One of the most memorable and surprising local shows I've seen this year had to be the short, contest-winning set the Detroit blues band Chef Chris & His Nairobi Trio delivered in February at the New Daisy Theatre during the finals of the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge. Surrounded by five other finalists who (outside of the local entry, the Handy Three) were accomplished but dull representations of different contemporary blues styles, this motley bunch from the Motor City flaunted convention by their mere presence.
Eschewing flashy solos and show-off indulgences, this lean, mean four-piece offered lovingly deconstructionist takes on classics like Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" alongside highly original originals. The band its name taken from a skit by anarchic early television icon Ernie Kovacs also demonstrated a singular sense of style to go with their endearingly oddball music. Drummer Vinnie D'Cobra looked like heavy-metal wildman Tommy Lee's little brother; bass player "Brother" Bill Lewis sat down the whole time and barely moved; guitarist Sir Tim DuValier was decked out in a leopard-print fezz and a red feather boa; and leading the way was the gargantuan Chef Chris in a shiny brown suit, shinier red boots, yellow polka-dot tie, cowboy hat, and massive goatee.
The band ended its set with a drawn-out story song in which Chef Chris detailed the herculean task of making crawfish gumbo for his sweetie ("I get all kinds of cayenne pepper/I like to see my baby sweat when she eats the gumbo"). The song culminated in the double (though "double" seems too restricting) entendre chant of "Eat the tail/Suck the head," which could have been an obnoxiously winking punchline in other hands but was transformed into something like awe or bewilderment or mysticism by Chef Chris. It even drew a standing ovation from much of the crowd. The whole thing was sublimely weird. With the David Thomas/Crocus Behemoth-like frontman leading the way, this band must be what Pere Ubu would have sounded like as a bar-blues band.
Speaking by phone from Michigan, Chef Chris reveals that the band had been just a part-time gig for the last four years, becoming a more serious pursuit only in the past year.
"I live in this little farm community called Manchester," Chef Chris says. "There's this little dive bar by the lake, and there's a real Harley biker culture there. Well, you combine that with all the farmers around and it's an interesting mix. On Sundays, people are really looking to let loose, and we've been playing what we call 'the matinee' every Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. That gig has really given us an opportunity to experiment. We take all the different ideas and influences that each member brings to the band and let it rip on Sundays."
Chris says he was raised with blues and jazz in his house but that his interest in the music was cemented when, as a teenager, he saw B.B. King perform, an experience that he calls "life-changing." The other members of the band unsurprisingly, given the extremely eclectic and idiosyncratic flavor of the band's music bring decidedly different influences into the mix. Chris says that guitarist DuValier is a metal and punk fan equally enamored with the Stooges and Howlin' Wolf. Drummer D'Cobra was actually the frontman for mid-'90s modern rockers Sponge, who had a couple of massive alt-radio hits. And bassist Lewis is an ex-Nashville cat who used to play for Pam Tillis.
And the Chef really is one a 20-year vet of the culinary trade who achieved minor celebrity in the Detroit area for the gumbo he prepared for a restaurant in the upscale suburb of Birmingham. It was this experience that led to "Crawfish Gumbo," the band's epic signature tune, which Chris says will occupy their entire 10-minute Handy Awards slot. During a practice, Chris recalls, Lewis was fiddling with a bass line and Chris began reciting his gumbo recipe over the music, eventually added the narrative about a lady friend, and turned it into a full-fledged song.
The band ended up in Memphis after entering and winning a Detroit blues battle and being approached by the Canada South Blues Society, which was looking for an area band to represent at the International Blues Challenge. Chris says that the band has already felt the impact of winning the Blues Foundation's contest: an upswing in bookings and much more attention from club owners and festival organizers, attention that is sure to increase from the exposure the band will get on the Handys. The experience has certainly been a catalyst for some of the competition's past winners, including Sean Costello, Susan Tedeschi, and last year's winner, Memphian Richard Johnston.
The band may have seemed unlikely contenders, but Chef Chris insists he had a pretty good feeling about it the whole time. "After reading the instructions, what the judges were looking for, I felt pretty confident that we would do well," he says. "They were looking for originality. They said that doing covers was fine, but they didn't want you to do covers note for note. Well, original music is our thing, and whenever we do covers, we twist it around quite a bit. When we do 'Folsom Prison Blues,' it's not anything like how Johnny Cash did it. My goal was just to get to the finals, but once we did, I told the guys, 'It's just us and five other bands, so I don't see any reason why we can't win.'"
