saturn returns ten years late

12/3/07

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The first time I saw Greg Humphreys was on one of those makeshift, beer-soaked stages hastily erected at fraternity houses on Thursday nights. It was 1988, and I had come by the Beta house with some upperclassmen mostly out of curiosity: the Betas were known (at least at that time, and by my particular fraternity) as a cohort of coke-snorting assholes on their inexorable glide up the social food chain en route to playing golf with their Wachovia buddies making racist jokes.

I was prepared for the band to suck – at the time, they were known only as “the Beta band” (not to be confused with these guys) and it was about 105 degrees in there. But then they started, guitars jangled with Greg’s mélange of Morrissey meeting James Brown, and I was sold. I danced to those guys, soon to be named Dillon Fence, for years. Greg became a close friend, we went on many adventures, lived in a farmhouse together, and twenty years later, we still talk shit with the best of ’em.

His band Hobex was conceived while we were living in a e-coli-infested hut off Ol’ Fayetteville Road; Dillon Fence had dissolved, and Greg is not the sort of guy who doesn’t make music. I remember the word “hobex” meaning “a classy shortcut” or some other stylish way of getting things done – Norwood Cheek used to say, after a nice basket during hoops, that Greg had “laid it in hobex-style.” I’m not sure if that’s the real etymology, but that’s what I remember from 1995.

After a blistering record called “The Payback EP”, I knew I wanted them in the Pink House movie. They ended up being the best scene we filmed, more from Greg and Andy’s enthusiasm than anything we did. I was always sure they were one accidental (or not-so-accidental) song away from stardom. They toured relentlessly for eleven years, different lineups, different instruments, but always fantastic. And they just never got that one break.

This morning, I got this email: Greg says they’re packing it in. Not for good, but for all intents and purposes, they’re through as a regular gig. For some reason, I thought they’d never quit; Hobex survived almost everything, and Greg’s tenacity can – and should – be measured in historic proportions.

It’s odd that three of us who had been roommates at one time or another – Greg, Salem, and myself – have all had to face the undeniable fact that our obsession had to be abandoned. I worked five years on the Pink House movie but finally had to understand it was never going to be, at least in that incarnation. There were just too many things going against us – timing, money, and even my own level of talent.

Salem poured five years of his life into the Jasper Family Steakhouse, and made one of the most incredible restaurants I’ve ever seen. It was laced with folk art, run like a tight ship, and featured the best steak, fried chicken, brunswick stew and apple cobbler you’d ever tasted. He tried everything to keep it afloat, but the vicissitudes of the market (shredded cheese went up 1500%, for instance) and the unfairness afforded giant chains like Applebee’s positively killed him. He is the most brilliant restaurateur south of Manhattan, and still, the situation would not let him succeed.

Greg toured with a band for eleven years. I don’t think any of us can contemplate that sort of effort. He wrote songs that music critics claimed came from “a cosmic jukebox”. This is the guy who wrote “Frances”, “Lisa Marie”, “Black-Eyed Susan”, “Let Me Live” and “Playin’ Games”, to name some of my favorites. “Something For You” defines many of our college experiences, and Hobex’s “Rollin'” is the best angry road trip song in existence.

But the music business is a vicious, depraved mistress and if you wanted the absence of meritocracy in human form, look no further than a rock-n-roll exec. Sometimes you can write a song that would bring Jesus himself floating back to Earth on a gossamer clef note, and you still wouldn’t get the program director at the University of North Dakota’s radio station to return a phone call.

After my movie debacle, we started a new career, and love it.

Salem’s restaurant went from this:

JasperFamilySteak3(bl).jpg

To this:

JasperSteakLot(bl).jpg

…and now he runs the most beautiful, upscale, buzzed-about joint in North Georgia. It’s called the Sharp Mountain Grill, and they have a huge single-malt collection (let’s all go, shall we?)

Likewise, we await chapter three in Greg’s storied career. Until that happens, I just want to say to him, and Andy Ware, and all the other band members I’ve known: thank you SO MUCH for the music you created. Those recordings are your legacy, and will live on, passed down digitally through time. Dancing in your twenties can’t be recreated, but humming lasts forever.

0 thoughts on “saturn returns ten years late

  1. DFB's&T's

    As one of many UNC students who graduated in 1992 or surrounding years, I have many fond memories of Dillon Fence’s CD’s, performances, etc. Thanks, Greg, and good luck with the next chapter!

    Reply
  2. Ben

    Living Room Scene and Groove Baby are among my favorite Humphreys tunes. It’s sad to hear about the breakup. I was almost certain that he’d win acclaim on the European/Australasian/Japanese circuit.

    Reply
  3. emma

    I can’t think of my college days without thinking of Dillon Fence. I watched them all over the state from Greenville to Ashville, but mostly in Chapeil Hill and loved every minute of it. Some of my best stories from the late 80s and early 90s involve wathcing them somehow. Thank you for the music and the memories. I am always quickly taken back whenever I hear a single DF note.
    Something tells me, though, about Greg that the best is yet to come.

