In the ’80s and ’90s, Four Strong Winds Coffee House (aka “The Coffee House”) was a legendary locale in the Azalea City music scene. Now, some of its most beloved musical regulars are conjuring their Coffee House memories and paying homage to its owner, Budd McLean, with the album “Children of My Heart: The Legacy of Budd McLean,” which features songs by a number of artists who still hold The Coffee House as a sacred place.
Nestled in the shadows of Holcombe Avenue, this cozy venue served as a jumping-off point for memorable local bands ranging from the Vomit Spots to The Ugli Stick. According to McLean, The Coffee House even attracted the likes of poet and playwright Allen Ginsberg when he appeared at the Joe Jefferson Playhouse in 1987. Author Winston Groom was also in attendance for Ginsberg’s pit stop on Holcombe.
Whether it was music, poetry or fellowship, The Coffee House provided an outlet for all offbeat local sounds and individuals. McLean says “Children of My Heart: The Legacy of Budd McLean” is a sonic snapshot of The Coffee House’s persona.
“It was a haven for people who weren’t quite sure where to go for their particular palette,” McLean said. “They liked to call themselves ‘weird,’ but they weren’t weird at all. They were very unique people, which you can tell by the album.”
Over the decades, Coffee House regulars have scattered around the globe, such as Casey Campbell. Currently, Campbell is a cinematographer in Berlin. However, The Coffee House and McLean still resonate throughout his memories. After moving to Mobile, Campbell’s longtime friend Karma de Gruy introduced him to The Coffee House. He likened his first experience to discovering a new world. Campbell says he was transfixed not only by the artistic and musical offerings of The Coffee House, but also the wide acceptance of all subcultures and all musical styles. Campbell considers this aspect one of the reasons why The Coffee House still remains a vivid image for him, and he thanks McLean for these sacred recollections.
“The Coffee House was a real safe haven,” Campbell explained. “It not only gave us a place to be, but it also gave us a place to be ourselves and cement lifelong friendships. I’d say 99 percent of the friendships that I still have from that time came from The Coffee House. Budd and all the Gonzos [Mystic Gonzo Band] were our adopted fathers, especially Budd. He’s the most loving, caring person that I ever met.”
These recollections also led Campbell to conceive, organize and produce “Children of My Heart: The Legacy of Budd McLean.” When the pandemic stopped the film industry in Berlin, Campbell used his time in quarantine to not only reflect on his past experiences at The Coffee House, but also to reconnect with McLean. He also used this time to experiment with songwriting.
After writing his first song, Campbell sent it to McLean and expressed how he had originally inspired his journey into the music world. In return, McLean began sending Campbell a “treasure trove” of poems and writings. After recognizing the lyrical nature of some of McLean’s poems, Campbell decided to gather all his Coffee House friends and immortalize McLean’s words through song. Of all the writings McLean sent, Campbell says “Tolstoy’s Joseph Boy on the Avenue” was one of the most touching. McLean performs this song with Eric Erdman on the album.
“It broke my heart,” Campbell said. “It was just beautiful. That song encapsulates so much. If you listen and read the lyrics, it’s full of a cast of characters from The Coffee House. He goes through all the years, too. He goes all the way back to the beginning. Some of those cats I don’t even know.”
In addition to his collaboration with Erdman, McLean also appears on the album alongside Campbell for “Grandfather’s Radio.”
As far as the rest of the tracks, this album features an eclectic mix of sounds that match the artistic ideologies that made The Coffee House famous. Mimi Alidor’s musical translation of “When I Was Young” is a twang-filled dose of jazzy lounge goodness straight from the time when beat poets ruled the underground. Harvey Leon’s “Barefoot Hannah on the Avenue of Pain” is a proper flashback to the early days of alt. rock. Vomit Spots take “Cadillac Bob” into the same lo-fi punk territory Bad Brains discovered with the album “Black Dots.” Schno Mozingo conjures Leonard Cohen for “Soldier of Misfortune.” The Warhols’ “Between the Lines” provides a dreamy mix of classic alt. rock and folk as an exit to this release.
Other artists who molded McLean’s words into songs include Cherie Lynn Warren Jennings (“Shadows Dancing”), Brady Potts (“Empty Pockets”), The Redfield (“I Can’t Stop the Rain”), Crescent City Souvenirs (“Passion”) and solo Casey Campbell (“Young Old Folks”).
“Children of My Heart: The Legacy of Budd McLean” is available exclusively on Bandcamp. In addition to the tracks, Campbell encourages curious listeners to indulge in the album’s liner notes. Each song includes the artists’ respective fond memories of The Coffee House and McLean. For Campbell, these liner notes are a beautiful, poignant companion to each song.
Ultimately, these recollections accent the passion used to transform McLean’s words into song. These liner notes are also a way to perpetuate Coffee House memories not only in the minds of the featured artists, but also for anyone who has been moved by The Coffee House or its beloved purveyor.
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