbors, we would crank up the stereo virtually every day. He taught me about the rockabilly pioneers and would try to explain chord changes in Beatles songs. As I started listening to punk and new wave, he would always give my new albums a listen and then give his unabashed opinion.
We went to more concerts than I can remember. He turned me on to Albert King, and I introduced him to Charlie Musselwhite. He loved to listen to tapes of the Laughing Disaster or Normaltown reunion shows. It was never about "listen to me." It was instead, "listen to Davis' solo on this one," or "how about Brian's fingerpicking?" or "check out Dean's drums." It was all about good musicians making good music.
Terry was more than my teacher: he was my mentor for life. He was more than my friend: he was my brother. His death leaves a hole in the universe that cannot be filled.
He was truly the man who shot Liberty Valance.
Tributes To Terry “Mad Dog” Melton
Death Of An Icon
originally published August 23, 2006 Flagpole Magazine
When Terry Melton finally let go, it was truly the end of an era
in the history of the Athens music scene, and it set me thinking
way back to September 1967, when I first came to Athens to
attend UGA. I had just moved into Creswell Hall when an older
girlfriend from my hometown came to my room and said to get
ready. Her boyfriend was on the way over to pick us up, and
they were going to “show me the sights!” She said, “Condor is
going to take us to the Last Resort to meet Mad Dog Melton.”
What images this simple sentence brought to my mind! Soon,
Condor showed up to get us. He had been to Vietnam and was
dressed in camouflage and combat boots. Both he and my
friend Mackie looked totally radical. I crawled into the back of
Condor’s car with about 10,000 beer cans and we headed downtown. Back then, there were very few “cool” places in Athens. On the way, we stopped off at the Onion Dome Imports to pick up some essential thing. The owner (I believe this was Gene Scoggins, who later bought the Last Resort from Terry) was sitting in a giant papasan chair smoking a hookah. Then to the Last Resort. At that time, it was one long room filled with little wooden tables and chairs. At the back was a tiny stage and a bar. I was introduced to Terry (who I later learned was Condor’s best friend) and we sat down and started talking. Terry told me that he had won the bar in a card game a year or so before. (I have since heard that Terry actually opened the Resort with money he inherited when his dad died.)
Condor and Terry regaled us for hours with hilarious stories and historical facts. Condor filled me in on Terry’s glory days at Athens High School, where he was a baseball star and an All State running back.
Finally, Terry crawled up onto the stage with his acoustic guitar, and I was treated for the first time to his unique song stylings. After he played, we all went to Allen’s Downstairs in Normaltown (later Between The Hedges and still later Foxz). This was the only club in Athens where you could dance back then. There were laws on the books forbidding selling alcohol and dancing on the same floor. Allen’s got around this by sending the beer down on a dumb waiter.
On that glorious fall day in the Classic City, I could not know that I had just met two Athens icons who would play important roles in my life as years went by. (I found out later that I had actually seen Terry play before when I was about 15 at the National Guard Armory in my hometown of Washington, GA. He was on tour with Al Hartley and the Heartbeats, who became renowned back then for playing the Big Hugh Baby Hops.)
When I left UGA, I went to be a flight attendant living in Chicago and Miami. One day, I got a letter from my brother Bob Jones saying that he was in a new band called Broken Home with two guys named Randall Bramblett and Davis Causey. Bob’s excitement got my attention, and I immediately planned a trip to Athens. When I got here, the music scene was in full swing. Broken Home had incredible original songs, and I recognized Randall and Davis from my favorite bands in college: King David and the Slaves and The Jesters. Before long, I had fallen in love with Randall and the music happening here, and I moved back to Athens. Besides Broken Home, Randall and Davis started playing in a new band with Terry Melton, Ed Dye and Arch Pierson called Mad Dog Melton and the Laughing Disaster. They were playing six nights a week at Your Mother’s Moustache on Wall Street downtown. The place was packed every night with people coming to dance their feet off and to hear Terry and Randall swapping songs. There are so many Moustache stories it would take a book to hold them.
One memorable event was the night the carnival came to town. Somehow, they got wind of the Laughing Disaster and showed up in force. When business hours were over, we locked the doors and the band played a private party for the carnies. This was a wild event that lasted 'til almost daybreak. The next day when the band came to get ready to play, they found that Arch had left his bass on all night lying on the stage. The hum from the bass had set up a vibration that shook all the shoes off the shelves in the shoe store upstairs. The owner was quite upset. Behind the bass amp, they found a strange guy sleeping with a chicken bone stuck through his hair.
I also remember the night we got the word that Duane Allman, one of our heroes, had been killed. Everyone was in disbelief and people were crying. Terry started playing Lennon’s “Instant Karma” and before long, we were all singing “and we shall shine on” at the top of our lungs, celebrating Duane’s life.
At some point, Broken Home took some time off to record two albums worth of original material (still my favorite music). After this, they came back to Athens and Randall and Davis, Cleon Nalley and Moi Harris (from Broken Home) got back with Terry in a reconfigured Laughing Disaster. This band played six nights a week at Between The Hedges in Normaltown. This was absolutely my favorite dance band of all time. (The law against dancing was still on the books, but we were challenging it every night.) Terry would sit on his stool up front with his guitar and belt out song after song in his gruff, gravelly voice. Some nights when he had had a lot to drink, people would be laying bets on whether he would fall off the stool. It only happened a couple of times. This was the period of the Normaltown “café society” of which Terry was the undisputed king. This was a large group of people who hung out together, played games, told stories, ate great food and played music, among other things. Every day there were new Mad Dog stories circulating. The fun times just seemed to roll on and on. Terry introduced us to Brian Burke, who later started the Normaltown Flyers. This band was regular in Athens and especially at Allen’s and provided many great nights of fun for a lot of people.
Looking back on all this, it occurs to me that I never knew Terry to be egotistical or mean spirited or full of himself. He was the king simply because of the force of his personality. In conversation, he was agreeable, sometimes profound or hilarious, always looking for common ground. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he would say. Even today when I hear that saying differently accented, I always think of Terry.
Eventually, changes broke up the old gang. Then I would see Terry only occasionally. He would always be interested and interesting. He was a very strong person who didn’t have to work at it. He looked like he could rip your head off, but he was really a big old teddy bear: a very sweet person. Also, the New Wave was born out of this early Athens music. Ironically, the hordes of new garage bands who would play for free practically put the older musicians out of a job. Of course, everyone still played, but it wasn’t the same.
Terrell Jackson Melton, Jr. was born on Dec. 30, 1941. He died at home with his mother on Aug. 9, 2006. He distinguished himself early as a star athlete. He started playing in bands in the late 1950s and became a revered musician and the leader of a movement that was really a large part of the beginning of the Athens music scene. Without his influence at the Last Resort and his playing in local bands, it is doubtful that this scene would ever have developed. He was kindhearted and a good friend. He made life more interesting and more fun for all of us who knew him. He had a lot of flaws, but somehow they just made him more accessible and beloved. He will be missed and remembered for as long as our memories endure.
I cowrote a song with Ralph Roddenbery called “Nobody Else Can Be Yourself.” The song is peopled with Athens characters, and Terry had to be in it. I had recently seen him at Foxz, and he told me that his doctors had said he didn’t have long to live. That was at least 12 years ago.
“Mad Dog Melton is holding on,
All the doctors said he shoulda been gone
But they didn’t know he was bad to the bone…
Let’s give Mad Dog a hand!”
That’s what I’m talking about.