After being announced the winner, Chef Chris says that D'Cobra expressed the thoughts of the rest of the band and, incidentally, this writer as well: "Vinnie commented after the contest that he thought it was brave of the judges to vote the way they did, because we are not your typical blues band."
The Handy Awards
Thursday, May 23rd
Friday, May 24th, through
Sunday, May 26th
Sunday, May 26th, 4 p.m.
Flyer: Why did you get involved with this as the point man?
Ron Terry: Over three years ago, I was invited to talk at a Friends of Shelby Farms meeting and was told the last keynote speaker was the late Lucius Burch, a personal friend as well as a friend and protector of Shelby Farms. I guess it was the fact that Lucius had been the last speaker that inspired me to say yes. But I didn't find out until two weeks before the meeting that it was a meeting to oppose a road that involved a big interchange on the western side of the park. So I studied the plan, and in my talk, I called it dumb. And that led to a two-year dialogue I had with Mayor Rout ... And about a year ago, he proposed a new concept, and everyone agreed that, subject to design constraints, this one had a possibility of working.
With the road fight behind us, I suggested to the mayor we take another step and see what could be done to develop the open space further. He told me to dream a little bit and come back. I wrote a vision statement, circulated it to several dozen people whose opinion I respected, and showed him a final copy. Then we formed a partnership to put in the hands of a conservancy.
What have you learned about how things get done in Memphis?
Big things involve public-private partnerships. And there is a requirement in all of them that government and nongovernment funds and ideas be combined. It worked with the old Superfund, it worked with AutoZone Park and the Riverfront Development Corporation, and I think it will work at Shelby Farms.
Do you feel like government just can't get the job done within its existing structure and with the appointed boards we already have?
I don't fault the appointed boards. It is just that there wasn't sufficient private money being put into the partnerships. It's quite a bit different sitting on a board deciding how to spend taxpayer money and sitting on a board trying to create the synergy of both private and public sectors.
You said you contacted more than 40 potential donors and only seven responded yes. What were some of the things that concerned the others?
The amount of money I was asking for. A lot of these people are going to be willing to consider projects that come out of the master plan. I was asking for big money.
What do you hope to see happen to Shelby Farms in your lifetime?
The beginning of a 20- to 30-year program to make it suitable to become the major park in our community, which it is going to be anyway. I would refer to the vision statement.
The plan would lock the park up from commercial development. Beyond that, what is its positive thrust?
If we can succeed in making the park a major contributor to community health, which frankly is foremost in my mind, then we can build programs to accomplish that in cooperation with members of the health community. I think recreation will be a byproduct of it. I think the park is going to be a great benefit to this community over the next 20 to 30 years. And it would not have happened if Jim Rout had not substantially assisted in making it happen.
Is there a model for this anywhere in America?
No, not to my knowledge. And neither is there a model for a major urban park being eventually supported with operating funds from the private sector.
What's the matter with some intelligent commercial development in 4,000 acres that are already surrounded by commercial development?
We already have some commercial development in the park. And it uses some substantial acreage. There are leases to a major building on some of the land. And you have the headquarters of Ducks Unlimited, one of the country's major conservation operations. And most of that is going to be retained. It is all a matter of degree when you talk about commercial development. The park is generating over $2 million in annual revenue now. We intend to enhance this in the future but never at the expense of charging admission into the park. There are a few activities using portions of the park during the year for which admission is charged, but visitors should never be greeted with a toll booth.
Why build a new road when you have one now that is expandable or can be made to look more attractive like Humphreys Boulevard?
It doesn't serve the transportation needs of the community. It only runs east and west. The new concept takes care of major roads running north and south.
Some people like passive parks. Others like sports involving gasoline or firearms. Why isn't there room for everyone in a park this big?
My opinion is that it's just too hard to mix noise with a goal of quiet enjoyment.
Does the plan make a value judgment that cars are bad?
Absolutely not. In fact, I am confident that the master plan will involve getting people in cars to parking areas designed for whatever uses the master plan calls for. But what Shelby Farms planner Garrett Eckbo said 25 years ago still stands, I believe. We need a park that is uninterrupted by vehicular traffic going across it.
The vision statement talks about marketing the park. Can you explain?
First we have to brand it as a place where more people are welcome. Then we've got to build both spaces and programs that encourage greater use of the land. n
Ron Terry is the former chairman and CEO of First Tennessee National Corporation.
