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While frequently lumped in with such Southern alternative pop bands as R.E.M. and Let's Active, Guadalcanal Diary was distinctly different from its peers, with a sound that was at once melodic and rhythmically aggressive, and a decidedly literary and spiritual bent to the group's lyrics. And at a time when Athens, Georgia, was being hailed as the new center of the smart-pop universe, Guadalcanal Diary hailed from Marietta, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb where the band formulated its sound with little input or influence from the local rock scene.
Guadalcanal Diary was formed in 1981 by guitarist and singer Murray Attaway and lead guitarist Jeff Walls, who'd first met in high school and joined a punk band called Strictly American. Rhett Crowe, who was sharing a house with Attaway at the time and was learning to play bass guitar, joined the new band's lineup, and shortly before the new group's first show, John Poe, a former bassist who has worked with Walls, was recruited to play drums when their original timekeeper quit at the last minute. Attaway's roommate chose the name Guadalcanal Diary, from a book by Richard Tregaski about the U.S. campaign against Japan during World War II, enamored of the name's surface ambiguities and undertones of patriotism and warfare.
After developing a reputation on the Georgia music scene thanks to frequent gigging in Atlanta and Athens, Guadalcanal Diary cut its first record, a four-song EP called Watusi Rodeo, in 1983 for the Athens-based DB Records label. A year later, DB and the band followed it up with a full-length album, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, produced by Don Dixon. Filled with rich but moody songs about faith, doubt, and the legacy of life in the Deep South, and driven by thundering drums and the clarion call of electric guitars, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man quickly won an enthusiastic reception from critics and college radio programmers, and in 1985 Elektra Records signed Guadalcanal Diary and reissued the album. More touring followed, as did a cameo appearance in a best-forgotten youth comedy called Rockin' Road Trip.
In 1986, the band released its first album financed by Elektra, Jamboree, which was produced by Rodney Mills, best known for his work with the likes of .38 Special and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. While Mills brought a greater polish to Guadalcanal Diary's approach and the band displayed a greater stylistic diversity, it lacked the force and impact of Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man and was not as well received. Guadalcanal Diary returned to the studio with Dixon for 1987's 2x4, which coupled the energy of the first album with Jamboree's sense of musical adventure and spawned a minor alternative rock hit, "Litany (Life Goes On)." However, Guadalcanal Diary's busy touring schedule was beginning to take its toll when the group cut 1989's uneven Flip-Flop, and by the end of the year, after a long stretch on the road, the bandmembers amicably parted ways.
Following Guadalcanal Diary's breakup, Murray Attaway signed to Geffen as a solo artist, and released the well-reviewed In Thrall in 1993. Walls played guitar with Hillbilly Frankenstein and Dash Rip Rock, and produced recordings for Southern Culture on the Skids, the Woggles, and Man or Astro-Man? Poe pursued a low-key solo career, and Crowe retired from music after a short spell with Ottoman Empire to raise her children. In 1995, Attaway began recording a second album and decided to invite Walls, Poe, and Crowe to join him on a few songs, and while the album was never released due to a change of management at Geffen, the four were happy enough with the tunes they recorded to play a few reunion gigs in Atlanta. In late 1998, the band self-released a live album, At Your Birthday Party, recorded at one of its reunion shows; in 2000, the bandmembers announced they'd gone back on hiatus, but had not ruled out working together again in the future. Continued interest in Guadalcanal Diary has been confirmed by a two-fer compact disc reissue of Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man and Jamboree, released by Collectables in 2003, and limited-edition, remastered, and expanded editions of the group's first three albums, issued by the Rhino Handmade imprint in 2003 and 2004.