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:
…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.