Have you noticed that Memphis is kicking some serious naysayer butt?
Our long civic trauma is over. The fabled Memphis inferiority complex has been cured. Memphis can finally get up off the couch. Jerry West is in town, it's a brand-new day, and pretty soon, the last low-down naysayer will slink back under a mossy rock and all right-thinking Memphians will rejoice.
It was Mayor Willie Herenton who put the naysayers on the run, warning last spring that they were lurking in our midst even as NBA teams in Charlotte and Vancouver announced their intentions to move to Memphis. A posse of loyal journalists and boosters has been in hot pursuit ever since.
"[The] decision to hire NBA legend Jerry West as president of basketball operations should send a strong message to all of the naysayers and critics who refuse to believe that Memphis can be a first-class sports city," wrote the Memphis Business Journal.
And who are the naysayers? The MBJ says they're "the petty politicians that have ruled this city for decades."
"No thanks to the politicians, a lot of crow was eaten April 30 when NBA legend Jerry West stood behind a podium in The Peabody and was introduced as the Grizzlies' new president of basketball operations."
Not to be petty, but two politicians, Herenton and Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, were solidly behind the Grizzlies all the way and helped persuade 23 other politicians on the city council and county commission to pay for a new arena.
The power of sport to salve the wounded civic psyche should never be underestimated. Nor should the willingness of sports executives and owners to tell us that.
"We've got to get that mentality out of this town," said Heisley. "I never felt like Memphis was a negative in me getting Jerry West here."
"The woe-is-me thinking is disappearing," said Andy Dolich, Grizzlies president of business operations. "I'd like to think we played a small role in that. ... There are always going to be naysayers about this city. And the self-image can always be improved. But this city is starting to believe in itself."
Dr. Dolich made his diagnosis after seeing the patient for less than a year.
"We as a city have to do a better job of being louder when we're positive and not let the naysayers set the agenda," said Grizzlies part-owner Andy Cates.
Or put professional sports facilities to a referendum like they did in Nashville, Charlotte, and San Antonio.
About the only good thing the media can say for naysayers -- and say and say again -- is that overcoming them is the stuff of greatness. Give it up, please, for Grizzlies' part-owner and Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones Jr., who wrote this in a newspaper column:
"Naysayers claim Memphis isn't ready, Memphis cannot support a professional team, Memphis has bigger problems than financing a sports arena. I've heard it all before. With little financial support, I took on the challenge and the naysayers with nothing more than my belief in Memphis and its people."
Nothing is too trivial to escape the attention of naysayers. No doubt, you recall the firestorm over the Brent Dlugach signing by the University of Memphis baseball team, recounted in the CA.
"The Dlugach signing had people questioning Anderson's recruiting. And Dlugach himself said he heard the criticism, pointing out that some naysayers even insisted he was only offered a scholarship because his dad is a former U of M standout."
And, admit it, you were one of the naysayers the CA nailed for getting it all wrong about black people and straight hair.
"She opened a natural hair salon despite warnings from friends and others that African-Americans in Memphis weren't into natural hair. Indigo Mangi has been proving the naysayers wrong."
Well, move over, NYPD.
What could be more fun than a hearty har-har at the expense of card-carrying naysayers?
"The Ole Miss Rebels heard all of the preseason talk about how bad they were supposed to be," wrote the CA in November when the Rebs were 6-2. "The players used those naysayers as a source for motivation. SEC aside, the Rebels could also be playing for a spot in a major bowl game."
Yes! If only they had won their next two games against Georgia and Mississippi State.
When ESPN dared to predict a last-place finish for the Grizzlies, the CA wrote:
"The Grizzlies want to interrupt the naysayers with a little public announcement less than a week into training camp. ... Granted, the franchise has never won more than 23 games in a season."
Granted, too, that they only won 23 this year and finished last again.
But that was before Jerry West came to town and the CA ran off the last naysayer with this benediction.
"All things are possible in this city. All things. Don't scoff. It can happen in Memphis. All it takes is energy, a vision, and unmitigated gall."
Unmitigated gall. Now we're getting somewhere.
by Janel Davis
|Candidate DeAndre Forney: Republican and proud.|
Forney was one of four candidates for the county commission in District 4, Position 2. While he only garnered about 4 percent of the overall vote, nothing could diminish his optimism.
