Fond, hazy memories of Dusty and the Doubts:
Reflections of a fan—and a friend
By Luke Boggs
In the fall of 1987, there was a constant cacophony of music thrumming up and down my dorm hall at the University of Georgia.
Alternative cuts by the Replacements, Pylon, Drivin’ N Cryin’. Classic rock songs by Zeppelin, The Beatles and the Stones. Radio hits from Prince, Billy Idol and Tom Petty. And, as you might imagine, no shortage of REM, then Athens’ reigning favorite sons and, according to no less authority than a contemporaneous Rolling Stone cover headline, “America’s Best Rock & Roll Band.”
One afternoon, through the hallway din, I made out the unmistakable sounds of U2, Edge’s guitar soaring. Yet, as intimately familiar as I was with the band’s studio output, this was somehow different.
The guys playing the music were across Midway Hall from my room on the seventh floor of Russell, an all-male, almost all freshman high-rise dorm. Russell, since somewhat tamed by the addition of female students, was then appropriately known as “The Zoo.”
If you let your mind run wild with every kind of trouble freshman guys might have gotten into in those days, safe to say it all happened on The Midway.
Bowling with empty booze bottles as pins. Betting on pizza delivery races. And, with inspiration from David Letterman’s wilder and, let’s face it, funnier NBC days, lots of things tossed out the windows to the sidewalk below. (I didn’t help push the massive cracked aquarium, but I was there to witness its spectacular demise.)
The U2 music turned out to be a bootleg cassette of a spring show in Chicago, from the first leg of The Joshua Tree tour. The guy playing it was John Jackson, an aspiring music journalist who has gone on to great success as an airline executive. His roommate, Dusty Edinger, was also hanging around. If his ever-present drumsticks weren’t in his hands, they were close by.
I became fast friends with John and Dusty—and many of our fellow Midway inmates. We had meals together, hung out together at all hours, and went to shows together, in Athens and back home in Atlanta, where we lived in the Northern suburbs. Half of our hall seemed to hail from the same constellation of suburban high schools.
Dusty, in my experience, was always a musician, first and foremost a drummer. He was also a backup singer, and, at least in my faded memories, an occasional lead singer. Sometime during our first year in Athens, he joined Doubts Even Here, which borrowed its name from the title of a New Order song. (Never having listened much to New Order, I’m not sure I ever knew this at the time.)
In one local review, the band’s music was aptly described as “power pop.” The description, which may have come from the band itself, fit and stuck. The group mostly performed melodic, up-tempo originals. Like many of their classmates, they were enthusiastic, full of life and joy, leavened with an artful measure of youthful melancholy.
Lead vocals were supplied by a talented and stylish young guitar-playing songwriter named Amy Romesburg, who was often compared to the 10,000 Maniacs’ Natalie Merchant. Amy was also pretty and charming, which meant most of the guys who followed the band (or saw them once) fell in love with her, to one degree or another.
John Hunter, who became another close college friend, played a big Rickenbacker guitar. His hair was long in the front, like Elvis, and he had to push it out of his eyes as he played, always with conviction, sometimes with an exaggerated sweep of his arm, like Pete Townsend. Christopher Thurston was the amiable bass player, thumping away and handling occasional fills.
Dusty supplied the drums. He hit steady and hard, with inspiration from, among others, John Bonham, Ringo and Kenny Aronoff, the pounding pulse of the Mellencamp band. His hair was long but carefully coiffed. He was good looking, with a bright, knowing smile, and he clearly enjoyed playing. He charmed the girls wherever they played.
In terms of music style, Doubts Even Here’s covers are instructive. The band regularly played The Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You,” “Big Brown Eyes” by the dB’s, Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” and “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers. (If you haven’t heard that last one in a while, give it a listen.) Toward the end of most shows, they also liked to cover “Rock and Roll All Nite” by KISS. The smiles all round, on stage and off, were both ironic and genuine.
The band had ambition and drive. They were always getting together at the practice space, a rented storage unit, with other aspiring bands banging away nearby. They hit the road, touring artsy towns up the East Coast and universities as far away as Bryn Mawr, the women’s college outside Philadelphia.
At a time when almost every college band had cassettes for sale, Doubts Even Here embraced the future. They pressed the first CD by a local Athens act, a single featuring the songs “So Few” and “Like the Wind.” The production, at John Keane Studios, was first-rate and no doubt pretty pricey, at least for unsigned college kids.
Locally, Doubts Even Here played frat parties and all the small joints in town, including the Rockfish and the legendary 40 Watt Club. According to legend, a single 40-watt bulb was all the light there was in the club’s early days, when REM would play regular gigs.
Personally, I went to the 40 Watt chasing rumors of unannounced REM shows at least a half-dozen times. These were exciting but doomed endeavors, given REM’s ballooning success. Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe never showed, but, one night, four guys with basses turned up as advertised. The Groove Trolls.
Dusty was easily the funniest guy I knew in college. At some point, I started writing down funny things said on our hall and posting them on my door most mornings. Dusty was far and away the most frequent contributor to “Quote of the Day.” And though I can no longer remember any of the impromptu gems that made it onto the door, I do recall Dusty contributing one about an acutely distressed platypus.
In those days, Dusty drove an effortlessly cool car—a yellow VW Karmann Ghia, a swoopy little retro coup built on a Beetle platform. There was room for two people in front and maybe one more slumped across the alleged back seats.
While the band eventually acquired an old van, Dusty could, in a pinch, carry his entire drum kit in the VW. The only spot for the bass drum was the front passenger seat. Cymbals and stands could be shoehorned in the back seat. The snare drum alone filled the car’s diminutive front boot, as there was no trunk in this rear-engine rig.
Looking back, I guess I may have been the closest thing there was to a Doubts Head.
The band reliably got my name on guest lists at dive bars and frat houses. I traveled with them to Atlanta for a gig in Little Five Points. John Jackson, my fast friend with the U2 bootleg, served as band manager, and he made sure I got a nice cassette recording of one of the last Doubts shows I saw, at the 40 Watt in the spring of 1990.
It was late in the term, my graduation fast approaching. I took a few hours off from studying for my history finals and headed out to the show. At the end, the band was gracious and reckless enough to let me join them on stage for a few choruses of “Rock and Roll All Nite.” What I sorely lacked in vocal nuance, I tried to make up for in enthusiasm and joy, as genuine, pure and heartfelt as the band’s own.
Those were heady days, and I’m glad I got to spend some of my heady youthful days and nights with Doubts Even Here. And I’m even happier, all these years later, to count the band’s hard-pounding and carefully coiffed drummer as a dear friend—steady, loyal, fun and funny. Even when the joke is on me.
Luke Boggs is a leadership communications consultant in Milton, Georgia, who has helped shape and share the stories of companies including Coca-Cola, Walmart and UPS. An enthusiastic music fan with zero musical talent, he enjoys cohosting Frankly Drinking, the swell Sinatra and bourbon podcast. These days, he is fortunate to live around the corner from his longtime pal Dusty Edinger. While he had high expectations for Dusty’s debut album, Luke was blown away by “Missing Links and Kitchen Sinks.” The release is now playing on heavy rotation—and loudly—in his VW Jetta. For more, visit www.lukeboggs.com and www.franklydrinking.com.