    Reply
  4. salem's little sister

    I had no idea that the steak house was completely gone. Ouch! That was an amazing shock to the heart. I can’t wait to get to the new place and share in the next great adventure.
    Thanks Greg and co. for always putting your heart and soul in every note of every song.

    Reply
  5. scruggs

    Weird, just two days ago I was searching the net to see if Dillon Fence might be getting together to play a Christmastime concert in Charlotte like I attended the last time we lived here. No luck. Sad GFMD and I missed our chance when we flaked out on a Hobex show in Atlanta last year before I moved away. Greg Humphreys is SUPER talented.
    Side note: “Ouch” at the end of your first paragraph. Hey, I’m a “recently retired” employee of the aforementioned financial institution and am married to a current “Wachovia buddy.” Rough reference! :-)

    Reply
  6. LFMD

    Ditto re: the greatness of DF. Best of luck to Greg.
    Every time I read about Salem and Jasper’s, I think about the post about the driving dog. . . was Jeeves his name? I am going to search for him again and get a good laugh. P.S.: sorry to hear about the steakhouse’s razing.

    Reply
  7. Alan

    Wow. I am so unbelivably bummed about this news. I’ve been listening since my UNC days, and like so many, my first exposure to DF was at a frat party where I was totally blown away. Greg has always been the guy that I thought was sure to be the next BIG thing, so while I’m sad to see Hobex packing up, it would be folly in the extreme to think that Greg didn’t have something else up his sleeve.
    I think I’ll listen to Rosemary tonight…and have a scotch.

    Reply
  8. Andy

    Man, I’m really bummed to hear about Hobex. Dillon Fence DEFINED my college days at UNC and I still have all of their albums in my mp3 player. I can’t wait to listen to Greg’s next chapter because I know it’s going to be great.
    Greg – Keep at it. You’re one of the most talented songwriters out there and one of these days the rest of the world is going to wake up and realize it.

    Reply
  9. GFWD

    Dang, Scruggs! What was our excuse for missing the Hobex show–aside from being sleepy parents of infants?
    Greg,
    I’ve written this before on this blog, but my brush with Dillon Fence greatness occurred when Larry Weaver needed someone to man the static center camera for one of their shows at Cat’s Cradle. Greg had a nasty cold but still put on an energetic show before quaffing a ton of orange juice backstage afterwards. It was the first time I heard Frances and I was hooked.
    In my humble opinion, “Frances” is the best, followed by Hobex’s “Groove Baby”, then DF’s “Sad Inheritance” and back to Hobex’s “Windows”. I just switched to my DILLON FENCE/HOBEX playlist on my iPod. You’ll be serenading me through my next billable hour!
    Like most of the folks on this list, your music was a big soundtrack for my years at Carolina. “Frances” would make the top ten undergrad playlist and “Groove Baby” is near the very top for law school, where I was good friends with your drummer’s (Steve) girlfriend, Kitty. She was a year behind me and kept our friends in the loop with updates about the band.
    Guess I’ll have to rent ROUNDERS tonight to catch “Windows” playing in the background.
    Let us know if you cobble together an album by yourself. With the technology and means to get your music out to the masses, you may not need a tour to keep your old fans, while finding new ones! How about an acoutic greatest hits album?
    So come on groove baby, groove with me . . .
    Namesake From Winston Dorm

    Reply
  10. Ken H

    From countless nights at fraternity parties and the Cradle in chapel hill to seeing Dillon Fence at the old 15 Minutes club in DC to seeing Hobex here in SF at the Boom Boom Room, Greg & DF have been part of my life for almost 20 years! Good luck with the next chapter – hope the best is yet to come.

    Reply
  11. grumphreys

    Thank you all for your kind words, and thanks Ian for the attention over the years (we performers do like the attention…) HOBEX has had a great run, but its time for us to give it a break. There’s a more of an explanation at our webpage and myspace blog if you’re interested.
    Its been nice to meet many of you through this blog. I am working on an acoustic solo project among other things… I’ll keep you posted. Both Hobex and DF will probably play again in the future, so its not “goodbye forever” if you’re a fan of either band.
    Had to get that Beta dig in there, huh? I will say that i played many, many frat parties with DF and learned that all fraternities to a one think they’re somehow different than the rest. Including Ian’s. ; ) Oh well. Dylan was a frat boy too. Wonder why Todd Haynes didn’t cover that era of Dylan’s life in the new movie? Just kidding. Haven’t seen it yet.
    Of course, good luck to you and Salem on your latest efforts. I haven’t given up on the Pinkhouse! Maybe you could turn our party scene into a youtube music video (Yeah!)

    Reply
  12. Ian

    Greggy- What are you talking about? The Lodge was PERFECT IN EVERY WAY!
    Just kidding. I should have added that I was as entitled and asinine as anyone in that room.

