Huntsville music icon Microwave Dave looks back at three decades of Panoply

single-meta-cal April 24, 2018

Microwave Dave and the Nukes have been a fixture at Panoply, Huntsville’s music and arts festival, for nearly three decades. They’ll be playing on Sunday, April 29, at 4:30 on the Showcase Stage.

Dave Gallaher, one of Huntsville’s musical icons, talked with City Blog about his Panoply memories with his band, Microwave Dave and the Nukes, the evolution and future of music in Huntsville – and his wise-cracking drummer.

I remember my first Panoply. I didn’t play. I was working for Robbins Music at the time, and the Alabama Symphony came to play. It was probably 1984 or ’85. They crammed the whole symphony on a stage, elbow-to-elbow, and they didn’t sound right.

Jack Robbins came over and said, “Can you make it sound any better?” They had like a 36-band equalizer, and they had gone into great detail with all the switches. I just went over and flattened them all out. They looked at me like, “What have you done? You can’t do that.” But it started sounding good. It had been set up for electric-guitar bands, not a symphony.

The band started in May of ’89, so we’ve been scheduled for every Panoply since 1990 – though we’ve been rained out and tornado’d out a few times.

We’ve played for a lot of people who wouldn’t have heard us otherwise.”

There have been a lot of things that have come from playing Panoply. The first is our drummer, James Irvin (center, in above photo), who is a lot younger than Rick and me. The first time he saw the band, he was 11 when his dad brought him to Panoply. We had a great big crowd and we were at the height of our popularity. He always reminds us he was just a little kid when he first saw us.

We’ve played for a lot of people who wouldn’t have heard us otherwise. The greatest thing was playing for all those kids, back when they had “Fifth Grade Day,” and they’d bus the kids in and we’d do three, four, five shows over one morning, 20 or 30 minutes, and we’d do a demonstration of the blues and basic rhythm.  That led to the Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation.

Huntsville = music mecca?

I started coming through Huntsville after the tornado of ’74. I was living in Fort Lauderdale but my manager lived here. I really kind of fell in love with Huntsville at that point. The people in the music scene all knew each other and when you’d have two or three days off, you’d find who was playing and go see them.

The level of talent was better here in Huntsville than it was in a lot of other places. There’s a stretch from Memphis to Muscle Shoals and through here to Sand Mountain and on to Atlanta. There’s a higher bar for musicians in this area. You better have something going on. When you play around here, you’ve got to do something that moves people.

We’ve got a lof of good thing going – like what Alan Little and Jim Parker do in getting professional songwriting talent together is good for the community. So are the music nights at Lowe Mill.

One thing we’re really missing is the 300- to 500-seat professional theater. I’m hopeful the new music hall they’re planning for the VBC can become that, because there are some acts and some audiences where you need seating and not just standing-room.

A theater like that would bring in the kind of acts that are on the way up or have been successful, who aren’t selling as many records but still have an audience. Where we stand between Memphis and Nashville and Birmingham and Chattanooga, we can get acts going to those places while they’re on the road. We could be up to our necks with great talent.

One of the most underappreciated things in this town is the Twickenham Fest. It’s more classical music, but they bring in some of the most amazing talent of any genre.

It’s like a friend of mine once said to me: “Huntsville is a great music town. Give me a kid with a guitar and put him on a corner, and he’ll have a crowd in 20 minutes.

Watch Microwave Dave and the Nukes