"I am very pleased with the 4 percent I received. I ran in a 92 percent Caucasian district. I ran as a Republican," said Forney. "Every single one of my opponents has held an elected office, and with that comes name recognition, something I didn't have. When I started out, only two people knew my name. To get 4 percent of the vote is great."
The 19-year-old University of Memphis political science student, who graduated from Houston High School last spring, got interested in politics back in fourth grade. After a series of school-related voter-registration and education drives and a congressional summer internship, Forney decided to run for the commission seat on a platform that included no property-tax increases, no consolidation of schools and governments, and no increase in county commission salaries.
While he raised only $1,000 and spent about $7,000, Forney believes next time will be different. "[During this campaign], I made mistakes daily," he said. "Next time around, I won't be the new kid on the block. I guarantee, if we were starting out today and I had the support that I have now, our conversation would be totally different."
Although he doesn't plan to be a career politician, Forney says his future will definitely include more campaigns. Ultimately, he hopes to run for the 9th District congressional seat currently held by Harold Ford Jr.
Forney was just one of last night's unheralded losers, candidates without a big name or bank account. While winning candidates were busy posing for photos and doing television interviews, the losers went door-to-door meeting people, standing on street corners holding posters, and passing out pamphlets.
During a Republican gathering hosted by incumbent Bill Key, who himself was unopposed in the primary election for Criminal Court clerk, several lesser-known Republican candidates gathered to watch election results.
Key, whose campaign slogan was "If It Isn't Broke, Why Change It?," has held the position for eight years and presides over 100 employees. "The office is not a fee-collecting office," said Key, "but during my tenure, we have returned $7 million to the county in indictment charges." Key's résumé includes positions as teacher, coach, and athletic director in Memphis City Schools, former Memphis police officer, and CEO of Juvenile Court. Key will face Democrat Ralph White in the August general election.
Mary Taylor-Shelby was one of the more unusual Republicans present. She is a former Cleveland, Ohio, welfare mother who ran for Shelby County mayor.
"Where [a situation] might appear to be a negative, if you extract the good stuff, that can empower you to be a better person," said Taylor-Shelby. Although her mayoral bid ended in defeat with only 2.2 percent of the Republican vote, she calls her campaign a victory.
"I ran to get the African-American community to get more involved with the issues going on in their communities and to get them to see that they don't have to be stereotyped into one political party," she said. "I wanted them to see that they could make a difference in any political party."
A grandmother, Taylor-Shelby is no stranger to politics. Since 1986, she has run for various positions and is also a candidate for Fred Thompson's U.S. Senate seat. When not running for office, Taylor-Shelby works nights at Federal Express and is a part-time U of M student.
Beverly Farmer closely watched the results of her county commission race. After her first political run, she said she was beginning to understand the system. Although unopposed in the Republican primary for the District 3, Position 1 commission seat, Farmer will face a tough challenge in August against Democratic incumbent Michael Hooks. "I don't feel like I will do well [in the general election]," said Farmer. "It seems like the people are determined to keep the same candidates in position regardless whether they are doing anything or not."
Her platform includes community and economic development through establishing and assisting small businesses. If elected, she hopes to provide community residents with knowledge about how the government works and improve on weak areas like education and voting procedures.
The August election will be the final one for Jayne Creson. The incumbent county clerk has held the position since being appointed in 1993. Her political background includes stints as campaign manager for several other candidates and membership in the Young Republicans.
If elected, Creson's main objective will be to fully update her office's computer system to integrate online automobile registration for Shelby County residents. Creson will face Democratic candidate and radio personality Janis Fullilove. The Republican post-election party was abuzz with candidates, each with his or her own platforms, agendas, and hot topics. The losers congratulated the winners and pledged their full support for the August elections, but all of them seemed to be keeping their options open. "If I am not successful [in August], I have no plans," said Chris Thomas, incumbent Probate Court clerk. "I'm going to take it a day at a time."
by REBEKAH GLEAVES
At 6 a.m. on May 7, 2002, John Freeman begins one of the longest days in his life. The Democratic candidate for county register starts bright and early, having slept at a desk in his campaign headquarters. Wearing shorts and a white T-shirt with his name emblazoned in bright red, Freeman is out visiting polls and pressing the flesh of early voters by 7. By 10 a.m., he is back in his Midtown office, where red-and-white streamers hang from the ceiling, the walls are hung with campaign posters, and the radio plays classic rock.