    Reply
  13. Annie

    Oh, Summer, you know ol’ Carlos is still around! I see him regularly around town, and I know Greg does too–he’s still all, “Aw shit…I saw the Black Crowes in Atlanta, man…they had this light show…man…I…lost…my…shit!”
    I had to hold back tears when I got the Hobex email yesterday, though I knew it was coming. I have to correct Ian and point out that Greg has not been traveling around playing shows for a mere 11 years, but for 18 (though I realize you prob just meant Hobex). There is no one out there who has worked harder than my brother over those 18 years, trying to make it with a live band as music has become more and more digital, processed, and controlled by huge corporate interests. Yet I do feel hope with the advent of internet promotion and music sales being able to bypass the Man, and some groups being able to make it on their own without dancing that dance with the devil.
    As many of you have said, I too feel great hope for Greg’s musical future and prospects. A band is a great and inimitable thing, but Greg’s songwriting is as strong as ever, and he has immense skills as a producer and flat-out player as well. We have talked for many years about recording together and now we might have the chance to do that (if I can stop hooping long enough) so keep your eyes peeled for the next Humphreys projects–I know they will keep on rollin’ for many years to come! Bravo Grego, and Bravo Hobex! (AND Dillon Fence–pronounced with a French accent)

    Reply
  14. Larry

    Greg Humphries deserves all of the accolades we can collectively pile on top of him – both as a band leader and as a person. His passion and genuineness bleed through every note and lyric.
    I know for a fact that there are kids of this blog’s readers who listen to Dillon Fence today. Think about that for a second…
    Like others, I believe the best is yet to come for Dillon Fence and Hobex. Greg’s music stands the test of time. It will be heard.

    Reply
  15. Neva

    Most of my great college memories (and many thereafter) involve Dillon Fence. Greg, you are on my life soundtrack. Good luck with whatever great things are coming your way!

    Reply
  16. John Schultz

    Larry- you are dead on. The iPod was cranking some Fence and Hobex this morning. And my affinity for Greg’s music goes way beyond my personal history with him and the others. It is great music and will remain that way.
    I’m glad I was there for a lot of it. I hope I am around for more.
    PS A lot of us from Winston experienced “The Trash” so by my watch it is around 25 years.

    Reply
  17. craighill

    agreed! thanks for all the good grooves over the years. last summer’s hobex show in wilmington was a great sendoff (for now)!

    Reply
  18. emma

    What are the odds? The first time it happened, I thought it a coincidence. The second time it happened, it was just eerie. I’ve shuffled my I-pod twice today. Out of 2,500 songs, each shuffle started out with a DF song. The first was Remember, the second shuffle started out with Union Grove.

    Reply
  19. Rebecca

    Dillon Fence! Okay, now I need to buy one of their albums for my iPod. Are they on iTunes? Somebody please let me know how to do this. Greg, I promise not to illegally download your music!
    Best of luck to you in your next adventures.

    Reply
  20. cullen

    I saw one great Dillon Fence show at Cat’s Cradle; maybe it was the one replete with the aforementioned performance-enhancing O.J.
    Anyway, ah yes I remember it well and I’ve still got the scar where I ran smack-dab into an hornery sideview mirror while in great haste to flee a post-concert public urination rap there in the weeds off Rosemary Street. B/W that near-miss and my very first speeding ticket (garnered in HS in Winston-Salem with those Salem Academy gals in tow), I’ve got real fond memories of the Humphreys clan. XO Keep hoopin’ and rockin’.

    Reply
  21. eric orbock

    schultz – thanks for the trip down memory lane. i hadn’t thought about those reynolds high school talent shows since, well, about five minutes after they ended. 1980s era dust clouds at ziggy’s, however, have crossed my mind recently – i read a story in the ws journal about ziggy’s closing a couple of weeks ago when i was back in winston for thangiving. i’m fairly certain that i personally funded at least one of the deck expansions.
    greg – best of luck wherever your path leads.

    Reply
  22. Salem

    “Preppie Dead Head, let’s go to bed.” I hope those days were as simple and carefree as I want to remember them.
    Greg, congratulations on your music so far. Some times it takes more courage to end a story than it does to start a new one. I look forward to the next story.

    Reply
  23. Bud

    Greg and Salem:
    [Applause][Applause][stands][APPLAUSE]
    [Stomps Feet][APPLAUSE]”Woo! Woo Hoo!” [Stomps Feet][APPLAUSE]
    Encore! Encore!

    Reply
  24. hilary howard

    mr. humphreys is most definitely a lifer when it comes to playing music–and performing–for the people. the end of hobex will in no way signify his demise. i’ve been following him ever since he was in a scrappy band called “the trash” in high school–who else can make that claim?

    Reply
  25. connor beach

    Salem, We’re in Jasper a lot and are definitely looking forward to trying the Sharp Mountain Grill–and spreading the word about it to friends at Tate Mountain.

    Reply

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