Guadalcanal Diary in concert this week. A band closely associated with the hotbed of musical activity taking place around Athens and Marietta Georgia in the 1980s – they scored big points with Alternative and College Radio.
Characterized in the press as an alternative jangle pop group, they originated in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, but they were often billed as being “from Athens, Georgia,” in the early 1980s.
Murray Attaway and Jeff Walls became friends in high school and had both joined a punk band called Strictly American. The two decided to form a new band under the name Emergency Broadcast System. At the time, Attaway was sharing a house with Rhett Crowe, who was learning to play bass from Walls. She joined the new band and suggested that the name be changed to Guadalcanal Diary, based on the 1943 memoir of the same name. After the drummer who had originally been recruited to play the band’s first show quit, Walls’ friend John Poe was asked to sit in. Poe was a bassist with little drumming experience, but he soon became a member of the band. This lineup remained the same throughout the length of the band’s career. Guadalcanal Diary quickly attracted attention from its frequent live shows in the Athens and Atlanta music scenes and was signed in 1983 by DB Records, a small independent label based out of the legendary Wax ‘N Facts record store in Atlanta. The same year, the band recorded and released a four-song EP called Watusi Rodeo, along with a low-budget music video for the title track. Meanwhile, the band began recording with Don Dixon and followed up the EP with its first full-length record, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, in 1984. The album was well received by critics and enjoyed significant airplay on US college radio stations, drawing comparisons to fellow Georgia band R.E.M.. After touring heavily across the United States in support of their debut album, the band was signed by Elektra Records in 1985. Elektra wanted to immediately record and release new material, but the band convinced the label to first re-release Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man.
In 1986, Guadalcanal Diary released its sophomore album, Jamboree, produced by Rodney Mills and Steve Nye. The album’s initial reception was not as enthusiastic as their debut effort, with some critics noting a weaker production, but the album has retrospectively gained more appreciation among fans. The band decided to work again with producer Don Dixon for its next album, 2X4, released in 1987. Featuring a harder-hitting sound and greater diversity among the songs, 2X4 was the band’s most successful album to date and was listed as number 64 on Paste Magazine’s “The 80 Best Albums of the 1980s”, wherein they called it a “masterpiece”. The track “Litany (Life Goes On)”, became a minor alternative rock hit and remains one of the band’s most well-known songs.
In 1988, Jeff Walls and Rhett Crowe married and gave birth to a daughter, Lillian, the following year. After recording again with Don Dixon, 1989 saw the release of the band’s fourth and final studio album, Flip-Flop. While the music video for “Always Saturday” saw rotation on MTV, critics noted that the album lacked some of the consistency of their previous albums due to the band’s busy touring schedule. However, with all members contributing to the songwriting, it took on a more diverse and upbeat sound compared to darker themes of their previous works. “…Vista”, a song inspired by a campfire chant from Rhett Crowe’s childhood, and John Poe’s “Pretty Is As Pretty Does”, both became fan favorites. Due to new family commitments and exhaustion from heavy touring, the band was beginning to drift apart and decided to break up in order to preserve their friendships with one another. In the early fall of 1989, Guadalcanal Diary played their final show, a free performance given at Legion Field on the University Of Georgia Campus. The concert was organized by the Tau Epsilon Phi Nu chapter fraternity.
In 2009, as an answer to increasing online demand for new music and shows, Murray Attaway and Jeff Walls formed the band Bomber City as an outlet to play their large backlog of solo material and favorite Guadalcanal Diary songs, and have more recently formed Blasting Cap. In 2011, Guadalcanal Diary briefly reunited to play Athfest, where they celebrated their 30th anniversary.
In case you forgot, or missed them the first time around, here’s a chance to hear them in concert from 1988 and become a fan all over again.