Around 10:30 a.m., Property Assessor Rita Clark stops by. She and half a dozen of Freeman's friends and campaign workers are abuzz with discussion of county commission District 3 candidate Tori Noel's ballsy ballot switch. They explain that African-American candidates often align themselves with other candidates on promotional ballots distributed to voters. Noel, who did not receive the endorsement, altered the "official" ballot so that it showed her, not Cleo Kirk, receiving endorsements from Joe Ford and A C Wharton. They say that this is typical of last-minute election-day behavior.
By 11 a.m., Freeman is behind the wheel of his red Dodge Ram and driving from polling place to polling place. The truck elicits a few good-natured Fred Thompson campaign comparisons from Freeman's friends. Thompson, a Republican, made news when he drove a pickup truck across the state and then to Washington, D.C., in his successful effort to win a Senate seat. Freeman is quick to remind everyone that he owns his pickup and that Thompson's was a rental.
As he drives, Freeman says he's worked on lots of campaigns, but being the candidate is a totally different experience. Having spent 10 years working on various Ford family campaigns, he knows where all the polling places are because he's had to visit them so many times. At each polling place, Freeman passes out campaign materials and bottles of water to voters and poll workers, entreating each person to send their votes his way. At polling places in New Chicago and Frayser, he hears that turnout has been extremely low, with only 20 or 30 people having voted thus far. Freeman takes this to mean that he needs to personally greet each person who shows up. As cars stop and voters approach, he introduces himself, asks for votes, and casually informs each person that he is the chosen candidate for the Democratic Party, that he has the official endorsement of the Ford family, and that he currently works for Bishop William H. Graves, a prominent African-American religious leader.
Freeman knows it's important that black voters realize his affiliations because he's in a race that will likely be decided on race. The voters he needs are black, and Freeman is white. One of his African-American campaign workers says that when she called black voters to ask them to vote for Freeman, many asked her if he was black. When she said no, they told her they wouldn't vote for him. Otis Jackson, who is Freeman's biggest competition and is running as an independent, is black and a former University of Memphis basketball player. Freeman doesn't say so explicitly, but he worries that pigment will be pivotal in this race.
So he keeps making stops and passing out Cokes and bottles of water. In Melanie's, a soul-food restaurant on North Watkins, he meets every single employee and customer, asking all for their votes. The only white man in the building, Freeman is often met with skepticism.
Talking about the impact barbers and hairdressers can have on the outcome of an election, he stops by Warren's Original Hair Styles on Thomas near Chelsea. Warren Lewis, the proprietor, knows Freeman well, and as the mayor of Warrentown -- the community the city council named after him -- Lewis makes sure all his customers know Freeman too.
At 4 p.m., Freeman is back at his headquarters and decides to make a quick run to pick up bags of ice to cool the drinks for the planned celebration party. But on the way back from the store, he receives word that Otis Jackson is still out soliciting votes. Not to be outdone, Freeman heads out to hit more polling places.
At 6 p.m., he's at Corry Middle School in South Memphis talking to a young woman who says she's excited because this is her first time voting. At 6:20 p.m., he's at the Graceland Community Police Substation working the voters. With the polls set to close at 7 p.m., poll workers for all the candidates are making last-ditch efforts to scare up votes, yelling candidates' names and practically begging. Freeman manages to drop by two more polling places before they close, then he stops by Ophelia Ford's campaign headquarters on South Third Street. Ford's not there, but her campaign workers are trying to stay optimistic.
Back at his own headquarters, Freeman's supporters gather around a rented television set, sipping wine and beer and nibbling at the huge spread of food laid out for the celebration. But as the early returns come in, the mood darkens. Jackson is leading by a considerable margin. Over the next hour, the margin will close somewhat, but it soon becomes clear that Freeman has lost. Gracious but tight-lipped, he smiles and says he'll get it done next time. But his friends and campaign workers are not so diplomatic. All are clearly frustrated, with some even remarking that Freeman, a long-time friend and supporter of Harold Ford Jr., had not been shown the same courtesy by the congressman. They believe that if Ford had been more vocal in his support, Freeman would have won.
As the hours creep by, candidates and campaign workers from other races appear. A tired and somewhat dejected-looking Carol Chumney expresses her belief that Tennesseans are hesitant to vote for women and remarks that we are behind the rest of the nation in that regard. A jovial E.C. Jones, who faced no primary opposition in his bid for the county trustee's office, arrives and chats with others present.
