Karaoke Sunday at Southern Comfort

Wednesday March 10, 2010 04:00 am EST

The proprietor of Southern Comfort Restaurant & Lounge, George Jones, and his songwriting partner, Zack Landers, sit in the bar's rear office surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with enough Wild Turkey to last at least a couple of weeks. As they harmonize atop Jones' guitar-picking, Landers bobs his "South Park" trucker hat – with "Chocolate Salty Balls" printed in bold – to the melody.

"Is this wheerrre the lonely come to cry," they warble their way through the chorus. "Is this wheerrre all dreams come to die?"

It's another no-cover karaoke Sunday night in honky-tonk heaven, where time creeps to a standstill as soon as you pull into the dirt parking lot out front. Hard to tell if it's a truck stop or last year's hipster hangout, but there's something equally authentic and ironic about a place where black-and-white framed photos of visiting country legends Johnny Cash and June Carter hang beneath a blow-up Budweiser stock car floating overhead.

DeeDee Anderson, the laptop DJ, shouts out to the slowly swelling crowd of "East Atlantans" – her pet name for the young people who drive down several nights a week from that part of Moreland Avenue inside I-285. An old regular named Uncle Jerry saunters up to the mic eyeballing them every step of the way. "I look at 'em very closely," he says into the mic, "'cause I sowed a lot of seed in East Atlanta back in the '70s and '80s."

When Jones took over Southern Comfort 21 years ago, "it was a redneck rat hole," he says. Somehow, he and his wife, Jackie, cleaned out the hardcore riff-raff without sanitizing the character.

"We got a lotta loose women around here," says Jones, who performs regularly with the club's live band for fundraisers. "But this is a giving club. Most of 'em are hard-working, good ol' country people."

As Uncle Jerry puts more curlicues on "Lay Lady Lay" than Dylan ever did, a tattooed blonde in a denim mini and cowboy boots takes to the dance floor. She looks older than her cleavage, but proves she's still spry when she drops to her knees just so she can look up at her dance partner who happens to be in a wheelchair. She turns him to and fro enough to make the whole place dizzy.

By the time Landers takes to the mic to sing George Straits' "I Can Still Make It to Cheyenne," several of the wooden banquet tables have filled up with young folks. A butch lesbian with a buzz cut and a giggly smile leads her femme partner out on the floor to slow drag and laugh. As he finishes, Landers' velvet-toned voice draws an ovation from the crowd. He tips his "Chocolate Salty Balls" hat ever so slightly before heading to the other end of the club to play video slots.

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