Producer Danny Beard reflects on Georgia’s unique music tradition
This story has been updated.
By Kim Hutcherson, contributor
Danny Beard is an Atlanta institution. As co-owner of Wax’n’Facts record store in Little Five Points, he has been providing alternative and hard-to-find music for the city since 1976. His store has been an anchor for the neighborhood’s retail district and a source for alternative music for generations.
He also produced some of Georgia’s greatest alternative rock bands – the B-52s, Pylon, the Swimming Pool Q’s, Fetchin’ Bones and the Jody Grind are just a few of the artists who recorded with his label, DB Records. Last October, his important role in Georgia’s music scene was honored and acknowledged with his induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
An Atlanta native, Beard was born in Crawford-Long hospital. He attended Westminster High School and attended college in North Carolina before spending a couple of years in Athens at the University of Georgia.
It was there that he got the inspiration for what became Wax’n’Facts.
“I had been in Athens for a couple of years and there was a store called Ort’s Oldies,” Beard told Decaturish. “It had done pretty well. And there wasn’t one in Atlanta so it made me think about starting one here.”
Beard and his partner, Harry DeMille, initially rented a space for $110 a month. The store had about $700 worth of inventory, which could be held in just 10-15 boxes.
“I went around to different places and bought records,” he said. “Flea markets and yard sales and some of the stuff from my collection … and a place in Decatur called Cantrell’s. They mostly had books but he also had records there. Old Mr. Cantrell wrote a book called ‘Holy Stone Mountain’ because he believed that God was in Stone Mountain. He sold it on the shelf by the cash register.”
Originally, Beard and his partner intended to sell both records and books, as well. “The idea was to call it ‘Wax’n’Facts’ because we were going to start with records and books,” he said. “But the books didn’t really go anywhere. There was too much competition for that. The record part of it was what took off, so that’s where the name comes from.”
Beard started selling imports, at least in part, because he couldn’t find “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”
“When the Sex Pistols came out, I was looking for that, but I couldn’t find it,” he said. “I was looking for various records – imports – that I couldn’t find. No place in town had them. … So I decided to bring in some new records, mostly things that other places wouldn’t have – import singles, independent singles, things like that.”
The store did well and by 1979, Beard and his partner had a chance to buy the building – for $47,000, a price that seems like a steal to modern sensibilities. In 1987, the store doubled its size by expanding into the space next door and has remained essentially unchanged for nearly 30 years.
Along the way, Beard started DB Records. His foray into music production was motivated by friendship and love of local music.
“I had seen how [the recording process] worked,” he said. “And when I was lucky enough to see the B-52s, who were obviously amazing, I thought ‘Oh, this is what should happen.’”
Beard said they spent about $400 making the B-52’s first single, “Rock Lobster.”
“It worked out and did exactly what we hoped it would do,” he said, “which was to get airplay and get their name around so they could play in New York more and get a manager and a label and do what they needed to do.”
Beard said he didn’t plan to keep doing production work. “As far as I knew, there would never be another,” he said. “I thought ‘Rock Lobster’ was going to be the only thing I ever did. I was just doing it as a friend, because I liked the music and I thought it needed to be done. That experience made it seem like producing was really easy, just because they were so fantastic. It seemed easier than it turned out to be later on.”
Beard also speaks fondly of Pylon, a dance-party band that saw its heyday in the late 80’s. He says he was with the B-52’s Kate Pierson at a house party when he saw them for the first time.
“The guitar was so striking and immediate,” he recalls. “That was the first album that I decided to do…. The store was doing well so I had more money than I should have had at that point. It just seemed like the next thing to do.”
Beard said the only common theme amongst the bands he produced was the fact that they were all Southern and all fiercely individualistic.
“I was inspired by their music. They all sounded different. They definitely did not sound alike. Some of them … I don’t know [they] could have been in any other band. They just fit together so well… and they wrote stuff that meant something and they weren’t trying to imitate anyone else.”
Beard believes location – being in north Georgia – influenced the development of many of these bands.
“I think there is an isolation and an intelligence that helped,” he said. “In New York, when a band does something good, they are swarmed on right away and they have to come up with something else really quickly. Down here, they could grow. In Atlanta and Athens, there were places to play. So they could support themselves somewhat. It wasn’t like being in the middle of nowhere. And they could go from here to DC and New York. There was enough reward here that they could keep going, without the pressure that might have come in elsewhere.”
Despite his induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Beard says his record-producing days are behind him.
“It was a different time,” he says of his producing career. “When the major labels started pumping money into it, that’s when things got more difficult to deal with. It’s definitely changed and will keep changing. But there basically is no music industry anymore in terms of major labels. So much stuff is put out these days but it just doesn’t seem like it’s very good. I’m not sure why that is exactly.”
Beard is content to run his store and enjoy his community.
“Wax’n’Facts is the main gig, as it’s always been,” he said. “It goes up and down and can be challenging. But records have come back around. We never stopped. When they tried to kill vinyl we kept going with it. Fortunately there’s still enough old stuff around and new stuff coming. I don’t ever see myself leaving Atlanta.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled a name. This story has been updated with the correct spelling.