Eventually, the party moves on to Zinnie's East, where upstairs in the Full Moon Club a young woman is squeaking out '80s pop tunes. Joe Cooper arrives to cheers from all. He has just won by the narrowest margin imaginable -- one vote -- and has taken to calling himself "Landslide" Joe Cooper. Pat Vander Schaaf calls to congratulate him and express her disbelief at the evening's events. Her ex-husband and close friend Clair Vander Schaaf has just lost the county commission seat he held for nearly 26 years; Joe Cooper has won the primary after running for various offices unsuccessfully for years. And Freeman, despite receiving the endorsement of many of Memphis' top politicians and the Democratic party, has lost.
But nobody wants to dwell on that. As the clock turns to the wee hours, Freeman supporters take the karaoke stage to sing. E.C. Jones croons an impressive rendition of Sinatra's "My Way." But no song was more fitting than the duet Freeman and local Democrat David Upton sang -- Elvis' "All Shook Up."
All shook up, indeed.
The last undeveloped waterfront in downtown Memphis suddenly looks like a logging camp after the woods have been clear-cut.
The 21.5-acre site on Mud Island between the Auction Street Bridge and the entrance to Mud Island River Park is directly across from The Pyramid. Until last month, it had survived as a forest through 15 years of development on the island. Then, in about a week, developer Kevin Hyneman, who has owned the property for about two years, cut down almost all of the trees. Now they are littered across the landscape just in time for the opening of the park and the Memphis In May International Festival.
It isn't clear what will eventually happen to the property. In addition to Hyneman, Harbor Town developer Henry Turley and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) have a keen interest in it, and there has been talk of some kind of joint venture. There are actually two sets of plans on file at the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development.
One has been dormant since June 2001 when Hyneman indefinitely postponed a scheduled appearance before the Land Use Control Board. That plan, called Grand Island Planned Development, would split the property into three parts, including a frontage strip of 25 residential lots, 10 acres of "passive recreation" between the road frontage and the Wolf River Harbor, and another parcel for offices, condominiums, and a 10-story hotel which would be twice the height of anything else on the island.
Hyneman's partners in Grand Island are Johnny Earwood and Davis Engineering Company. Hyneman is primarily a builder of low-cost and mid-priced homes in the suburbs, although he has done one subdivision on Mud Island.
"We propose to provide an attractive streetscape in character with, if not superior to, the existing Island Drive streetscape north of the property," wrote Dan Frazier of Davis Engineering in a letter. Hyneman could not be reached for comment before press time.
Grand Island plans drew opposition last year from the RDC and the Center City Commission. The Office of Planning and Development said it would need more information before the plans could be considered for approval.
"The creation of a suburban-style development on this property is not appropriate," wrote RDC president Benny Lendermon in response to Frazier's letter. "The proposed use is extremely shortsighted."
The other plan for the property was approved by the Land Use Control Board in 1999. It changed the zoning from highway commercial to multiple-dwelling residential. It was submitted by the previous owner, Echelon Residential, based in Dallas. Echelon developed the apartments next to AutoZone Park between Union and Madison before selling its Mud Island land to Hyneman. The Echelon at Mud Island plans included some 450 residential units.
Further complicating matters, Echelon submitted its plans at about the same time the RDC was being established as a public-private partnership. The RDC has commissioned a master plan for the riverfront, but it remains to be seen how much of it will be implemented. The Mud Island site shapes up as its first key test.
Hyneman began clearing the property two weeks ago. Virtually all of it was stripped bare except for a few large trees still standing at the edge of the Wolf River Harbor. Lendermon said there were five or six trees along the road frontage that could have stood, but the others probably would have been cut for any large development. The part next to the Wolf River Harbor drops off to well below flood stage and will require at least 20 feet of fill, engineering reports say. A small triangle of land at the north end of the property next to the Auction Street Bridge still has trees on it. It is owned by a group that includesTurley.
Chief among the potential pitfalls of turning the local music poll we introduced in these pages a year ago into an annual feature is that nothing would change. This, after all, is a city consumed with the past, where, oblivious to the cultural paradigm shift of a quarter century ago, some folks still seem to be waiting for the glory days of Sun and Stax to reemerge. A place where it seems some aging bohemians still expect the Grifters to dislodge Creed from the modern-rock charts. We were happy last year when Elvis, Otis, and B.B. (two of whom actually got votes) didn't duke it out for the title of "most vital artist in Memphis music today." So it seemed entirely possible that last year's Top 10 would be repeated verbatim.
Thankfully, that didn't happen, and the proof is on this issue's cover. Beale Street bluesboy Richard Johnston (you can see him out on the street, just like Furry Lewis in the days of yore) finished a strong second, and singer-songwriter extraordinaire Cory Branan tied for third (with the Reigning Sound) after not making the Top 10 at all last year. And while Branan was a near-miss a year ago off the buzz of his yet-to-be-released debut album, Johnston was just another name among the "others receiving votes." But, this year, the dynamic duo stormed the charts, in the process conveying the sense that they're the locus of a lot of the energy and excitement in the local music scene right now.
As we did last year, we mailed out ballots to approximately 100 Memphians with a professional interest in the local music scene -- writers, record store managers/clerks, radio programmers, club owners/bookers, and people otherwise engaged in the local music industry. As with last year, we asked them to name the five most "vital" artists in Memphis music today. We also added a couple of new categories for this year, asking for our voters' opinions on the best local album of the past year and which young or relatively new artist should be "picked to click" in the coming year.
Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, more than half of those sent ballots did the American thing and stayed away from the polls, though our pool of 42 respondents (the same number as last year, though not the same 42) still represents a revealing peek at what the people who (presumably) care most about the local music scene are excited about.
Branan and Johnston weren't the Top 10's only newcomers. Last year, the Grifters (with solo votes for singer/guitarist David Shouse) finished a too-high fourth off a few (admittedly fantastic) reunion gigs and wishful thinking. This year, Shouse's new band, the Bloodthirsty Lovers, finished a more appropriate seventh. And unstoppable bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart leaps to number six, this year's voters making up for last year's shameful omission.
Dropping out to make way for Johnston, Branan, and Hart were the defunct or at least on-hiatus Big Ass Truck and Pawtuckets and out-of-sight, out-of-mind Lucero, who, with their sophomore album stuck in the on-deck circle and a dramatically stepped-up touring schedule that's kept them out of town, took a tumble from three to 14.
And how have we managed to go this far without mentioning our repeat winners, the North Mississippi Allstars? They are the perfect Memphis band -- tied to the past both personally and musically yet making things happen in the present. They remained strong in the past year, with a new album and a passel of other projects, and were justly rewarded. And with Johnston and Hart joining the Allstars, that makes half of our top six blues artists. Could any other alternative weekly in any other city of comparable size conduct a similar poll and get such a result? Probably not. But it just goes to show that the blues may be a niche genre in most markets, but in Memphis, it's still lifeblood.
Also notable is the relative lack of hard rock and hip hop beyond the Three 6 camp (only one vote for Gangsta Blac, who released the best local rap album of the past year), a clear deficiency attributable to little response from commercial-radio types on the mailing list and hip-hop's smaller live presence in relation to the city's rock and roots scenes. Another, more troubling trend (or, sadly, just a perpetual state) is the lack of women artists among the finishers. On this score, the Top 20 contain only four partial qualifiers -- Eighty Katie with drummer Amy McDonald, Automusik's female rock units, Three 6's side attractions, and the Lost Sounds' local Queen of Rock, Alicja Trout -- with a mere smattering of female artists among the also-rans.
I guess I can't get out of here without revealing my own picks. After being as dutiful in my respect for "significance" as the electorate-at-large last year, this year I went with what seemed to be the popular route and voted with my ears and eyes though still abiding by my self-imposed rule of restricting my ballot to artists who have released new music over the past year, thus excluding perennial faves such as Di Anne Price, Lucero, and Alvin Youngblood Hart (who, nonetheless, deserved every mention he got this year). My votes for most vital artist/band: 1) Cory Branan, 2) The Reigning Sound, 3) The Lost Sounds, 4) The Bloodthirsty Lovers, 5) Richard Johnston; for best album: Cory Branan's The Hell You Say; for Picked-to-Click: Snowglobe.
Over the next several pages, you can read profiles on this year's Top 10 as well as Picked-to-Click winner Snowglobe and read what our voters had to say about artists in and out of the Top 10. You can also read about one of the best things to happen to local music in quite some time, LiveFromMemphis.com.
Our 42 voters sang the praises of an astounding 95 local artists this year. As always, someone who cares a lot about music cares about each one of them, and that should be reason enough to check them out.